Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, January 11, 2017, 11:58 a.m.
Here’s what Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have in common, and it’s not much.
Both, when they arrived at NASCAR’s highest level, were a sportswriter’s dream, and some of those then in the business couldn’t wait to tear them apart.
Tony arrived in 1999, more a white tornado than Ajax Cleaner.
“Ajax is the one with more ammonia!” as the ads said.
I was closer to the battlefield than most. I think we got along because we were both incurable smartasses. I was writing a book about Tony. That book would have been better if it was all I had to do, but there was this piddling matter of having to write three newspaper stories a day from the track. Some of our conversations went like this:
Tony: “That sonuvabitch. I’ll never talk to him again.”
Me: “Did you actually read what he wrote?”
T: “I don’t care what he wrote.”
M: “Well, the most objectionable thing he said was lifted with attribution from my column.”
T: “I didn’t read it.”
M: “Isn’t that a little like me saying you can’t drive a lick without ever watching you race?”
T: “I guess.” He’d smile. Get those dark eyes to stop flashing, and Tony could make fun of himself.
Somehow, I could reason with him. Maybe it was because he knew I wasn’t out to get him. Maybe he took my criticisms more constructively. I never found Stewart to be dishonest, though, as time went on, he learned grudgingly to be more honest in private than public. NASCAR never broke his spirit, but it trained him a little. A bit of a wall developed, but I doubt Tony built it. It was constructed around him. Perhaps the Mexicans paid for it.
Tony Stewart is the most interesting athlete I’ve ever written about.
When Tony once disparagingly referred to Carl Edwards as “Eddie Haskell,” he was typically gaudy and ill-considered. Carl isn’t the weasel of Leave It to Beaver. Carl is more like Theodore Cleaver, “the Beaver” himself, or older brother Wally. Carl can be a bit more of an Eagle Scout than the real world can withstand. Carl believes the good guys always win. It wouldn’t be enough to win the championship. Carl would want to ride off in the sunset.
Carl never won the championship, but he still wanted to ride off in the sunset before he got too old to enjoy it.
I loved writing about both of them, but, more than that, I loved hanging out with them. I loved watching Nelson Stewart, Tony’s father, race a TQ Midget, with Tony fretting as if he were the parent and Nelson the son. I loved it when Carl showed up in the parking lot of Charlotte Motor Speedway, took my guitar and played it better than I could.
Now that I’m old, washed up and out of touch, I want Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards to have that delicious opportunity.
Last night, I played an old Hank Williams Jr. song I had almost forgotten:
You gotta say things you want to say / Go out and do things your own way / You can climb any old mountain once you’ve made up your mind.
Emphasis on old mountain. Tony belonged in the era of Curtis Turner and Junior Johnson. Carl wanted to stand up for truth, justice and the American way. Tony needed a jug of moonshine. Carl needed a cape.
Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy Cowboys Come Home, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Crazy of Natural Causes, The Intangibles, and/or a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs. They’re all signed and reasonably priced.
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Cowboys Come Home is my brand-new, fresh-off-the-press western, a tale of two World War II veterans of the Pacific who come back home to Texas, intent on resuming their cowboy ways.
Forgive Us Our Trespasses is a tale about a crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.
Crazy of Natural Causes is about the fall and rise of Chance Benford, a Kentucky football coach who reinvents himself. It’s original.
The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.
The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.
Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.
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