Close to Home and Far, Far Away

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, July 13, 2018, 8:27 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I really wanted England to reach the World Cup finals. It was like everything else now that my job responsibilites keep me preoccupied. I’m forever editing, choosing photos, and interviewing someone on the phone. The TV is on, and I look up when announcers start yelling.

Out on the edge of my consciousness, it seemed to me that Croatia gradually took control of the semifinal match. Croatia is fortunate. If its team had been this good four years ago, Russia would have invaded or at least demanded annexation.

The Boston Red Sox have won 10 games in a row. They are 37 games above .500 for the first time since 1949. They have nine or more straight games twice in a season for the first time since 1948. I wasn’t born in 1948-49. Thus am I unprecedentedly happy in a small way.

I’ve seen parts of four youth baseball games in the past two days. The local teams both split and saw their seasons end. With Clinton’s Dixie Youth O-Zone team (11-12 ages), the loss, in a game to reach the state finals, was controversial and excruciating, though I was monitoring it on something called Gamechanger because I’d had to get back home to edit some news releases and the like. Last night the Laurens Little Leaguers (9-10) fell, 5-2.

Two teams, one representing each town, remain alive and will attempt to advance to even more far-flung locales this weekend and the next

High school football will be here soon.

It’s a long way from soccer in Russia to youth baseball in Moncks Corner. I’m not at either place, but I’ll be following the far paviiions, as well as the baseball in Fenway Park and the racing in Kentucky.

 

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.

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.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

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 local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

Posted in Sports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Close to Home and Far, Far Away

Throw Caution to the Wind

(Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, July 8, 2018, 11:45 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Dale Earnhardt once said he could see the air. I remember the time he said so after a victory at Talladega. In the press box, where winners once held their post-race conferences, I asked him about it, and he said he didn’t mean it literally. He could see the effects of the air better than others.

The Coke Zero Sugar 400 was contested in air. An air of desperation. I could see it on a TV from 437 miles away.

As in the case of the Daytona 500 at the season’s outset, the winner, Erik Jones, survived it as much as he won it. He deserves credit. Negotiating a minefield is hard.

The owner of Jones’ Toyota, Joe Gibbs, said, “It’s just this year has been extremely hard because we’ve had, really, four people winning all the races, and so it doesn’t leave room for anybody else.”

To be precise, four guys – Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., and Clint Bowyer – have won 15 of the 18 races. The playoffs begin after eight more. The usual suspects mentioned above, particularly the first three, are going to be favored in all of them. For all the drivers in all the cars who have been buffeted about in the wake of the Big Three all year long, Daytona International Speedway was the last best window of opportunity and, for most, the window of doom.

If they melted down all that crumpled steel, they could almost offset a tariff.

The winner exults. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Jones, last year’s rookie of the year, found the window of opportunity and the first Monster Energy Cup victory of his career.

As his crew chief, Chris Gayle, said, “Erik is as laid-back a guy as you will ever be around, but, behind the wheel, very aggressive.”

Oh, the chaos. Oh, the anarchy. Oh, the tumult. Oh, the turmoil. Ten times did the yellow flags wave in protest, and six times did they wave for crashes involving multiple cars.

Democracy is messy. Give a chance to those who seldom get them, and they will literally throw a caution flag to the wind.

A.J. Allmendinger finished third, Chris Buescher finished fifth, Ty Dillon sixth, Matt DiBenedetto seventh, Jeffrey Earnhardt 11th, Brendan Gaughan 12th, D.J. Kennington 13th, Darrell Wallace Jr. 14th and Ray Black Jr. 16th. Only Allmendinger and Buescher have ever won a Cup race.

Erik Jones in Victory Lane. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

The winner was in a wreck. Most of the top 10 were in wrecks. Most of those in the nether reaches of the standings were in several.

Jones counted it down afterwards.

“[I] was 15th, and [I] was 12th and then [I] was seventh and then [I] was fourth and then [I] was second, and it kind of kept inching forward, and on the last restart, I was, like, we’ve got a legitimate shot at this point.”*

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who has won two of these horsepower-restricted, crash-enhanced races before, caused more trouble on Saturday night than termites. Don’t be too harsh. Life at Daytona and Talladega has turned him that way. He took the blame, not that he could have avoided it.

