Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, August 31, 2014, 11:15 a.m.
In college football on Saturday, 3,328 points were scored. I saw sixteen of them, well, in a stadium. Come to think of it, maybe those didn’t count. They were in an FCS game, Gardner-Webb at Furman. FCS stands for Football Championship Subdivision. FBS is Football Bowl Subdivision, even though the big schools now have a championship.
It’s vexing, I know.
Furman won the game, 13-3, and lost the quarterback, Reese Hannon. The Paladin defense was exceptional, playing against type on a weekend in which points were generally easy to come by.
The best time of any sports season is the beginning. From here on out, the ranks thin. By the end, we’re interested but, in most cases, the passion has been drained by the loss, somewhere along the way, of our favorites. Ultimate triumph is rare, even among the craven lot of those who base their choices on whom they expect to win.
Or maybe they’re the smart ones.
Sentiments tilt most of us toward those with whom we have invested our souls. We are true to our schools, most notably when they win.
Things are often not as they seem. The two goliaths of this state took slingshots to the noggin. Before both games, I heard skilled analysts proclaim that the great strengths of South Carolina and Clemson were their stalwart defenses. The Gamecocks surrendered fifty-two points, the Tigers forty-five. They had stalwart sieves.
They’ll do better. Defense is possible. I saw it in Greenville. The Bulldogs of Gardner-Webb are hardly the Bulldogs of Georgia, but the skills are relative. Some big school will undoubtedly play defense this year. I’m sure of it.
My short stories and thoughts about writing are regularly displayed at wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. At the moment, I’m three installments into a short story with a baseball theme.
Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, August 29, 2014, 1:59 p.m.
“When the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.” – Grantland Rice (1880-1954)
On Thursday, I met an old friend for lunch, and, naturally, the subject of Tony Stewart came up.
“If that had been anyone else – if it had been another driver at that track, or even if it had been Landon Cassill, or Brian Scott – do you think, what, the story would have been over by Wednesday?”
“Well,” I said, “it wasn’t. It was Tony Stewart.”
It’s the price of being famous. It’s market value. Stories linger when inquiring minds want to know. When Stewart was a young star, he often railed about the obligations of stardom. “I just want to race,” he said. “I didn’t sign up for all this other stuff.”
“Well, then, why do you do it?” someone asked.
“I’ve got no choice.”
“Sure you do,” replied the questioner. “You can choose not to be famous. You can race sprint cars the rest of your life. If you don’t want the obligations, give up what goes with them.”
Stewart didn’t have a reply. He desperately wanted to think of himself as somehow all alone, but he knew he wasn’t.
More than a decade has passed. The great crisis of Stewart’s life occurred while he was racing without all the obligations.
Today I’ve heard several people express the view that no else has had to go through this. How utterly ridiculous. My guess is that most everyone who reads this has been touched by indescribable sorrow. A kid is in a crash that snuffs out the life of a friend or loved one. A coach orders wind sprints in which one of his players collapses and dies. A dad gives his son a shotgun, or a four-wheeler, or, yes, a race car, and something awful happens.
No one survives a tragedy without contemplating what he or she could have done to avert it. The split second has already elapsed. It cannot be revisited. No good comes from the ruination of more lives. People move on as best they can. It’s a terrible price to pay for becoming a better man, but if there is a reason for the mysterious ways in which we believe God works, that has to be it, and, ultimately, Stewart’s obligation now is to save himself.
Another stage in the grief process is the understanding that no one is unique. People lose their loved ones to war, poverty, drug abuse, violence, insanity, suicide, and the accident of being in the wrong place, and the wrong state of mind, at the wrong time.
What separates Tony Stewart are the obligations of fame and the attention they entail.
People mistakenly believe that success makes people better. It doesn’t. It’s enjoyable, and wonderful, but one’s character is molded by how he or she reacts to the worst things that happen, not the best. It makes some and breaks others.
That is the reason Tony Stewart must race again. It’s not a matter of sensitivity. It’s not one of consideration or obligation. It’s one of survival.
What Stewart signed up for was being a racer. Like all rose gardens, it has its thorns.
Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, August 26, 2014, 7:04 p.m.
