Let Them Race and See What Happens

Drivers including Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick, and Clint Bowyer are involved in an incident during the 2017 Daytona 500. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, February 10, 2018, 9:39 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

The Daytona 500 is never predictable. Every time anything changes, some of it is unexpected. The first opportunity for insight is Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash.

Pay close attention.

The good news is that racing on restrictor-plate tracks is wildly unpredictable. The odds suggest that someone who is adept at this specialized form of stock car racing will win. It is entirely possible, however, that an opportunity will present itself at just the right time, and a long shot will have enough sense to make the right move.

The bad news is that, almost every year, someone will do very well and then fade into obscurity.

Danica Patrick. (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo for Chevrolet)

In 2013, Danica Patrick won the 500 pole. In my judgment, it was the only Cup race she ever realistically could have won. Instead, she finished eighth. Late in the race, she led the line in the draft that contained the driver, Jimmie Johnson, who won. Had she maintained that place, ahead of Johnson, she might have won. She dropped down, leaving Johnson to roar into victory lane. Had she held that place, she might have held on.

We’ll never now. When the time came to win the race, Patrick made the wrong move. She was third entering the final lap. When the time came to determine the outcome, Patrick made the wrong moves.

Something similar will happen to someone on February 18.

First things first. The Clash is a short race. My advice is to study it. Watch for signs that conditions have changed.

Fords dominated the four plate races — two each at Daytona at Talladega — last year. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won two of them. Everywhere else, with few exceptions, it was a Toyota year.

Ryan Newman, driving the racing version of the Camaro, during testing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Chevrolet is now racing a variant of the Camaro. What difference will that make? Will the Camaro give the Chevys a competitive advantage? Will it level the, uh, racing track (as opposed to the playing field)? Will it hit the track running? Will it take a while to seize the advantage? Will there be an advantage?

Hell, I’m no engineer. I can’t analyze data and make conclusions. I’m not going to pretend I can. I’m just going to wait and see, and then I’m going to realize that Daytona won’t have much to do with what follows, and I’m going to wait and see when I watch the Atlanta race.
I’m not going to claim I’m someone I’m not. I’m also not going to succumb to hype and propaganda.

I’m going to let them race and see what happens. I developed some observational skills in two decades watching from close proximity. Now I’ll be sitting in my living room ad paying attention from afar.

Unlike many, I’ve got enough sense to realize my limitations.

I hope my writing gives you a perspective that is somewhat unique. If you agree — and you’d like help send me back to the track on occasion — make a small pledge and join the effort here.

I write books. Once upon a time, they were non-fiction, mostly about NASCAR. Now they’re novels. The last two are about stock car racing. You should read more. Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated are quick, funny reads about a hot young driver who’s a throwback to the days of yore. Shop my books here.

The new novel isn’t about racing. It’s about a group of people who unwittingly stumble into a far-flung criminal conspiracy involving business, law enforcement, politics, and the Russians. It would help if you’d nominate it for publication in Amazon’s KindleScout program. If you like what you see, do so here.

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There’s a Race on Sunday, No Kidding, Honest to Gosh

(Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, February 8, 2018, 12:09 p.m.

At least the Advance Auto Parts Clash has an appropriate title.

By Monte Dutton

It’s entirely possible that auto parts will indeed clash in the tumult of a Daytona International Speedway draft. Back when it was Busch, the clash was more likely to be in the grandstands. Fans probably tweeted angrily during the Sprint Unlimited years and will continue to do so, auto parts be damned.

Drivers and teams have worked extensively trying to get better during the offseason. Though the Clash is an unofficial race, it’s the first test of what has been achieved.
Everyone in Daytona Beach is rearin’ to go. (The term comes from a horse rearing on its hind legs, champing at the proverbial bit, anxious to take off. “Rarin’ to go” is a misnomer so widely used that explanation is in order.)

Here in the once NASCAR-mad hinterland, it isn’t really an afterthought. It’s a before-thought.

I was out and about on Tuesday. Folks around here know I used to circle the NASCAR orbit. They often ask me what I think about it. It’s kind of the standard greeting from people who don’t have anything else to say. Like “hiya doin’?”

