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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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‘That Is Exactly What We Do’

In 1997, John Andretti, driving Cale Yarborough’s No. 98 Ford, became the last driver to win the Pepsi 400 at Daytona in the daytime. It was Yarborough’s first and only NASCAR Cup Series victory as a car owner. (Photo by RacingOne/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, May 30, 2018, 11:33 a.m.

John Andretti is fighting for his life. He has been for a while. The recent news is bad. His cancer has spread. It is a scourge that touches all lives, even those it doesn’t attack directly. When a person reaches my age, losing a loved one to cancer is almost impossible to avoid.

The purpose here is not sorrow. There’s enough of it to go around.

Back in the early 1990s, when I was busy finding out all there was to stock car racers that I did not know, Andretti taught me a lesson. He said six friendly, thoughtful words that made me feel stupid because I was. I’ve laughed about it many times since. I laughed as I was walking out of the team transporter, where I had interviewed him.

I had already finished the formal interview and just stayed to chitchat a bit. John could have excused himself, but he indulged me.

John is not the son of the immortal Mario Andretti. His father, Aldo, is Mario’s twin brother. Mario won in almost every kind of race. John merely competed in them. Both won NASCAR races at Daytona, Mario the 500 in 1967 and John the (then) Pepsi 400 in 1997. John also won at Martinsville in 1999. He won a CART race in Australia in 1991 and a Rolex Grand-Am race at Watkins Glen in 2001. John won sports car races at Daytona and Palm Beach, Fla. Twelve times, beginning 1988 and most recently in 2011, John competed in the Indianapolis 500, finishing a career-best fifth in 1991.

In those days, I dabbled with the early racing simulation games that were mainly available for play on desktop computers. The first that was relatively sophisticated was a simulation of the Indy 500, though, by today’s standards, it was antiquated. The player chose between three models — a Penske, a March or a Lola – and three engines. I think they were Chevrolet, Cosworth and Buick.

Anyway, as I was young and stupid, I thought I’d ask the genuine article, the veteran of real Indy 500s, for some pointers on my video-game playing.

John Andretti (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images for NASCAR)

I explained to him that I could set up a car to go fast in qualifying, but I couldn’t drive a car that way in a race because it was too loose, and I coudn’t handle it when I had to use something other than the preferred groove. I’d have to make it slower and more maneuverable, and that meant that I was competing for, oh, 10th place instead of up front.

John paused, looked me in the eyes, and said quietly, “That is exactly what we do.”

He didn’t say “duh,” but he could have.

Life is full of moments that make us look back and groan. That was one of mine.

I probably haven’t talked to John in a decade. The nephew of Mario Andretti won his two NASCAR races driving stock cars owned by legends Cale Yarborough and Richard Petty. I was there for both. Of all the Indy-car drivers who made a crossover to NASCAR, John is the most overlooked and underrated. He made that transition better than most.

Now he fights for his life. It must be a little different for a race driver, who has battled in a way for his life every time he strapped himself into a car. Such a battle comes as a surprise for most of us. Its possibility lies in the backs of our mind, where budding nightmares reside. For the racer, it is never, I suspect, that far away.

 

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.

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Opportunity Lost

Kyle Busch leads a pack of cars during the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, May 28, 2018, 9:58 a.m.

If one is a fan of automobile racing, it was hard to go through the Sunday of Memorial Weekend without a vague sense of what might have been. Three of the world’s great spectacles take place on this day every year unless the elements intervene.

The Grand Prix of Monaco. The fastest vehicles that can still turn left and right snake through the streets of Monte Carlo, which is pretty much the same thing as the Principality of Monaco, on a course that is aburdly unsuited for their maneuverability.

The Indianapolis 500. I once attended it five years in a row, 1988-92, but then duty called me to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the next 20 years. I took the road not taken, a la Robert Frost: Then took the other, as just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim, though as for that, the passing there, had left them really about the same.

Members of the military stand at attention during pre-race ceremonies (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

The Coca-Cola 600. NASCAR’s longest race. For those two decades, I went there and most everywhere else. I became noted for it.

Now I’m home, armed only with electronics and an itchy cell-phone finger.

Daniel Ricciardo won in Europe. Will Power won at Indy. Kyle Busch won at Charlotte. The first two are Australians. None of the three had ever won the race in question before. The crucial reason an Aussie didn’t win the Coca-Cola 600 is that there was none. As natives of Las Vegas, Nevada, go, I suppose Busch is reasonably Australian. As David Letterman might have said, I have no idea what that means.

Kyle Busch killed them. No prisoners whatsoever. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

What I do know is that if Busch were an invading general leading an army that was attacking Charlotte Motor Speedway, he would have ordered the troops to take no prisoners. He led almost every lap. The top three finishers all drove Toyotas. If another car on the track could have gone 600 miles without having to replenish fuel and tires, it might have defeated Busch’s Camry, but it would have been close.

