The Miles Used to Be More of a Monster

Jimmie Johnson (right) has won more times (9) at Dover than anyone else, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has also won there.  (Rusty Jarrett/HHP photo  for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson (right) has won more times (9) at Dover than anyone else, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has also won there. (Rusty Jarrett/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, May 29, 2015, 2:46 p.m.

From the first time I went there in the early 1990s, I liked Dover. It was Dover Downs back then, but now the downs are just where harness racing is held, officially, and the track I like even more because it is run at a reasonable distance.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

The last 500 miles/laps race at Dover scared me because it was a fine race, and I thought to myself, well, now Denis McGlynn will change his mind.

As a general rule, I’m not in favor of shortening Sprint Cup races. I think endurance and concentration separate Cup drivers from the rest, and that’s the way it should be, and if Cup races were shortened to, say, 300 miles or laps in the case of short tracks, I’d hate to see Xfinity and Truck races shortened to 100 or 150, and I’d hate it just as much if they were roughly the same length as Cup races.

Four hundred miles works just fine for Dover, and, once upon a time, it worked for Rockingham, though, by all available evidence, not well enough.

In the old days – the last 500-miler was on June 1, 1997, won by Ricky Rudd – I’d sit up in the press box and watch David Poole play a simulated golf game, Jim McLaurin work crosswords, and Larry Woody read a novel. I couldn’t bring myself to divert my attentions thusly, but, then again, that was relatively early in my NASCAR-writing career, and I was a bit more doctrinaire, as young writers tend to be.

Jeff Gordon won the most recent race at Dover and once won three in a row. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)
Jeff Gordon won the most recent race at Dover and once won three in a row. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)

My attention just withered the old-fashioned ways.

We called each race The 24 Hours of Dover.

Perhaps my favorite beginning of a race advance went something like this:

The spectacle of Winston Cup stock cars diving like fighter jets into the bleached banking of Dover Downs International Speedway is breathtaking.

Unfortunately, it will happen 1,000 times in Sunday’s MBNA 500.

I like Dover because it’s different, and watching those cars roar through the turns is exciting. It’s a little like my favorite track, Darlington Raceway, in that, to me, it almost doesn’t matter if a driver is running away with the race. Just watching the cars go around and around is interesting, and there’s always something to see. Darlington is narrow and perilous, and it’s gotten even more so since the SAFER barriers took up a small portion of the room cars used to be able to use to get through the turns. That space is negligible everywhere but Darlington.

Dover has always been the Monster Mile. I wish it was the White Cliffs of Dover. Those concrete banks are massive. I also like watching the cars come off turn four – the press-box view is from turn one – and ride a little hump that confronts them as they seem to descend onto the front straight.

I miss the women who work in the press box and infield media center. Dover is a friendly place. I miss playing songs near the entrance to the slots casino. I miss the Monday, after a rain-delayed race, when I hit those slots for some big money. I was superstitious. I had this theory that they tightened the slots when all the race fans descended, so I only gambled on Thursday when I got there and Monday when I was headed to the airport. I’ve no evidence that it was true, only that it worked pretty well for me. If I lost money at Dover, it was never much.

I can’t remember the last time I gambled. It was probably the last time I went to Dover, in September of 2012. There’s not much gambling here in Clinton because, as I’m sure you know, parlay cards are for amusement purposes only.

I hope you’ll take an occasional look at my, uh, “literary” blog site, www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and consider buying one or more of my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

Save the Goose!

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Kevin doesn't worry. He's happy. (HHP/John Galloway photo for Chevrolet)
Kevin doesn’t worry. He’s happy. (HHP/John Galloway photo for Chevrolet)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, May 25, 2015, 11:53 a.m.

On May 21, at Charlotte Motor Speedway in what NASCAR officials call “a driver availability,” i.e., a media conference, Kevin Harvick, the reigning Sprint Cup champion, said, “Wait a second. Let’s clarify the ‘aero push.’ Does anybody watch Formula One? It’s been there for years. It’s in IndyCars. It’s in racing. If you run behind one of your colleagues … you’re going to have an aero push.

“It’s never going to get fixed.”

In other words, live with it.

Kurt Busch leads Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Kurt Busch leads Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

“It’s always going to exist in racing,” Harvick added. “It’s never going to not exist. Your car is never going to run as fast behind another car as it does by itself. It’s just impossible. … I think these cars, over the last 20 years, have become more sensitive in aero push. I just think, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, it was probably there; they just didn’t know, and we almost know too much about everything that’s going on now.

