The Red Sox Right Now

Mookie Betts energizes the ballclub. (Monte Dutton sketch)
Mookie Betts energizes the ballclub. (Monte Dutton sketch)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, April 30, 2015, 4:50 p.m.

I’m not an expert or an insider. I’ve loved the Boston Red Sox since my earliest memory, and I watch them on TV every chance I can. Oft times my whole day revolves around getting everything done so that I can watch the Red Sox in peace.

Sometimes it’s not very peaceful.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I love baseball in general, too, which is why the Angels and the Athletics are on right now. I’m less attentive to other teams. They are in the background while I peck away at this laptop. I watch the Yankees with some interest because I dislike them about half as much as I love the Red Sox, who were handed down by my father, who has been dead going on 22 years and never saw them win a World Series, and I don’t feel quite as badly about that because, near the end, he really didn’t care that much. The monster he created was I.

The season is 13.6 percent over now. It’s a little early to be either exultant or angry. There’s no statistically valid sample.

Unlike many, I was sort of mildly pessimistic when the season began. I was concerned that what had been built since the moribund 2014 season ended was a fascinating team that might not be particularly cohesive. This isn’t rare in the history of baseball in Boston. It’s always tempting to load up on luxury items for any team catered to the oddities of Fenway Park.

I have this theory that too many modern baseball teams are built as if the general managers are playing fantasy leagues. As a result, there are lots of fantasy teams.

I drew this in 2013, and Koji Uehara and Daniel Nava are still favorites of mine. (Monte Dutton sketch)
I drew this in 2013, and Koji Uehara and Daniel Nava are still favorites of mine. (Monte Dutton sketch)

As bad as the starting pitching has been, on balance, the rotation is more marked by inconsistency than ineptitude. Sometimes I get confused and think Clay Buchholz is Charlie Sheen. I think there’s hope, though. Boston doesn’t have a starter who can reliably be called upon to stop the opposition cold. Getting one will probably be too expensive.

Mistuh, we could use a man like Curtis Schilling again …

In recent years, one observer after another has griped about how the Red Sox have too many outfielders, and then the season starts, and there wind up being places for all of them. It’s no accident when Shane Victorino gets hurt. He does every year. Depth was the reason Boston won the World Series two years ago, and the wealth of interchangeable parts is a strength, not a weakness.

I hope Hanley Ramirez, the mismatched left fielder, stays healthy. So far, he’s the heart of the offense. I think David Ortiz will get better as the season develops because, until he doesn’t, his record suggests that he will. Mookie Betts is a pleasure to watch in center, as is Brock Holt, who is a pleasure there and most everywhere else. Sometimes I think they should let him pitch one time just for the hell of it.

Allen Craig looks like a Red Sox uniform gives him a rash or something. Maybe it’s the piping. Or the odd shape of the numerals. I keep waiting for him to be even a shadow of what he once was in St. Louis.

The loss of Christian Vazquez was awful, but I think Ryan Hanigan will suffice, and the backup, Sandy Leon, is good defensively.

The only thing I have against Hanigan is that right before the season started, I watched James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy, and, even though the name in the song was different, I can’t get the words out of my head, damn it.

H, A, Double-R, I, G-A-N spells Harrigan …

H-A, Single-N, I, G-A-N spells Hanigan …

Also, I find myself speaking in an Irish brogue.

The infield? Dustin Pedroia looks healthy, and he’s dazzling at second base even when he isn’t. Mike Napoli looks better physically than he ever has before, in Boston, at least, and he looks so good that I can’t believe he’s not going to start hitting. I’m fine with Xavier Bogaerts. He’s getting there. Leave him at short and let him develop. Pablo Sandoval is amazingly mobile at third for a panda bear, and if he gets hurt, and I expect he will, Holt is ready.

Fenway Park: I've been there many times, but not lately, and I'm unlikely to get back up there soon. (Monte Dutton photo)
Fenway Park: I’ve been there many times, but not lately, and I’m unlikely to get back up there soon. (Monte Dutton photo)

The bullpen’s still strong, though Koji Uehara, whom I revere, doesn’t epitomize perfection as he did in 2013. He’s old. He’s done yeoman’s work. I think he’s got a good year left. I’d rather have him than Jonathan Papelbon, or, for that matter, half the other closers in baseball. John Farrell can line them up: Craig Breslow, Alexi Ogando, Anthony Varvaro (sounds like the sound of a Porsche), Edwin Escobar, Robbie Ross, Junichi Tazawa, and Uehara.

Thanks to baseball’s most erratic collection of starters, Farrell has to line them up a lot, and I worry that they’ll all be worn out come August. Farrell must, too, because, occasionally, he uses Edward Mujica. Keep that knuckleballer, Steven Wright, in the bigs, if for no other reason because he can eat some innings and take one for the team, if need be.

Plus, I miss Tim Wakefield.

This was my most recent visit. (Monte Dutton photo)
This was my most recent visit. (Monte Dutton photo)

Among the rotating Roman candles starting, Rick Porcello looked great Wednesday night. Buchholz has looked great twice … and three times he has looked like he needed a Snickers bar to make the transition back from the second coming of Buddy Hackett. Everyone wants Joe Kelly to succeed. He might yet. They’re pretty much all the same, other than Wade Miley is left-handed. At 30, Justin Masterson ought to be more than the goofy kid he was when he first hurled for the Bosox.

The chief reason the starters will get better is that there’s no way they can get worse.

They’re going to win their share of slugfests, these Red Sox. They’re not going to win the AL East with them.