By the way, Busch, among his 47 career victories at NASCAR’s premier level are at least one victory at every track currently on the schedule. No one has ever done that. It was a little harder years ago, when all sorts of tracks wandered into and out of the old Grand National schedules of the 1950s and ’60s, but that’s not to underestimate its significance. I’d say it’s more impressive than all those Xfinity and Truck victories his combined.

The Indianapolis 500, a triumph of both Will Power and willpower, seemed similar to most of the Indianapolis 500s of my memory. The winners of the five I attended were Rick Mears twice, Al Unser Jr., Emerson Fittipaldi and Arie Luyendyk. I saw most of the 1999 race because I was on a media junket with Tony Stewart, who ran at Indy and Charlotte on the same day. (Kenny Brack won that one, by the way.) In recent years, the racing “package” allowed more passing, particularly at the front of the field. This year’s package gave the race a more subtle allure, which is a polite way of noting that its charms required closer attention.

The long shot of the day was that the most competitive race was in Monte Carlo. At the end, Ricciardo, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton were all within range of one another. For three quarters of the race, Ricciardo was out front, but supposedly his Red Bull was leaking power. Vettel’s Ferrari stalked and waited for a mistake that never came, and Hamilton took advantage of Vettel’s frustration to close in, but the race ended with the three top finishers in the same order they occupied when it began.

I didn’t anticipate the Monaco outcome. I had no idea passing – in open-wheeled vehicles, they seem to prefer the term “overtaking” – would be so difficult at Indy.

Charlotte, though, was exactly as I feared. A week earlier, the racing in the Monster Energy All-Star Race, won by Kevin Harvick, had been breathtaking because the rules used experimentally actually worked. NASCAR needed to carry that momentum, but using similar trickery with the bodies and engines was deemed too radical for an event of the 600’s stature.

Kevin Harvick (HHP/Alan Marler photo)

Perhaps Harvick, the season’s biggest winner with four, might have challenged Busch, but when the left-front tire on his white Ford exploded, and it skittered irreparably into a wall that wasn’t soft enough, the air in the race escaped, too. Watching a race car roar around a 1.5-mile track on the edge of control is exciting but less so when completion requires 400 times.

Last week seemed odd because several people remarked to me that the All-Star exhibition had been “one hell of a race.” I expect it may have sold a few tickets for the Coca-Cola 600.

Now, in my estimation of the current lethargy into which NASCAR has tumbled, it’s back to square one. Pocono could be one squared. It’s still 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.

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.

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A Voter’s Got a Right to … Vote

(Monte Dutton sketch)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, May 25, 2018, 10:47 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Today’s world is one of absolutes. Most people don’t seem to believe in the right of anyone else’s opinion. They want to limit everything.

This week the NASCAR Hall of Fame announced that Davey Allison, Jeff Gordon, Alan Kulwicki, Roger Penske and Jack Roush are going in next year.

Fine by me. I don’t have a vote. As such, I’ve barely thought about it. I might have voted for the same five, but it’s moot, and hence will be mute. A process exists. A system. A group of distinguished voters gets together and fills out ballots. Each person who has a vote can vote for anyone (on the list of nominees) he or she wants. Those are the rules.

Roger Penske (right) with Rusty Wallace. (Getty Images/NASCAR)

Two weeks ago, I stumbled into a Facebook thread whose consensus view seemed to be that any old person who persisted in driving the speed limit in the left lane of an interstate deserved to be executed by the state. I wrote a short sentence to the effect that capital punishment might be a mite harsh, and the group turned on me.

Gordon was not a unanimous choice. A pity. No need, though, to decree that a voter be banished to Elba, St. Helena or Kentucky Speedway, even. Ninety-six percent voted for Gordon. It was virtually unanimous. Of all the people hot and bothered, I’d bet one wasn’t Gordon.

Davey Allison (Getty Images/NASCAR)

They give a guy a vote – not me, mind you, they’ve got more sense than that – and, then, if he doesn’t vote the same as everybody else, the guy should be banned!

How could this voter leave off Gordon? He must be a libtard (or a reberal?) or a moron, or on the take or on the lam, in somebody’s pocket or somebody else’s wheelhouse. Obviously such a voter has taken leave of his (or her) senses. He may have even gone off the reservation.

But how could anyone vote against Gordon? Do you know what this man has done?

Yes. He was doing what he did in No. 24 for the entire 20 seasons I followed the sport around.

I’m delighted he’s in. Gordon revolutionized the sport. He’s had my respect for decades. He is one of the few in NASCAR I’ve never caught in a lie. Gordon is tactful. He knows what not to say. What he says, though, is true. I expect this is still true, though I have left the troupe and flown the coop.

