Underrated If There Is Such a Thing

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This is what broadcasters call "three wide." (Getty Images for NASCAR)
This is what broadcasters call “three wide.” (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, S.C., Friday, May 30, 2014, 5:10 p.m.

I’ve been monitoring events at Dover International Speedway, which is to note that I have been writing and reading while the announcers prattle on. Like many NASCAR fans, I subconsciously measure how many minutes off the “live” qualifying is from what is “live” on Twitter. As I don’t consider Twitter another dimension in time and space, I assume it’s TV that plays fast and loose with the language and truth.

But what do I know? People on TV are rumored to have jobs.

At the risk of my own distortion, I’ve always considered Dover to be a bit underrated. I say that because in order for one track to be underrated, another has to be overrated, and I can’t think of many tracks that are overrated. It’s similar to that most absurd of college-athletics designations, the “mid-major.” In order for there to be a mid-major, there must be a low-major, and based on exhaustive study of broadcasters and reporters, I can find the existence of no such schools.

It would make much more sense to call Dover International Speedway a mid-major, but we’ll abide no cross-dressing here.

Aside: I just checked my home page, and a headline referred to “the Thai Coup Chief.” I think I had that in Southern Pines one time. It came with soup.

5:42 p.m.

One fascination of mine that regular readers of this blog may note is the oft-repeated citing of alleged truths that are statistically invalid. One is that older drivers are as good as they ever were. It’s inspirational to watch athletes defy ever-increasing odds, but it’s a game they cannot win.

Another is the empty contention that racing is more competitive than it has ever been before.

Competition, n.

  1. The act of competing, as for profit or a prize; rivalry.
  2. A test of skill or ability; a contest.
  3. Rivalry between two or more businesses striving for the same customer or market.
I just never had Kasey Kahne pegged as a fireman. That's all. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
I just never had Kasey Kahne pegged as a fireman. That’s all. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

The level of competition cannot be the best ever when one driver, Jimmie Johnson, wins six championships in a span of eight years. It cannot be the best ever when one driver, Kyle Busch, wins every race in the Camping World Truck Series. As this is written, Busch is going for his fourth in a row this year and fifth in a row dating back to last season.

It is, however, more competitive, at least in terms of degree of difficulty, for drivers not named Jimmie Johnson or Kyle Busch.

Then there’s my belief that anyone inducted into a Hall of Fame must be famous. I’m not referring to the NASCAR Hall of Fame … yet.

Dover International Speedway
Dover International Speedway

6:00 p.m.

Yes, I like Dover. I find the sight of race cars diving into its gigantic, concrete turns breathtaking. It becomes somewhat less so when they do it 800 times, as they will on Sunday, but I liken it a bit to watching fighter planes peel off in formation.

Nice people work at Dover, though I’m sure there are new ones since I last visited. I’ve known several sets. They’ve all been friendly and helpful. The area is unique. I miss going to Camden Yards or Citizens Bank Park on Friday or Saturday night. I miss the slots casino, where, believe it or not, I usually won more than I lost. I miss playing music outside the little bar at the side entrance. I miss the cuisine, which is heavy on the crabs of Chesapeake Bay.

The track is high-banked and fast enough to support 400 miles. It’s the right distance. I remember when it was 500 miles and people in the press box achieved startling improvement in their crossword-puzzle skills.

I’ve been working on a stock-car-themed short story since I got back from the road trip. I finished it this morning, just in time to beat a contest deadline. It’s posted now at wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and I hope it’s a trip back in time you’ll enjoy. It’s rated “R,” by the way, or, at least, that’s what kind of movie it would make. It’s a look back to the different breed of racers who were around when I got started watching them.

Meanwhile, Here at the House …

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Clinton, S.C., Thursday, May 29, 2014, 4:06 p.m.

The grass is cut at my mother’s house. It’s raining now, but I never felt more than a drizzle when I was turning laps on the mower. The Rangers and Twins are tied, 4-4. This morning I wrote the fifth installment of my latest short story, “High, Wild and Handsome” (wellpilgrim.wordpress.com), and I expect to finish it in the morning. I’m rushing to get the short story completed because I want to enter it in a contest whose deadline is Saturday. I have been neglecting the current major project, a crime novel that may be named Deadly Arrogance if I don’t come up with something I find more aesthetically pleasing.

Hey, it's good to be back home again.
Hey, it’s good to be back home again.

As my friend Jim McLaurin used to say, and undoubtedly still does, “Other than that, ain’t much happening.”

For a while there, I was moping around, suffering from the end of my grand and glorious road trip. To paraphrase Tom T. Hall, whom I usually quote, they missed me on the old side of town.

I cut the grass at my house yesterday. I went to Aldi and the CVS, had supper at Dempsey’s Pizza, and the nice lady in the Deli at Bi-Lo sliced me a pound of Cajun turkey that I smell immediately every time I open the refrigerator door.