“I could make my car run fast behind other cars last week, but it’s just a totally different way of driving the car when you’re behind somebody than it is when you’re driving by yourself. Denny Hamlin (winner of the Sprint All-Star Race) made a good move, and he kind of caught me off guard. I felt like I had options to run all the way up against the wall, or I could run on the bottom. I could maneuver my car. It’s just that he kind of caught me off guard at the right time, and I was committed to the middle. … When you’re behind a car, you can’t overdrive it. It’s just something that’s always going to exist. It’s impossible to fix.”

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

In a way, this is certainly true, but in another, it’s a rationalization. It’s a matter of degree. Maybe it’s impossible to fix, but one would think it’s possible to control. Harvick was being honest, but there has to be hope.

In Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, a race of automobiles more aerodynamically and technologically advanced than those racing in NASCAR, the racing was extraordinary. For practically the entire distance, at least three cars dueled for the lead. They looked like earthbound fighter jets engaging in spectacular dogfights. They made NASCAR look bad. They made fans dread the Coca-Cola 600 that followed it on Sunday night, and, while the Charlotte race was a little better than the previous year, it required several cups of coffee to stay awake and sit through it. The Indianapolis 500 required a glass of milk – and, yes, for the winner, a quart – to settle one’s nerves.

In front of their TV sets, many NASCAR fans were pumping their fists the same way Juan Pablo Montoya was when he crossed the finish line. Their second emotion was fear, and embarrassment, that Charlotte was going to pale in comparison, and, sure enough, it did.

Carl Edwards knows how to throw a damn fine celebration. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Carl Edwards knows how to throw a damn fine celebration. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Carl Edwards won Charlotte on strategy. Montoya won Indy on guts.

NASCAR hasn’t fixed its problems. By and large, it’s tried to hide them by changing rules. Understandably, officials are defensive about this, and they cite all sorts of numbers about lead changes, cars on the lead lap, etc. Numbers do lie because if these rules – these bells of wave-arounds and whistles of debris – had been in place in 1975, lots of cars would have been on the lead lap, too. It’s like saying the Revolutionary War would have been different had the British had bombers.

Remember this guy? He showed out at Indy. (John Clark photo)
Remember this guy? He showed out at Indy. (John Clark photo)

Many fans are the same way. They say, “Get rid of these mile-and-a-half tracks. Give us more short tracks. Give us more road courses.”

They ignore the fact that intermediate tracks, the ones on which almost half of the races are contested, used to be better. Look at the history of the all-star race, once known as The Winston and now carrying Sprint’s name. They used to provide memories that live today of Dale Earnhardt outdueling Bill Elliott, Rusty Wallace wrecking Darrell Waltrip (“I hope he chokes on that $200,000”) and Charlotte’s first night race, when winner Davey Allison had to be taken to a hospital instead of to Victory Lane.

Now it’s hard to remember what happened in the all-star races of the past decade. It’s hard to remember what happened last week.

It’s the same track.

If nothing can be done about the racing, then nothing can be done about the sport’s gradual, excruciating decline. Many of the fans who loved NASCAR now merely like it. The ones who liked it don’t even check on it while they’re watching the NBA or NHL playoffs. One of my best friends used to fly a Tony Stewart flag at his business. This morning he told me he didn’t watch one minute of the race. He was home, but watching LeBron.

I often get accused of “going negative.” If so, it’s not because I hate NASCAR. It’s because I’ve loved it since my earliest memory, and it disgusts me to see what it has become. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t write about it at all.

During the 1990s, NASCAR officials began open season on the goose that was laying its golden eggs. She’s a tough, old bird, but she’s weary and wounded. She’s staggering, and someone had better cease fire and call in the medics.

I’d appreciate your consideration of my books, which are available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

My short stories, essays and book reviews are at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com.

 

The Memorials Are Different

Little-known fact: This is a Transformer. I've seen it turn into a gigantic flying monster.
Little-known fact: This is a Transformer. I’ve seen it turn into a gigantic flying monster.

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Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, May 24, 2015, 1:04 p.m.

I attended the Indianapolis 500 for five consecutive years, 1988-92, before I wrote about 20 consecutive Coca-Cola 600s. Perhaps as a result, I was always struck by the differing visions of Memorial Day.

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

Indy is the playing of “Taps,” the Purdue University Marching Band, and “Back Home Again in Indiana.”

Charlotte is the annual Invasion of the Trioval.

Indy is restrained. Charlotte is flamboyant.

