‘Oh, the Race is On and Here Comes Pride Up the Backstretch’

(arcaracing.com photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, February 11, 2018, 8:48 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

It all worked out perfectly by complete mistake.

I went over to Presbyterian College to see the basketball games. I went because I wanted to spend more time with some people I met Friday night. I felt a sense of obligation, even though there really wasn’t any. Furman was playing a big basketball game against Wofford on TV. The Paladins aren’t on TV often. A young woman named Natalie Decker was on the pole for the ARCA race in Daytona Beach.

What was I doing at Templeton Center, I thought, while watching Longwood win the women’s game, the first of two. I had some popcorn and a Diet Dr. Pepper, handed out a couple business cards, and snuck out in time to catch the Paladins and the Terriers early on Channel 62 and the lead-up to the ARCA race on 219.

When I turned on the game, Wofford led, 11-2. Uh, oh. I watched until it was 11-10. I flipped over to the race. When I turned back, the Paladins were magically pulling away. I watched, rather ecstatically, though in the privacy of my home, until it was 36-17. From there on out, each time I checked, Furman was leading by somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty points.

(arcaracing.com photo)

As a result, I watched a lot of ARCA, which stands for Automobile Racing Club of America. Though its history is long and proud, as a practical matter, it’s a Midwest-based stock car series that is notably diverse in the types of tracks where it holds races. ARCA races on dirt. ARCA races on road courses. ARCA races at Daytona. Lots of drivers have come through ARCA on the way to NASCAR and, for that matter, oblivion.

Plate racing is not the ARCA bailiwick. A flat half mile is more the standard fare. The visits to Daytona Beach and Talladega, Alabama, are usually either full of crashes or empty of excitement. What I first noticed was that the quality of the racing seemed unusually good. I understand there have been some rules changes in regards to the engines, and the chassis are now enclosed in composite bodies.

Everyone behaved early.

Natalie Decker (nataliedeckerinc.com photo)

Decker is 20 years old. She began in the inside line and steadfastly remained there. It was cautious, and caution was appropriate, but it didn’t benefit her as others moved up and down tactically. When placed in the outside line in subsequent restarts, she remained there, too. Cautious conservatism worked out reasonably well for the fetching rookie from Eagle River, Wisconsin, who finished fifth in a race that evolved into a Survivor episode of crashes, delays, flags (red and yellow), fruitless attempts at overtime finishes, and, as a natural consequence, a looming paucity of fuel.

A race that should have ended shortly after the Paladins polished off the Terriors (76-52) lasted roughly until nearby cows came home. By the time Fox Sports1 got around to one of those no-holds-barred wrestling/boxing hybrids that I don’t understand, the announcers looked as if they had imbibed at least as much coffee as I had. They often seem quite caffeinated, I’ve gathered.

Michael Self (venturiniracing.com photo)

Michael Self survived the race best, meaning, of course, that he won. To thine own Self was the race true.

Owing to attrition normally associated with Yugos in the mountains, many who faltered early prospered late. Two women, Decker and Leilani Munter, finished in the top 10. A personal milestone was that Andrew Belmont, who once assisted his father Andy in making sure my car would get back home from Pennsylvania, finished ninth.

Thirty-nine started, fifteen crashed out, eighteen were alleged to be running at the end, and a new season of stock car racing is off and running.

You won’t agree with everything I write. I hope you’ll respect and enjoy my point of view, born of two decades traveling the NASCAR circuit. If you’d like to support my writing, please make a monthly pledge of what you can afford here.

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About 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 regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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