The shark on the outside is driven by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“It was fun for a while,” Stenhouse said. “I was frustrated with myself causing crashes like that. You don’t ever really want to do that.”

He also said he didn’t feel any need to “smooth things over.”

“No, it’s aggressive speedway racing. We needed to win to get in the playoffs, so it is what it is.”

Barney Fife might have said to Andy Taylor of Stenhouse what he said of Ernest T. Bass: “He’s a nut.”

A.J. Allmendinger (Getty Images for NASCAR)

After his early crash, Allmendinger said he probably missed seven after that, including a few that didn’t happen because of avoidance

“It is very aggressive,” he added. “The urgency, whether it’s to stay up front, even if there’s a lot of time to get back to the front, I’m not really sure why, but, to me, that’s what’s causing it. … It was a destruction derby out there instead of a Cup race.”

Truex, who is the reigning champion but has never won a plate race, finished second.

“Man, they destroyed some cars,” he said. “That was insane. Cool to get to the end. I wish I could have done a better job for my team. I have to get better at the blocking. It never has been my strong suit.”

Chase Elliott, who started first, crashed out on the 54th lap and placed 34th. One positive was that he got to watch the rest of the race through something other than windshield and mirrors.

What was he thinking?

“… We are not going to have anybody left before it’s over with,” Elliott said.

*All reports are that Jones was alone in the car, so I took the liberty of changing his “we” to “I.”

 

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.

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.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

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 local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

Posted in NASCAR | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Throw Caution to the Wind

Twenty Years Ago, Daytona Beach Was a Fiery Place

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, July 6, 2018, 9:20 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I never wrote about a Firecracker 400 that began at 10 a.m. When I signed up with the NASCAR media gypsies full-time in 1993, the race started at 11 a.m.

It was wonderful. Hot as a firecracker but wonderful. The race never moved to night, or, as we came to know it, thunderstorm standard time, until 1998, and then it was in October. It wasn’t supposed to be.

After I landed at the airport behind the race track that July, I picked up a rental car and drove to a Mexican restaurant. When I walked out and looked to the west, I thought I was about to witness the worst thunderstorm in history. Angry clouds of black, purple and crimson swirled angrily.

It wasn’t a thunderstorm. The orange groves were afire. That night law officers banged on my motel-room door and informed me that I needed to evacuate. I wound up rooming with a friend out on the beach. I was stranded in Daytona Beach, penned in by flames. The next day, I played a bizarre round of golf. It was 100 degrees, the air filled with smoke. I felt as if I were in some war-torn, tropical country where revolutionaries had reached the outskirts of the capital.

The morning paper listed a short-track race in New Smyrna Beach. A friend and I drove down to find the track empty and locked. I wrote about fire. I-95 was closed. I ended up driving up the coast to Jacksonville, where the way home was finally clear. The rental car wound up being turned in at Greenville-Spartanburg Airport. I think it was a Ford Contour.

Daytona International Speedway’s first Cup night race didn’t go off until October 17. Jeff Gordon won it. I was there. I don’t remember anything about it other than I was there.

(Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Twenty years ago, the race cars were Monte Carlos, Tauruses and Grands Prix. Gordon was winning his third championship in four years. Johnny Benson Jr. drove for Jack Roush and Betty Crocker. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in the Busch Grand National (now Xfinity) Series. Tony Stewart was, too, occasionally. That year Austin Cindric, Noah Gragson and Kaz Grala were born.

I had not yet written my first NASCAR book. I had not yet picked up a guitar. Occasionally, driving home late at night from a track, I tried to play a harmonica. I didn’t know a chord from cordwood.

Bill Clinton was in the White House. Houston was in the National League.

Yet it doesn’t seem so long ago. Almost nothing does anymore.

 

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.

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.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

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 local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

Posted in NASCAR | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Twenty Years Ago, Daytona Beach Was a Fiery Place

‘Oh, Doctor, You Have Healed What Ails Me!’

This was one to celebrate. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, July 2, 2018, 11:59 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Fans are unreasonable by nature. If they weren’t fanatical, from which “fan” is derived, all sports would die. Passion and reason are often antithetical. Few of the virtues overlap.

