I Had to Think It Through

At Pocono in 2004. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, April 25, 2017, 10:50 a.m.

I first saw it on Twitter at roadandtrack.com. I thought it was a fake. I thought it was one of those stories where they made the website look like something reputable and then ran a head that said, “Hillary Clinton Using Slave Labor at Nigerian Brothel.” Then the writing would be so bad that I’d know it was ersatz.

By Monte Dutton

The story looked okay. The website looked like it might really be Road & Track. Other hastily thrown-together articles showed up on the timeline.

It’s real. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is retiring at year’s end.

I’m going to be about the 100th person in my cast of Twitter followers alone to write that I was surprised but not astonished. I get asked about Earnhardt Jr.’s future almost every week on the South Carolina Network’s SportsTalk show, where I generally appear every Friday night at 7:30 EDT (EDT being the standard reference in the Palmetto State).

(Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

I kept saying that it was too early to tell whether or not he had fully recovered from his concussion protocols. When he had his one decent finish to date, I said maybe it was a good sign. Like many, I watched Monday’s rained-out race in Bristol, and, when Earnhardt wrecked, I thought, Well, just another brick in the wall.

Many people will be surprised when I tell you the one word that comes to mind when three words – Dale Earnhardt Junior – flash into my head.

Earnhardt is a folksy, modestly educated North Carolina kid who learned much about fame from having a famous daddy. As amazing as it may seem, the word that occurs to me is …

… Civilized.

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

Junior is more civilized than his contemporaries. Maybe it’s because he is the son of a hard man who provided his son with examples but not lessons. The son had to learn how to think, observe, and analyze. All racers — many of whom today have lived either comfortable or sheltered lives, and, quite often, both — graduate from the School of Hard Knocks … literally. Not everyone makes the best of his degree. Junior must have concentrated on the liberal arts.

He understands how the world turns. He understands how the media work. So many people use the word “humble” with such reckless abandon. Most times an athlete says “I’m humbled,” he is nothing of the sort. Nothing about great achievement instills humility. Adversity instills humility.Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges

Dale Earnhardt Jr. lost his fierce, legendary father, which is bad enough in itself, but devastating particularly in the timing of the son’s loss. Their relationship had been complicated. Now they were both competing together, father and son, and against each other, man against man. Love had lost many of its conditions.

Phoenix. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)

In 2001, before any of what followed happened, I was struck by how happy both Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were. I was there when both raced yellow Corvettes in the Rolex 24. I was in a dinner line when The Intimidator picked up an extra set of silverware and provided one to me. That may not sound like much, but I would not have been more surprised had Earnhardt raised a sword and dubbed me Sir Monte of Dutton. He also high-fived me. People high-five me every day. Not Intimidators, though. Dale Earnhardt was very much alive, and no one thought that was going to change, and I still thought Speedweeks in Daytona was getting awfully weird.

I went to the funeral. I traveled to cold Rockingham for a collective temperament that was even colder. I was in Atlanta when Kevin Harvick won in the Great Man’s car, tastefully renumbered.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. drives to victory in the first of two Can-Am Duel races. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett for Chevy Racing)

More pity did I feel for Dale Earnhardt Jr. than had I for the loss of his legendary father.

Now, I feel great. I’ll miss him, but I don’t think he will miss it. He might miss it as much as I miss 10 months of flights, missed, delayed, canceled, and rerouted; rental cars, good, bad, inappropriate, and balky; traffic jams, Atlanta, LA, D-FW, and, occasionally, tracks; and those special occasions when I’d get cussed out by a man who hadn’t read the story about which he was perturbed.

Earnhardt Jr. with Jeff Gordon. (John Clark photo)

I miss it now. After four years. I missed high school football after four years, too, and it was also hell. I miss it so much now that I wrote a novel about it, and I turned its hero into the essence of what I think stock car racing needs. Barrie Jarman isn’t righteous, either to himself or God. He’s a brash kid who has an accurate estimation of how good he is, which is very.

No intention was involved, but a little, and by that, I mean, just a touch, of Junior may have seeped into my latest prose.

Like Kyle Petty, Junior wasn’t as good as his daddy. Like Kyle Petty, Junior is every bit the man, and, in both cases, it’s because the son had enough sense to follow his own dreams and take his own course. Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt were vivid products of their generation. So, too, were their sons.

It’s going to take someone living and breathing, not a creation of a hero in fiction, to raise this next generation. Barrie Jarman is as close as I can get.

Ever since I started writing fiction, fans have asked me to write a novel about stock car racing. I kept it a secret while I was working on it. Now it’s out. Lightning in a Bottle is the story of the next big thing, 18-year-old Barrie Jarman.

(Steven Novak cover design)

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. Lightning in a Bottle will be in stock shortly.

Signed copies of Lightning in a Bottle are also available at Emma Jane’s, 105 East Main Street on the Square, Clinton.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

If you’d like me to ship you a signed copy, you can find my address and instructions here. If you want to speed the process up, send me a note and I’ll hook you up with my PayPal account.

(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)

Kindle versions – you don’t have to have a Kindle, just a free app for your electronic devices – of most of my books are available here. Links to print copies are below.

(Joe Font cover design)

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.(Melanie Ryon cover design)

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.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

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.

Follow me at Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Twitter (@montedutton), Google+ (MonteDuttonWriter) and/or Instagram (Tug50).

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Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog once every day on whatever happens to strike my fancy.

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