It’s unusual for a contest of cars equipped with deafening engines to be greeted by the sound of silence.

About the best I could get was, “Isn’t it about time for racing to start?” I couldn’t even draw a “who do you think is going to win the Clash?” Not even an “is there still such a thing as the Clash?” or a “whatever happened to the Clash?”

Personally, I’m excited. I’m ready for a race, any race. I just realized this morning that it’s Sunday afternoon on Fox Sports 1, with coverage beginning at 3 p.m. Front-row qualifying is before it (noon) on Fox. They’re excited in Daytona Beach, but unscientific polling suggests that word has not yet spread far and wide. What many people seem to be discussing is a private space launch held a couple days ago south of Daytona Beach.

Denny Hamlin (left, with Jimmie Johnson) won both the Clash and the 500 in 2016. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Twenty drivers are eligible, but only 17 will compete because Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick retired. The field is thus Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Martin Truex Jr.

Eligibility is limited to 2017 pole winners, former Clash winners, former Daytona 500 pole winners still competing full-time and drivers who made the playoffs last year.

A year ago, the race was run on Sunday for the first time since 2006, but that was because of rain on Saturday night. This year it’s scheduled for Sunday afternoon. Perhaps that’s wise. The Clash can only look exciting in comparison to qualifying.

After Joey Logano won the Clash last year, his season went downhill. (John Clark photo)

A look at DirecTV’s crystal ball lists the chance of rain at 30 percent. The next five days are all between 20 and 40 percent. Unless a hurricane is approaching, Florida is a fairly simple call.

Joey Logano won it last year. He won later in the spring at Richmond, but the win was “encumbered,” a term so absurd that I read the other day NASCAR has eliminated it from the official vocabulary. NASCAR officials plan to come up with another affront to the language the next time a winning car is not on the up-and-up.

“Bogus” and “tainted” are long shots on the tote board.

You might want to read a book during qualifying. There’s still time to download one of mine here.

If you like what I write enough to help make it better, become a patron here.

My next novel is up for KindleScout nomination. If it’s selected, all who nominate it will get a free download for their “devices.” See what you think, and if you think well, nominate it here.

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It’s the ‘Superest’ Night of the Year

Ain’t that America? (Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, February 5, 2018, 10:39 a.m.

The 52nd Super Bowl – LII if you’re as overly formal as the National Football League is – is over, and as, in a memory that makes me more inclined to think of him as Keith Jackson recently died, it was a dandy.

By Monte Dutton

The Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots fairly and squarely, 41-33, and a journeyman quarterback named Nick Foles outplayed the man popularly considered the best ever to hurl a spiral, Tom Brady, just as fairly and just as squarely.

In the parlance of journalism, this is what is known as a “man bites dog story.”

Foles is a backup quarterback, which aligns him with heroes of the past such as Gary Cuozzo, Zeke Bratkowski, Don Strock, Earl Morrall, Jeff Hostetler and his own head coach, Doug Pederson.

The Patriots have lost Super Bowls before, in 1986, 1997, 2008 and 2012. Brady and head coach Bill Belichick were only involved in two of them (three now). This was the first time the two lost to a team other than the New York Giants, a quarterback other than Eli Manning and a coach other than Tom Coughlin.

Men have bitten dogs before. Patriots have faltered. Eagles have flown.

Americans can get back to hating one another for their political beliefs, completing their income taxes, and complaining incessantly about both.

Now NASCAR can begin. Pitchers and catchers can report. Basketball and hockey can complete their seasons, and fans can take notice. The Winter Olympics lie immediately ahead, reportedly in a place called Pyeongchang, which is in South Korea, and not Pyongyang, which is in North Korea.

The host city is not a city at all. It’s a county. In 2013, its population was 43,666. As a means of comparison, Laurens County (i.e., here) is larger and warmer. Pyeongchang has the Winter Olympics. Laurens has Squealin’ on the Square.

The National Bird beat the Founding Militia. What could be more American than that?

Join me on Facebook Wednesday night for a concert in which I will respond to any questions you have about such pressing issues as music, NASCAR, other sports, and how you can help me pay my bills. For more information, click here.