What of the East? Everyone is convinced no wild card is coming from it, and that it’s down, but I’m not sure that isn’t an early overreaction, too. Mainly, so far, the division members have been beating up on one another, and it won’t be clear, really, whether the division is weak, or tough top to bottom, until they prowl the rest of the league. The Red Sox have already won series against Philadelphia and Washington from the NL’s parallel region.

It's quaint, intimate, uncomfortable and righteous. (Monte Dutton photo)
It’s quaint, intimate, uncomfortable and righteous. (Monte Dutton photo)

My guess is the Orioles are going to win the division again, mainly because Buck Showalter has grown in my estimation over the years, and I think he’ll get the most out of his team. The Yankees are going to hang around because they have lots of money, and it’s just about impossible for them not to contend. Toronto, I expect, will end up underachieving again, and the Rays are bound to tumble into a post-Joe Maddon malaise.

I think the Red Sox are going to contend, too, because most of their problems will get better, and they’re 12-10 right now.

I could be wrong. I’m not an insider. I just go by what I hear and see, and it can be misleading.

If you think of it, give my short fiction a read at, and consider my long fiction (and non-fiction) here:


I Bat My Brains on Most Mondays

Kurt Busch reminds me of "Flounder" at the end of Animal House. Oh, wait. I remind myself of "Flounder" at the end of Animal House. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch reminds me of “Flounder” at the end of Animal House. Oh, wait. I remind myself of “Flounder” at the end of Animal House. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, April 27, 2015, 9:34 a.m.

Every Monday finds me in the same predicament. I’ve written my weekly Bleacher Report column, and I take a look at how many have read it and how it’s been perceived. I look at the poll results. I go through the emails I didn’t go through the previous night. I think about where the next NASCAR race is (Talladega).

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I sip coffee and try to come up with an idea for a day-after blog here. Sometimes I get this blog started before I really know what it’s going to be. This is such a morning. My mind is flitting around from one tidbit to another without committing to anything coherent.

So … I’ve got two paragraphs. This one makes three, but it doesn’t count because it’s about the two above it, and they’re about nothing.

In lieu of a topic that floats my boat – Selma Hamrick used to say that quite often when I worked at FasTrack, a racing periodical – I think I’m going to watch Aerial America on Smithsonian. It’s about Washington, D.C.

Kurt Busch dominates the Toyota Owners 400.  (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch dominates the Toyota Owners 400. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)


10:49 a.m.

Kurt Busch.

As a writer, I love him. Writers like those who give them material. He is complicated and interesting. I mentioned Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the Bleacher Report column I wrote last night.

I expect we’ll see another round of “New Kurt Busch” stories this week. “It is to laugh,” as Bugs Bunny said.

The test of a man’s character is not how he responds to prosperity. Kurt has always been cooperative, civilized, and occasionally even witty after winning races. Kurt’s problem has always been how he responds when things don’t go to suit him.

There is no new Kurt Busch. There are Dr. Jekyll when he wins and Mr. Hyde when he doesn’t.

Here’s what I’ve observed of both Kurt and Tony Stewart over the years. I think there’s a side of both of them that is scared to act magnanimously. Both of them believe showing their asses is what they are supposed to do when adversity strikes. They’ve got it in their heads that, if they don’t throw a tantrum, they don’t want it badly enough.

Most people go through this stage but grow and mature out of it. Most people aren’t great race drivers. Many great race drivers never grow up.

As I made mention of the 2003 incident at Michigan International Speedway in the Bleacher Report column, this morning I found this report on YouTube:

11:20 a.m.

What is normally a great time of the season is taking place, and I think it’s been kind of disappointing. Three of the past four races have been on short tracks. In one of my recent Bleacher Report polls, about half of those who responded cited short tracks as their favorites. A little under 20 percent voted for the restrictor-plate tracks, Daytona and Talladega.

Jamie McMurray (left) with Kyle Larson.  (Christa L. Thomas/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Jamie McMurray (left) with Kyle Larson. (Christa L. Thomas/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

As noted above, Talladega is next.

Basically, I’ve been laboring over this blog because I’ve been laboring over this sport. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out just how so much has gone awry. The recent “double-file restarts” blog was an example of what I determined from thinking about this issue and discussing it with a couple close friends.

The top 10 in Richmond’s Toyota Owners 400 were, in order: Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick , Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Jeff  Gordon, Clint Bowyer, and Martin Truex Jr .

Has a familiar ring to it, huh?

Kurt Busch led 291 out of 400 laps. It used to be rather unusual for anyone to dominate a short track like that.

The ninth-place finisher, McMurray, said, “Well, Kurt had what you needed to win (Sunday). I could run him down by the end of the green-flag runs, but he just – he had such a quick car on restarts, and I got three shots at him on the outside. They kept throwing the caution, and I tried a little something different each time to see if I could get him to spin his tires or make a mistake, and he just didn’t make any mistakes.”

Is it I, or does someone say approximately that every week?

11:42 a.m.

During the two decades in which I went to at least 75 percent of the races every year, one of my fascinations was rainout crowds. For instance, up until about 10 years ago, there were tracks – Martinsville and Talladega being the most apparent – where almost everyone came back to watch the race even if it was run on Monday.

Guess who finished second? (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Guess who finished second? (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

On the other hand, Atlanta was a track where only a small percentage returned. I thought this was because of rush-hour traffic and still do. In fact, a great tragedy of Atlanta Motor Speedway is that it used to be a nightmarish place to get in and out of, regardless of time. Now that problem has been fixed by the construction of the Bruton Smith Parkway. Unfortunately, by the time the problem had gone away, so had the fans.

It’s the embodiment of the old Yogi Berra line: “That place is so crowded, nobody goes there anymore.”