If a Kyle Busch fan didn’t say “that damned Larson” first, and if a Kyle Larson didn’t say “that damned Busch” later, there would be evidence that NASCAR isn’t just declining. It’s dead.

What happened at the end of Sunday’s Overton’s 400 – in my postrace Facebook Live show, I called it something else, Overlook or Overlord or Overhaul, maybe all three – was evidence of what the late Dudley Moore, as Arthur Bach, asked.

“Isn’t fun the greatest thing you can have?”

The kid loves that wall. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

The driver who lost at Chicagoland Speedway, Larson, thought it was fun.

“I mean, I hit him first, so … I roughed him up. He roughed me up. That’s racing. … That was hard racing. I had a lot of fun,” he said.

Junior got it right. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was describing the shindig on TV, screaming, “Slide jobbbb!” as if he were the late Keith Jackson screaming, “Touchdown, Aluuhhbammmma!”

Keith’s voice was a little deeper. When Junior gets up in age, his may be, too.

Kyle Busch’s Toyota leads the cavalry charge. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

I was by myself, imagining a press box gaggle.

“Uh-oh … Uh-oh … not gonna work! Not gonna work!”

Oh, it worked, just not in the short run. Just not in the interests of both parties.

Emotions dictated my sentiments. That’s right. Even I, the seasoned, world-weary journalist. I don’t know what I want till I see it. I wanted Larson to win because he has become my favorite part of NASCAR. He’s 25, for real. I’ll probably think of him as 25 when he’s 45, in the off chance that I live that long. Jeff Gordon never aged much in my eyes. Larson rose up from the dirt tracks – around Sacramento, not Lavonia, but I don’t care if he came from dirt tracks around Medicine Hat, or Qatar, for that matter, where there may not be dirt tracks but there is definitely dirt – and I love watching him ride the rail, high, wide and handsome, as Ray Melton used to say.

(Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

“Best” involves many factors. “Exciting” is easy. These Kyles, Busch and Larson, are NASCAR’s most exciting. They are, respectively, the hope of the present and the hope of the future. Busch won. He’s the best now. His crew chief, Adam Stevens, called him “a one-in-a-million talent.” The United States is somewhere north of 327 million. I doubt there are 327 Kyle Busches. In NASCAR, there may be one more. Others are rising. Others are falling. It’s a moving target, but I doubt it’s ever added up to 327.

They were both trying to win. Both weren’t going to be happy about slamming, to and from. It was love and war, where’s all fair, according to Cervantes, Joe DiMaggio and Hemingway, at least.

The Kyles (Getty Images)

“I was, like, surely he’s not going to drive into the side of me,” Busch said. “Then he did. After that point all games are off, right now, all bets are off. It’s wide-open here on out, back to the checkered flag.”

Only gloves were still on.

Some will speak of ethics, and fair play, and whether the race was good and clean.

Stevens said, “If you flipped those roles, would it happen that way? It’s quite possible. It seemed like just a hard racing move to me.”

The fans can make wild proposals, in part, because they don’t have to pay for them. Getting rid of intermediate, uh, “cookie-cutter tracks” is impractical. Races at those tracks used to be better. The economical way is to get them better again.

The biggest feel-good story is that a pair of rampaging Kyles made it seem possible.

 

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.

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.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

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 local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

Posted in NASCAR | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on ‘Oh, Doctor, You Have Healed What Ails Me!’

A Very Different Tale of Two Seasons

(Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, July 1, 2018, 8:12 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

The first aspect of Chicagoland Speedway that impressed me was how large Chicagoland is. As my father might have said, it’s a pretty fair jump from the Windy City.

The first time I sat in the press box, I trained my binoculars on the hazy distance, looking for the skyscrapers of Chicago. I thought I found one and tried to fine-tune the focus with the image quivering in the heat waves.

Turns out, it was a silo.

Ryan Blaney at Chicagoland speed. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Chicagoland and Kansas speedways opened in tandem. The Jewel of Joliet – my visits would suggest there’s little competition in figurative jewelry – opened at the Cup level on July 15, 2001, with a victory by Kevin Harvick. The first major race at the Bonanza of Kansas – it’s the best I could do on short notice – fell to Jeff Gordon’s assault on Sept. 30 of that same year.

