The Distance Ain’t Half Bad

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Getty Images for NASCAR.

Getty Images for NASCAR.

Clinton, S.C., Tuesday, April 22, 2014, 1:04 p.m.

Things around here have been stable. A friend called this morning to check on me, noting that I haven’t been blogging much. I have. Just not here.

Sometimes I relate to the exchange between Boon and Katy in Animal House:

Boon: “It’s a fraternity party. I’m in the fraternity. How can I miss it?”

Katy: “I’ll write you a note. I’ll say you’re too well to attend.”

NASCAR had an off week for officials to plot further ways to get people interested. They’ve got seven winners in eight races. Even the sport’s great detractors, the ones who claim they’ll never watch another race but bitch and moan about every single one, must concede that it’s gotten a little better.

Hi. How you doing? I'm pretending things are great in this photo. It's what people do when they pose.

Hi. How you doing? I’m pretending things are great in this photo. It’s what people do when they pose.

I am mindful that some will respond to the lead paragraph by thinking that, to paraphrase the Three Stooges or quote Groucho Marx, “I resemble that remark.” If being a detractor means regularly addressing issues I don’t like, I’m guilty.

I love NASCAR but not everything about it. I love baseball but not the designated hitter. I love basketball but wish they’d call traveling more often. I love country music but not most of it on the radio.

Somehow, as time passes, embattled NASCAR tends more and more to require loyalty oaths for its good graces. If one is not for NASCAR, it is against it. The sport uses words like “licensed” to mean “we will raise never-ending hell if you don’t report everything just so.” NASCAR wants the media to accept bygones as bygones and join the ranks of “the stakeholders.”

The racing has never been better in the Land of Oz. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

The racing has never been better in the Land of Oz. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

It is not enough to report. The social-media-stained wretches find their lives much easier if, instead, they promote. Some do it effortlessly and with great aplomb. Some never go around mirrors.

In the past month, three times old colleagues of mine have dropped by here or nearby for long, leisurely lunches in which we talked about how NASCAR used to be and how it is now. Each is still out on the circuit in some form while necessity has dictated that I watch from afar. Each has confirmed what I suspected from reading between their lines.

It’s not much fun anymore. Journalism is the Great Shrinking Profession, and those who still have jobs are damn determined to keep them. Most of the firebrands are gone. Survivors, by definition, linger. There are no martyrs to the cause. There is no cause. There is only self-preservation.

Since January 4, 2013, a day that will live in personal infamy, I have spoken to one NASCAR driver. He called to ask how I was doing, and I was so appreciative that I lied. It was almost a year ago.

I’m fond of a relatively obscure novelist named Wallace Stegner, most noted for the novel Angle of Repose. My favorite fiction of his is The Big Rock Candy Mountain. He also wrote Remembering Laughter and Crossing to Safety.

Incredibly, none of them even had race cars in them, and there were precious few automobiles of any sort. Stegner died in 1993, the year I started writing about NASCAR, so he wasn’t there to warn me when NASCAR started shredding all the documents.

I’ve been blogging as much as ever, but lately more of them have been at wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, where I’ve been cranking out serial short stories and the like. I started the other blog because I wanted to differentiate it from this one. If you’d like to sample my observations on “other things,” give it a look.

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About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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6 Responses to The Distance Ain’t Half Bad

  1. bobi says:

    I like NASCAR, used to love it but lost my rose colored glasses a while back. You were and are one of the few NASCAR writers who ever painted a realistic picture of the sport. I’ve read and subscribed to dozens of NASCAR related publications over the years. A little newspaper called Southern Motor Racing hinted at the smoke and mirrors aspects of the sport years ago but I was in my honeymoon phase and didn’t want to believe it. I like to think I’m smarter now and I just accept NASCAR for what it is and enjoy it, but I do get offended now and then when they insult my intelligence with their ridiculous agenda.

  2. Fred Nation says:

    I am not a huge Nascar fan but I am a big Monte Dutton fan. Monte has a literary and worldview that is unusual in any segment of auto racing journalism. He is an honest human being who is an excellent writer and observer of human nature. He has helped to create many driver reputations. It is said but not surprising that only one driver called him to check on him. Monte, I hope you have a dog.

  3. Al Torney says:

    Thinking of quotes, I always like Ed Norton on the Honeymooners with Ralph Cramden. Ed worked for the city in the sewer dept. he said ” be nice to the people on the way up because they will be the same people you’ll see on the way down”. This makes me think of NASCAR. They really did ascend the mountain and evidently reached the summit back in 2005, or there abouts. Now they are on their way down. And the people who accompanied them on the way up are the ones that deserted them on the way down. What was the fastest growing sport in the U.S. is now th fastest dying . I thought it may have leveled off last year but see the tv ratings are still sinking and at the time of the season when they are traditionally the highest.
    Maybe the newspapers saw the writing on the wall when they started laying off motorsports writers. Now I know the printed media is headed the way of the dinosaur but they need every reader they can get so why lay off writers that have a following unless the following was dying too. Outdoor writers have suffered the same fate as motorsports writers.

    My prediction is NASCAR will return to the size it was before the rapid growth it enjoyed began. The only difference will be is that it cannot be called a regional sport anymore. It will be a small national sport. Hard to believe that there are only 4 races in Va., 2 +1 in N.C., 2 in Tenn., 1 each in S.C. And Ga. And 2’in Ala. And 3 in Fla. in a 37 race schedule. Less then half the schedule.

  4. David says:

    Glad to see you blogging again.

    Was getting concerned. My day hardly seems complete without taking in your insights.

    I’ve tried to give them another chance but it’s getting more difficult with each race.

    My tolerance level for what passes for TV coverage is dropping faster than their favorite driver in a green car does through the field.

    Everyone says the racing is better but I can’t tell it from what I’m seeing and I refuse to supplement with other devices. If TV can’t show or tell me it’s failed coverage.

    And since E and Brad K haven’t held up their ends on my dream for this year’s Chase I’m finding little reason to tune in. I so wanted to see E win all the regular season races, lose the first three races in the Chase to get eliminated and win the rest to finish 16th and wanted Brad to get in on points w/no wins, finish fifth best in each round of eliminations and win the GWC Chase finishing second to E at Homestead, for the first winless champion. Unforunately they both messed it up.

    I’ve grown increasingly frustrated by writers telling me I have little to complain about, calling out us “lapsed fans”.

    I’m angry that sites that statistically prove the Emperor has no clothes on get squashed (and you were the only one I saw write about it).

    My favorite Steve Earle line sums up where I am …

    “No one said it would be easy, but it don’t have to be this hard.”

    Doesn’t help when watching the last race my six year old asked,

    “Daddy why do you watch racing? What’s so important about it? It’s not like it’s God or anything.

    All I could do was shut off the TV and get down in the floor and join in in Legos.

    Enough of that.

    Welcome back. You’ve been missed.

  5. Monte says:

    I’ve still been blogging about as much, but I’ve been writing on other topics, mostly my fiction and mostly non-sports, at wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. I’ve been trying to build a following from scratch, and I’ve been writing short stories built on songs I’ve written. I sort of write in one or the other, based on what interests me that day. Lately, I haven’t had as much to write at montedutton.com. I’ve entered several of these serial short stories in writing contests and the like.

  6. Monte says:

    I’m making progress, Fred. Thanks for the kind words.

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