Today’s pleasant surprise occurred when my mother visited while I was cutting her yard. She found a small piece of my primary lawn tractor – I rolled the backup out of the garage for the current lawn sequence – that fell off last summer. The chief mechanic – mainly he works at Epting Turf & Tractor – is going to be so happy. He told me last year he’d put it back on if I could find it.

This is the equivalent of coming across a missing sock that you didn’t see tumble back behind the dryer. It’s a beer in the back of the fridge. It’s a twenty in the inside pocket of the blazer, there since the last time you went to the funeral home. It never happens on bad days, and it’s a harbinger that good times are a-coming, coming.

When the summer arrives, and you begin to entertain thoughts of football, you’re going to want to read my novel, The Intangibles, which is set in the sixties and is also about the South, civil rights and desegregation. Read more about it elsewhere on this site.

Twisted Thoughts on Memorial Racing Day

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Stately Charlotte Motor Speedway, seen in a fishbowl. (NASCAR via Getty Images)
Stately Charlotte Motor Speedway, seen in a fishbowl. (NASCAR via Getty Images)

Clinton, S.C., Sunday, May 25, 2014, 8:03 a.m.

Several of my songs begin with waking up in the morning:

First thing I saw ,when I woke up this morning …

Woke up this morning feelin’ kinda bad …

This particular morning finds me chipper. I tumbled out of bed in time for the Grand Prix of Monaco. I’m planning on hunkering down here at my modest abode for three unique automobile races: Monaco, the Indianapolis 500, and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.

I’m sipping coffee, perusing Twitter, and I’ve already done the morning birthday wishes on Facebook. (Sorry if I missed you.)

8:58 a.m.

Imagine Kurt Busch winning at Indianapolis. Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon had lots of IndyCar experience when they “did” their doubles.

Who knew the tough one for Kurt Busch would be the stock car race? (HHP photo for Chevrolet)
Who knew the tough one for Kurt Busch would be the stock car race? (HHP photo for Chevrolet)

Busch’s high-risk adventure got me thinking about how much times have changed. In the 1960s and ‘70s, two-driver teams ran the 24-hour races at Daytona and Le Mans. Some Formula One courses were bordered by forests. Now the Armco barriers in Monte Carlo seem scary and hopelessly outdated. SAFER barriers would make the narrow course untenable, and, of course, these are city streets.

But wow. Guardrails.

Last night I watched a fascinating documentary on safety in F1. No one has been killed since Senna in 1994.

So there’s that.

It’s absurdly been suggested that this year’s Indianapolis 500 has the best starting field in history. The last time I got that big a laugh was when I read stories a few months ago about NASCAR having its greatest rookie class.

Oh, ye of little memory.

In 1966, the Indy starting field included winner Graham Hill, runner-up Jimmy Clark, Jackie Stewart, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Cale Yarborough, Gordon Johncock, Bobby Unser, Al Unser, Rodger Ward, Joe Leonard, Lloyd Ruby and Roger McCluskey.

That’s the first one I looked up.

Some of those who wrote about the greatness of this starting field are looking at some of the names on the 1966 list now and asking, “Who?”

9:53 a.m.

The same two who started at the front of the Grand Prix of Monaco finished at the front of the Grand Prix of Monaco, and in the same order.

Yet I was thoroughly entertained watching it.

Part of it may be the variety. I’m hardly a close follower of F1. During all those years traveling from NASCAR track-to-track, there wasn’t much time for anything else. Part is just the wonder at watching a competition between cars going just about as fast as it is possible to go. I think NASCAR produces fans motivated by personality, and F1 motivates its fans with technology.

Technology motivated me this morning. Oh, yeah. Nico Rosberg over Lewis Hamilton.

10:04 a.m.

There’s an hour break. CBS Sunday Morning seems unusually slow.

11:26 a.m.

Sorry. I’ve been working on a short story.

I was just thinking about Indy’s annual drinking of milk in Victory Lane. I’ve often thought of how Indy and Charlotte offer such competing versions of Memorial Day weekend. At Indy, it’s so tasteful, full of pomp and circumstance. “Back Home Again in Indiana.” The Purdue University Marching Band. The playing of “Taps.”

At Charlotte, it’s gaudy. There’s always a military reenactment before the Coca-Cola 600. Red and blue smoke scattered by helicopter propellers. The ack-ack of machine guns. Camo shanties blowing up.

The best line came from Kenny Bruce, then working for the paper in Kingsport, Tenn., many years ago. Soldiers were crawling toward the grandstands, firing blanks in the direction of them.

“If this was Bristol,” Kenny said, “they’d have a fight on their hands.”

The milk is even more emblematic of the difference, though.

In NASCAR, milk would have to ante up. There would be a controversy involving the “Coca-Cola Racing Family.” Jeff Gordon might take a sip of milk, say, “Ewww,” spit up, and quickly pop a top on a can of Pepsi. “Ahhhh, that’s better,” he’d say to the national television audience. I can imagine Kyle Busch saying, “Hey, dude, milk sucks.”