It’s not true anywhere anymore. (Or anymore anywhere.) Have the fans gotten richer? It used to be that when a race fan paid $100 for a ticket, he was not going to miss that race, come, well, seldom hell but often high water.

Maybe it’s high-definition TV. Maybe bosses have gotten stricter. Maybe the fans are getting older and less willing to stay all day and then drive home all night. It used to be the economy, but now the economy is better, and gas is cheaper, and nothing is changing.

I get chided from time to time for being negative. Hell, I’m not negative. I’m sorrowful. It troubles me to see a sport which has dominated a good portion of my life fall on such hard times, and it also troubles me that people get mad when they hear so-called “negativity” without doing a whole lot to fix it.

It’s the racing, stupid.

I actually hear fans now who openly favor corruption. In other words, if the race is boring, they want to see bogus cautions. They want an inspector to drop a piece of metal out the side window of a truck, then get out and go pick it up.

If they’re going to manipulate the finishes, at least be open about it. They have these “competition cautions” early in races. Why not have them late? It would be honest.

Besides, they’ve pulled out every trick that P.T. Barnum ever dreamed up, anyway.

NASCAR ended up being a bad influence. I like writing fiction nowadays. My most recent short story at may be my favorite, and it’s not all that long:

I’m trying to get a new novel, Crazy of Natural Causes, published through the KindleScout program. It’ll take two clicks, beginning with this one, to help me out:

I’m asking a lot in this blog, and leaving lots of links. Here’s one that will enable you to purchase my books:


A Legend Comes Back Home


Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, April 26, 2015, 8:33 a.m.

In the chill of a November night in 1972, Ed Richardson, whose son coached the Clinton High School Red Devils, slapped Jimmy Dutton, whose son was keeping the scoreboard, across the back and yelled, well, this is a slightly cleaned-up equivalent, “He jumped him! He jumped him!”

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

It was the year of Clinton’s second state championship. The first had occurred in 1939. The Red Devils would win three more that decade. The kid sitting next to the man in a striped shirt, on a homemade, red-slathered stand behind the home bench, was in the ninth grade. He would be a member of another state championship team in 1975, and his younger brother would be a more valuable part of the title that occurred in 1978.

In a way, it was sort of typical of all that has happened since. I was keeping up with down and distance on the most glorious moment in the history of my hometown.

The game was at the old, old Wilder Stadium. Now Clinton plays in the merely old Wilder Stadium. The rickety stands of 1972 became the visitors’ side in 1975, and a concrete high-rise rose on the other.

It was sort of like Darlington Raceway.

WIN_20150426_094033On fourth down and two at the Pickens 20, fullback Kevin Long ran the ball to the left side, and, a little past the line of scrimmage, a Blue Flames standout stepped up to make the play, and what happened next remains the stuff of legend. Poor kid never touched him. Kevin hurdled him. I’m sure it wasn’t as spectacular as it now seems. Evel Knievel’s motorcyle never leaped schoolbuses that seemed that fantastic.

Kevin turned 60 on January 20. He still looks powerful, but it is belied by oxygen tubes he needs to breathe properly. He suffers from sarcoidosis, which my iPhone tells me is “the growth of tiny collections of inflammatory cells in different parts of the body.”

Late Saturday afternoon, I showed up at the First Baptist Church’s gym – of course, it’s officially the Family Life Center – along with about 200 others to honor Kevin, still the only Red Devil who played in the National Football League, and largely by virtue of a single, magical moment 43 years ago, the greatest legend.

Kevin became the first 1,000 yard rusher in the football history of the University of South Carolina in 1975. A teammate, Clarence Williams, also reached the milestone later in the same year. Kevin played five years with the New York Jets and Chicago Bears and was the Jets’ leading rusher in 1978. He twice gained over 1,000 yards for the Chicago Blitz of the United States Football League and also played for the Arizona Wranglers that the Blitz became. He played under Paul Dietzel, Jim Carlen, Walt Michaels, Mike Ditka, George Allen, and Frank Kush.


I just mingled, mostly with men who were infinitely greater athletes back in the day. Robert Scott, the state’s lineman of the year in 1972, looked great. So did Mike Clark and Marc McClain, and my old teammate, C.W. Wilson, and J.D. Fuller, who followed Kevin to stardom at USC.

Robert remembered that the backfield starters of 1972 likened themselves to the Miami Dolphins of that age. Kevin was Larry Csonka. Mike was Mercury Morris, and Jimmy Brock was Jim Kiick. That made Barry Saunders, who scored the two-point conversion that beat Pickens, 8-7, Bob Griese.

In the mind’s eye, that seems reasonable. Let me paraphrase another hero of mine, Tom T. Hall:

Was that only yesterday or [40] years ago? / Don’t forget the coffee, Billy Joe.

This wonderful affair, which raised money for sarcoidosis research, honored Kevin and men who supported the heroes of 1972. One ran a barbershop. Another ran a community center and sponsored a baseball team, the Midway Reds. Another is a “community activist” who remains one of the Red Devils’ more boisterous and loyal fans.

Here’s what I found myself thinking during the whole program. This was the week NASCAR broadcaster Steve Byrnes died of cancer. All week I had been mourning Steve’s loss, and the overriding sadness came from how rare it is that people live to discover what others really think of them. The tributes usually fall posthumously, and I thought it was wonderful that Kevin, beloved by my late father and a hero of mine, got to hear all the heartfelt words reflecting how much his hometown loved him.

I gave him a transcript of an interview conducted 30 years ago. It was during the research for my first book, Pride of Clinton, a history of football in my hometown high school. The book spanned 1920 to 1985, and I have a bound notebook full of that research, only a portion of which made it into the book.