I’ve got a few thoughts about the Sprint Cup schedule announced officially on Tuesday.
It still doesn’t add up to me. I don’t see as how a month warmer weather at Bristol is worth relegating Atlanta’s one date to the beginning of March. For Speedway Motorsports Inc., Bruton Smith’s empire, it just doesn’t seem to be a fair deal. Maybe I’m wrong. Smith and his advisors apparently disagree.
William C. France used to refer to Daytona Beach as his “bell cow” – he used that term for lots of things – and Smith’s bell cow must be Bristol, not Charlotte, as is widely assumed.
I’m still waiting for a punch line, understanding that it may be a while before anyone delivers it.
Another change is a West Coast swing early in the season – Las Vegas to Phoenix to Fontana – that makes sense in terms of travel, how much remains to be seen, but perhaps not so much in terms of the consumer. Races are expensive affairs for fans, and if Westerners want to attend all three races, it’s going to cost a lot for families still paying for Christmas and shy of tax-refund time. I don’t think as many fans will go to all three of those races, though the ones for whom money is no object will make quite the festival of NASCAR’s merry Western month of March.
Like every other sport, NASCAR caters to the rich folks, and the rest will just have to watch on TV.
Undoubtedly, these considerations have been discussed by the great minds of NASCAR and its partners.
I’m a traditionalist and a sentimentalist, which naturally puts me at odds with the bean counters and marketers, but to please me more than having the Southern 500 restored to Labor Day weekend, the Colts would have to go back to Baltimore and the Dodgers to Brooklyn. I feel like singing the opening tune of “All in the Family.”
“… Guys like us, we had it made, those … were … the … days!”
Richfield, Ohio, Sunday, August 24, 2014, 8:40 a.m.
The highlight of the morning was seeing a man who looked remarkably like Woody Hayes eating breakfast in the motel lobby. He wore suspenders, a white tee shirt, and a pair of “urban camo” walking shorts, which I’m fairly sure he didn’t purchase because of the motif.
Meanwhile, I looked exactly like someone who had just awakened after overindulging at a wedding the previous night.
I saw the last ten laps of Joey Logano’s victory in the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol on TV in the room after listening on the radio on the way back. I checked the Twitter feed from time to time at the festivities. As best I can tell, it was an exciting race, full of thrills, chills, and at least one flying HANS Device.
During the weeks leading up to the wedding, I had thought several times of Merle Haggard’s “The Farmer’s Daughter”:
Tonight there’ll be candlelight and roses / In this little country chapel / That’s almost falling down / There’ll be tears in this old farmer’s eyes come evening / When I give my one possession to that city boy from town / His hair’s a little longer than we’re used to / But I guess I should find something good to say / About this man who loves the farmer’s daughter / And who’ll soon become my son-in-law today.
Mama died eight years ago December / And it was hard to be a dad and mama, too / But somehow we made a home of this old farmhouse / And love was all my baby ever knew / He could be the richest man in seven counties / And not be good enough to take her hand / But he says he really loves the farmer’s daughter / And I know the farmer’s daughter loves the man.
To my knowledge, and to appearances, the bride, Jodie Valade, wasn’t a farmer’s daughter, and Nate Ryan’s hair has never been longer than anyone other than Bruce Willis is used to. I have a farm but not a daughter. The ceremonies were held in what passed for a quaint country chapel, and I found the song coursing through my head, along with beer-fortified blood, all evening.
To my credit, I didn’t try the chocolate-covered bacon. I didn’t think it would go with anything, particularly beer.
Clinton, S.C., Thursday, August 21, 2014, 7:53 p.m.
I went out to meet the Red Devils tonight. I didn’t really meet them. What few to whom I spoke, I already knew. The Red Devils were introduced to me and several thousand others, so meetings would have made the affair last considerably longer.
The radio announcer, booster club president, and public-address announcer did all the speaking. The coaches mainly stood in the wings. One side of the gym was packed with fans, the other, athletes, as all those autumn teams, the cheerleaders, and the band take up quite a bit of space. I was pleasantly surprised when the parking lot was full, though it wasn’t quite as pleasant walking in from the back spaces.