Another way you can help is to nominate my next novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, for KindleScout publication. If you and I are successful, you will receive a free download in advance for your clicks. Make the first one here.

I have already written quite a few books. Consider them at my Amazon author page here.

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Get Ready to Rumble!

Kyles, Larson and Busch. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, February 3, 2018, 1:39 p.m.

Super Sunday!

As the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots prepared to take to the artificial indoor field in Minnesota for America’s greatest and most hyped sporting event, I can hear the rumble in my mind. It’s the rumble that opens the NASCAR movie Days of Thunder as three weeks of anticipation commence.

By Monte Dutton

Some will rumble only through the National Football League’s command performance, but some don’t have a lifetime of stock car racing working its way to the surface after a winter of boredom.

The Clash. Front-row qualifying. Twin qualifying races to determine the rest of the field. Trucks. Xfinity. The Daytona 500. It’s not what it was. Nothing else is, either. Time changes. Fans change. Cars change. Rules change. Drivers change. Time can’t be stopped. It’s hard to keep up. Memories become a burden.

But, God, I love it so.

What the beginning of the Monster Cup season adds are layers of detail. We can surmise. We can anticipate. We don’t know until those cars roll off on February 18 in rows of two. We have our opinions, but they should not be derided. They are a consequence of blessed freedom, regardless of how we pay attention.

This is precisely the time everyone makes predictions and precisely the time we ought to sit back, wait, and see.

The finalists last year: Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

I’m trying to enter the season with a blank canvas and spend the season painting the details. The past is but a prelude to the future. Everyone is clever. Few are wise. As Jimmy Buffett once sang, and likely still does, even at an advanced age, “Don’t ever forget that you just may wind up being wrong.”

On Wednesday night, beginning at 8 p.m. EST, I’m going live on Facebook to sing some songs, mainly, but also watch the comments pop up regarding what else you’d like to hear. I’ll try to get you to sign up as a patron of my writing, buy my books, read them and all my other writing, including this, follow me on Twitter and Facebook, but mainly I’ll just have fun playing my guitar and singing songs I love, some of which were written by me, and, between those songs, talk about whatever you want to talk about, except politics, because I want everyone, not just me, to have fun, and no one gets anything but angry about politics anymore. If you’re on Facebook, read all about it here.

All the bold words above are clickable.

 

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We’ll See How It Goes

(Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, February 2, 2018, 8:38 a.m.

Another NASCAR season is about to begin. Some of you contribute to this site by making monthly contributions to a Patreon site.

I’m much obliged, but it’s possible you may be distressed by what I’m about to write.

By Monte Dutton

In terms of predicting the champion of the Monster Energy Cup Series, I don’t have much more insight than you do. Insight, observation, study, etc., may come in a bit more handy than two years ago, but it’s still more a game of chance than skill.

Phases and stages, circles and cycles – oh, wait, that’s not NASCAR; it’s a Willie Nelson song – have made the regular season a bit more pertinent. The playoffs – I think they should be race-offs since no one plays – are still in large part as much of a game of chance as a slot machine. A good strategy can increase the chances of turning a profit at a casino, but the slots themselves, or poker, or blackjack, or betting on the Mountain West basketball tournament, still involve luck. Lots of it.

You can feel the rumble every time the steel chariots roar by. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)

Another factor is I don’t have the expertise. One of my two college majors was history. I’m adept at writing what already happened. Furman didn’t offer a prophecy major. When someone asks me to pick a winner, or a champion, I say, what the heck? But that’s my evaluation of my own skills. What the heck? Here’s a little secret. That’s the way everyone is. If I say, oh, Joey Logano will win the Daytona 500, and he does, it’s mostly an accident. Later on, some will say skill was involved, but I won’t. I know better.

Hell, I’m certainly not going to predict anything today. I don’t know if Chevrolet and Ford are going to catch up with Toyota. I don’t know if the new Camaro is going to make a difference. I don’t know if Martin Truex Jr. is going to dominate again or drop off a bit. If I ventured any kind of guess before the teams even arrive in Daytona Beach, it would be based more on whom or what I like personally than whom I like professionally.