This has been on the wall of Wilder Stadium for about three decades. (Monte Dutton photo)
This has been on the wall of Wilder Stadium for about three decades. (Monte Dutton photo)

Keith Richardson, the coach who led Clinton to six of its eight state titles, said that Kevin Long’s true greatness was as a man, not a football player, and the fact that he made something of himself, by graduating from USC and raising a fine family and being active in his church, was the example that today’s kids should emulate.

King Dixon, the 1950s’ athletic icon of the county who went from Laurens to USC and then the Marine Corps, was there, as were representatives of the Gamecock athletic department and New Ebenezer Baptist Church in Columbia, where Kevin has lived for 30 years.

The 1972 Clinton High football team changed the whole town. It eased integration. It created the enthusiasm that led to the renovation of the football stadium, which needs updating again now. I think of that team as the school’s greatest, but that is in part because, as a ninth grader, I occasionally had to scrimmage against it, and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to compete at that level. But people mature and step up, and during those wondrous decades, Clinton High School’s football team was a smooth-running engine with reliable replacement parts.

Wilder Stadium. (Monte Dutton photo)
Wilder Stadium. (Monte Dutton photo)

I think of 1972 as modern, but I realized, looking at the passel of kids in the audience, some whom represented the current Red Devils, that it’s not very modern to them. Kevin Long, to a wide-eyed 17-year-old, might as well be Red Grange or Jim Thorpe compared to my perspective way back then.

They think they know. They don’t. But they might learn.

The 1972 Clinton High Red Devils also inspired my novel, The Intangibles. A little of it is based on true incidents, but most of it is made up. I wrote a song, “Go Big Red,” that waited nearly 30 years for me to learn how to play guitar. The song mentions Kevin Long.

Precious memories linger / They still come back to my mind / Of Kevin Long off tackle / Charlie Norman in his prime / Kevin played pro ball / Charlie passed away / But he’ll never die to those who saw him play / Lord, Lord / He’ll never die to those who saw him play.

Most of my books – all but Pride of Clinton, which is out of print – are available here:


Sometimes Racing Makes Me Think of Flying

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Because flying is better from a distance, I used to enjoy watching planes land and take off at Sky Harbor International Airport from South Mountain  State Park south of Phoenix. (Monte Dutton)
Because flying is better from a distance, I used to enjoy watching planes land and take off at Sky Harbor International Airport from South Mountain State Park south of Phoenix. (Monte Dutton)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, April 24, 2015, 10:34 a.m.

I’ve written about writing. I’ve perused and posted on the social media. I’ve entered a new short story in a contest. I’ve had breakfast. It’s still fairly early, considering. Who knows? I might even shave, bathe, and wear something other than ratty sweats and a pocket tee shirt.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Presbyterian College’s final baseball series begins this afternoon. I spend so much time cooped up at home, writing and scheming to make my fortune, that the time I get out is golden. It’s amazing what tiny glimpses can inspire short stories and songs. I don’t tell their stories. The appearance and mannerisms conjure up stories.

Imagine how impossible it would be for me to keep up if I were still traveling all over the country writing about NASCAR. Imagine how many wonderful stories I let slip away.

Richmond was always my longest drive. Once upon a time, I flew there, but then they renovated the airport, and I got tired of the hassle that piled atop the hassle that was already intensifying in the world of air travel.

I had a flat tire on the way home once. It wasn’t as bad as the baggage claim.

High above … somewhere … out west … I think.

When one lives in a small town, one sometimes is asked, “So, you get to fly all these places, right?” and I had to laugh. People who don’t do it much think it’s glamorous. Among activities in my life as glamorous as modern air travel are:

  1. Feeding most livestock. I would give air travel the edge over slopping hogs.
  2. Skiing. Once I was young and healthy enough that I could theoretically do it. I just couldn’t actually do it. Oh, I tried. I went on several trips and found that if I drank enough, the falls didn’t hurt so much. The main trick I learned was how to fall and tumble at 30 mph over and over without dying a gruesome and painful death.
  3. The American Legion baseball beat. Once I saw Easley score 18 runs in the top of the first … and lose the game. After the first inning, most of the parents left. Some of the coaches may have left. The scoreboard operator and I had to stay. A guy selling boiled peanuts stayed. I bought several bags because I felt sorry for him. Misery loves company.
  4. Football practice. It’s misery, like air travel, but it’s possible to win at the end of the week.
  5. Taking three kids to Chuck E Cheez. My nephew, now a budding Master of the Universe, once peed on himself in the gigantic box of plastic balls. Other kids squealed. Mothers retched. I maintained an outward calm but probably became a bit flushed.

I could go on, but I’ve already sufficiently explored the bounds of civility.

If you’d like to read my short fiction, reviews, and observations about writing, please visit, and please consider my books, fiction and non, here:


Me? I’m Too Spooked to Exaggerate

Steve Byrnes never left Washington too far behind. (Monte Dutton photo)
Steve Byrnes never left Washington too far behind. (Monte Dutton photo)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, April 22, 2015, 11:21 a.m.

If one writes about NASCAR for 20 years, it’s likely that, at some point during that span, he or she is going to sit on a plane next to most everyone else making those nettlesome journeys. Long odds become short ones over two decades.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

For instance, I once sat next to John Prine on a flight from Richmond, Virginia, to Charlotte, North Carolina, and he’s not even a NASCAR icon. He’s an icon at large.