The two aren’t complete clones – Chicagoland has a back straight with gentle curves in both ends – but they appear to have been designed with considerable collaboration. Commerce bustles around the Kansas track, but Chicagoland remains relatively remote in Joliet, known to many as home of the prison where Jake and Elwood, the Blues Brothers, received their paroles at the beginning of a movie.

Here we are in 2018, where Harvick, who won the first two Chicagoland affairs, is dueling for a Monster Energy Cup championship with Martin Truex Jr., who captured the past two.

(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

The third member of the contemporary Great Triumvirate, Kyle Busch, has won once at both tracks in between.

I doubt the members of the original Great Triumvirate – John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster – imagined race-car drivers, or even drivers, as they fretted about the possibility of sending the federal cavalry to put down Indian uprisings in both locations.

Once again, it’s the best I could do on short notice.

Where I live, I have learned the peril of dismissing all short towns as just alike, and I also know that tracks aren’t made of gigantic cookie cutters. The one used for Chicagoland had a couple dents in it.

(Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

NASCAR seasons aren’t just alike, either. This year six drivers have won all the races, and four – the modern triumvirate plus Clint Bowyer – have staked their claims to all but two. The most recent victory by an outlier was in April.

One year ago, at this point, 11 different drivers had won, and the biggest winner was this guy named Jimmie Johnson, who had nailed down three. Truex had two. Harvick had one. Kyle Busch had zero, but Kurt Busch had one.

Another familiar pattern was a race that was relatively undistinguished until the final laps, at which point most of hell broke loose. This year a form of hell breaks loose for most of the day, at which point someone runs away with the fervor of Jake and Elwood from the Joliet penitentiary.

After this point in 2017, the action stabilized. Here’s hoping the reverse happens this year, 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.

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.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

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 local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

Posted in NASCAR | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A Very Different Tale of Two Seasons

A Wee Bit of Gamesmanship

Martin Truex Jr., en route to victory. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, June 25, 2018, 10:49 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

The widely anticipated road race in Sonoma, California, on Sunday was compelling, if not notably exciting. For once, the high-speed chess was in neither Daytona Beach, Florida, nor Talladega, Alabama.

Martin Truex Jr., the reigning Monster Energy Cup champion, won the Toyota/Save Mart 350, measured in kilometers as opposed to its 218.9 miles. Truex’s canny crew chief, Cole Pearn, was its mastermind.

Watching Pearn’s cool head in action made me think of Bugs Bunny. As Elmer Fudd might say, Pearn was the race’s “wascally wabbit.”

Martin Truex Jr. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Not only did Pearn set Truex’s tactics. He induced those of his pursuers. Pearn pulled a faster one Truex’s Toyota, which was plenty fast on its own. Pearn’s educated guess was that there would be no fourth caution flag. He played the percentages, which, in fact, won the race for Truex.

The method was in the messaging. The messaging was, uh, pit this lap, pit this lap, pit this lap … uh, don’t pit. Other teams own these instruments known as scanners. Many of the fans own or rent scanners. Television monitors these scanners. They all thought Truex was going to pit right up until … he didn’t.

To make a long story, described in detail in many other places, short, Kevin Harvick, who was leading, pitted with 37 laps to go. In part, this was because Truex’s crew was apparently going to do the same. Tires were placed on the wall. Crewmen gritted their teeth in apparent anticipation. Once the Fords of Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer – and many others – pitted, Cole instructed Truex to wait nine more laps.

If there had been a late caution flag, Harvick or Bowyer, may have won. There wasn’t, and they didn’t. Truex’s Toyota crossed the finish line 10.53 seconds before Harvick. TV announcers spent a lot time making remarks such as, “Hey, Truex is way ahead, but there’s a hell of a battle for 11th!”

The winner had to gloat a little.

“Yeah, we’re in California,” Truex said. “They went to acting school this week. They were in L.A. for a couple days durig the off weekend learning how to do screenplays and such.”

Perhaps you’ve seen a rerun of the Perry Mason episode, “The Case of the Simulated Stop.”