Once, many years ago, soldiers were depicting some military engagement at Charlotte. Helicopters were landing. Bright blue smoke was swirling in the air. A plywood hut was exploding, and soldiers were crawling across the trioval grass and firing machine guns, thankfully loaded with blanks, in the direction of the grandstands.

In the press box, Kenny Bruce, then working for the Kingsport, Tennessee, paper, I believe, turned around and said, “Those boys better be glad this isn’t Bristol. They’d have a fight on their hands.”

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

My favorite Charlotte moment, though, was in the fall. Ernie Irvan, whose injuries from several serious accidents had forced him reluctantly to retire, delivered a speech similar to the Lou Gehrig “I consider myself the luckiest man on earth” speech, and few in the house had dry eyes.

The P.A. announcer, the late Bill Connell, fixed that. Ernie had barely finished when Connell’s voice boomed, “And now, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Miss Chiquita Banana to deliver the four most famous words in motorsports.”

Miss Banana, who wore a huge basket of bananas on her head, drew immediate comparisons to Carmen Miranda. (Kids, consult Wikipedia.) If it had been Miranda, who, unfortunately, died in 1955, she would have said, “Jeetelmeen, stahrt jour aynjuns!”

It sort of wrecked the moment.

You can buy my books — racing, music and, most recently, fiction – here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

At midnight tonight (May 24), the nomination process at KindleScout for my next novel, Crazy of Natural Causes, ends. If you’d like to help me get it published, it only takes two clicks, this being the first: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1H8P26P38KYW8

 

Five for the Ages

Terry Labonte (Monte Dutton sketch).
Terry Labonte (Monte Dutton sketch).

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Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, May 21, 2015, 10:41 a.m.

NASCAR has announced five more members of its Hall of Fame: Jerry Cook, Bobby Isaac, Terry Labonte, Bruton Smith and Curtis Turner. Those wouldn’t have been my choices, at least not all of them, but I don’t have any particular qualms.

I don’t have a vote, and it would lessen my respect for the Hall if its selection process had room for me. It doesn’t matter what I think. I’m just going to write a little of what I know about the men who were selected.

Jerry Cook (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Jerry Cook (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Cook is the establishment alternative to a Modified driver inducted ahead of him, Richie Evans. Cook won more championships. Evans won more races. Cook was consistent. Evans was brilliant, but mercurial. It is said that Evans occasionally lost races but never parties. Cook survived his racing career and went to work for NASCAR. Evans died in a race car at Martinsville, the site of his most spectacular victory. Cook is a nice man, one who is absolutely sure he belongs in the Hall of Fame. He expected to be inducted several years ago, based on our occasional conversations.

Bobby Isaac (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Bobby Isaac (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Before I was even a teen-ager, I attended most of the Grand National (now Sprint Cup) races at Greenville-Pickens Speedway. In all those years, I only saw Richard Petty and Isaac win the 100-milers there. I always went to G-P hoping that David Pearson would win. Petty won the two on dirt I attended. When the half-mile track was paved, Isaac dominated. I couldn’t stand him. He seemed contrary and unfriendly. In those days, they opened the gates after the races, and it was fairly easy to have a picture made with drivers. Somewhere at my mother’s house, in a shoe box most likely, are Kodak Instamatic photos of me posing with Bobby Allison, Wendell Scott, Tiny Lund, and others.

What I later learned was that Isaac was uncomfortable because he was self-conscious. He was Pearson’s best friend, an unschooled country boy who never learned to read and write until long after he had learned to win races. I wish I had known this at the time.

The best story I ever heard about Isaac, who died of a heart attack after a Late Model race at Hickory Motor Speedway, was from one of the golf tournaments I later played in at Darlington. Supposedly, Isaac was having a miserable day. After he dumped a tee shot into a pond located in front of a tee box, he slammed his club into the bag, hoisted it above his head and threw it into the pond. Then he stomped off for the clubhouse.

A few minutes later, Isaac returned. Witnesses figured, well, he’s over it. Isaac, dressed in golfing attire, dove into the pond and retrieved his bag. Then he unzipped one of the pockets, found his car keys, threw the bag back into the pond and stomped away again.

Terry Labonte (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Terry Labonte (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Terry Labonte’s first and last victories occurred at Darlington. The former he inherited when a car blew its engine in front of Pearson, who may or may not have been the best who ever lived but was certainly the best at Darlington, and the Wood Brothers Mercury skidded in the oil. I remember calling Mike Hembree, who was there, and asking what happened. I was working in the sports information office at my alma mater, having graduated that year, and Hembree, whose Greenville News beat at the time was split between NASCAR and Furman athletics, had covered the race.