I was once changing planes in Atlanta, a pastime to be avoided, when I walked off a plane from Greenville-Spartanburg, asked how to get to a plane headed to Daytona Beach, Florida, and was directed to a plane headed for Dayton, Ohio. Being at the wrong end of the Atlanta airport is akin to being misdirected to turn two instead of turn four at Talladega Superspeedway. Atlanta has fast trains, or trams, or whatever they are, but it was still a panicky march. I barely made the plane, and when I walked in, sweaty and heaving, who was in the seat next to me but Buddy Baker, who was highly amused, as Buddy is prone to be.

Great mirth ensued once I caught my breath.

I met Steve Byrnes long before either of us covered NASCAR. He was working at a TV station in Charleston, South Carolina, I believe, and we were both at a preseason, promotional gathering put on by the University of South Carolina’s football program. It was so long ago that I could actually play tennis at the time, not that I was very good at it. I was then capable of getting clobbered by my younger brother several times a week, but I was better than the pitching coach of the local minor-league baseball team. Byrnes and I were paired in doubles, and I was glad to have him on my side.

It's said that Steve Byrnes is in a better place. Probably something like this one. (Monte Dutton photo)
It’s said that Steve Byrnes is in a better place. Probably something like this one. (Monte Dutton photo)

I would say, though, that 80 percent of my lifetime interaction with Byrnes, who died of cancer on Tuesday, occurred on a plane from Charlotte to … somewhere up north. It may have been Elmira, or Manchester, or Allentown, maybe even Detroit, none of which is important, but we talked almost exclusively about the Washington Redskins, for whom Byrnes had great affection.

Most of the conversations Byrnes and I had since were about the Redskins, and there weren’t more because there hasn’t been much to talk about regarding the NFL team in Our Nation’s Capital. Steve and I were almost the same age, and we went back to the George Allen years, which meant we talked Sonny Jurgensen, Billy Kilmer, Larry Brown, Sam Huff, Charley Taylor, et al. I remember that Steve was particularly impressed that I knew the jersey number of a fairly obscure Washington defensive back named Ted Vactor. He was No. 29, which, signifying nothing, is also the name of a great song by Steve Earle.

Knowing Ted Vactor’s number gave me great Redskins credibility with Steve, and I didn’t let on that the reason was more that I had a photographic memory than that I was a big Ted Vactor fan. I could have told him that Len Hauss was 56, Brig Owens was 23, George Starke 74, Myron Pottios 66, etc.

For the rest of the time I was on the NASCAR beat, every time we bumped into each other, Steve usually broached the subject of the Redskins. Commiseration was often involved.

Or here.  (Monte Dutton photo)
Or here. (Monte Dutton photo)

It’s not much, but it’s all I’ve got. He was a good guy, a cut above the bounty hunters and poachers who often populate the TV business. He knew more about the world outside NASCAR than many others I sat next to on planes. Nothing but NASCAR would’ve made Steve a dull boy, and he wasn’t.

On Tuesday, I was riding around the yard on a lawn tractor, and then listening to Sirius XM between stops at an office-supply store, a Presbyterian College baseball game, and Whiteford’s Drive-In. Then I watched the Boston Red Sox play the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Los Angeles Dodgers visit the San Francisco Giants, and I finally went to bed when the Giants took a 6-1 lead in the eighth, but through all that, I was preoccupied by thoughts of death and dying, and how I hate the way people treat death almost as much as death itself.

This morning I didn’t want to get all melodramatic and tell a tiny part of the world how I lost a great friend in Steve Byrnes. I find that distasteful when people overstate the case, as they did with Dale Earnhardt and David Poole, and, quite possibly, the great majority of people, rich and poor, famous and obscure, who ever lived. I can imagine a caveman claiming he remembered the day he and the late, great Igwebuike invented fire together. Maybe Babalooey was there, too.

A man’s greatness stands on its own. Steve Byrnes was a good guy. The above is most of what I knew about him. I’m not trying to advance my career with this. I’m just trying to pay homage to a man with whom I was friendly, not a man with whom I was friends. If I overstated this case, I’m sure I’d have to answer for it at the Pearly Gates, just as I’m sure there’s a big holdup in the line because of this human flaw.

Thanks for reading my piddling stuff. I piddle slightly less with my short fiction, which is available at, and I really bear down when I write books, most of which are available here:


Like Making Sausage

Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, et al., weren't the only ones in a hurry at Bristol. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, et al., weren’t the only ones in a hurry at Bristol. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Gotta an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, April 20, 2015, 11:18 a.m.

I got up thinking that the difference between being at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday and watching the Sprint Cup race at home wasn’t as great as I thought.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

A year ago, and the year before that, I’d watch the races, go to sleep, think them through, and write the precursor of this blog. There wasn’t much money in it, but it was a pleasant pastime. Nowadays, perspective is lacking because no one has time for it.

Starting this year, I write a weekly piece for Bleacher Report, which is basically a post-race column. Here’s the one I put to bed at a little shy of 2 a.m. EDT.

Jimmie Johnson finished second to Matt Kenseth. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson finished second to Matt Kenseth. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

It’s quite the assembly line. When the race is over, I start forming the column, turning a few phrases, and adding to the mix as information – the race report and transcripts, mainly – trickles into this laptop and the larger one in my office. The larger one is better for layout, and I never had to do layout when I was working at newspapers.

I work with an editor, and we agree on a topic and a headline, but I add photos, video, and other mechanisms to complement the words. Sometimes they improve on what I do back at the office out west. It’s fun, actually, but not as much at 2 in the morning.

Jeff Gordon (24) finished third and Tony Stewart sixth. (Alan Marler/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon (24) finished third and Tony Stewart sixth. (Alan Marler/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

It feels a little like being there – at Bristol, not out west — only I don’t have to trudge up the ramp out the speedway and travel home, whether then or the next morning. Instead of going into the dining room of the media center to see if they brought in any cold pizza, I’ve got a refrigerator and a coffee pot. Instead of being in a room full of people fretting feverishly on deadline, I fret privately.