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Truex pronounced himself guileless and obedient to his tactical master, Pearn.

“I just drove the car,” Truex said. “That’s what I do. Cole and I have a great relationship. I never question him when he’s calling races. … So, yeah, he told me to pit, and I was, like, okay, I’m going to pit, and then he said, don’t pit, so I’m, like, fine, I’m just going to stay out.”

“It was a flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of call,” Joe Garone, the Furniture Row president, said.

“I think you’ve got to take the opportunities when they present themselves,” Pearn said.

For once, Wile E. Coyote really was, in fact, “a super genius,” and the Roadrunner ran off the cliff.

 

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.

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.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

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 local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

Posted in NASCAR | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A Wee Bit of Gamesmanship

Take Away the Uniqueness and It Loses Some Allure

Sonoma Raceway(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, June 23, 2018, 4:11 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I’ve never differed from the basic opinion that road racing is a nice change of pace. It’s like having a junkballer, a submarine pitcher or a knuckleballer in the pitching rotation. I love the two road courses on the Monster Energy Cup Series. I’m not averse to another. The Charlotte “roval” is going to be an appealing hybrid. I can’t say whether I’ll like it or not. I’m looking forward to find out.

When I traveled all the tracks, I didn’t think being there meant as much at road courses. It frustrated me that I just sat in the media center and watched TV. Naturally, for those who watch all the races there, it’s not an issue, but I never liked letting TV dictate what I saw. It’s impossible to see the whole track at road courses. Now I watch them all on TV. I miss press boxes, towering high above the track, because they were the basis of my love of the sport. My suspicion is that most of the fans who love road courses do so because they’re watching on TV. To me, stock cars are indigenous to ovals. Watching them on road courses is a trip to the zoo. I like zoos, but the animals seem happier in the wild. As a stock car racing venue, Sonoma is a great place to visit.

(Monte Dutton photo)

I miss taking a ferry across the bay to see the Giants, or crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to experience the uniqueness and culinary possibilities of San Francisco. I miss driving the Pacific Coast Highway, and Tony’s, the little seafood joint on the water in Marshall, and watching people play music on the sidewalks of Haight-Ashbury, and the fog that seems like it’s a living being as it rolls in. And looking down upon the Golden Gate from the Marin Headlands, and Muir Woods, and Alcatraz, the only edifice in the entire area that isn’t gorgeous, and Angel Island, and the ostentatious affluence of Marin County.

I miss nothing about San Francisco International Airport. I’m no great connoisseur of Wine, but I like its Country.

Martin Truex Jr. at Sonoma Raceway(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Not every driver is adept at road courses, but there are a lot more than there were in the early 1990s, when I first started attending them. Until the past decade, the number of potential winners was much smaller. Now it’s as hard to predict as a plate race. The biggest reason is that road racing is much easier now that tap dancing on the pedals isn’t so difficult. The clutch has become unnecessary. Another reason is the tactical possibilities. Hardly anyone loses a lap on a pit stop. It’s better to pit under green than to pit under yellow. Pitting under green at the right time means idling right past those who have to pit under yellow.

It’s cultural exchange, on track and off.

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.

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.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

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 local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

Posted in NASCAR | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Take Away the Uniqueness and It Loses Some Allure

It’s the World Gone Crazy

(Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, June 17, 2018, 9:31 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Having no Monster Energy Cup race on Father’s Day seems strange.

For many years, Father’s Day was considered to be a prime NASCAR date, not as prestigious as the weekends of Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day, but the idea was, what better way to honor Dad than everybody going to the race track and having a chillin,’ grillin,’ fillin’ old time?

For Dad, it was “a yabba-dabba-doo time” because who symbolizes fatherhood more than Fred Flintstone?

(Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

On the other hand, Mother’s Day was taboo. A disastrous all-star race was held on that weekend in the 1980s, and it damned near put The Winston six feet under. The idea was that Mom would not take it well if Dad said, “Hey, baby, guess what? Me and the young’uns are gonna take you to the race track ’cause it’s your special day!”

It’s possible a few domestic disputes began with those words.

When NASCAR officials handed Mother’s Day weekend to Darlington, the widespread belief was that it was a none-too-subtle means of running the old, uh, “Lady in Black” out of business. Darlington pulled it off, though, so determined were its partisans to stave off elimination.