Thirteen years later, my beat was NASCAR, and I came to value Labonte for his low-key sense of humor. Anyone who asked Dale Earnhardt a dumb question got his head bitten off, but Labonte was more subtle. He could make a writer shrink to the size of a toddler while smiling and shrugging. Once, after he won the pole at Rockingham, someone asked him if his improved performance had anything to do with securing a ride at Hendrick Motorsports.

“Well, I haven’t been in this sport very long, but one of things I’ve noticed is that it helps to have good equipment,” Labonte said, smiling.

Another way he handled stupid questions was to smile, shrug, pause and say, “Uh … I don’t know.”

Labonte got mad at me once for something I’d written, and the way he showed it was simply to answer every question I asked in as few words as possible. Finally, I took him aside at a NASCAR Media Day, insisted on setting the matter straight, explained why I’d written what angered him, told him I didn’t take back a word of it but that I had always liked him and it was in no way personal, and, for the rest of my time on the beat, he and I got along fine.

Bruton Smith (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Bruton Smith (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Ah, Bruton Smith. There’s a charmer. He always reminded me of what I read about the baseball star Dizzy Dean, who was a broadcaster when I was a boy. Dean would tell one writer his name was Jay Hanna Dean from Hannibal, Missouri, and another that he was Jerome Herman Dean of Lucas, Arkansas. When a writer confronted him about his duplicity, Dean reportedly said, “I just wanted to give all y’uns a scoop.”

Smith has often driven his employees mad by unveiling incredible plans – oh, a roof over Bristol, a new grandstand in Las Vegas, hell, a chariot race in Las Vegas for all I know – that they knew nothing about and, quite possibly, he didn’t, either, until the words came out of his mouth. I imagine him at a meeting leading up to a race, hearing that ticket sales could use a boost.

Smith: “Let’s propose another football game in the infield. The local media always loves that. What did we say we’d pay each team the last time?”

Staffer: “Uh, $500,000.”

Smith: “Okay, uh, this time … let’s say, uh, $5 million.”

The story has a punch line. On September 10, 2016, Tennessee and Virginia Tech are really playing a game in the spacious infield of Bristol Motor Speedway. Doubt his motives if you will, but never underestimate him.

Curtis Turner (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Curtis Turner (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Finally, consider Curtis Turner, Smith’s onetime partner, and a racer of legendary renown. Old-timers say he drove dirt tracks by skidding his cars sideways down the straights, and they say they never saw anything like it. He made and lost millions, partied like a rock star, and died in a plane crash when I was 12 years old. I never saw him race, but the best story I ever read about a race car driver was the one Bob Myers wrote about Turner after his death. The last time I was there, the column was still on display at Darlington’s museum.

I’ve only read a handful of truly great racing books, none of which I wrote. One of them is Full Throttle: The Life and Fast Times of NASCAR Legend Curtis Turner, by Robert Edelstein.

In other words, the legend of Turner probably had the effect of making good writers great.

Regarding the latest additions to the Hall of Fame, that’s what I’ve got.

While my racing books aren’t great, they have their moments, and you can buy them, along with my two novels, here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

‘I’m Thankful That Old Road Is a Friend of Mine’ *

This rugged hurler guards the entrance to Dr. Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, Texas. (Monte Dutton photo)
This rugged hurler guards the entrance to Dr. Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, Texas. (Monte Dutton photo)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, May 19, 2015, 9:51 a.m.

The trouble with this road trip was that it started too late and ended too early.

I’ve been driving to Texas for an annual charity event for years. Normally, I take my time going out there. Last year, for instance, I watched minor-league baseball in Jackson, Mississippi, and visited the home of the great writer Eudora Welty. I’ve strayed over the years through Montgomery, New Orleans and Baton Rouge to the south, and Nashville, Memphis, and Oklahoma City to the north.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

This year, I discovered on Tuesday night that I wasn’t leaving on Wednesday, thanks to an unexpected development, and, leaving on Thursday, I had to rush to get to Texas in time to visit a friend on Friday.

This is the general pattern. I really enjoy the trip out, and sometimes I plan to take my time on the way home, but that never happens because, by the time the music stops, I want to go home as much as Bobby Bare in “Detroit City.” I always get home fast, and this time I might have kept right on, straight through, till I got to Clinton at 2 in the morning, but the weather got bad and I felt it prudent to call it a night just this side of Birmingham. It was just about the same as the way out, when I drove all the way to Shreveport, knowing I had to be near Dallas the next afternoon at 1.