This was at Charlotte, but the only song I’ve written that was about NASCAR is called “Martinsville.” (Chase Whitaker photo)

If you must ask me to make predictions, I’ll try. You’ll have an opportunity if you’re on Facebook – and who isn’t? – when I put on a live concert on February 7. It’s a Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST because there’s nothing on my schedule that night.

Yes, you’ll have to sit through me singing the country music I love, but I will respond to viewer comments that show up on my “stream.” I will “wade” through them. I tested this idea the night before last, and it worked just fine. I’m confident some of these viewer comments will concern NASCAR. Just a hunch.

As part of my commitment to doing more for my readers, who are doing more for me through Patreon, I may use this live, and more importantly, free opportunity that Facebook affords.

Bristol Motor Speedway (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

I’m thinking about going live after the Daytona 500 just to talk racing. This may change if 100 others decide to do the same thing, but many people will be doing the small part of their jobs now known in antiquated language as “writing.” I’ll write, too, but one of the old notions I enjoy is thinking about the race before I write about it. I may sleep on it. I may ruminate over comments from what PBS calls “Viewers Like You.”

We’ll see how it goes.

Just like the season.

In the “help I need that won’t cost you a dime’ department, I have a new novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, that is up for consideration through Amazon’s KindleScout program. You can read all about it, including a sample of the first few chapters, and, if you nominate it, and it’s selected, you’ll get a free download in advance. Make your first click here.

Most of my books — fiction, non-fiction, short stories, sports, music, crime, adventure — are available for sale at my Amazon page here.

 

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Somewhere in Those Trees, There’s Still a Forest

(Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, January 30, 2018, 10:45 a.m.

The past 25 years – the ones that my job led me to follow NASCAR closely – have made the sport much more appealing to the mind than the heart.

This is true of all sports.

By Monte Dutton

Fans watch the races on TV with the network on the high-definition big-screen, following Timing & Scoring on the laptop and the Twitter feed on the cell. It’s possible for information overload to occur. It’s possible to watch so much that it’s impossible to see.

This is unscientific. It’s the whole point.

The decline in NASCAR’s popularity is linked to the decline of passion.

My friends who used to talk to me about nothing but NASCAR – because they knew I wrote about it for a living – now talk to me about how little they care about it anymore. They check on the races where they used to watch every lap. I notice it more now that I seldom go to the track. I didn’t stop going because I stopped loving it, though, back when my newspaper job was eliminated, the grind was getting old. A few years have passed, and my interest has perked up again. It was too big a part of my life to go away forever.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth (Getty Images for NASCAR)

One NASCAR flaw is that it monitors carefully the people who still love it, and it ought to be monitoring carefully the people who stopped.

People who had been saying it wasn’t the same since Dale Earnhardt died now have the convenient opportunity to say it won’t be the same now that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has retired. It’s good that Junior will be on TV a lot in the second half of the season.

As significant as Junior has been, one man does not a sport make. The trick now is to prevent his retirement from speeding the decline. Decline is a car that can’t go any faster if racing is to survive and prosper again.

Many years ago, 1988-92, I attended the Indianapolis 500, all but one of those years as a fan, not a journalist. I noticed that Indy-car fans were more interested in technology than people, and that NASCAR fans were more interested in people than technology. In the stands at Indy, the fans were less boisterous in support of their drivers unless they were named Foyt and Andretti, and even with those legends, then fading into the twilight, it was more reverence than passion.

I loved NASCAR for a season and Indy for a week.

Carl Edwards (Jerry Markland/Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Perhaps now that I am older, I yearn for the enthusiasm of youth. I want to find the passion in my soul again. It may well be impossible. That’s the way nostalgia is.

But I’m looking.

I dream of 200-lappers at Greenville-Pickens and 367 laps at Darlington. I recall conversations with Harry Gant. I remember an Italian dinner with Tony Stewart and the first time I met Carl Edwards. Oddly, both occurred in Dover, about five years apart. I remember playing golf near Talladega with Jimmie Johnson and the time in Michigan that Brad Keselowski showed up to watch me sing and play guitar.