In fact, NASCAR ran a Mother’s Day Weekend shindig in Kansas this very year. It went all right, or as all right as anything ever does in this age of lowered expectations.

Brett Moffitt celebrates in Victory Lane after winning in Newton, Iowa. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

This weekend races are being run, though not at the top level. Iowa Speedway is the site of Camping World Truck and Xfinity competition. Saturday night’s Truck race, won in rather stirring fashion by Brett Moffitt in spite of Noah Gragson’s valiant effort, went off with reasonable success, given that it wasn’t at a track on the Cup schedule.

Why did they do it this way? It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Fox is in charge, not NASCAR.

Fox has a crowded schedule. The U.S. Open and the World Cup are rather time-consuming, and Fox owns the rights. To Fox’s credit, the third round of the Open had many of what pass for wrecks on a golf course.

(Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

How the world has changed. If, 10 years ago, someone had said, “Why, NASCAR can’t race on Father’s Day! The World Cup is starting!” it would have seemed ludicrous. And who’s going to watch a stock car race when there’s golf on the tube? In the late 1980s, I remember reading about NASCAR drawing higher ratings for the Winston 500 at Talladega than the Masters. The theory was that race fans were so loyal that they’d watch a race no matter what else was on. Now the network is scared to death of Costa Rica versus Serbia. The United States isn’t even there. No matter. The World Cup is in Russia, our greatest ally. If it was in Canada, why, maybe not.

As Waylon Jennings was once fond of singing, it’s the world gone crazy.

The villains have all turned into heroes / The heroes have turned into heels / The dealers all want to be lovers / And the lovers all want to make deals.

 

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.

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.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

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 local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

Posted in NASCAR | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on It’s the World Gone Crazy

Just Drinkin’ in the Rain

Clint Bowyer celebrates his second victory of the season. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, June 11, 2018, 11:30 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

It’s almost never a positive when an automobile race falls short of the scheduled distance, but Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 (266) wasn’t without its tactical amusements. Clint Bowyer and crew chief Mike Bugarewicz played a two-tire pit strategy that put their Ford out front, and Bowyer managed to finagle the lead from teammate Kevin Harvick and hold it long enough to win.

Rain fell, but Mother Nature smiled. On rare occasions, plans work. Clean living and clean air.

Bowyer outdueled Kevin Harvick when it counted. Mother Nature was doing the counting. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Hallelujah. The season has four multiple winners: Kevin Harvick 5, Kyle Busch 4, Martin Truex Jr. 2 and, now, the genial and irreverent Bowyer, the Driver Most Likely to Have a Beer with You. He’s from Kansas, the state most likely to produce characters in fiction who are friendly, wholesome and naive.

Aw, shucks, ma’am. It weren’t nothin.’

It was almost exactly worth the trouble of spelling Bugarewicz. It could be worse. He could be part of the keystone combo of Garciaparra to Bugarewicz to Kryzyzewski.

Fords haven’t enjoyed such a day since NASCAR banned the hemi, and Stewart Haas Racing led the Fords into battle with the exuberant clamor of a cattle drive. Haas’s Posse – Haas is Gene, and Stewart is Tony – finished 1-2-3 – Bowyer, Harvick and Kurt Busch – and the drag rider, Aric Almirola, finished 11th. Seven Ford drivers completed the unexpected finish in the top eight positions.

Kyle Busch (Toyota), Chase Elliott (Chevrolet) and Jamie McMurray (Chevrolet) finished fourth, ninth and 10th, respectively.

The winner greets NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

They were dancing in the streets of Dearborn, and Bowyer assured everyone interested that he would be drinking beer until the next time the cattle come home and the next drive heads off to Wine Country. Put Bowyer in victory lane, and he sounds like he’s ready to go howling at the moon with Pops Turner and Little Joe Weatherly.

Bowyer, who began the season winless since 2012, has won both times heading into idle weekends.

Coincidence? Don’t be ridiculous.

By gosh and gee whillikers, this is racing. How in the world could a man willing to strap himself into a machine designed for madness exert upon it his mastery and then not climb out from behind its digital dash without shorting it out with frosty fermentation?