As for me, to commemorate Indy, I just had some raisin bran.

And I’m a Diet Dr. Pepper man.

Once upon a time, NASCAR’s main loyalty was manufacturer. Today Carl Edwards is one of few drivers who has much to say about the kind of car he drives, and it’s likely to change soon.

Now I can see the runner-up saying, “I hate we didn’t pull it out, but it’s great that another Oakley’s driver is in Victory Lane. Yo! They’re kick-ass shades!”

12:01 p.m.

The worst thing that ever happened at Indy was the Eddie Sachs-Dave MacDonald crash. Next was the death of Bill Vukovich. Third was when Steven Tyler sang the national anthem.

12:50 p.m.

James Hinchcliffe and Ed Carpenter have led all the laps at the Brickyard so far. I’ve been tinkering with one of my guitars. The Red Sox will get started losing their 10th in a row soon. As Bob Ryan noted, the logical outcome today would be for Brandon Workman to pitch a no-hitter and lose.

By the way, it takes Will Power to lead the Indianapolis 500.

1:13 p.m.

The day’s second mug of coffee brewing.

By the way, there ought to be decorum. IndyCar gets to drink the milk. NASCAR gets to kiss the bricks.

And no games of pepper on the field during batting practice.

1:45 p.m.

Okay, fans, memorize those slightly different shades of yellow at the front of the field. Castroneves yellow is slightly paler than Hunter-Reay yellow.

Yes. I’m drinking the coffee. It’s a dark, rich Jamaican blend. You know that phrase, “he’s been drinking the Kool-Aid”? I wonder if the writers who are in the Brickyard’s pocket have been “drinking the milk.”

2:00 p.m.

Pit road has plagued Juan Pablo Montoya at Indy. (John Clark photo)
Pit road has plagued Juan Pablo Montoya at Indy. (John Clark photo)

Juan Pablo Montoya loves to go fast at Indy, particularly on pit road.

Now a third shade of yellow, the Marco Andretti shade, has advanced to the front. It’s between the Castroneves and Hunter-Reay shades. And Marco’s got some blue.

I was tweeting, but I think a car just spun at Indy. Apparently it was blue and orange. Charlie Kimball. Hank’s grandson.

Gomer Pyle was there. Why not use a Green Acres reference?

3:04 p.m.

They’ve stopped the action. They’re repairing the SAFER barrier. The Indianapolis 500 will have a yellow-green-green-green-green-green-white-checkered finish, or something like that. Eight laps remain.

I’ve been working again on my NASCAR short story, the first two parts of “High, Wild and Handsome” are now posted at wellpilgrim.wordpress.com.

3:17 p.m.

The ending was rather NASCAR-like, with a late caution contributing to a hair-raising finish won by Ryan Hunter-Reay. Wouldn’t you know that the American who wins the 500 has a hyphenated last name? In NASCAR, he’d more likely be Ryan Ray Hunter.

Nevertheless, as Hunter-Reay said, “I’m a proud American boy. That’s for sure.”

I feel my minstrel rapture swell.

Kurt Busch finished sixth? That’s really quite spectacular.

3:45 p.m.

The Red Sox are losing, 3-1, in St. Petersburg. Not a no-hitter, though.

4:34 p.m.

Out of the blue, I’ve been talking on the phone with my best friend from high school. The Red Sox and Rays just cleared the benches. This bad blood will last a while. Come to think of it, this bad blood has already lasted a while. Like, a couple decades.

I’m glad I had the phone call to occupy me.

Meanwhile, ten in a row, coming up.

6:14 p.m.

Is this the main event? More will watch it, though certainly not worldwide. It depends on what happens.

“You gotta stay on your toes! Edge of your seats!”

Sometimes I wish Darrell Waltrip was a puppet man.

In some ways, this race may wind up being like Homestead, where the winner is always secondary to the champion.

If Kurt Busch matches his Indy showing, that’s going to be the rage.

If Danica Patrick runs near the front, it’s going to be celebrated.

If Kurt wins, the runner-up might not be mentioned.

Danica Patrick had a brief flow and a long ebb. (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo for Chevrolet)
Danica Patrick had a brief flow and a long ebb. (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo for Chevrolet)

If Danica wins, no one else might be mentioned. She’s getting the hang. I keep imagining “the Eureka moment” where, all of a sudden, everything starts making sense. She’s got driving skills, but maybe she’s learned how to communicate what she needs, or perhaps the crew has figured out what she likes.

Or perhaps she’s dropping like a rock right now.

7:23 p.m.

Jimmie Johnson was dominating earlier. Kevin Harvick is dominating now. The unifying theme is domination. It’s early yet. The 600 is early longer than any other race.

The race is so ponderous so far that I find myself imagining nicknames: Brian “Peppermint” Pattie, A.J. “Allwallbanger,” Denny “Pied Piper of” Hamlin, Kasey Kahne “Mutiny,” Paul “Save More Money at” Menard, Marcos Ambrose “Bierce,” Danica Patrick “Moynihan,” Reed “Annika” Sorenson, Michael Annett “Funicello” …

As noted, it’s ponderous.