This whole trip was too hectic. I like to wander a little and explore the curiosities I pass on the highway. For instance, I wondered about Poverty Point, a reservoir and historic site in Louisiana. As it turns out, it’s a prehistoric earthworks that was named for a nearby plantation. The name just intrigued me. I’d still like to take a look at it.

Corpus Christi Hooks at Frisco RoughRiders. (Monte Dutton photo)
Corpus Christi Hooks at Frisco RoughRiders. (Monte Dutton photo)

I did end up making one minor league baseball game, matching the visiting Corpus Christi Hooks against the Frisco RoughRiders. Dr. Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, northeast of Dallas, is surrounded by suburbia, right down to the fact that the buildings housing the various suites and boxes look like condominiums themselves. The park has elevated bullpens with grandstand seats above and below them, and also elevated prices at the concession stands and in the parking lots, but it’s a nice, prosperous ballpark, and the game I watched was a fine one. Corpus Christi won the Texas League contest, 7-6.

Downtown Gainesville, Texas. (Monte Dutton photo)
Downtown Gainesville, Texas. (Monte Dutton photo)

On Saturday, I spent the whole day hanging out in Gainesville, watching a pie-tasting competition, a silent auction and all sorts of other events leading up to an evening of music. I was very marginally the host, but the new format didn’t really call for one, and when I tried to host, folks mainly ignored me because I didn’t have any lucky numbers to draw from a jar. My leg was bothering me, and I didn’t get much relief until I drank several beers medicinally.

All the events of the VISTO fundraiser were moved inside in deference to the weather forecast. (Monte Dutton photo)
All the events of the VISTO fundraiser were moved inside in deference to the weather forecast. (Monte Dutton photo)

When I’m home, most of my music time is spent with my own, so I rely on driving, which I don’t do near as often anymore, to catch me up. Music took me a little over 2,100 miles over five days, all but about 500 on Thursday and Sunday.

As I crossed into Texas, I listened to Asleep at the Wheel’s version of “Miles and Miles of Texas,” and it occurred to me that, in the first verse, it would have been impossible for a boy to move from his Louisiana home into Texas across “that old Red River,” which mainly separates Texas from Oklahoma. It would have likely been the Sabine.

Then there was the matter of the oft-recorded Jack Clement song, “Miller’s Cave.” I’ve always known it would be unlikely for a Tiger Mountain and a Miller’s Cave to be located near Waycross, Georgia, which even the song notes is surrounded by “everglades.” Cowboy Jack just made them up, and I liked a quote “Alamo” Jones (AKA Chance Martin) used on SiriusXM 60. “Jack said he liked the song so much, he wrote it.”

Poetic license, I reckon. I’d never take such liberties with a song, but, then again, I’d probably never write one that good.

Twelve hours on the road in a single day leaves lots of time for rumination.

The days are winding down in the nomination process of my third novel, which, with your help, I’m trying to get published through Amazon’s KindleScout program. I’d appreciate it if you’d take a look at Crazy of Natural Causes and, if you see fit, nominate it here before the 30-day nomination period ends: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1H8P26P38KYW8

*From Townes Van Zandt’s “Snowing on Raton.”

The Rare Road Trip

Bugs on the windshield, sun in the eyes ... but at least I wasn't texting. (Monte Dutton photo)
Bugs on the windshield, sun in the eyes … but at least I wasn’t texting. (Monte Dutton photo)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Bossier City, Louisiana, Thursday, May 14, 2015, 9:02 p.m.

Today I passed by hundreds of “historic” places of which I had never heard. Twice I got stopped dead in traffic, and neither was in a large city. I timed my trip around Atlanta perfectly, but it was before I got to Atlanta that I came to a near standstill twice.

I-20 is crumbling, especially around Jackson, Mississippi, where it’s a little like riding a roller coaster. The word is “undulations.” If an automobile race were held on that stretch of the highway, Robby Gordon would be the favorite.

I've been writing all along.
I’ve been writing all along.

I haven’t taken a long road trip in a while. I had barely gotten started before two casual drivers but serious texters put me in a bind. Exiting on I-85 near Greenville, South Carolina, a car in the right lane going about 40 miles an hour forced me to get on the brakes. When a line of cars finally roared by and I had enough time to move over without being overrun, I saw that a man driving a black Honda Civic was texting furiously but driving ponderously.

Once I was rid of him, I passed a woman, who looked like Sandy Dennis 40 years ago, only that I never saw the late Miss Dennis with a white dog in her lap while she texted earnestly and drove frivolously.

After that, I made a point not to look.