I enjoy trying to be a fan, but after all those years sitting in press boxes and taking notes, I can’t ever quite pull it off. I was typing into my iPhone the whole time, observing athletes, and I was struck by how easy they were to separate.
The middle school kids were unused to the attention, all exchanging glances and otherwise gazing at the gym floor. The tennis players walked carefully, feet gliding low to the ground. The girls’ cross country team looked as if it had just run in off a five-mile trot. They appeared exhausted. The boys walked out to midcourt, too, but they were notable for their long strides. The volleyball teams seemed almost as self-conscious as the middle school kids. Then, godlike, appeared the football players, looking like or at least trying to appear like stallions. Even the junior varsity carried themselves with swagger. They all jogged out to midcourt, looking as if they were returning from a pass pattern. The varsity, of course, got the big intro. The Voice of the Red Devils had an item of interest for each of them. It made me think of my playing days, back when the team was composed of cave men: “Monte Dutton! He’s not very good, but everyone says he real smart!”
None of the varsity players jogged. They walked out, purposefully, insouciant and aloof, blossoming into manhood and convinced they’re already there. I could tell the starters by the way they walked.
I’ll be away when they begin their season Friday night. I wish I could go. It’s comforting and rare to watch the team for which I played, and my brother, and my father. By extension, it’s why the Red Devils are the town’s team and not merely the school’s. I drew from my own experiences in parts of my novel, The Intangibles, which is about the South, the Sixties, civil rights, bigotry, and, of course, high school football.
Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, August 20, 2014, 8:36 p.m.
As it rains in Bristol, Tennessee, and the Red Sox lead the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California and Greater Orange County by a 3-1 margin at Fenway Park, it occurs to me that perhaps I should blog.
I’ve been concentrating on my fiction, and, since I’ve recently been charged with the heinous crime of writing for no reason, I’ve resolved to start writing when I have one.
Right up to this moment, that is.
I’m sort of waiting for the punch line in these NASCAR schedule changes. Reports from the types of sources that don’t normally wander out on limbs suggest that Darlington Raceway is going to get Labor Day Weekend, which I think is wonderful, but I don’t understand why it’s happening.
If it’s happening. Any time NASCAR leaks helium, a trial balloon rises.
Theoretically, Darlington moves back near its ancestral home, Labor Day, Atlanta vacates it for an early-season date, and Bristol moves ahead from March to April. This may be just the start of some massive game of dominoes, but, at least from reports that I’m not reporting because I no longer report, it’s a three-way deal in which Atlanta ships Labor Day to Darlington, which ships its date to Bristol, which ships its date to Atlanta.
I don’t see how this deal could happen without Atlanta getting a player to be named later. Otherwise, why the need to screw Atlanta? Where’s the tasty morsel for Speedway Motorsports? Where’s that second race for Las Vegas? Or Vegas getting the finale in some sort of trade with Homestead? I don’t see that happening, but the round of trade talks makes no sense without some other move.
As a South Carolinian who reveres Darlington Raceway more than any other (and even many speedways), Darlington has seemed as if it didn’t have a homeland since it had its spring race lopped from the schedule, its premier event moved around nomadically, and Labor Day invaded first by Californians and then by Georgians. Darlington was just getting comfortable on Mother’s Day weekend when Dorothy clicked her heels and claimed it for Kansas.
The way I think isn’t the way NASCAR thinks. To me, Darlington and Labor Day weekend go together like beer and pizza, politics and corruption, Yogi Berra and Larry McReynolds, but NASCAR officials saw it as a premium event unfit for the humble Pee Dee Region of the Palmetto State. It was “Hurray for Hollywood! (okay, Fontana), but that wound up being a B movie, and then, oh, NASCAR heard Atlanta calling and came back to her for one fine day (on several years).
One of the reasons that Darlington has wandered around the schedule like Moses and the Children of Israel is that it’s the Track Too Tough to Kill, and the feisty Hittites (actually Peedeeites) keep taking whatever it is – locusts, snakes, mad mothers – NASCAR dishes out.