Modern journalism means that everything is on deadline. Press times are no longer arbitrary. They are ubiquitous. There’s no “hold the press” or “going late to get this in.” It’s always a matter of writing the best one can as quickly as possible.

I’ve always thrived on deadlines. I’ve always found it sort of exhilarating. I’ve also likened it to taking the SATs. (Man wearing ancient woolen suit, staring at a watch, saying “Five minutes. You have five minutes.”)

My longtime description is that it’s a matter of trying to make the crap stink as little as possible, but there is skill, satisfaction, and craftsmanship in the sordid process.

Thankfully, I took my time on this one. I take my time on the short stories available for your free perusal at, and I took a lot of time on the books available for your purchase here:


Time to Redraw Some Lines

I believe in happy endings. (Monte Dutton)
I believe in happy endings. (Monte Dutton)

Gotta an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, April 19, 2015, 2:53 p.m.

Last night I dreamed of Hillbilly Heaven / Oh, what a beautiful sight …

Actually, it wasn’t Hillbilly Heaven. It wasn’t beautiful. It wasn’t a dream. I just couldn’t sleep.

Bristol Motor Speedway might be Hillbilly Heaven, but not when it’s raining. Last night had nothing to do with NASCAR. I just thought of the old Tex Ritter lyric.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I couldn’t sleep at all last night, which is another lyric. It’s hard to write something that wasn’t a lyric of some kind.


For a good bit of the night, I could hear the deluge outside while my mind was storming inside. I had been weary earlier in the night, so much so that I had to sip coffee in order to maintain enough alertness to read a book, Motorsports and American Culture: From Demolition Derbies to NASCAR, edited by Mark D. Howell and John D. Miller, and contributed to by my friend Jon Edwin Mason, who gave it to me when he visited Clinton several weeks back. If you’re interested in a scholarly approach to automobile racing, I recommend it. I’m finding it refreshing, and, when I finish it, I’ll review it.

I didn’t even try to go to sleep until the coffee had worn out. I normally sleep well. I’d say the last time I had a night like this one was in 1992, the last year before I started writing about NASCAR for a living. First, I was sweaty and thought I might be coming down with something, but I got up and discovered that the temperature in the house had risen to 75, so I turned on the air conditioning, the house cooled quickly, and I still couldn’t sleep. I got up and turned on this laptop. I wrote a long letter.

Brainstorming is common for me, but most of the time it helps me sleep. It’s a strange phenomenon that began when I started writing short stories. If I dream something, I’ll forget it, but if I’m trying to sleep, what I ponder stays vivid and helps me to work my way out of the crossroads and forks in my stories.

Reuben James / You still walk the furrowed fields of my mind …

It's raining. Maybe I'll listen to Elvis. (Monte Dutton sketch)
It’s raining. Maybe I’ll listen to Elvis. (Monte Dutton sketch)

I made lots of decisions. I’m not going to waste as much of my time. I’m going to back off from the cleverness of social media and try to find the wisdom of more substantial pastimes. At this point of my life, I don’t know how to do anything else but write, and no one else is interested in seeing me try. There are better ways to cultivate writing than tweeting. I’m still going to do it. I’m just not going to do it as much. I’m going to back off from the overkill … and just kill. Not the time. The negligible effort. I’m going to nurture the time and make better use of it.

Some will say, well, that’ll change. It might. Those people didn’t believe me when I said I wasn’t going back to the track, either.

The practical impact of last night is, most likely, that I’m not going to bore my readers silly as much.

So rejoice. What’s available will be more worthwhile.

All of the above is not to say that I don’t appreciate all the readers who support my frivolity. I hope you’ll read my short stories at and make the modest investment necessary to read my books, which are conveniently available here:



Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show

Clint Bowyer is in a slump. Bristol must look like an oasis. (Nick Laham/Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Clint Bowyer is in a slump. Bristol must look like an oasis. (Nick Laham/Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Gotta an indie bookstore! Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, April 17, 2015, 2:56 p.m. A dry spell is ahead for those who love NASCAR short-track racing. It’s all the more reason to savor these next two weekends. Not only is it “Bristol, baby.” The following race is at Richmond. Martinsville was two weeks ago. Afterwards, there won’t be another short-track race until Aug. 22, at Bristol again, and then it’s on to Darlington, which isn’t a short track but is unique, and Richmond again in the final race before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Back before NASCAR officials turned Darlington into a rubber ball to bounce around the schedule, the end of the summer was, hands down, my favorite part of the schedule. I expect it to be the case again now that order has been restored. This week I’ve put a lot of thought into what makes short tracks so special and intermediate tracks so routine at this point in NASCAR history. I wrote one blog this week on how the number of probable winners seems greatly narrowed on the tracks that comprise a plurality of the schedule and another on my belief that the so-called “double-file restarts” have hurt racing at those tracks. Part of it, though, is that I love the three short tracks on the schedule.

