Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, May 19, 2017, 10:01 a.m.
I’m not going to reminisce about past NASCAR all-star memories. Most of them are distant.
I was in the grandstands the first time it was run at night. I’ve told that story before. I’ve told all the stories before. I remember those heady days when The Winston – it’s had many names, no telling what it is now – rivaled the Coca-Cola 600 that followed it. The longest, most grueling test of NASCAR’s Finest followed a slam-bang, thrill-filled extravaganza.
Turns out it’s the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race. It’s Saturday night.
Back in the 1980s and ‘90s, race fans took great pride in their all-star race. The stock car racers all did it for love, but love was even better after a $1 million payday. They didn’t go through the motions the way they did in the all-star matchups of baseball, football, basketball and hockey.
Now, 25 years after I watched Dale Earnhardt, Kyle Petty and Davey Allison wreck each other on the final lap – Allison won, though the concrete walls of the speedway knocked him cold, and the makeshift victory lane was a hospital bed – NASCAR All-Star has gone the way of all the other all-stars.
Money’s still unimportant. This is apparent because no one talks about it anymore.
The Winston Select Nextel Sprint Monster All-Star Race, combining all the titles from nicotine to caffeine and a heap of talking on the phone in between, has ranged from 70 to 113 laps and from one to five segments. Seven-time champions (Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt) have won it seven times (Johnson 4, Earnhardt 3).
On the other hand, Michael Waltrip won it in 1996 before he ever won a Cup race anywhere else.
The last three years the winners have been Jamie McMurray, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano. I couldn’t have told you that without the Internet. The most recent I covered was in 2012. The most recent I remember was a year earlier, mainly because the driver who won that race, Carl Edwards, practically destroyed the winning car sliding through the grass when the nose scraped up a metal drain. Or something.
The Winston used to be as addictive as cigarettes, and it wasn’t that much of a coincidence. Tickets were cheap, a lot of free ones were floating around, and the idea was to get people there and send them home wanting more.
The ultimate significance of the All-Star Race is its effect on the sport as it now stands. The game-show format changed racing and was slowly, over three decades, integrated into the conduct of all the races. This is also the root of the race’s problems.
Some drivers are there already. Some race their way in. Some get voted in. It’s as complicated as a presidential election. So is everything else. A man who masters crosswords puzzles isn’t going to get excited about a mere game of checkers anymore.
The easiest way to resuscitate this Monster would be to ease off on the mad science everywhere else.
This is unlikely to happen.
So where does it go from here? More, ahem, innovation?
One segment through the infield? A-racing we will go, a-racing we will go, high-ho, the derry-oh, a racing we will go.
Run the race backwards? Run the race in reverse? Parallel-park on pit road? A wall of flame at the finish line? One segment consisting entirely of pit stops?
The Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race has already stretched all bounds of credulity, civility and civilization, and had all the other races advance into the new territory, accompanied by bureaucrats carrying government regulations.
Where once the race sat at the foot of a mountain, now it is perched on the edge of a cliff.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Follow me at Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Twitter (@montedutton), Google+ (MonteDuttonWriter) and/or Instagram (Tug50).