When Mike Joy says of Harvick and Johnson “they are setting a blistering pace,” it translates to “they’re making a mockery.”

8:13 p.m.

It’s almost halfway. When the race started, salt pork was five cents a pound, the Ottoman Empire was still in place, and the President of the United States was Calvin Coolidge.

8:49 p.m.

I wrote on Saturday about “ebb and flow” in regard to the 600. It’s kicking in now. Jamie McMurray’s Chevy is flowing. Danica Patrick’s was the first to ebb. Carl Edwards’ Ford is on the rise. Brad Keselowski’s is falling.

Maybe it’s not so exciting, but it’s interesting.

9:16 p.m.

Sir Kurt the Duke of Outlawry ran afoul of the infidel Turks and reluctantly called an end to his Great Crusade. The culprit was the godless contraption that powered his black steed.

Let the record note that he fared much better than Don Quixote, the model for such adventures.

Now, alas, poor Danica, we knew her well when she was running second, but that was long ago. Her contraption has also expired.

9:48 p.m.

Jimmie Johnson is the champion. Matt Kenseth won the most races in 2013. Neither has won yet. They’re running 1-2. Nothing is wrong with this picture.

10:02 p.m.

I remember hearing Larry McReynolds saying, during a practice session, that teams were no longer reluctant to run lots of laps because the engines are so reliable.

I said to myself, “Hmm.”

It seems reasonable to think that perhaps NASCAR’s longest race might come down to a test of reliability and endurance.

10:12 p.m.

Strategy call in the living room. I’m sipping the day’s third mug of coffee. I think I’m good to go on fuel.

10:30 p.m.

Well, now that Jimmie Johnson as that out of the way ... (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)
Well, now that Jimmie Johnson as that out of the way … (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

Many times people write, after an upset, “anyone who claims he had [insert driver] is lying.”

Anyone who didn’t think Jimmie Johnson was going to win probably thought LeBron James didn’t have what it took to be a champion, either.

Officially, Johnson is going to make the Chase. I’m not in Charlotte, but surely other drivers are weeping uncontrollably. They have every right to mourn.

I’m going to post this collection of loosely connected thoughts now and try to get some sleep.

Spanning the Racing Globe

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Jamie McMurray seized the Sprint All-Star Race late. A similar rise in the late stages is even more likely in the Coca-Cola 600. (HHP/Garry Eller photo for Chevrolet)
Jamie McMurray seized the Sprint All-Star Race late. A similar rise in the late stages is even more likely in the Coca-Cola 600. (HHP/Garry Eller photo for Chevrolet)

Clinton, S.C., Saturday, May 24, 2014, 1:56 p.m.

I guess I’m getting ready for the great Memorial Day festival of racing. Last night I played a decent set of music at the local Mexican joint. This morning I wrote the first part of one of the serial short stories I compile at my other blog (wellpilgrim.wordpress.com). It’s a tale of old-time stock car racers called “High, Wild and Handsome.” I got good start on it, and if you think it’s frank and for mature readers, you should have read it before I toned it down.

In a little while, the Nationwide Busch (that’s Kyle) race gets under way at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It’s the History 300. Kyle has quite a history there.

My lightly-considered pick is Kasey Kahne. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)
My lightly-considered pick is Kasey Kahne. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)

Honestly, I seldom even think about making a prediction on the outcome of a race. Once upon a time, I had to make one every week in the rails (i.e., fact sheets) that helped preview the races. The only times I predict winners is when a radio talk-show host asks me, and then I generally put approximately two seconds worth of thought into it. Last night, on South Carolina SportsTalk, I told Phil Kornblut I thought Kasey Kahne would win. The above constitutes an accurate account of what little that is worth.

I’ve been to six Indy 500s, the most recent being in 1999 when I didn’t get to hang around for the end. I was in a junket with Tony Stewart.

Carl Edwards has been fast in practice. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Carl Edwards has been fast in practice. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

The 500 is always shown on television monitors at Charlotte Motor Speedway, so I’d drive over to the track early and be in the press box when the Greatest Spectacle in Racing began. Sad to say, though, it really is impossible to follow a race closely from a media center. Well, lots of people do it. It’s impossible for me.

I’m looking forward to watching the Grand Prix of Monaco and the Indy 500 with an attention I haven’t had a chance to devote to them in decades.

Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox haven’t won since I left on my road trip – that was May 13 – and how much I want to watch them go for nine losses in a row depends in part on how much Kyle Busch continues to write his History 300.

Kevin Harvick is a likely contender. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kevin Harvick is a likely contender. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

It’s gotten fashionable to bash the Coca-Cola 600, and I love the race. I’ve done a fair amount of thinking about why modern fans are so hard to please. What I love about NASCAR’s longest race is the ebb and flow. The race really is a Long Day’s Journey into Night. Some driver will dominate an early part of that race, stay out of trouble all night long and, yet, somehow manage to be 16th or something when the checkered flag waves, quite possibly, for someone who was 16th when the aforementioned driver was leading. The odds are that it’s going to be a relative unknown dominating early and a “wheel man” of great renown advancing late.