This trip was supposed to start on Wednesday, so I’m a little hurried. Once I planned to stop in Mississippi to watch a baseball game, but I’ve got a task to complete near Dallas on Friday, and a need to be up near the Oklahoma border on Saturday morning, and I had to put off my departure a day. I made it almost to Texas and would have had not rain appeared likely up ahead, so I pulled off, got a room, and played some tunes on my guitar for a family out by the pool.

Northern Louisiana is as flat as Kansas, but the road is, too, unlike Mississippi. In this age of neglected infrastructure, Louisiana’s stretch of I-20 seems to be in better shape than all the other states – South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi – that I passed through.

I’m going to be farther from Charlotte Motor Speedway in my mind on Saturday night than I am in distance. Here’s hoping the Sprint All-Star Race is an all-star race for a change. I’ll get my friends to tell me all about it.

Tomorrow I’ll see “Miles and Miles of Texas.” I heard the Asleep at the Wheel version today. I think I’ll cue the iPod in the morning and listen to Jerry Jeff Walker as soon as I cross the border.

Take a look at my books, fiction and non, here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

As Much As I Try, I Just Can’t Say

Views of NASCAR seem a little distorted.(Rusty Jarrett/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Views of NASCAR seem a little distorted.(Rusty Jarrett/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, May 11, 2015, 10:55 a.m.

Last week I bumped into an old friend in town. He was just back from Talladega, where he had camped in the second turn, and was quite happy at Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s victory. He told me he was setting up camp at Charlotte this Thursday.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

He went to Martinsville, too, and I’m almost certain he’s going to be at Darlington in September when the Southern 500 returns to Labor Day weekend. In fact, I know lots of people who swear to me they’re going back to Darlington if they haven’t been going there already while NASCAR was swapping its dates to the lowest bidder.

I talked to another friend on the phone Sunday. He said the racing was so bad in Kansas that he left the house when it started raining (in Kansas, not Georgia) and went to a nearby dirt track. He had a ball, came back home, and got depressed again, only it was that deep, dark depression that comes from watching something in the wee hours.

Opinion about NASCAR is sharply divided, even, and perhaps particularly, among those who love it the most.

The name of a Charlie Robison song just came to me: “These are desperate times.” It’s about a guy who robs a bank in cahoots with his wife, who is a teller, and at the end, he gets caught because she turns on him to the feds, and, when he asks her why, she says, “It wasn’t easy, Jack, but these are desperate times.”

Kevin Harvick leads Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Kansas in 2014. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick leads Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Kansas in 2014. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

I was singing along to this song while I was listening to it on my iPod, circling the yard on a grass-cutting mission. Some people who live in the nearby apartment complex might think I’m crazy since they can’t hear what I can hear through my sound-proof headphones, which are red because I bought them when it was still the Winston Cup.

When I started wearing those headphones cutting grass, I was plugging them into a transistor radio.

I have one friend who likes NASCAR as much now as he did 10 years ago. He likes it more than high school football, and, once upon a time, he was real good at playing that.

Lots of them still like it, just not as much, which is why I reckon they tend to watch it on TV instead of go see it live, and I don’t care how great fellows named Waltrip keep telling them it is, they’ve gradually stopped buying it.

I used to watch it from there. Now I watch it from here. Both ways I watched it for pay. Either I’ve got a great perspective or the worst one possible.

I’d appreciate it if you’d give my, uh, literary web site, www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, a look from time to time, not to mention the occasional consideration of my books at: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

You can nominate a third novel, Crazy of Natural Causes, for publication here: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1H8P26P38KYW8

 

At Least I Got My Laps In

As I post this, Kurt Busch is leading, though this photo was taken while he was qualifying. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
As I post this, Kurt Busch is leading, though this photo was taken while he was qualifying. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, May 9, 2015, 7:30 p.m.

Today two lawns got mowed, and my iPhone died a slower death than I thought.

Oops. Now Kevin Harvick is leading. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Oops. Now Kevin Harvick is leading. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Now there’s a NASCAR race scheduled, and I’m supposed to write about it. It’s in Kansas City, and I am at home. I get paid to do it from afar every single week, so I’ll be creating an assembly line that will have me chip away and assimilate as information becomes available … if information becomes available.

Maybe they’ll get it in tonight. Maybe they’ll get it in tomorrow. Maybe they’ll get it in Monday.

Today I realized the implications.

I’m going on a trip later this week. I needed to get the lawns, mine and my mother’s (about a quarter mile away), done. I figured I’d get it done this weekend, no problem, because the race was Saturday night … unless it’s Sunday.

I've been writing all along.
I’ve been writing all along.