I remember those human interactions much more vividly than any of those hundreds and hundreds of races that all run together.

Tony Stewart (Monte Dutton photo)

I was fortunate, of course. Most fans don’t get the opportunity to know their heroes from dozens of interviews and conversations.

People I’d see in social engagements used to find out what I did for a living, and when they’d introduce themselves, they’d say, “So, do you know Earnhardt?”

I’d say, “Well, I’m not sure many people really know him, but I see him most every week.”

People in Joanna would say they drank beer with Earnhardt “back before he was big,” when he went deer hunting in Sumter National Forest instead of elk hunting in British Columbia. Earnhardt got too big for Joanna.

Now everybody is. The clock can’t be turned back, but, somehow, somebody’d better try. One of the great losses is authenticity.

If you like my writing, Patreon provides a way for you to support it. Please consider a modest monthly pledge here.

An eighth novel is up for KindleScout nomination. Please take a look at the sample provided, and if you like it, nominate it for publication. If it’s good enough for Amazon to publish it, you’ll get a free download before it’s officially on sale. Click here.

Many of my books are available on my Amazon author page here.

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I’m Still Poor, but I’ve Got Aspirations

(Monte Dutton sketch)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, January 29, 2018, 7:52 a.m.

What am I up to? Let me use the preferred grammar no one uses anymore. To what am I up?

By Monte Dutton

I’m trying to sell a new novel. In a participatory way. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is posted on the Amazon KindleScout web site. The participatory aspect is that, if you like it, you can vote for it. Your nomination won’t get it published. It really wouldn’t make much sense for any book to be published solely on the basis of a fan vote. It ought to be published because editors consider it good. Worthwhile. Your votes demonstrate to the Amazon movers and shakers that there is a market for the book.

I am a two-time winner and a one-time loser in KindleScout. Crazy of Natural Causes (2015) and Forgive Us Our Trespasses (2016) were KindleScout winners. Cowboys Come Home (2016) wasn’t.

What’s in it for me? An advance that I could really use. Amazon’s promotional assistance that I can’t possibly afford to buy.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

What’s in it for you? If it’s selected, you will get a free download, which means you can read it, not only on all your “devices” – the Kindle app may well have come with your cell phone, laptop, tablet, media player, Kindle (obviously), it’s available for a Nook, even, but it’s free if it isn’t there already – and you can read it on your phone at lunch and then, if you call it up on your tablet, it will take you to the page you last visited.

I do it all the time.

You will also get it before it goes on sale. That way you can write a short paragraph about it as a customer review on the book’s Amazon page. A Kindle will ask you for your evaluation as soon as you complete it, and that simple click – one through five stars – will show up immediately on both Amazon and Goodreads.

If this won’t persuade you to take a look at the KindleScout page – which includes a brief description, a short Q&A with moi, and a 5,000-word sample – then it can’t be done.

I tried.

Take a look. Read a little. If you think it merits publication, all it takes is a click. An optional evaluation takes seconds. The link requires only a click here.

 

I wrote the two racing novels of last year – Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated – in a few months apiece. I love them – it would be weird if I didn’t – and they were fun to write. They were the first books I wrote in first person, and the viewpoint of Barrie Jarman’s Uncle Charlie allowed me to be funny where previously I had only been amusing.

(Monte Dutton sketch)

I like funny. You will, too. They’re quick reads. Stock car racing is my field of expertise. There’s still time to read one or both between now and the Daytona 500. If you’re not already ready, you’ll get there sooner.

If you don’t care about NASCAR – or FASCAR, the completely fictitious ruling body of the novels – you’ll still laugh at Barrie’s adventures and exploits. He’s a wild kid — smart, cocky, flawed, rebellious, talented – and you’ll like him whether you agree with his lifestyle or not. I created him because I was thinking about the drivers who were everywhere in NASCAR when I started writing about it regularly in the early 1990s.

He’s not based on any one person. He’s an original, a throwback and a typical kid of today at the same time. This collection of short stories by me and other authors has an original short story about Barrie in it, as well as what was originally the beginning of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, back before I rewrote the story.

 

Darlington Raceway (Getty Images for NASCAR)

In spite of all these money-making activities, I need it. Money. Not to mention swimming pools, movie stars, and black gold. Texas tea. More likely, I should find an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies on TV, but that won’t pay any bills.

Patreon is a web site and a program that enables artists of all kinds – writers, musicians, photographers, painters – to raise money from patrons of their work.

My writing is never going to require subscription. This site focuses on NASCAR and, occasionally, other major sports. Local sports, book reviews, essays, and other miscellaneous activities are featured at wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. At the last second, I decided to post this newsletter here instead of there.

If you are somewhat daft and have an exalted view of my writing perspective, I appreciate it because a different perspective – uh, my own – is what I try diligently to give you.

If you can afford to part with a small amount of money each month, I’d appreciate it if you’d become a patron, on, uh, Patreon. It’s easy to pledge – whether $1, $5, $10 or $20 – and it’s just as easy to adjust, discontinue, or increase. If you pledge at least $5 a month, you’ll be rewarded. All of this is explained here.

How much I raise will determine how much I do. I may be able to go to the race track more often. I may be able to pay my power bill before the day it is due. I may shop at a supermarket instead of Dollar Tree.

Possibilities are endless. It’s not charity, though. I’ll work for your money. Over the past five years, I’ve worked – well, written – a lot for free. As the politician and commentators say, you can help me earn a living wage.

 

Most of my books – and they encompass lots of subjects – are available at my Amazon author page. Click here if you dare.

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Have the Nice Guys Gone Out of Style?

Kyle Busch (John Clark photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, January 25, 11:09 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I got up this morning – which is something most folks do and the way an inordinate number of old blues songs begin – and, before too long, started sipping coffee and reading the NASCAR Media Tour transcripts.

While reading the remarks, apparently delivered to the Tour from an airplane, of NASCAR Executive Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing Steve Phelps, it made me think of Jimmie Johnson and Tom Brady. The two have similar public personas. Both seem to be nice fellows, but the former seems unappreciated in relation to his achievements, and the other doesn’t.

Jimmie Johnson (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

Johnson has won seven championships, and Brady, in 10 days, will attempt to lead the New England Patriots to a record sixth National Football League championship. Bart Starr quarterbacked the Green Bay Packers to five championships, but the first three were before there was a Super Bowl. The only other player on five Super Bowl winners was defensive player Charles Haley. The Packers had many on NFL championship teams.

Johnson has won seven Cup (Nextel and Sprint; it’s Monster Energy now) championships, equaling Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

Phelps cooled a little controversy that arose in Charlotte over Kyle Busch’s belief that the sport is promoting young drivers at the expense of proven veterans. Busch’s snit and the countervailing huffs of promising tykes were exactly the types of molehills launched atop mountain ranges at the Media Tour every year.

Steve Phelps (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Phelps was conciliatory, and the general line of his defense was sensible. When Kyle, now all of 32, was a wunderkind, the sport didn’t have the dearth of exposure it seeks to remedy now. Now, alluding to the late Lewis Grizzard, Junior has retired, and the sport ain’t feeling so good its ownself.

What got me thinking, in addition to Sheriff Andy Taylor figuring out that ol’ Luke was stealing cattle by putting work boots on their feet, was Phelps’ reference to the strange lack of respect and love granted Johnson for being so good it’s sickening to many fans. At this point, most concede his greatness, but his detractors are about like the Brady haters who apparently think anybody could win all those Super Bowls with slightly less air in the footballs.

Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Phelps also mentioned the lack of apparent zoom in the star of reigning champion Martin Truex Jr., whose sparkling season was inspirational in several ways. Truex, like Johnson, is a nice fellow, unlikely to host the Grammys but a great NASCAR success story.

I can’t help but wonder if nice fellows have gone out of style. Johnson’s sunny disposition is not too different from Petty’s. He deserves the love that longevity usually affords. He’s smart, good-natured and, on occasion, funny.

Today people in all walks of life love to raise hell. I doubt Earnhardt, original recipe, would have spent much time on Twitter, but he most surely would have lit it up.

You like this? You can show it in a way that will pay a few of my mounting bills by signing up as a patron of my writing here. I’ll up my production if you’ll up the ante.

The hero of my two racing novels, Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated, is a wild throwback to the heroes of yore but a kid with all the modern problems, not the least of which is bucking up to folks trying to tell him what to do. Meet Barrie Jarman. You can’t help but like him for his roguish ways.

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A Few Remarks from the Grand Tour

(HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, January 24, 2018, 11:26 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

No, I’m not off at the NASCAR Media Tour, hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, for decades. Hell, I went to it for two of them. Decades. I’m here at the house, finishing off a novel, like everybody else.

We writers have to be resourceful these days, now that newspapers aren’t interested anymore in any of us seeking much more than minimum wage. It’s just free enterprise. If I had any value, the market would reflect it, but I’m trying to get by on the generosity of what PBS calls “viewers like you” and I call “readers like you.”

I’ve been monitoring the Media Tour from afar, and today I’m going to pick out a few juicy morsels I can find from the transcripts that go streaming into my email bin just as fast as people can transcribe them. It would be better if I could ask questions myself, or just look at the expressions on people’s faces, but I’ll do the best I can from an impersonal distance. I wrote a column this morning that will be posted later on another website, so I won’t spoil it for you by using any of the same material.

As I have that impersonal distance, today I’m mostly gleaning words from the few, the proud, the drivers I still feel like I know, even though they may have changed and I definitely have.

(Getty Images for NASCAR)

Seven-time (Nextel and Sprint, now Monster Energy) Cup champion Jimmie Johnson is coming off his worst season, which would be the best for many. Frustration was a distant memory until 2017 came along.

“We kept hoping every stone we turned over would help us find our problem,” he said. “What was so frustrating is I’ve never worked so hard in my life to get such little return. I know (crew chief and diabolical genius) Chad (Knaus) can say the same and the team can. The efforts they put in, just mind-boggling. I’m so happy I have a group of guys to do that, to do anything possible. It just gets so frustrating when you don’t get anything for it. So that was tough.

“After a few weeks of the off-season, letting that kind of fall off your shoulders, get recharged and ready to go. It’s been easy to find motivation for 2018. With all the change that’s going on, as I mentioned a couple times, it’s a race to figure out this mousetrap first. That’s what we like to do.”

As veteran observers have long realized, NASCAR has the world’s most complicated and high-speed mousetraps. Few racers are brain surgeons or rocket scientists. Many, many of “them racin’ deals” exist at “the end of the day,” and “that’s racing.” As almost everyone says at some point, “It is what it is.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Monte Dutton photo)

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who, like many of his colleagues, enjoys racing sprints and midgets on the side, said he wished the offseason was in the middle of the summer, and, that way, he might be able to go race in New Zealand … where it is … the middle of winter.

Jamie McMurray (Photo by Tim Parks/HHP for Chevy Racing)

Jamie McMurray, who ran his first marathon if one doesn’t count the Coca-Cola 600, compared the two by saying, “Well, everything is different hard.” Then he elaborated as if it was possible to elaborate on a sentence like that.

Kyle Busch got quite a bit of attention – imagine that — for expressing resentment that so much attention is being focused on young drivers, and, and at the ripe, old age of 32, he is concerned about them traipsing across his yard, but teammate Denny Hamlin was about as unconcerned as a 37-year-old could be.

Denny Hamlin (Monte Dutton photo)

I think your fan base is probably made relatively early in your career, no doubt about it,” Hamlin opined. “Even when I was a successful rookie, I mean, we never were really super-popular. For whatever reason, there were always the bigger names out there and things like that. I think the young guys are very lucky now that they’re coming in the sport. It’s as other drivers are leaving, so those experienced drivers have their fan base, and now they want to pull for somebody else. Most likely, it’s not going to be someone who raced against their favorite driver. It’s going to be someone new that comes in. So that’s where all the fans really go is to the new guys for that reason. They’re picking someone from the start just like they picked their driver that retired from the start.”

C’est la vie.