All these rises and falls can be disorienting when you’re sitting in the grandstands, hard to manage in the press box and overlooked in the living room.

You’ve got to pay attention to the Coke 600, and not that many people do that anymore. They can’t see the forest for the trees, or ditching the metaphor, the race track for the iPhone screen.

Halfway to Charlotte

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It's not a bird. It's not a plane. It's Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
It’s not a bird. It’s not a plane. It’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Clinton, S.C., Friday, May 23, 2014, 4:54 p.m.

The most identifiable place to meet in my native state is a gigantic peach that borders Interstate 85 near Gaffney. It also happens to be midway between Charlotte, North Carolina and my home, and there’s a Fatz Café sitting right in front of it.

For the second time this year, I drove up to The Big Peach – some South Carolinians insist on calling it The Peachoid, which I find overly garish – to meet an old NASCAR chum for lunch.

We’ll meet at the Peach. It’s a natural.

Al Pearce has been writing regularly about NASCAR longer than anyone else still doing so. This is often overlooked. Deservedly, he has a vote in the annual Hall of Fame selection process. Naturally, we talked about the five new inductees: Bill Elliott, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly, Rex White and Fred Lorenzen.

Fred Lorenzen was my first NASCAR hero. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Fred Lorenzen was my first NASCAR hero. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

I don’t have a vote. Nor should I, but if I did have a vote, I would’ve cast ballots for three of the five. Al was right on four. I don’t think it matters who my five were, as I don’t have five, but the two for whom I would have voted who didn’t get in were Benny Parsons and Curtis Turner. I was, however, happy that each of the five got in. My first favorite driver was Lorenzen, and my last favorite driver was Elliott. When I started writing about NASCAR for a living, I stopped having favorite drivers.

It meant a lot to get to know Rex White over the past 20 years. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
It meant a lot to get to know Rex White over the past 20 years. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

As I have written before, fans pull for drivers. Writers pull for stories. Sometimes people look at me as if they don’t believe it when I say that. It’s true. If my brother had been a race driver and won several in a row, I’d be tired of writing about him and would hope someone else won the next one. That’s just the way it is.

Al wanted to know about my recent Texas-and-back music/book sojourn, and I wanted to know about the Sprint All-Star Race, about which I still know little since I followed its progress sketchily while trying to manage the efficient conduct of a concert for charity.

When I got back from Gaffney, I dropped by Clinton Tire to get the oil changed on the pickup I drove 2,864 miles over nine days. As usual, I talked racing in the lobby. Longtime readers know I often pay heed to what I hear around town. David Jones, with whom I always talk about NASCAR and/or Clemson athletics, went to the Sprint All-Star Race and said he enjoyed himself, that he likes it better than the Coca-Cola 600 and that he enjoyed the qualifying format, which includes a mandatory pit stop. I pointed out that they’ve been doing it that way for many years now, and he said it was a lot better in person than it was on TV.

Bill Elliott may go down as NASCAR's Last Great Country Boy. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Bill Elliott may go down as NASCAR’s Last Great Country Boy. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

I’m really looking forward to enjoying the festival of racing on Sunday, with the Grand Prix of Monaco followed by the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. Sometimes I miss being at the track. Not this weekend. For twenty years, it was my most difficult time of the year. Saturday nights were stressful, but Sunday nights were hell. What kept me riding the circuit for 16-1/2 of those years was the syndicated race page, which had to be completed and electronically circulated on Mondays. As a result, I’d get out of Charlotte Motor Speedway long after midnight, get back up at 6 a.m. on Monday, write all that copy, and then drive home. Fatigue was a factor. Charlotte was also the home track for the newspaper, so my workload during the two weeks in May was about twice normal.

I spent more time “multitasking” than watching races.

It’s going to be nice to really watch the racing on Sunday, not from onsite but in a recliner.

If you’re interested in signed copies of my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, I can ship them to you. Note the instructions in the Merchandise section of this site.

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Fit for Rumination

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Clinton, S.C., Thursday, May 22, 2014, 11:09 a.m.

Hey, it’s good to be back home again / Sometimes this old farm seems like a long-lost friend …” – John Denver.

This was near the end of the journey, heading into the Smoky Mountains on I-40.
This was near the end of the journey, heading into the Smoky Mountains on I-40.

I’m not sure how much work I’m going to get done today, even though there’s lots of it. I’m not as much tired as ruminative. I feel like songs, short stories and blogs, whereas circumstance requires bills, errands, and accounting.

That stuff can wait just one more day.