If all this happens, I expect NASCAR officials to announce they did it for Truth, Justice, the American Way, the Alamo, and a goodly assortment of other John Wayne movies.
When they say that, based on decades of observations, they will be conning our asses.
There’s got to be something else.
I’m trying to get good at fiction. NASCAR probably thinks I’m good at it now. Give my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, a read. Read my short fiction at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com.
Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, August 17, 2014, 12:52 p.m.
I was almost completely separate from NASCAR on Saturday. I talked a bit about it while signing books in Virginia and watching baseball in North Carolina. On the way between the two, I was talking on the phone with my pal Rick Minter and said, “Oh, I should tune in the Truck race.”
“It’s already over,” he said. “Johnny Sauter won.”
At this moment, I don’t even know who won the Nationwide race. In fact, I don’t know where it was. Hang on. Chris Buescher at Mid-Ohio.
Since I’m both watching the Sprint Cup race and trying to find my way back into “the loop,” a place populated with people referred to as “they” (you know what they say …), I think I’ll write this race as it goes along, which has been a fairly popular approach in the past.
The term “competition caution” is inappropriate. “Precautionary caution” is redundant. Come to think of it, “competition caution” is, too.
I don’t know what I’d call it.
It looks like the high speeds are making it more “wrecky” than “racy.”
NASCAR fans should study the oceans because many races are about “ebb and flow.” Also, “to and fro.”
Oh, my. I’m blogging by tweet, bringing up the obvious question: What am I tweeting? Obvious answer: Not much.
I miss the Michigan press box, the best in NASCAR. The folks there were among my favorites.
Or were two years ago. I’m sure more has changed than I would know. At this point, I could recall some stories from when track president Roger Curtis was a Busch Series PR man, but no good could come from that.
As of this moment, the “Nobody Wins” blog, about the Canandaigua tragedy and Tony Stewart, has reached just shy of 40,000 people. “Where He, and We, Always Wanted Him to Be,” about Dale Earnhardt Jr., has been clicked on 665 times.
I wrote the former blog a week ago. It’s been worth about 160 new Twitter followers. It’s almost as visible as every single tweet by the important guys.
Every driver races as hard as he (or she) possibly can for every single lap, but now there are sixty to go, and I expect some of them, defying all odds and the limits of human potential, will reach way down and find a little more.
Just a hunch.
Pure Michigan had a race / E-I-E-I-O / And in that race there was debris / E-I-E-I-O / Debris, debris here / Debris, debris there / Here debris, there debris / Everywhere debris, debris…
Some years back, over supper (he would call it dinner), Nate Ryan and I had a debate over his contention that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the best driver out there and mine that Jeff Gordon still had it.
At the time, we were both wrong, and now we’re both right.
Thanks for reading my modest efforts. If you’re so inclined, give my writing blog (well, mostly) a look at wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. It’s both good and good for you.
Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, August 14, 2014, 9:47 a.m.
I don’t care whether or not Johnny Manziel starts for the Cleveland Browns. I don’t care whether or not I get the SEC Network. I don’t care whether or not the Republicans sue Obama.
This week I’ve got too much else on my plate. Food is an obvious weakness of mine.
Things have been happening that couldn’t. Three words: worst possible scenarios.
A young Sprint Car racer got out and walked across a track in upstate New York. A car driven by an old Sprint Cup racer hit and killed him. Twitter exploded.
The funniest man on earth killed himself. His last act wasn’t funny, only ironic. I like irony as much as the next guy, but not so pure and uncut. Twitter exploded.
Suburban St. Louis took us back to the sixties. Tear gas. Rioting. Rubber bullets. Reporters arrested for charging their cell phones and “trespassing.” At McDonald’s. Twitter exploded.
At the head of what passes for contemporary reliability, Twitter explodes. Twitter will explode over anything. It’s as volatile in its way as real bombs. News used to be the dog. Twitter used to wag the tail. Now Twitter wags the dog.
It all is so … parallel. Everyone is complicit. For instance, I’m on Twitter. And Facebook, where there are more characters but even less sense.
But I don’t Snapchat! Damn it! That’s where I draw the line!