Jack Roush (Getty Images/NASCAR)

Remember. A person who has a vote has been “vetted” by the bigwigs who monitor such considerations. He (or she) might have wanted Buddy Baker in and known it was going to be tough, so he decided to vote Buddy with four others he didn’t expect to win.

The process can’t be free and limited. The ballot can’t be secret and public.

Alan Kulwicki (center) in victory lane at Phoenix International Raceway after winning his first NASCAR Cup race, the Checker 500. (Photo by ISC Images Archives via Getty Images)

I’m tired of looking at one collection after another of checks or crosses on a ballot, with a seismic signature. Here’s how I voted on the NASCAR Hall of Fame ballot because, as you can see, my selections were perfect in every way.

It’s a hall of fame. That means it’s a hall for people who are famous. Famous. It’s not a hall of winningests, or a hall of adept nice fellows, or a hall of those who are good on TV.

How is fame judged? Each voter gets to decide.

Ain’t that America?

 

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.

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I Guess I Boarded the Rollercoaster

Kevin Harvick leads the field. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, May 20, 2018, 10:13 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Never have I more needed a night’s sleep to consider a stock car race.

Naturally, I didn’t sleep well. I awakened at 6:30, and, when I yanked at the covers with my legs, somehow the contents of the lamp table crashed into the carpet. It took quite a bit of time to find the damned remote control. Then I tried to go back to sleep and failed miserably.

I’ve been thinking about the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star race, won by Kevin Harvick last night.

With reservations, I guess it was great. Great doesn’t often arrive with reservations. Maybe if it’s a vacation.

It was a radical change, and, at least where sports is concerned, I do not often like radical change. I would like to point out humbly that the sport’s precipitous decline has coincided with its radicalization. NASCAR’s leaders, almost alone in their solidarity, felt the sport needed change. They changed and they changed and they changed. Dr. Seuss could write a story about this.

Meanwhile, back in Whoville …

All I can say is this photo was adroitly cropped. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

The sport sped off into the distance, leaving a cloud of Chase (not Elliott, till later), Cars of Tomorrow, phases and stages, circles and cycles … and scenes that we’ve all seen before (Willie Nelson).

I just looked up the lyrics of this great song and came across these: After carefully considering the whole situation I stand with my back to the wall / Walking is better than running away and crawling ain’t no good at all.

The fans got left behind. They had to start listening to what D.W. and Larry Mac said to figure out what the hell was going on, and, half the time, what they told them didn’t make much sense. They lost interest. They moved on, but most will tell you that’s what the sport did to them.

Maybe I’ve actually let myself get indoctrinated, but most of the people I see on a regular basis tell me they used to be big NASCAR fans but they aren’t anymore. I don’t ask them. They make a point of telling me. They don’t often tell me what they don’t like. It’s more like they ask me what they don’t like.

Why do you think it’s gotten so bad?

The Trucks at speed on Friday night at CMS. Johnny Sauter won. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

I don’t think NASCAR can stop the bleeding any time soon unless something crazy happens. Something that will pop up on the morning news and lead off Sportscenter. Nothing tragic, though. Something like a knock-down, drag-out battle for a win that culminates in the winner sliding across the finish line on his roof, then climbing out of the smoking heap and duking it out with the sidewinder who turned his car upside down and still finished second.

Then that hero would have to build on that legend for about a decade, at which point NASCAR might be back.

The race held my attention. It reminded me of The Winstons in the 1980s and ’90s, a time when it didn’t take restricted horsepower and a monstrous blade across the decklid to run a slobberknocker at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

I don’t know why it does now. I thought technology was our friend. It’s not.

This morning I threw my caution to the wind. Fans didn’t know what their tickets were buying last night, so there weren’t that many of them. I doubt the TV audience grew for the same reason. If this garish, exciting race is to do any good, it must be capitalized upon quickly.

For all the surprising runs to the front by suspects unused to being rounded up, Harvick still won. Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex won the segments.

I kind of feel ashamed that I liked it.

Some people said they didn’t even notice the much slower speeds. I did. The cars looked like they were dragging. My first thought was one of the old, unfortunate Sportsman races, and then I thought of ARCA and IROC.

This new package requires skill, but it’s that plate skill, that “is that hole big enough for me to fit in?” knack, and not the auto racing kind of skill dictated by the sensations of pants seats.

(Monte Dutton photo)

The highest level of stock car racing should be hard. It should mostly be run without cruise control.

Damned if I wouldn’t run it in the Coca-Cola 600, though. Damned if I wouldn’t announce it on Monday. Damned if I’m not ticked off at myself for writing it.

I read over and over this morning that it’s not happening. The owners wouldn’t stand for it. They get to veto anything that costs big bucks unless it’s in the interest of safety. On the other hand, they must have been persuaded to spend money for the all-star race. These are desperate times.

NASCAR has changed so much that it no longer has any choice in the matter.

For this and a variety of other reasons, I’ve learned to love the bomb this year.

 

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.

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