I feel like I’ve been writing a new verse to Hank Snow’s “I’ve Been Everywhere”: I’ve been to (or by) Jackson (Mississippi and Tennessee), Saxon, New Orleans, Plaquemine, Lafayette, Alexandria, Gainesville, Nashville, Knoxville, Booneville, Jefferson City, London, Paris, Bonham, DeKalb, Lamar, Lincoln, Lewisville, Denton and Valley View, among a thousand others.

I came back home with a load that was a little bit lighter.
I came back home with a load that was a little bit lighter.

I spent thirteen hours walking up and down a ramp to a stage, keeping an eye on my watch, motioning to bands that they had one song left, reading numbers off raffle tickets, cracking jokes, reminding folks about silent auctions, barbecue and an autographed guitar, introducing singers and bands, and standing around behind the stage or in the audience, chitchatting with musicians and folks who know a lot about music.

And I played my own songs for thirty minutes. A Day & Night for VISTO, in Gainesville, Texas, took up just one of my nine days on the road.

If I applied myself and worked at it, I think I could make a living as an emcee. I hear it’s not that big a job market, though.

11:45 a.m.

One of the unexpected changes that come with playing music is it’s hard to find time to listen to it. It’s funny that the most enjoyable experience of the whole trip was listening for hours on end to music on satellite radio and my iPod.

Jamie Richards, of Shawnee, Oklahoma, put on a great show in Gainesville.
Jamie Richards, of Shawnee, Oklahoma, put on a great show in Gainesville.

When I got to Gainesville, I just checked into the motel and started planning for my stint as emcee at the festival. I thought about songs I would sing, jokes I would tell, contingency plans, how I would manage to keep the concert on schedule, etc. I practiced performing songs. When I finally went to bed, inexplicably, I didn’t sleep well. At about four in the morning, this song kept me awake, an old one by Lynn Anderson that I’d heard while driving through Louisiana. Just the chorus, over and over.

If you don’t want me, baby / If you’re not satisfied / If you don’t care, get on your horse / And ride, ride, ride.

I haven’t thought about it since.

Till just now.

It was a great experience, a communion with close friends I only see rarely. I seem to have pleased the concert organizers. I’ve done it before, back when it was called Pawlessfest (Vince is still heavily involved and the chief reason I go out there), but it’s moved from the fall to the spring and it’s at the fairgrounds, though only a couple miles away from the old site at Bob and Dava Brown’s place.

In Nashville, I roved around town, tending to a few things, had lunch with one close friend and dinner with another. Also, I went to see “Godzilla” at the movies. It was playing, and I had a little time to kill.

The next night, I sat around with a friend playing music in his living room, and then it was one more long drive back home.

Every time I take off on one of these adventures, I say I’m going to take my time and see the sights, but then I get out on the road and start thinking about needing to get to the next stopping point. This time I did at least visit the great author Eudora Welty’s home in Jackson, Mississippi.

I’d have liked to have spent more time in New Orleans. I’d have liked stopping off in Bonham, Texas, to find out more about Sam Rayburn. I’d like to drive the Natchez Trace and see more ballgames. En route to Nashville, the Jackson Generals were at home, and I was sorely tempted to stop as I drove by the park.

I’ll fill in all the blanks one of these days.

[cb_profit_poster Acting]

What I Didn’t Do

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, S.C., Wednesday, May 21, 2014, 6:45 p.m.

I’m home again. It’s been nine days, mostly on the road. I spent seven nights in four hotels and one on a friend’s couch. I drove the following interstate highways: 26, 385, 185, 85, 75, 20, 59, 55, 10, 49, 30, 40, 440, 35E, 35, 24, 65 and the future 66. My pickup has 2,864 new miles.

I’ll fill some blanks as to what I did in the next few days. At the moment, what seems compelling is all I missed. I’ve had a lot of long, long days, the longest of which was serving as emcee at A Day & Night for VISTO in Gainesville, Texas. I also made a drive from there all the way to Nashville, Tenn., on Sunday. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d make it all the way, but I’m glad I did. I spent two nights there and that was beneficial.

Hey, it's good to be back home again.
Hey, it’s good to be back home again.

Most of the long days were on the road. I watched two minor-league baseball games and listened to a fantastic college game (South Carolina-Vanderbilt) while driving across southern Louisiana. I sold a few books and T-shirts. I played songs, onstage and in a living room. Mostly, though, I listened to music, and while listening to music, I lost all touch with most of the pastimes I usually follow closely.

I know the Boston Red Sox have collapsed, but I lack the gory details. I know California Chrome won the Preakness and Jamie McMurray the Sprint All-Star Race. I know which teams are playing in the NBA and NHL but don’t know where the series stand.

It hasn’t rained much. When I was in Mississippi, it drizzled during a ballgame, but the only times the wipers were ever on in nine days were to clear bug wreckage.

In the last half hour driving home, I listened on satellite radio to the announcement of NASCAR’s Hall of Fame inductees.

The weather has improved enough for construction crews’ taste, and traffic jams in the middle of nowhere were common. I think Arkansas is bad luck for me, going back several years.