Always the cool customer, Matt Kenseth (Monte Dutton sketch)
Always the cool customer, Matt Kenseth (Monte Dutton sketch)

“Whenever you run really [well], you want to feel like the driver made a huge difference,” Matt Kenseth said Friday. “I don’t know that the driver makes any more or less of a difference here than a lot of other tracks. Certainly there are some tracks – Daytona and Talladega, places like that — where going fast doesn’t necessarily have a lot to do with talent, but I think every track is very unique, but no matter how good you think you are at a certain track, if your car doesn’t do what you need it to do, you’re not going to run up front. It’s just too competitive. “Every week we all work as hard as we can to try to make the cars as fast as we can and try to make them drive as [well] as we can. Certainly, when we get to short tracks, they’re less dependent on aerodynamics and even the engine, to a certain extent. If you feel like you have a deficit in those areas, then it doesn’t make as big of a difference at a short track, but I’m not so sure that we have a deficit in those areas. I think each track is important, and you try to make as much of a difference as you can everywhere.” Kenseth is a tactful fellow. Without putting words in his mouth, or trying to replace some of them with others, I believe what Kenseth was saying, or perhaps intimating, was that, yes, the driver does make more of a difference on short tracks. There are more good drivers than good cars at the Atlantas, the Fontanas, the Vegases, the Texases, etc., of the NASCAR world. It doesn’t mean that Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson, the two drivers with two victories so far, are unlikely to win on Sunday at the track that considers itself a “Colosseum” like unto Rome, where chariots raced in antiquity. What it means is that Martin Truex Jr. has a better shot to win in a season in which he has repeatedly proved he can run in the top 10.

Stewart (14) races Martin Truex Jr. at Bristol on March 16, 2014. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)
Stewart (14) races Martin Truex Jr. at Bristol on March 16, 2014. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

Fans like to ask, “Why don’t they build more short tracks?” Short tracks are untidy. They involve bumping and rubbing and all the parts of racing that occurred everywhere in Days of Thunder but not in real life. Short tracks fit Bristol, Tennessee, and Richmond and Martinsville, Virginia. They don’t fit Las Vegas any more than Del McCoury Band is likely to sell out the casinos. Vegas is “Elvis, baby,” or, rather, his class of impersonators. It’s not just racing. It’s culture. Short tracks involve camping out and spending little waking time without a beer in the hand and Lynyrd Skynyrd playing. Would the pre-race concert at Chicagoland Speedway be Old Crow Medicine Show? Doubtful. God, I wish I was there to see it. It’s said that Bristol isn’t what it used to be. At the moment, what the hell is? Thanks for reading my blogs here, and I hope you’ll sample the short fiction I post regularly at Please consider buying my books, two of them novels, one of them on music, and the rest on NASCAR, at this link:

Why “Double-file Restarts” Stink

Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads all the pretty race cars, most all in a row, at Auto Club Speedway. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads all the pretty race cars, most all in a row, at Auto Club Speedway. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Gotta an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, April 15, 2015, 10:59 a.m.

In June 2009, NASCAR instituted what it called “double-file restarts,” which was kind of a contradiction in terms because restarts were already “double-file.” What the change meant was that, at the end of every caution period, the field was aligned by position, same as the start.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Previously, one line had consisted of cars on the lead lap, and the other had been made up of cars that weren’t. It thus provided a means for drivers to race their cars back onto the lead lap by managing to get ahead of the leader. If he could stay there until the next caution period, he could drive around the track and join the line of lead-lap cars. The rules at the time also provided for cars “on the tail end of the lead lap” (another woeful and redundant term) to start ahead of the car that was actually leading.

Many fans, roughly the same number that don’t understand what is now known as “the wave-around,” didn’t really understand how this worked. A good many writers and broadcasters didn’t seem to understand it, either, or, perhaps, more accurately, didn’t care to understand it.

“We’ve heard the fans loud and clear: ‘double-file restarts, shootout style,’ are coming to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. This addition to the race format is good for competition and good for the fans.” — Brian France, June 2009

The change was almost universally praised. I had my doubts, but I suppose I just didn’t want to buck public opinion and didn’t grasp the full implications. If a driver a lap down lined up in, say, 23rd position, he had virtually no chance to “race his way” back onto the lead lap. NASCAR officials had already instituted the “lucky-dog” rule, which provided that the driver running highest among those a lap down could get a “free pass” back on the lead lap.

Martin Truex Jr. has been one of the season's pleasant surprises. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex Jr. has been one of the season’s pleasant surprises. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

In a sense, the free passes were necessary because they provided a means of upward mobility. Since the new meaning of “double-file restarts” didn’t provide a meaningful way for drivers to “race their way” back, something had to be done to, well, keep the number of competitive cars healthy at the end of races. I’m ready to write now what I didn’t write then. What I did write then was that the “wave-around rule” could be blocked. If all the lead-lap cars pitted, the “wave-around” would be awarded those drivers who didn’t. As it was originally announced, let’s say Hendrick Motorsports had three cars on the lead lap. One was damaged. If that car stayed out, he could block the wave-around by, essentially, taking one for the team. He might even take one for the team if his car wasn’t fast enough to win, or if he had teammates more likely to contend for the championship.

NASCAR fixed this simply by reading the rule differently. The only block of a wave-around became the leader staying out, which was quite a bit more risky than having the car running 18th stay out to keep fast cars that had experienced misfortune – a flat tire, a pit-road penalty, a short-lived mechanical problem – a lap down.

Paul Menard and Tony Stewart at Auto Club Speedway. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Paul Menard and Tony Stewart at Auto Club Speedway. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

This is sort of complicated to explain, but what I have concluded is that the racing was better before the rules changed. Particularly at intermediate tracks, having the lead cars start up front accentuated the effect of “aero push,” which gave the lead car, able to clear the cars behind, the advantage of “clean air.”

The relatively free pass to clean air has greatly diminished the quality of the racing at tracks that comprise over 40 percent of the schedule. Under the old system, the leader was often stuck in traffic. He had to race his own way past the lapped cars and those at the end of the lead lap, which were, oddly, in front of them instead of behind. Runaways had been, thus, quite a bit more difficult to pull off.

