Clinton, S.C., Sunday, April 13, 2014, 9:08 a.m.
I can’t judge a NASCAR race at Darlington Raceway. I love it too much. It dissolves me in emotion. Memories flood back of Cotton Owens, Dale Earnhardt, Neil Bonnett and Tim Richmond, all men I saw win there (Owens as an owner) and all of whom have passed away since.
On Saturday night, Kevin Harvick tamed the track too tough to. He led 238 of the 374 laps. Harvick and his Stewart-Haas team earned $328,708 for 367 of them, and thanks to a woolly overtime, the final seven were free.
Darlington is the only track where one driver dominating numbs my interest not the least. At home, it perturbs me when the cameras ignore what I want to see, or move away from what I’m enjoying, but Fox did a decent job of finding the action, probably because it’s what covering Darlington demands. Besides, if I really want to watch it my own way, I ought to get my ass down there.
I’ve decided I’m not going back to “the track,” which is to mean “tracks in general,” without a better reason than that. I expect my next live attendance will be at some place like Greenville-Pickens (asphalt) or Laurens (dirt).
It hurts a little – just a little, mind you – where Darlington is concerned.
At most tracks, with Harvick scattering edible dust in his wake, I would have started reading a book, or playing my guitar, or checking on a ballgame. Darlington held my interest. I was only distracted by that video game, “Need to Tweet.”
For those among you who cannot grasp the majesty of Darlington, there’s nothing I can do. If you don’t see the subtleties, you probably never will.
Winning most races is impressive. Winning Darlington is majestic. Watching Darlington is metaphysical.
To me. I didn’t learn independently. My daddy taught me, prying open messy boiled peanuts and swilling beer on the back straight. He’s gone 20 years, the back straight is the front straight, the one on the left is in the middle, and “the guy in the rear … is a Methodist.”
Against all odds, I had a hunch, the kind I normally only got when I was at tracks, that Harvick was going to win. Sure, he started on the pole, but no one had won at Darlington from the pole since 1997. Harvick himself had never won a Sprint Cup race there. I’ve always thought there are two sides to statistics. On the one hand, a bountiful record is an indicator of prowess. Sometimes a fruitless record is an indicator of lack thereof. In Harvick’s case, though, I felt he had always had what it takes to win at the oldest and weirdest superspeedway.
He was due. That’s what I was thinking when Phil Kornblut asked me on South Carolina SportsTalk Friday night. I don’t consider myself much of a prognosticator. In fact, I don’t think the average writer is any better at picking winners than the Cub Scout leader sitting with Pack 3497 on the back straight.
No, Freddie, we’ll have sandwiches at the halfway point. Just stay hydrated. You’ll be fine. Who’s gonna win? Oh … Harvick. Brandon! Don’t make me come down there. Behave!
Earlier this year, the one week I got the pick right, Phil ran out of time before he asked me, or, more likely, I used up the time with my big mouth.
I don’t know if the pavement is aging or the cars are better – I suspect it’s some mingling of both, though I don’t know if the recipe has two cups of old and one of new, or vice-versa – but the racing roused me. I watched it with ardor and confined my departures to commercials and caution flags.
Again, though, I can’t judge. Darlington is Mecca to me, or, since I’m not Muslim, Mecca is Darlington. Skip the religion. Darlington is a mecca, not Mecca. It’s secular, but there’s a little spirituality. When I think the word – Darlington! – it sends chills down my spine and sometimes my eyes moisten. It’s similar in my psyche to Fenway Park, Ryman Auditorium, the Jefferson Memorial and my alma maters, Clinton High School and Furman University.
In my mind, Kevin Harvick finally arrived. Cue the fight song.
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