In regard to Tony Stewart and the late Kevin Ward Jr., the media have divided into warring camps. On one side are those who actually know a lot about automobile racing. They feel as if those on the other side are hysterical. Those on the other side feel as if the racing regulars are reactionary. On one side is a forest; on the other, trees. No middle ground. Little in the way of thought. Raw, unbridled emotion. Virtual mobs storm virtual barricades. In Ferguson, Missouri, the mobs and barricades are real. We know because social media tells us.
It’s tempting to follow the advice of John Prine:
Blow up your TV / Throw away the paper / Go out to the country / Build you a home / Plant a little garden / Eat a lot of peaches / Go out and find Jesus / On your own.
Ultimately, though, blissful ignorance isn’t the answer. Ignorance we got. Occasionally, we just have to recharge it.
We’ve got millions of people who consider Stewart evil and Ward a martyred saint. Millions are just as likely to turn it around. How many think it was just a senseless tragedy that was bound to happen sometime and finally did? Thousands? Tragedies are unified in that most of them involve mistakes.
While Robin Williams’ loss is mourned in principle, the growing section of America that has compassion for nothing naturally has none for him.
The police in Missouri, in order to prove that their behavior was reasonable in regard to a dead youth, go all paramilitary on the throngs of people taking issue. Ah, that’ll show ‘em.
I’m not sure what this is, but it’s not the Age of Reason.
By the way, these are just Twitter explosions here in the good old U.S. of A. The entire world is just as crazy. It could be that, as soon as all the tear gas clears, we’ll discover something important happened somewhere.
Lauren Bacall died. It’s been overlooked. It was too normal. She was eighty-nine.
Meanwhile, I bought some peaches on the side of the road. They’re delicious.
The best aspect of this blog is that the readers who get angry will only prove my points.
Enjoy life. Try to remember simple things. Read a book, not just a social network. Coincidentally, I’ve written several.
Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, August 10, 2014, 11:47 a.m.
Tragedies are frequently a result of a comedy of errors, not that there’s anything funny about them. They are long, improbable games of dice, in which “snake eyes” land again and again. A kid breaks up with his girlfriend and starts drinking. He gets in a fight. Maybe he gets arrested. Maybe he kills someone. Maybe someone kills him. Or he kills himself driving not only drunk but recklessly. One bad break piles on top of the other, and lives are ruined.
People are responsible for their actions, but it doesn’t mean we should have no sympathy.
Many years ago now, Tony Stewart and I spent quite a bit of time together. I was writing a book, Rebel with a Cause: A Season with NASCAR Star Tony Stewart. Lots of those memories have been flooding back today. I read a few sections of my own book for the first time in at least five years. Stewart taught me an important lesson back in those years: never allow myself to get too close to my subjects. He taught me to be friendly but not a friend and to observe but not participate. It muddies up the water too much. It makes the calls too tough.
The book was about the 2000 season. The most poignant memory was of Kenny Irwin Jr.’s fatal crash during practice in New Hampshire. A few seconds before the tragedy, I was talking to Stewart in the hauler. The crash, apparently the result of a stuck throttle, happened on the first lap of practice. Stewart was strapping himself into his car.
Stewart and Irwin had been bitter rivals in sprint cars. They’d clashed on the track at Martinsville the previous autumn. When Irwin died, all the history between the two flooded into Stewart’s psyche. He caught a ride home and sent his plane to Indiana to cater to the needs of the Irwin family.
“Through nine years of rivalry, though, there’s been a mutual admiration, a respect, for each other and what each could do in a race car,” Stewart said. “Of all the years I’ve raced, I think I can honestly say, sitting here and thinking about it all day, of all the people I’ve ever raced with, Kenny was the hardest and toughest racer I’ve ever had to race on a daily or weekly basis.
“Kenny’s part of the reason I got here, because he pushed me to make myself better every week. There are not a lot of guys who worked any harder than Kenny to get where he got in his racing career.”
Now this. Fourteen years later. Another death, and in this one, Stewart’s involvement was more than emotional.