Wave-arounds have often come in handy for Danica Patrick. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Wave-arounds have often come in handy for Danica Patrick. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Many races at Atlanta, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Texas, Kansas, Chicagoland, Auto Club, Michigan, Kentucky, and Homestead have been snoozers ever since, or, at least, snoozers until the slam-bam final laps. Those tracks have been falling in the public’s eye ever since. Road courses have gone from being the least favorite tracks to the most in the eyes of many. Short tracks have risen in prestige. The “restrictor-plate tracks” have generally maintained their prestige, though technical changes have created some variance.

I’m late to the party, but, fortunately, there isn’t one. This morning, I mainly drink alone. If the damage done to NASCAR’s competitive reputation by the imprecisely worded “double-file restarts” has occurred to others, I missed their claims. I dreaded writing this blog for quite some time, measured in years, because I didn’t look forward to the tedium of explaining it. I hope, finally, I’ve managed to write this in a way that others can understand.

Give my short fiction a look at, and if, miraculously, you enjoy it, please consider the books I’ve written that you can purchase here:

The Usual Suspects Number Two

The No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson has a target on it, but it's too far away to hit. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
The No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson has a target on it, but it’s too far away to hit. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Gotta an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, April 13, 2015, 7:15 p.m.

I had a bit of a “Eureka moment” this morning.

The racing at NASCAR’s intermediate tracks has fallen into disfavor, and I was wondering why. By intermediate track, I’m referring to those that are intermediate in several ways. They are 1.5 to 2.0 miles in length, ovals by approximate configuration, 14 to 24 degrees in banking, and unrestricted in power.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

They comprise about 44 percent of the tracks and 39 percent of the races, the difference reflecting the fact that not every track has two annual points events.

As seems the case with every great burning issue in NASCAR and a goodly percentage of those elsewhere, it’s much easier to list the problems than it is to assign importance.

Among the reasons frequently mentioned are, in no particular order: (1.) the simple, intuitive “the racing stinks”; (2.) whoever is in front invariably pulls away; (3.) not enough passing; and, (4.) too many tricks designed to make it look better than it is.

We now live in a world where some approve of debris cautions even if they are bogus. If they bunch up the field for a few laps and inject some strategy, more and more fans are basically saying to NASCAR, “More power to you.”

I’m not willing to call for institutionalized corruption myself. If they’re waving a caution flag for competition reasons, be honest about it. Early in races, they have “competition cautions” many weeks. I often refer to them as “lack of competition cautions,” but at least they’re honest.

Kevin Harvick has won three of the past six races on intermediate tracks. Johnson won the other three. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick has won three of the past six races on intermediate tracks. Johnson won the other three. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Forget about all that, though. What occurred to me, lying in bed, half asleep, pondering whether or not I ought to sleep a little longer, was that what is most wrong at the intermediate tracks is their predictability. I think Denny Hamlin’s post-race remarks at Texas may have spurred my thought processes.

Perhaps Hamlin was a bad influence, but here’s what he said:

“Stats don’t lie, and the stats say that those guys (Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson) … [are] going to be capable of winning right now. To be realistic, we need stuff to go our way. We need cautions and track position. We just can’t drive through the field like that — what those guys are capable of — and we’re a work in progress.

“From ideas to design to on the race track is six months, and sometimes it’s a year, and I’m confident, though, that by the time we get to the Chase, we’re going to have something that’s capable of running with those guys. We don’t right now.”

Why is Kurt Busch smiling? He seems fast enough but hasn't managed to pull off a win yet. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Why is Kurt Busch smiling? He seems fast enough but hasn’t managed to pull off a win yet. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

I’d add Kurt Busch to the “cut above” category. The Penske Fords, driven by Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, are close. The remaining Hendrick Chevys – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, and Kasey Kahne – are within range. So is the sport’s most notable underdog of the moment, Martin Truex Jr., and the Gibbs Toyotas of Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, and, at present, David Ragan. The Ganassi Chevys of Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson have their moments.

Still, when a race starts on an intermediate track, right now, it appears as if either Harvick or Johnson is going to win. This has some basis in fact, particularly if one narrows the track definition to the 1.5-mile tracks, where either Harvick or Johnson has won the past six. Each has won three.

It will get better. It could scarcely get worse.

Here’s my theory. The biggest reason for the dreary expectation is that there aren’t enough drivers and cars, at present, that can win.

The tracks aren’t made from one “cookie cutter,” as is often claimed, but three: (1.) the Bruton Smith model (truncated tri-ovals with sharp angles), (2.) the D-shaped model (rounded trioval, less banking), and (3.) the Michigan model (similar to No. 2 but slightly longer). Homestead-Miami isn’t a tri-oval but belongs in the class as the only unique one.

At Atlanta, Charlotte, Vegas, Texas, Kansas, Chicagoland, Auto Club, Michigan, Kentucky, and Homestead, the favorites are Harvick and Johnson. Someone else might win. Strategy affects the outcome, but if the end of the race is near, and Harvick or Johnson is out front, the heavy odds are that Harvick or Johnson will win.

The field of contenders is much broader at the plate tracks, the flat tracks, the short tracks, the road courses, and Darlington, which, of course, is a marvel unto itself.

Martin Truex Jr. leads Ryan Newman at Kansas Speedway last fall. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex Jr. leads Ryan Newman at Kansas Speedway last fall. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Someone like, oh, Clint Bowyer might win. Or Truex. Or Ryan Newman.

He might even do it by outrunning Harvick and Johnson.

At the tracks that most affect who will win the Sprint Cup championship, most teams are trying to pull rabbits out of hats.

Read my short fiction at, and when, invariably, you love what you read there, undoubtedly you’ll want to buy some of my books here: