Red Devils Take a Powder(sville)

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, September 8, 2018, 12:51 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

Powdersville is listed as being in Greenville, though road signs suggest that there is indeed a Powdersville, where the use of Goody’s could be exceedingly high. It’s on the eastern edge of Anderson, not Greenville, County.

Confusion aside, the football game made it seem plausible.

For visitors from Clinton, Powdersville was nirvana. Lower case. Not the tragic band. Before Clinton defeated the Patriots 47-0, I knew about as much about the would-be town as the band.

Both teams had gotten off to slow starts. One sped away.

Clinton head coach Andrew Webb – I played ball with his daddy – talked at length about the vast difference between winning and losing. He broke no new ground there, but even I could relate. All I did was limp up and down the sidelines a while, taking pictures, and then retire to the grandstands with my little Lieutenant Columbo scratch pad and scribble observations I used very little in the game story.

It turns out that most everyone knows that winning is better than losing. Go figure.

Often have I smiled at the notion that some malignant emphasis on winning somehow takes the fun out of sports. No one who ever said that must have experienced the incredible fun of winning. Surely not the guilty humiliation of losing. These people must live in some nether land, some purgatory, some grumpy fog.

Vince Lombardi is often misquoted as saying, “Winning is everything.” What Lombardi, not only a brilliant coach but an inspirational force in my generation, actually said was, “Winning isn’t everything. It is the only thing.”

It’s aspirational. Winning is always worth seeking. Do what you do well.

I have warm memories of bus trips home from long ago, when I was the Bob Uecker of Clinton High football players. In two years on the varsity, I never rode home on a bus after losing. We never lost a road game.

Last night, as I was driving home, I thought about what it must have been like for the Red Devils of today to ride home from losing 42-7 at Broome a week earlier, and I didn’t know. I’ve driven home disappointed in myself for what I had written, but my assumption is that the feeling is quite different with a team of young men blossoming into manhood.

Titus Hood

A state championship when I was 17 years old meant more than National Motorsports Writer of the Year.

I used to say that writing about young people kept me young back before that notion became ridiculous.

I do enjoy mingling a bit. I observe them, seeking insight into the changes in the experience of being young and foolish from a distance of 40 years.

Titus Hood caught a 61-yard touchdown pass. P.J. Bluford snagged a 37-yarder for six. Sam Tiller picked up a fumble and ran it in from 44. The Red Devils rushed for 242 yards. Four runners had more than 30. The defense that gave up 76 points in its first two games gave up 19 yards rushing in its third.

Thank goodness the Patriots didn’t have to ride a bus.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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Me, Myself … and Brad Keselowski

The sun sets over The Track Too Tough to Tame. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, September 3, 2018, 4:15 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

Glory be. I awakened happy on Labor Day morning.

It had been a rough weekend. Laurens County’s three football teams lost by a combined score of 142-13 on Friday night. Fortunately, I could only be at one of them, and it was the closest, 42-7.

The Furman Paladins got clobbered at Clemson, 48-7, and I was one of few mildly surprised or even moderately disappointed. An old Paladin called while I was watching the game on TV and said the line couldn’t do anything with the Tigers’ front.

“Nobody else can, either,” I said.

The White Sox clubbed the Red Sox on Sunday, but the Yankees lost, too, so that was a good sign.

Kyle Larson runs away, and Brad Keselowski is not in sight. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Fortunately, the Bojangles’ Southern 500 was on the horizon like an orange and purple sunset. Literally. Darlington Raceway had an orange and purple sunset. Undoubtedly, Clemson fans claimed responsibility.

For the Southern 500, in the Palmetto State, the sky wasn’t Carolina blue.

My daddy, rest his soul, took me to Darlington when I was a young’un, and there’s still no way any race there is going to disappoint me. I am both wrapped and rapt in the lore.

The Bandit Flight Team performs a flyover prior to Southern 500 (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

I was watching on TV, of course. I don’t venture too far for my live sporting events these days. At about 3 p.m., I said to myself, Self, if I got in the car right now, I could be there live and in person. Then Self pointed out that I didn’t have a ticket, a pass or the money to spare.

Self has more sense than I, and it’s a good thing that Self is a convincing debater.

Not surprisingly, I wanted Kyle Larson to win, and Self was rooting for Brad Keselowski.

Some tracks cast a spell on me. I become hypnotized watching the cars slide around, inches from the wall, in Darlington’s narrow turns. If there’s no battle for the lead, it doesn’t bother me as much. There’s always something fascinating to watch. If I was there, I could pick and choose, but TV does a better job at Darlington than other tracks because there’s more to choose from, and the producer can’t go wrong as easily.

Brad Keselowski won his first race of the season and at Darlington. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Neither Larson nor Keselowski had won this year. Larson dominated all night long, and then Keselowski beat him at the end. Larson slipped back third, behind Joey Logano, at the finish.

The character of Barrie Jarman in my two racing novels, Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated, was not intentionally modeled after anyone, but, coincidentally, Barrie has a bit of Keselowski’s outspoken personality and Larson’s driving style.

Derrike Cope in the twilight. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Also coincidentally, I (not to mention Self) like Keselowski and Larson.

I’m prone to forget what some deem significant and remember small moments that fire the synapses of my brain.

Nothing this year has set off the mental fireworks as much as the interactions of Larson and Austin Dillon at the ends of stages one and two. Dillon managed to stay on the lead lap at the end of the first by treating Larson’s Chevrolet a bit rudely with his own.

At the end of the second, Larson returned the favor by taking advantage of Dillon’s traffic woes and beating him at the line by inches, thus costing Dillon, uh, that lap.

Touche!

I like the way that kid thinks. I can’t understand how in the world he manages not to win more races.

Damned if Keselowski didn’t beat Larson out of the pits and dust him in the final laps. Self likes the way he thinks, too.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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Missing the Good Old Days

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, September 1, 2018, 11:59 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

The weekend is not off to a good start.

Don’t you agree that the weekend starts informally on Friday night? Last night was a rough one.

I was off to the east side of Spartanburg, near Cowpens, to watch Broome clobber Clinton, 42-7. Meanwhile, in Laurens, Myrtle Beach was pounding the Raiders, 42-6. At Laurens Academy, Beaufort Academy won the eight-man brand of football, 58-0.

Two weeks into the season, the only victory by a Laurens County team is against another Laurens County team. As a result, the Raiders are 1-1, while the Red Devils and Crusaders are 0-2.

This makes me wistful. All three schools have proud histories. All have fallen on hard times, at least so far. Many of the traditional football towns of the state are in decline. Power has shifted toward the cities and landed in the suburbs. In the Clintons and Laurenses, the mills have closed and some people cling to life, pride, uniqueness and authenticity by the fortunes of the great rallying points, the towns’ football teams.

It may be silly, but it’s true.

I almost wish I didn’t have the drive home from Broome High School to ponder such matters. I listened to the Grand Ole Opry – the Oak Ridge Boys and Jamey Johnson make an odd tandem – as if my daddy and I were coming home from a horse auction nearly 50 years ago.

I got home, tuned the TV to the high school highlights, cropped and edited the photos, printed out the stats, transcribed the interview, wrote the story and went back over it. By the time the story was published, it was 1 a.m. and I was not sleepy.

During the drive home, I had thought about the words to Iris Dement’s “Our Town”:

And you know, the sun’s setting fast / And just like they say, nothing good ever lasts / Well, go on now and kiss it goodbye / But hold on to your lover ’cause your heart’s bound to die / Go on now and say goodbye to our town, to our town / Can’t you see the sun’s going down on our town, our town / Goodnight.

I found out the Red Sox lost. Of course they did.

In a few minutes, my college, Furman, opens the season. The Paladins are playing Clemson. Of course they are.

Can I accentuate the positive? Hmm.

I bought some sneakers at the outlet mall in Gaffney. The ones I had were in bad shape. I was mildly worried that, on some high school sideline, the soles might start breaking away. Those New Balances lasted longer than any pair of shoes I’ve ever had, in part because I’ve never put less wear in a pair of shoes I’ve ever had. On the other hand, they bore a heavy burden.

The new ones are gray instead of black. They are Skechers, or I suppose as plural, Skecherses. I put them on, sitting on the tailgate of the truck in the parking lot, and wore them to the game at Royal Stadium on the campus of Gettys D. Broome High School.

My feet feel good. So there’s hope.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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Off and Literally Running

(Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, August 25, 2018, 11:12 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

The game was played at 8 p.m. instead of 7:30 because the likelihood a week earlier was that it would be too hot to meet the South Carolina High School League’s protective requirements. As it turned out, 7:30 would have been fine. It was cool for late August at Wilder Stadium, scene of many sweltering nights.

In another way, the game didn’t really start until almost 9:30 because the first half was scoreless as Laurens and Clinton rammed into each other with thunderous clashes of what passes in football for infantry advances. The Raiders lined up with a diamond in the backfield, four backs in a square turned 45 degrees, with quarterback Ryan Campbell at the shotgun point. The Red Devils opened the game in the wishbone, a formation that has been inextricably linked to them, at least on short yardage, since the early 1970s.

(GoLaurens.com photo)

For a ground-oriented attack, in an age ruled elsewhere by the pass, Laurens looked sort of newfangled in a way that wouldn’t have seemed so different had the head coach been Clark Shaughnessy or Knute Rockne instead of Chris Liner. He called it the “diamond pistol triple option” and portrayed it as a variation on how Georgia Tech operates, though the Yellow Jackets put their quarterback under center. Liner said his team can do that. It just hasn’t yet.

Scoring in the second half improved infinitely because zero is zero percent of anything else, and the teams combined for 48.

(GoLaurens.com photo)

The final score was Laurens 34, Clinton 14. Twice in the fourth quarter, the Red Devils crept within six, but the Raiders’ superior size wore them down.

What Clinton head coach Andrew Webb had said all preseason was true. The Red Devils could pass if they could run. Quarterback Andrew Webb passed successfully but not successfully enough. The Raider defense got up on its toes but not its heels.

Laurens, a Class 5A school, deserved the county championship because it looked the way numbers would suggest. Clinton, in Class 3A, won’t accept that size matters, but a neutral observer, of which the crowded stadium had few, would’ve suspected it.

The season is long. Myrtle Beach visits Laurens next week, and Clinton takes a trip to Broome, near Spartanburg, to play a team called the Centurions that was in its own Region 3 until this year. All that tires me about Broome is having to type “Centurions” repetitively because there is no short version. “Cents” or “Ions” would be deemed unacceptable by the blue-clad, would-be Romans there.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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They’ve Got Rhythm

Kurt Busch leads Kyle Larson. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, August 19, 2018, 11:59 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I found a bit of irony in the outcome of Saturday night’s Monster Energy Cup race in Bristol, Tennessee.

Kyle Busch gets lusty responses when he is introduced twice yearly to the fans of Bristol Motor Speedway. I don’t think it’s as malevolent as it seems. The fans are mostly just weary of Kyle Busch victories. Results have made thousands who are not fans for him into fans against him.

The seven-time Bristol winner would not go away, rising from the ashes of a lap-two wreck like some monster in a sci-fi flick. Relatively late, it appeared as if he might somehow pull off another victory, but his crumpled Toyota finally ran out of steam (and air in a tire) with under 10 laps to go.

Among the tangles of Kyle Busch (left) was one with Martin Truex Jr.. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Would-be Rowdy finished 20th, three laps down. He flashed his skills, came up short, and fans would have breathed a sigh of relief …

Had not the race been won by the other Busch, Kyle’s older brother Kurt, who, before Kyle started dominating Bristol … dominated Bristol.

Kurt once won three straight Bristol races and four out of five. He had not won at the track, though, since his fifth victory in 2006, and 20 races, seven of them won by his brother, had passed since.

The tilt of the “Anybody but a Busch” grandstands began with Kurt.

For those who remember the Kurt Busch Bristol conquests of the previous decade, Saturday night’s performance was reminiscent. His brother wins in every manner of ways, but Kurt has always, when successful, followed a similar formula. Kurt Busch keeps clear of trouble while most around him are getting nicked and dented. When the time to strike arrives, Kurt’s car is the most intact. He will mix it up with anyone, but usually not until it’s time.

Kurt Busch in Victory Lane with his mama, Gaye. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Let the record note that Kurt, like his brother, was involved in the second-lap pileup, but Kyle’s Toyota required more extensive repairs than Kurt’s Ford.

What is the inexplicable knack these brothers from the neon Las Vegas plain have for the barren hills of Tennessee?

Just the attack,” Kurt said. “Go after it. You run hard. You run 99 percent here all the time. That’s what Kyle and I do. It pays off at this track until you step over that one percent line. This track just fits our style. I don’t know what it is about it. A guy like (runner-up Kyle) Larson? We know he goes 99 percent all the time. Now he’s starting to find his rhythm.”

At Bristol Motor Speedway, the Busch Brothers are a swing band.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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Live from Somewhere Else on the Planet

They get younger every year. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, August 13, 2018, 9:37 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I’ve probably seen a dozen races like the one Sunday at Michigan International Speedway. A rough estimate is I saw 37 Cup races there in 20 seasons.

One of the ones I missed was like Kevin Harvick’s Sunday beatdown. I had just been released from the only hospital into which I have been admitted since my birth. It was 19 years ago. I watched it on TV through what Tom T. Hall called “a medicated fog.”

It could be that fans started demanding that every race be a classic when NASCAR and TV started promising them.

Maybe, in the Age of Trump, everyone is just mad at one another.

Next month my alma mater, Furman University, is going to play Clemson. If the Tigers win 52-0, I don’t expect any of my Clemson-fan friends to claim it was a crummy game. They might claim Clemson didn’t play well.

Kevin Harvick leads a pack of cars. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

In my stock-car-writing prime, I mostly made my own schedule. A couple years, when I was popular and the syndication profitable, I went to every single race. I usually went to Michigan because it was fun to play my guitar at Captain Chuck’s, and to go to lake-side gatherings, and see the Tigers.

Michigan, I think, has the friendliest people inside the track and the meanest troopers outside the track. Don’t get mad. I base it solely on personal experience.

Next up is Bristol, where I missed only one race and it was for the reason cited in the second paragraph. I think I could have made it, but I was still in a weakened conditions, and doctors I no longer remember advised against it. I hate I didn’t have perfect attendance at Bristol.

Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick duel at MIS. (Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Now it’s Bristol (Baby), the same way Harry Caray couldn’t say Lee Smith’s name without putting “Biiiiigggg” in front of it.

Now that I am exiled, I know TV announcers much better, and I think it would be wonderful if every single one of them didn’t use first and last name on every reference.

Kyle Busch is closing in on Martin Truex Jr. (pronounced ‘Trex’), but, oh, no, here comes Kevin Harvick. Kevin Harvick is within a car length (five) of Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch are going to set sail for Martin Truex Jr.

Michigan (Monte Dutton photo)

Right you are.

I miss Bristol (Baby) Intergalactic Colosseumway. From outside at night, with the rotary hum whipping up tornadoes from within, it seems as if the Alien Mothership is revving up its Veluvian Generators and charting course to the opposite end of the galaxy, where, presumably, Kyle Busch will be examined closely.

“Meanwhile, the earthlings continue to go around and around, My Lord.”

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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As Fate Would Have It …

Pixabay

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, August 10, 2018, 3:09 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

How’d that song go?

I was in the right place, but it must have been the wrong time …

On Wednesday night, I got an email from the boss (at GoLaurens/GoClinton) that Clinton City Council had called a special meeting to consider splitting up its Department of Public Safety into separate police and fire departments. The boss suggested I might need to be there.

I wrote back to the effect that I’d be delighted to go, but that, coincidentally, the high school football teams of Laurens and Clinton were playing in a jamboree at Woodruff at the same time. He wrote back that he’d rather have me in Woodruff.

Little did I know that the jamboree would be at the M.S. Bailey Municipal Center.

(Monte Dutton photo)

I had fun in Woodruff. I sat in my truck for a half hour, confident that no football would be played as long as the Varner Stadium lights were off. After the storm, all the critters began scurrying out of their safe places, and soon life returned to its natural setting.

The skies remained threatening. A voice materialized, undoubtedly through a microphone located in the press box. The finale of the tripleheader, Woodruff against Dorman, would not be played. Clinton vs. Blue Ridge could possibly start as soon as 8:30 – it had been scheduled for two hours earlier – and Laurens could possibly play Chapman at approximately oh-dark-30 Eastern Daylight Time.

(Monte Dutton photo)

At about 8:15, uniformed lads loped out of the fieldhouse and headed out with the intention of loosening up whatever kinks had materialized in their sinews. Before the cadence of the first jumping jacks commenced, lightning flashed above the high school. A lightning strike requires a mandatory 30-minute delay. The voice from the press box had already noted that, “if one more thing happens, the whole thing is off.”

Thusly was it off. The announcement passed with tepid resignation. The press-box god had already informed the critters that gates would not open until 8:15, it would cost $7 to get in, and no refunds would be made. Given these conditions, only the few, the proud, the ones who got in free, had advanced into the zones reserved for paying customers, as well.

Little did I know what hijinks had ensued in the august chambers of city hall, a.k.a., M.S. Bailey Municipal Center, a.k.a., where The Bailey Bank used to be.

(Monte Dutton photo)

There, where discussions of garbage collection can linger into the night, City Council was dissolving its public-safety apparatus in a span of minutes. In fact, the meeting had already been adjourned when a former officer of said public safety arrived to provide vigorous opposition.

The relatively new City Manager got a bit hot and bothered at the hostile testimony, and then the prying questions of the media types who had assembled where I had not brought Bill Ed Cannon to a boil. Unpleasantries were exchanged. Even profanity was reportedly used.

Here’s my day-after news story.

The only reason I wish I had been there was that it would have left me with a story to tell more colorful than this one.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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What Goes Up … Must Come Down

Chase Elliott is congratulated by his father and NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, August 6, 2018, 7:30 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

Chase Elliott won. Now we can get along with the rest of our lives.

I wasn’t that concerned. My basic view was, I’ve watched him race. He’s good. It’s going to happen. It’s the patience that comes from not having to rely much on assignments. Mostly, I can write what I want. Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

Bill Elliott, who rose to stardom in an age in which NASCAR heroes could also be folk heroes, has a thoroughly modern son who just won a Monster Energy Cup race in Watkins Glen, N.Y.

Free at last. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

As soon as the race was over, all the fun facts started leaping across the World Wide Web!

Bill and Chase both finished second eight times before they won. Their first victories were on road courses. I paid attention to both for the first time at Darlington, though, in Chase’s case, it was on TV.

In 1981 and ’82, I wrote about Winston Cup races at Darlington. It was my first job out of college, and I persuaded the managing editor to let me go to the race. I’m fairly certain I paid my own way. I took pictures, hung out in the pits, observed real NASCAR writers at work, drove back home and wrote a column for the next day’s paper.

The Silver Fox, David Pearson, circa 1977. (Thomas Pope photo)

The master of Darlington was, is and forever will be David Pearson. Pearson’s career was winding down. He had already won his last race. Bill Elliott was the only driver I ever saw race at Darlington who reminded me of Pearson, who was so smooth that it didn’t look like he was fast enough to dominate the race the way he did.

Bill didn’t win his first Cup race until 1983. I knew he was good, though. He looked like Pearson on the track.

It was when I watched Chase win an Xfinity race at Darlington that I decided he was going to be a star, too.

It never hurts to get a healthy dose of evidence one is right.

8:32 p.m.

It was such an enjoyable weekend. The Red Sox defeated the Yankees four times in a row. I was in a good mood during last night’s Facebook Live, even though it was before Boston scored three times in the bottom of the ninth inning and won the game in the 10th.

Chase Elliott leads Kyle Busch. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

I slept so well last night.

Just what NASCAR needed, I thought. Great race. New winner who already has a fan base to energize. Hard earned. Well done. Carry on.

Mondays are full of busy work. Editing releases. Making phone calls. Paying some bills. I ran some errands. Trash dump. Dropped by L&L to pick up some reporter’s notebooks because a lifetime supply of free pads picked up at race tracks has recently run out.

I was listening to ancient country songs on SiriusXM as I tooled around town.

I went back to busy work. One of the obits was a guy I knew in high school. The school board is having a teleconference meeting, which probably means it’s hired a principal at E.B. Morse. Or maybe it means something else that doesn’t occur to me right now. The arrest report is short.

I finally decided to see what was happening on social media.

Brian France (Monte Dutton photo)

Brian France drove a Lexus when he shouldn’t have. It was out in the Hamptons, a place in New York that has little in common with Watkins Glen other than the proximity of water that is fresh in Seneca Lake and salty off Long Island. Sag Harbor. Swimming pools. Movie stars. Kids named Gatsby.

The NASCAR scion ran afoul of the authorities, allegedly overserved, with five pills to spare.

France is taking “a leave of absence,” which is basically the same headline as “Marion Wormer to vacation in Saratoga Springs.”

I’m not aghast. I’m not astonished. I’m not even surprised. I knew the sport was burning and had not known France to have a fiddle, though I did refer to him as “Nero” from time to time.

It’s not like the ship has lost its rudder. I don’t see anything getting worse. It’s just that I went to bed Sunday night thinking maybe, just maybe, times in NASCAR were about to start getting a little better.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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Home with the Merciful God

Buddy Baker’s been waiting. (Photo by ISC Archives via Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, July 31, 2018, 3:27 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

When I arrived as a cadet on the NASCAR touring troupe in 1993, two men were responsible for my relatively quick acceptance.

One was Mike Hembree, then as now one of the best. I was fortunate. Mike and I were already friends. When I had worked in the Sports Information Office of Furman University, NASCAR had shared Mike with the Paladins in his duties at the Greenville News.

The other was Tom Higgins, “Pappy,” larger than life and damned large in life. He and I lost our fathers at the same time, and one day, in a media center, we walked about our dear old dads and what they had meant to us, and from then on, he made sure I was in the fraternity of racing scribes. Steve Waid and Tom were running buddies, and Steve is hurting now and always will a little at his loss. Tom and I were friendly, but I wanted to avoid being too close because I didn’t want to rely too much on Tom for acceptance. I wanted to make my own name.

This sketch wasn’t intentionally drawn to represent Tom Higgins. It wasn’t until after I finished that I realized it “favored” him.

The quick acceptance, though, was crucial. At the time, the racing media was dominated by giants such as Higgins & Waid, not to mention other extraordinary writers: the gruff, eloquent Gerald Martin, folksy Benny Phillips, all-knowing Bob Moore, the well-connected newshen (Dan Jenkins’ term) Deb Williams, the perspicacious Jim McLaurin, the hilarious Larry Woody and his foil Joe Caldwell, the self-assured Ed Hinton, the cynical Ben Blake, the aggressive Mike Mulhern, the persistent Bob Zeller, the courteous Bill Luther, the irreverent Clyde Bolton, the oracle of common sense Conner Gilbert, underappreciated Al Pearce and others I’m shortly going to regret omitting.

They were all hard to beat and harder to outwrite. I felt great pride to circulate among them. I don’t feel nearly as accomplished today. Newspapers were important then, and NASCAR was important to newspapers. A multitude of papers – Atlanta, Charlotte, Daytona Beach, Orlando, Greenville, Spartanburg, Columbia, Florence, Chattanooga, Nashville, Knoxville, Birmingham, Raleigh, Winston-Salem, Roanoke, Richmond, Newport News, High Point, Kannapolis, etc. – sent beat reporters out to track the racers.

After Jimmy Dutton died, a significant regret was not being able to regale him with tales from the road.

Once in New Hampshire, David Green and I picked up Tom at the Bay Side Inn to go to supper. He climbed in the back of David’s rental Taurus, and we started out when Tom demanded that the car be stopped.

“By God, I lost my ass betting on them dogs.” A greyhound track was near the track. “Sorry, boys. I’m a-going to win that money back.”

I expect he did, and if he didn’t, the next day he said he did.

Tom had a booming voice, the kind that immediately turned heads and commanded authority. He was an outdoorsman of renown. If God had ever decided to play Daniel Boone in a movie, He would have sounded like Tom.

That’s Robert Earl Keen Jr., performing behind me and David Poole at Texas Motor Speedway.

The man who succeeded Tom at the Charlotte Observer, David Poole, told a famous story about the time Michael Waltrip survived a crash at Bristol that appeared sure to be fatal. David was on the desk when the phone rang.

“David Poole, Observer Sports.”

“David,” Tom intoned somberly, “Michael Waltrip’s dead.”

“Oh, my,” David said.

“Nope, never mind,” Tom said. “He just climbed out the car. I’ll talk to you later.”

Click.

Tom loved the women, he did. He used that voice to good effect, sitting in the press box on race morning, watching them through his binoculars in their halter tops and floppy hats.

“Merciful God, boys! I want you to look at that filly coming yonder!”

He was courtly, charming and chivalrous in the presence of women, though. It was a different age.

I loved playing golf with Tom. For some reason, I played well when he was along. The same was not true with Poole, who loved golf as much as any man I ever knew. If Poole was playing badly, he’d combust. I once saw him berate a woman raking leaves in her yard because she happened to be standing near the errant location of one of David’s shots.

“What in hell are you looking at?”

Hembree and I made an excuse and left at the turn.

David is gone, and so, too, is Tom. The last race I described in David’s company is a distinct memory.

Tom’s suffered a stroke some time back, and Waid had been keeping many of us up to date on his condition. The word came today that he had succumbed just shy of age 81.

His life was long and productive, crowded with enough vivid adventures to sustain any man. I am more happy at his relief than saddened at his death. His impact on the hereafter will, I expect, be profound. Maybe he’ll tell God some Buddy Baker stories. God will then summon Buddy. Hilarity will ensue.

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

From Monday through Friday, a Kindle download of my fifth novel, Cowboys Come Home, is absolutely free. It’s set in Texas at the end of World War II, and two Marines, Ennis Middlebrooks and Harry Byerly, return home after heroic service in the Pacific.

(Steven Novak cover design)

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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A Snowball Headed for Hell

Kyle Busch leads a Pocono pack. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, July 30, 2018, 2:42 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

With every week that passes, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season settles in place. Its concrete hardens. Change becomes more unlikely. The story remains the same.

The Chevrolet Camaro is probably not going to win many races this year. It won right out of the box with Austin Dillon’s victory in the Daytona 500. Twenty fruitless attempts have followed. Surely a Camaro, one driven by Kyle Larson, or Chase Elliott, or someone else will win during the final 15 races of the season.

It is likely, and gets likelier with each passing week, that when the playoffs (I hate that term and wish they were called race-offs) begin, nine races will be run to benefit one driver to join three others – Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. – to settle the championship.

Busch celebrates. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

The prospect is not without its appeal, particularly for fans who adore either Busch, Harvick or Truex. Surely their ranks have swelled. Busch is clever. Harvick is canny. Truex is a hell of a guy.

Nixing the designation of the final 10 races as the Chase proved fitting and timely. It’s not going to be much of a chase. It’s not going to be wild. It’s not going to be crazy. It’s going to be appropriate. It’s going to reflect the course of the whole season, one which three men have utterly dominated. They have combined to win 16 races. Another, Clint Bowyer, has won two. Three others – Dillon, Joey Logano and Erik Jones – have combined to win … three.

Other cars, mostly Toyotas and Fords, are fast in fits and starts. Chevrolets are fast in bits and snatches. It seems as if Jimmie Johnson has spent the entire season in seventh place.

Fans who have said all season long that they wouldn’t be surprised if Brad Keselowski, or Denny Hamlin, or Larson, or Elliott, won, would now be surprised.

Busch celebrates some more. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Three drivers have cornered the market. It is fleeting and won’t last forever, but it’s likely going to last until at least the end of the year. Any victory by anyone other than Busch, Harvick or Truex is going to be an upset. If Johnson wins a race, I wonder if Rick Allen will say of a seven-time champion, “David beats Goliath!”

This is where NASCAR is.

Three recent races have been great. The Big Three deserve their status. They are both fast and efficient. One reason for their status is that others who rival them in speed do not rival them in cohesion. It’s not just the drivers. The crew chiefs – Adam Stevens with Busch, Rodney Childers with Harvick and Cole Pearn with Truex – are cool and efficient. The teams have no monopoly, but that’s what it looks like.

The excellence deserves celebration, but from the aerial shots of the grandstands, from TV numbers still getting tinier, and from other observations both scientific and personal, that’s not what it’s getting.

NASCAR is flunking both the multiple-choice and the essay exams, so it grades itself on a curve and keeps taking strikes.

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

From Monday through Friday, a Kindle download of my fifth novel, Cowboys Come Home, is absolutely free. It’s set in Texas at the end of World War II, and two Marines, Ennis Middlebrooks and Harry Byerly, return home after heroic service in the Pacific.

(Steven Novak cover design)

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

Posted in NASCAR | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on A Snowball Headed for Hell