Racing at Canandaigua Motorsports Park on the night before the Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen, an angry young driver named Kevin Ward climbed out of his wrecked sprint car and trotted down to confront Stewart, whose car, under caution, hit Ward and killed him. Immediately, Twitter roared to wrathful life. People who had never heard of Canandaigua, let alone seen the incident, called Stewart a murderer, alleged he had done it intentionally, and called for his imprisonment. One website quoted an eyewitness as saying the impact caused Ward to fly “fifty yards” – fifty yards! – through the air.
No one knows what really happened. I’ve watched Youtube. It was dark. Ward was wearing a black uniform. My suspicion is that, when Stewart sped up, it was a reflex action. All of a sudden, his eyes caught the approach of someone running toward him, and he just tried to get away. Gunned it. Ward was too close. The right-rear tire caught him. Maybe he slipped.
If there’s anything I’m sure of, it’s that Stewart is distraught. I saw him that way after Irwin’s death. I saw it when Stewart’s Pontiac inadvertently hit and injured crewman Mike Lingerfelt at Daytona in 2000. The day Lingerfelt was released from the hospital, Stewart visited him at his Marietta, South Carolina, home.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Lingerfelt told me for my book. “Things like that make me want to get back out there.”
Every one of Stewart’s significant virtues can also be a vice. He has a great heart and a formidable temper. He loves the simpler times of his racing youth, so much so that they lead him back to his roots and expose him to danger and uncertainty.
Stewart and I have had our differences. It’s hard to imagine him getting along all the time with anyone. He never took my criticisms personally, probably because he knew I wasn’t out to get him and, maybe, just maybe, put some thought into what I wrote. As mad as I have sometimes been at Stewart, and as much of a pain in the ass as he could be, I was always thankful to be writing about a sport with him in it. He’s one of the best, but he is the most interesting.
This incident will change irrevocably Stewart’s life in ways that are impossible to foresee. This will take its toll on him. It might be his ruination. Guilt will torment him. Everything will change. This incident ended another man’s life.
One of those virtues that can be vices is that, if there is one characteristic of Stewart that most don’t understand, it is that he is prone to care too much, not too little.
Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, August 9, 2014, 2:26 p.m.
Watkins Glen International is often a course of opportunity. Now, though, the Chase is less choosy. It’s charitable, and for Marcos Ambrose, Tony Stewart, A.J. Allmendinger, Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle, and others, the Glen is a beacon, potentially leading one of them in through a season drenched in fog.
Ambrose, 37, won there two of the past three years and, at the Sprint Cup level, nowhere else. Stewart, 43, was won more races on this road course (five) than anyone else. Stewart could win anywhere. In the most recent (2011) of his three championship seasons, Stewart went winless in the regular season, then won half of the 10 races in the Chase. As it turns out, in a year in which the Chase has grown charitable, Stewart cannot afford the same luxury because he needs to win a regular-season race.
Switching back and forth between the Nationwide race and the PGA Championship: How many people watch golf who have never played it? How many watch NASCAR who have never driven a car?
Some would declare this an improper analogy, but when I played golf (I gave it up for a guitar), it was no closer to the game professionals play than a trip to the Family Dollar is to winning the Daytona 500.
I was much better in both golf and racing on video.
This is a tough day to watch TV. I’m enjoying both golf and racing, which is similar to switching back and forth between 24 and How I Met Your Mother. About a half hour ago, I watched Jason Day hit his tee shot across a river, wade through it, rummage around with David Feherty, intrepid TV guy, looking for it, and then save par. This was sort of like MRN’s Dave Moody running down through the grandstands to wrap duct tape around the quarterpanel of Casey Mears’ crumpled Impala.
Of course, NASCAR would never stand for it.
In many Nationwide Series races, Kyle Busch is money in the bank. That’s Ambrose at the Glen.
There’s been talk of Ambrose going home to Australia and running V-8 SuperCars. If I had the wherewithal, I’d just let him cherry-pick road races all over the world: NASCAR, touring cars, SuperCars, riding lawn mowers, barstools, whatever.
The King called Ambrose “un-flippin’-real.” Richard Petty doesn’t use F-words often.
Thanks for reading my stuff. I’d love it if you’d give my novels (The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope) a read, or perhaps you’d like the short stories posted at wellpilgrim.wordpress.com.