 

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Living in the Past

The chorus at Waterloo Elementary School (Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, January 23, 2018, 10:25 a.m.

I was just thinking about the old Tom T. Hall song “Spokane Motel Blues.” As you well know, if you read this blog a lot, I call on Tom T. for inspiration often.

The song is about a man sitting disgruntled in a motel room, thinking about all the fun being had by his buddies elsewhere.

By Monte Dutton

Last night, as I was on the way to write about a school-board meeting in Waterloo, I stopped by a little café folks had told me about to sample the cuisine. The place is in Cross Hill, another of Laurens County’s small communities, and the Mayberry Café is on the way to Waterloo Elementary School, the place the school board was visiting. Framed pictures of Andy Taylor, Barney Fife, Aunt Bee, etc., are on the walls, and the kind of old-fashioned music I love was playing to accompany my supper of country-fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, fried okra, green beans, and a roll.

I listened to Webb Pierce sing “I Ain’t Never,” Faron Young’s “Wine Me Up,” and others I know how to play on guitar. The first road to which it took me back was the kind that used to take my daddy and me back from horse auctions, with the Grand Ole Opry playing on the radio.

The first item of this morning was reading epistles from the NASCAR Media Tour, which I attended from 1993 through 2012. I remembered the Tour from years that were more fun than these because, if I’d had a blog, I would have been writing about late-night poker in the hospitality suite instead of so-and-so’s Twitter account. I’m one to talk, since I now have a Twitter account I use extensively.

It was a different time. This is a different time. Forever and ever, amen. Technology keeps accelerating our lives, and most people can’t even drive a stick. The journalism transmissions are all automatic, too. What’s going to become of NASCAR when the cars drive themselves? Oh, probably, the same that’s going to become of writers when the stories write themselves.

The same that’s become of me.

One reason I miss the Media Tour, and the races themselves, is memories of when times were simpler. I have enough sense not to yearn for the whistle-stop years, when my life consisted of writing, driving, flying, and drinking on the road, and washing, packing, and paying (bills) at home. When I was but a lad, my daddy the auctioneer rode passenger trains up and down the East Coast that took him from one car auction to the other. We’d drop him off at the train station in Columbia on Sunday night and pick him up on Thursday.

Technology be damned, some things change, and some things don’t.

CHS subs wait for a whistle, along with public-address announcer Buddy Bridges.

I thought about making a call and asking if it would be okay if I dropped in on the Media Tour for a day, but I realized it wasn’t practical, not with a school-board meeting in Waterloo, middle-school basketball on Thursday, and the Red Devil varsity on Friday night. I’ve got some bios of county hall-of-fame inductees to write and a novel to finish, and this morning I spent over an hour, mostly on hold, trying to understand why $158 disappeared from my checking account overnight.

The Rolex 24 was an event I loved the three times I was in Daytona Beach for it. One year I drove over to Deland to watch Stetson play basketball, then returned to the track and watched headlights zip around in the midnight darkness from the perch of the infield Ferris Wheel. The speedway didn’t have lights then. It’s one of my vivid memories of the circus, which, on that occasion, almost literally was.

(Photo by Richard Prince for Chevy Racing)

This week I’ll tune in via TV from time to time, trying to keep up with the running order and what channel it happens to be on at the time, and I’ll read a novel on my Kindle for a while, and write one of these blogs, and put some finishing touches on my own novel, and play Tom T. Hall songs on my guitar, and ruminate in general about the way things used to be.

I’ll wonder if all these young folks believe what they’re having is fun.

I almost forgot. My account of the school-board meeting is here.

If there is indeed a lingering market for this kind of amateur philosophizing, you’ll be interested in becoming a patron of my work. You’ll be able to read it, regardless, but if you’ve got a monthly pittance to spare, and you deem me worthy of support, you’ll consider a pledge here.

My growing array of books is readily available through imperial Amazon, most of them, anyway. There’s a heap of them right here.

Signed copies of three of my novels — Cowboys Come Home, Lightning in a Bottle, and Life Gets Complicated —  are for sale here and at L&L Office Supply in uptown Clinton.

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