Twisted Thoughts on Memorial Racing Day

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

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 Now the Armco barriers in Monte Carlo seem scary and hopelessly outdated.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.

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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7 Responses to Twisted Thoughts on Memorial Racing Day

  1. Al Torney says:

    Very entertaining commentary for your day. It was a nice read to start my day.

    The ceremonies before the Indy 500 are the best in all of sports.
    LeAnn did a splendid job on the anthem, Nabors sounded great and I thought it was nice that he joined Mrs. Human for the command to start engines. Unfortunately I could only watch the beginning of the race as I had to go somewhere. I did return in time to see the last 5 laps. It appears I missed a great race.

    I watched the beginning of the 600 and walked away after the first pit stops. Never returned. Same old, same old.

  2. Steven says:

    I wonder if unHappy Harvick will physically assault his pit crew. Maybe they are doing this on purpose!

  3. Andy DeNardi says:

    I liked Danica Patrick Moynihan the best. NASCAR has the commercial aspect of the race down pat. It was one long one compared to Indy.

    Everyone wants to see brother Kyle Busch try Indianapolis now, but I don’t think he has the personality for it. The 500 rewards patience and perfection and Kyle would crash out. He’s an Andretti, not an Unser. Jimmy has the personality, but we still wonder if he can win a race without Chad Knaus.

    Danica was very good there. She’s foolish for not going back just for that race. It would do more for her career and pocketbook than any NASCAR win. It’s not like her Cup championship hopes would suffer if she skipped all the NASCAR races in May in order to practice. Indycar fans love her just as much as NASCAR fans do.

  4. D Meister says:

    So funny how you noticed so many of the same things as we did – the varying shades of yellow in the lead three cars and trying to keep them straight, the Gomer Pyle Green Acres reference and the “hopefully never again” singing of the Nat’l anthem by Steven Tyler.
    What a great finish to the race, tho !! Love those last minute moves by Hunter —— Reay and the wife swapper
    ( whose not married) Castroneves.
    Also watched the F1 documentary “1” which I’m assuming you’re speaking of – fascinating!
    So now on with a regular day of no racing – except in my car down the back roads of the desert.

  5. Mike says:

    Monte, I think if you check you’ll find the Mercedes team led the Monaco Grand Prix from start to finish.
    Mike, Concord, NC

  6. Monte says:

    Thanks. As noted, I don’t follow it like I used to. I thought it was McLaren with Mercedes engines or something. I’ll fix it.

  7. Dave Fulton says:

    David Hobbs got flustered when the lead cars got closer than two seconds apart at Monaco. Indy was terrific whereas Charlotte was a snoozer. The clear winner of the three races was Indy.

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