Or, I could get it done Monday … except it’s supposed to rain here on Monday. And, quite possibly, Tuesday.

I got it done today, and I trimmed some bushes, and by the time that was all over, I was tired, so I came inside and poured myself a Diet Pepsi over ice, and picked up my phone, which had been charging while I was cutting grass, and the phone was dead, so I drove to the next town, Laurens, with my phone, and the nice fellow there got it on again and showed me how to do a “soft power-up,” which didn’t seem very soft because I pushed on two different buttons at the same time for 15 seconds.

I had to “soft power up” twice more, and then the iPhone went completely dead, and that won’t work anymore, so I’ll be going back to the cell-phone “store” again tomorrow in the off chance that I don’t have a race to watch that was rained out tonight.

They’ve started. Hallelujah. I’ll reserve the hosannas for later.

Now Martin Truex Jr. has taken the lead. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Now Martin Truex Jr. has taken the lead. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

My only good move was having Diet Pepsi in the refrigerator, because Dr. Pepper and Diet Dr. Pepper have spun in quick succession, and everyone knows that soft drinks that spin on TV will spin in your stomach.

I just came up with that hypothesis. It’s been one of those days.

Joey Logano was leading rain by about 30 minutes, and the action was so intense NASCAR had to throw a caution.

You can find my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

Coffee and Rain

Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman race at Kansas Speedway ojn October 5, 2014.  (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman race at Kansas Speedway ojn October 5, 2014. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, May 8, 2015, 8:26 a.m.

The NASCAR judicial process has run its course. Order has been restored.

Danica Patrick is looking for new sponsorship. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won his first race. The greatest racing month lies mostly ahead, with Kansas preceding the Two Weeks of Charlotte and Indianapolis set to climax with the Coca-Cola 600 at the former and The 500-Mile Race the latter.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Meanwhile, I’m dealing with a personal crisis. Addiction is a terrible thing.

Coffee. I need coffee.

My coffee maker isn’t working. I messed around with it last night, feeling zombie-like after supper. I ordered a new one, using some “points.” I’m going to be going to the drive-through a lot in the next few days.

But enough about me. Rain is in the forecast in Kansas City. Like I wasn’t going to be needing coffee already.

I write again. Enough about me.

NASCAR practice comes on TV at noon. That’ll ensure that I need to go to the drive-through again around three. TCM’s running a movie called Purple Noon early, i.e., 11:30.

An American (Alain Delon) in Italy resorts to murder to have a playboy’s (Maurice Ronet) life and mistress (Marie Laforet).

Everything’s about Italy today, it seems. I don’t see any of these flicks diverting my attention from NASCAR.

Drivers, start your  Air Titans! (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Drivers, start your
Air Titans! (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Oh, let’s check the weather again. A tropical or sub-tropical something or other is anchoring itself off our coast, but supposedly rain isn’t likely here until Tuesday. In Kansas City, it’s listed as 20 percent today, 80 percent Saturday, and 80 percent Sunday. Sam Champion is interviewing a fan at Kansas Speedway. The kids are at Grandpa’s. Sarah Nelson is camping at the track with her husband. Sam says she needs to make sure she has The Weather Channel app.

Sam says there’s a 40 percent chance of a tornado. Storms in the area at race time. Beware hail and damaging winds.

What does he know? He looks like a foppish aristocrat by day. Oh, wait. I think that’s The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Hunker down, friends. Maybe this, too, will pass.

I’m hoping to finish a short story today or tomorrow. It’ll be posted at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. You can buy my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

I’d like to get a third novel published. You can help by nominating Crazy of Natural Causes for publication here: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1H8P26P38KYW8

 

A Jedi Wins at Poker

Jimmie Johnson (right) congratulates Geico 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr.  (Rusty Jarrett/HHP photo  for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson (right) congratulates Geico 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Rusty Jarrett/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, May 4, 2015, 11:02 a.m.

It’s okay to like restrictor-plate racing.

Really. It is.

In this age, it’s popular to say fans don’t go to the races to see the wrecks. It’s popular and also untrue. It’s laudable. It’s the same way people claim they want more local news in their paper but wouldn’t read a story about the school board if they were standing in front of a firing squad.

Or the school board.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

As I’ve written many times, and as recently as last week, fans don’t come to see death. They come to see death defied. No track is more defiant than Talladega Superspeedway.

Plus, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won. All it cost fans was the price of admission. Over the weekend, a few bones cracked, lots of metal crumpled, and everyone got what they came for, which was, in many cases, the No. 88 winning and a chance, several times, to say, “God Almighty! I hope everybody’s all right.”