About my only creative achievement was the promising start of a new short story, composed on Monday morning in Nashville. (I’ve also got another short story to finish.)

Now that I’m back home, it’s going to be difficult to get back to writing. There are bills to pay, records to keep, lawns to mow, clothes to wash and dry, and trash to dump.

But it’s good to be back in this chair, behind this laptop, with the Red Sox on TV.

[cb_profit_poster Baseball]

Quite the Fan Experience

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Charlotte's walls weren't Sprint yellow back in 1992. (HHP/Brian Lawdermilk photo for Chevrolet)
Charlotte’s walls weren’t Sprint yellow back in 1992. (HHP/Brian Lawdermilk photo for Chevrolet)

Jackson, Miss., Thursday, May 15, 2014, 7:04 a.m.

NASCAR is far away. Books and music are much closer. The Sprint All-Star Race is at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday night. I’ll be emceeing the Concert for VISTO in Gainesville, Texas. Thanks to my iPhone, I might just know who wins it.

A reader asked me to retell the story of my first all-star race (The Winston then) and the only one I ever saw as a fan. I was there because a friend was covering it and asked if I’d like to go with his son, who had never seen a NASCAR race. I jumped at the chance. The next year, I started covering NASCAR on a regular basis.

It was Charlotte’s first night race, and, at the time and within the narrow confines of stock car racing, the 1992 Winston was viewed in advance with the mysterious anticipation of a moon launch. Nowadays lots of superspeedway races are under the lights, but then there seemed to be considerable doubt over whether it could be done.

No need to bog this blog under the weight of another topic, for this story isn’t about the classic race that transpired. You already know about it, right? On the final lap, Dale Earnhardt crashed in turn three, and Kyle Petty and Davey Allison wrecked while racing side-by-side at the finish line. Allison won, hit the wall, and had to be taken to a local hospital instead of victory lane.

Jeff Gordon (24) and Jimmie Johnson race side-by-side at Charlotte in last year's Sprint All-Star Race. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)
Jeff Gordon (24) and Jimmie Johnson race side-by-side at Charlotte in last year’s Sprint All-Star Race. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

Meanwhile, back in the grandstands, high above the exit of turn four …

My friend’s son, who was, oh, I’m guessing, 14 at the time, was a shy kid. It took a lot to get him out of his shell. We had talked little on the drive up, but the rousing night of racing gave us some common ground. The crowd was quite a bit more aroused than we were, though, and the gulf was widening as the main event approached. The chief difference was almost completely the strong beverages they had and we did not. (Mind you, I’m unopposed to the occasional strong beverage, but not with a young person in my charge.)

Once another friend told me his father’s slogan: “Ain’t but two people I can’t abide: a drunk when I’m sober and a sober when I’m drunk.” This nicely encapsulated our predicament.

The Winston started, and we were both wrapped up in the gathering storm, when my friend’s son tugged at my shirt. The caution flag was out, so it was possible to communicate verbally.

“Those people behind us? They stole my cap.”

Well, I’ll just see about that.

I whirled around, and what I saw looked exactly like the Manson Family: Charles, unshaven and grinning wickedly, “Squeaky” Fromme at his side, Susan Atkins, the whole bunch. Okay, I’m exaggerating. It was a less malevolent motorcycle gang, maybe one that Marlon Brando would lead, but not the kind about which one would write Mother.

I think it’s fair to assume that I gulped.

I faced the leader – let’s call him Charlie – pointed next to him, and said. “The cap. It’s the kid’s.” I then picked it up, handed it to “the kid,” and turned around. It was at this point that I anticipated the piercing of my back with an Army knife. Self-evidently, this did not occur. The race did not go uneventfully, but the rest of our night did.

As Tom T. Hall wrote, “Lord, if I judge ‘em, let me give ‘em lots of room.”

It’s a Minor Thing

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Ouch! That smarts. Notice the kids' expressions in the background.
Ouch! That smarts. Notice the kids’ expressions in the background.

Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 4:06 p.m.

Today I very nearly had a section to myself at Trustmark Park. (How many stadiums rhyme?) It was getaway day in the Southern League, so the Mississippi Braves closed out with the Montgomery Biscuits in a game that began at 11:20 a.m. and was delayed for a while by rain. I got there when the action had just resumed and was there with a few hundred others. The Braves led 1-0 and wound up winning, 5-2.

It drizzled a bit, but no problem. A chill wind was blowing, and it was nearly 20 degrees colder on Wednesday afternoon than it had been on Tuesday night.

Montgomery first baseman Cameron Seitzer.
Montgomery first baseman Cameron Seitzer.