Breathes there a man with soul so dead who never to himself has said …

Gimme a damned beer.

“See that sticker right there. It says I won.” (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

NASCAR needs racers like Clint Bowyer because it needs fans like Bowyer. If it rains in the campground, they play tackle football in the mud. If the race has to wait until Monday, they stay because they’re too hung over to go to work, anyway.

I’ve said many times – and as recently as last night on Facebook Live – that I wrote two racing novels in 2017 because I wanted to create a character who was a hybrid of old-time spirit and modern lifestyle. Perhaps I’ve been selling Bowyer short. I keep saying there are no drivers today who remind me of the ones who were everywhere – Dale Earnhardt, Harry Gant, Sterling Marlin, Rusty Wallace, Dick Trickle, etc. – in the 1990s.

Maybe Bowyer’s that guy. Maybe he doesn’t need any “branding” because he’s got one, natural born.

Thing is, as I write these words, I haven’t had a drop. Last brew I quaffed was at the Mexican joint on Friday night, and I just had one – okay, a very large one – before I came home to watch Johnny Sauter win the Truck race.

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.

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.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

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 local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

Posted in NASCAR | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Just Drinkin’ in the Rain

Runaways … Run, Run, Run, Run … Runaways

Martin Truex Jr. leads Kevin Harvick. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, June 4, 2018, 10:44 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

This occurred to me even before the Pocono 400 started. Martin Truex Jr.’s victory just underscored it. As in 2017, a recurring pattern has emerged. The one this year is something of a reversal.

The typical race of 2017 was a relatively pedestrian – an odd but accurate adjective for a competition of men driving automobiles – affair until the end, at which point it became wildly unpredictable and exciting. This year it seems as if the first two thirds of the races are competitive and exciting until, at the end, someone – most likely Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch or Truex – escapes the snarl and pulls swiftly away.

The format is almost exactly the same. The action has inverted.

Of course, as is the case with many rules, there are exceptions.

When he took the checkered flag, Truex had a comfortable advantage. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Everything is forever in a limited state of flux, but the former of the Pocono Raceway summertime dates was the season’s 14th race, and the aforementioned trio has combine to capture 11 of them. In general, it is because they are faster. Those not as fast try to take tactical advantage as the laps expire, but their ploys don’t often work.

Fans commonly ask me if I think the Chevrolets will catch up with the Fords. They’re getting better, but the current upward trend is with the Toyotas. The new Camaro won its very first race when Austin Dillon outlasted the Daytona 500 pile-ups, but since then:

Harvick (Ford), Harvick (F), Harvick (F), Truex (Toyota), Clint Bowyer (F), Kyle Busch (T), Busch (T), Busch (T), Joey Logano (F), Harvick (F), Harvick F), Busch (T) and Truex (T).

As I’m not at the track, raising my hands to ask questions, I must rely on transcripts of answers to other questions, and it seems as if many of them have no apparent relation to the reality that is there for the eyes to see.

This time Kyle Busch had to settle for third. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

The winner invariably says it’s unbelievable how competitive these races are. Of all people, one would think the winner uniquely qualified to testify to the lack of competition, at least at the end and at the front of the pack. The season has had a whole six of them. Fords have won seven races, Toyotas six and Chevrolets one. The best news for the Camaros is that J.D. Power doesn’t do initial-quality surveys of race cars.

Winners have become NASCAR’s Marines, few and proud. Some may say it’s the way it should be. They aren’t the Jimmie Johnson fans. They used to be.

Yet, predictably, among the gracious remarks offered by Truex after winning were: “I felt like, throughout the week, every single weekend this year, I’ve felt like we could show up and win. You know, and in this sport, as tough as it and as competitive as it is, that’s really what you look for. … Hopefully, we can keep it going, but you never know.”

The true competition is back in the dirty air, where an army of disgruntled, anxious also-rans are striving not just to keep up but to keep the makeshift Big Three in sight. Dust isn’t in any of the major food groups.

This could change. At some point, this will change. I can’t wait.

 

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.

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.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

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 local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

Posted in NASCAR | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Runaways … Run, Run, Run, Run … Runaways