The Geico 500 was survival of the fittest. The fittest was Earnhardt Jr. What could be better than that?

Undoubtedly, these words are going to produce several who will say they absolutely do not want to see wrecks, just a good, clean race, but yet the grandstands were mostly filled, unusual these days, and I’m guessing the television ratings will see a nice, healthy boost. (As it turns out, I was guessing wrong.)

Most sports produce cringes of excitement. It’s not much different from football. Few of those fans claim they hate bone-jarring hits. They hate it when people get hurt, but it’s a distinct possibility.

People were disappointed in the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. Why? Not enough hits, as best I can gather. I haven’t had much interest in boxing since it left Muhammad Ali punch-drunk, but I liked it up until then.

I guess there are hockey fans who don’t like fights. Watch the background on replay, though, and observe them. Not many are shrinking in revulsion. More are watering at the mouth, and a few are foaming.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., triumphant. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., triumphant. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

If anything bewildered me, watching the Geico 500, it was how the racing seemed reversed or, at least, premature. For the first three quarters of the race, the action was two, three, and four wide, and I was wondering, do these drivers know the race has 100 more laps to run?

Then, at the end, they all got in one line, and anyone who didn’t conform to this rather moribund sense of order all seemed to get punished for it, and I was wondering, do these drivers know it’s almost over?

What happened to, well, if you can’t win the race, at least tear up the car?

Oh, they tore up some cars on the last lap, anyway, perhaps as a result of some of those who had taken a chance trying so hard not to be punished for it that … they got punished for it.

Talladega is a great center of the very barbarism that lingers in society and somehow inspires it to advance in the 20-car Draft of Life.

Life is hard, no matter where you go. It’s a tortured path. Tough roe to hoe. Yes. It’s from one of my songs, “The Paved Road,” which has little to do with NASCAR, or at least I wasn’t conscious of it when I wrote it.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. masters the Talladega draft.  (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. masters the Talladega draft. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

The notion that anyone can win at Talladega and, to a slightly lesser extent, Daytona, is true but not overly enlightening. Inexperienced drivers think it, but, over time, the good ones get a special knack for nuance at a place that seems about as nuanced as an artillery barrage. Some are better than others. Some develop patience at a place that seems about as patient as flailing at a baseball that’s bouncing in the dirt.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is such a driver. His father, the late Dale Earnhardt, was such a driver. Junior once finished first or second in seven consecutive Talladega races, winning five of them, but, then, for slightly over a decade, playing Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi didn’t seem to work … until Sunday, when the Force was essentially a teammate, Jimmie Johnson, covering him in another Starfighter.

Return of the Jedi?

That metaphor wears a little thin. The race fell more like a poker game. They dealt and redealt the cards all afternoon, and, at the end, Earnhardt Jr. got a great hand and could stand pat while everyone else was rummaging through their pockets, discarding cards and drawing others, trying and ultimately failing to stay in the game. It didn’t hurt Earnhardt that most of them mainly bluffed.

The father was coy while performing at his best track. He left a lot unsaid. About the best he’d reveal was a knowing glance.

Earnhardt Jr. summed up his victory perfectly.

“I certainly hope [the victory] was a little bit of me,” he said, “but I know it was a lot race car.

“The car gives you the confidence to make the moves that make you look good. It’s the car really making it happen, but you’ve got to know what to do with it. You’ve got to put [the car] in those situations where it can excel, you know, and it can do the things it’s capable of doing. It doesn’t happen on its own.”

A pit-road penalty cost Jeff Gordon, (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
A pit-road penalty cost Jeff Gordon, (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Drivers like Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart had the boldness, not the help. What happened to them happened on its own, or, rather, their own.

The surprise of the race, rookie Ryan Blaney, didn’t have the help, either. Some will criticize him for just staying in line and behaving, but there was no way drivers who wouldn’t help Stewart or Gordon were going to take a dive of faith with Blaney, who had to be aware that other drivers were treating his Wood Brothers Ford as if it were radioactive all day.

Had the rookie gotten crazy, he likely would have wound up in the mass of spewing smoke and crumpling metal.

Blaney played it right, and the right guy, Earnhardt won, and now everyone can sigh and thank the Lord for a good, safe race.

Thanks for checking out this website from time to time. If you find yourself yearning strangely to read a short story or book review, I’d appreciate your patronage at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and, then, stage three would be for you to actually materially invest in my writing by buying one of my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

Help me get a new novel, Crazy of Natural Causes, published by nominating it here: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1H8P26P38KYW8