I was in the first section past the Biscuits’ dugout, wearing a Boston Red Sox hoodie and a Mississippi Braves cap. I like it. It’s got an M with a tomahawk stuck through it. It was an impulse buy. It fits my head well. For part of the game, the only people in Section 118 were a man and his wife from Montgomery – they’re going on to watch the Biscuits play the Jackson (Tenn.) Generals next – and I. The left fielder tossed the man a ball when he came in. Given the Mississippi cap, I had no shot. The Biscuits are the Double-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, and I was wearing the opponent’s cap and a big-league rival’s hoodie. I had no great rooting interest, though. I’ve known the Braves’ general manager, Steve DeSalvo, since he and the team were in Greenville through 2004. Steve and I talked while he was counting money in the gift shop.

Do you wonder why I’d stop in Jackson, Miss., for two nights en route to New Orleans? Well, I like minor-league baseball and old Southern towns. Had I gone to a major-league game today, I wouldn’t have chatted with Ozzie Timmons, the Montgomery batting coach, between innings. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to tell the Biscuits’ first baseman, Cameron Seitzer, that while his dad (Kevin) played in the majors, the player he reminds me of was Rusty Staub.

“Hey, 3-3, you ever heard of Rusty Staub?”

“No, sir.”

“He was a star in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” I said. “It’s a compliment.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Jason Hersh was on the hill for the Braves.
Jason Hersh was on the hill for the Braves.

Nice kid, even if he is hitting .246. He would remind me even more of Le Grande Orange if he hit better.

Staub is 70 now. He had 2,712 hits. Cameron Seitzer is 24. He probably hasn’t heard of Donn Clendenon, either. Or Jim Ray Hart. Or Bob Aspromonte.

I also go to minor league baseball games to remind me of how old I am.

I took this photo of Trustmark Park on Tuesday night, when it was warm.
I took this photo of Trustmark Park on Tuesday night, when it was warm.

It’s still not too late, sports fans, for you to call, text, email or direct-message all of your literate friends in New Orleans and tell them to stroll over to 2727 Prytania Street at 6 p.m. Thursday and get me to sign one of my novels for them at Garden District Book Shop.

[cb_profit_poster Baseball]

In the Merry, Merry Month of May

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Jeff Gordon has been in No. 24 since 1993. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)
Jeff Gordon has been in No. 24 since 1993. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)

Clinton, S.C., Sunday, May 11, 2014, 9:27 a.m.

The Five-Hour Energy Drink 400, which almost required the full range of the stimulating beverage, was important for two reasons.

If the Sprint Cup points leader is winless when the Chase commences, his name will not be Jeff Gordon, who won at Kansas Speedway by withstanding an astonishing last-lap rush by another Chevy pilot, Kevin Harvick.

Seventh: Not too shabby for Danica Patrick. (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo for Chevrolet)
Seventh: Not too shabby for Danica Patrick. (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo for Chevrolet)

The second noteworthy performance was by Danica Patrick, whose seventh-place finish was both a career best and richly earned. She ran near the front all night long. It was not only her best finish but her most impressive.

Back to Patrick later, but first …

Gordon, 42, won the first two Cup races at the 1.5-mile track in 2001-02, and Saturday marked its first night race, part of which was illuminated incompletely by the track’s lighting system.

While he exulted after the 89th victory of his career, Gordon did little to dissuade anyone from noting that the sand is seeping slowly through the hourglass of his majestic career.

Jeff Gordon: Looking good at 42. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)
Jeff Gordon: Looking good at 42. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

Early in his postrace interview, Gordon said, “An old guy like me likes to be patient and finesse,” though adding that Hendrick Motorsports is providing equipment that makes him feel young again.

Later he addressed the subject of eventual retirement.

“When the cars are that good, my back just doesn’t seem to hurt as much,” Gordon said. “The whole retirement thing, I think, is thrown out there too much, and I’m probably somewhat to blame, but there’s no secret. I’m going to be 43 this year, but, man, if 43 is like this, I can’t wait for 50. This is all right. I’m having a good time. That’s why I feel young, because I’m just having a great time.”

It’s hard to think of Gordon, the onetime Wonder Boy, as old. He’ll look boyish at 60. He’ll sound that way, too. What he’ll have to decide for himself is how long he can drive that way.

Right now? Check.

They rolled out a fast car for Danica Patrick. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
They rolled out a fast car for Danica Patrick. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Patrick showed that hers isn’t a failed experiment. She has been a slow learner, having undergone extensive Nationwide Series prep and being now in her second full season at NASCAR’s premier level. The plodding pace doesn’t mean she can’t get there.

Perhaps this is the key. She came to NASCAR with cultivated gifts but little knowledge of stock cars. Learning how to drive them was only part of her apprenticeship. She also had to learn how to feel them. Quite possibly, Kansas was the site of her “Eureka moment.” Perhaps she had some epiphany. Instead of Henry Higgins, perhaps it’s Harry Hogge proclaiming, “By George, I think she’s got it.”

Or, “Dadgum if she ain’t up on the wheel.” Something like that.

This, too, may pass. One race does not a contender make. It’s encouraging, though. Damned encouraging.

I hope you’ll consider reading my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope. Learn more about them at this site, and thanks for taking the time to read what I write.

[cb_profit_poster Storytelling]