Next Time I’m Buying Junior Mints

The No. 17 of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. evokes David Pearson, Darrell Waltrip, Matt Kenseth and others. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, July 2, 2017, 10:45 a.m.

I went to bed hoping to find some clarity in the spectacle of the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona Beach, Florida, The Birthplace of Speed!

By Monte Dutton

Also, The Cemetery of Race Cars.

Unfortunately, I dreamed about NASCAR, so I awakened with my thoughts enshrouded in smoke, fire, and shrapnel.

A little iodine. Some Triple Antibiotic Ointment. I’m fine.

For many watching, the good news was that Junior won. The bad news was that it was Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who has now managed at last to get past the shadow of Ricky Stenhouse Sr. Victory at Talladega and Daytona will do that for a young man.

(Getty Images for NASCAR)

It doesn’t bother me. I admire Juniors even though, personally, I’m not one. My father’s middle name is my brother’s first. My first name is one grandfather’s. My middle name is the other’s. I go by a contraction of the middle name. I’m equally divided between my late grandfathers but unaffected by my father.

I hasten to add that this is just in name. My father bequeathed me a myriad of virtues and vices. Likely, I am not alone … but back to Juniors.

When I was a kid, Junior Gilliam played for the Dodgers, and Junior Miller helped my father cook barbecue. Junior Johnson was the Last American Hero, and I believe this because Tom Wolfe wrote it and it must be right. Buck Baker was Elzie Wylie Baker Sr. Buddy Baker was Elzie Wylie Baker Jr.

Raymond J. Johnson Jr. popped up on virtually every television variety show for no apparent reason. Strangely, I don’t recall him saying, “But you can call me Junior!” He was fine with Ray, Jay, Raymond, Ray J., etc., as long as no one called him Johnson. I’m confident many readers don’t recall the repetitive saga of Raymond J. Johnson Jr., and will thus live slightly more interesting lives.

Early in my sportswriting career, Junior Reid played for the Hornets. Folks called him Junior because he preferred J.R., at least in the press room when he wasn’t around.

Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges

 

I don’t think Barbecue Junior Miller lived to see his namesakes play tight end or race modifieds. Early in his career, fans used to claim that Dale Earnhardt looked down from heaven and guided Dale Earnhardt Jr. to victory. Perhaps my father’s barbecuing assistant helped his namesakes slather sauce on some ribs.

(Getty Images for NASCAR)

Earnhardt, by the way, used to bristle at the notion that he was “Senior.” He said there wasn’t any such thing, that it was Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Then, often in the same paragraph, he would refer to “Tony Sr.,” referring to the Eurys, who were to Earnhardts and racing what Junior Miller was to Duttons and barbecue.

Brad Keselowski (2), Ryan Blaney (21), Chase Elliott (24), Kevin Harvick (4). (Getty Images for NASCAR)

When Junior is a name of itself, it is sometimes shortened to June, though not in the cases of Allyson, Lockhart and women in general. Darrell Waltrip has used this method, and added a bug, and, over time, that bug has managed to sting everyone who watches NASCAR on TV to one extent or another.

In conclusion, the main result of that race is that it’s left me writing aimlessly, shell-shocked by all the sound and fury, most of which signified nothing.

I’m glad I was far away, safe from the ravages of an unnatural disaster. It was a human-generated earthquake saved by no one, to the best of our knowledge, getting hurt.

 

 

(Steven Novak design)

Ever since I started writing fiction, fans have asked me to write a novel about stock car racing. I kept it a secret while I was working on it. Now it’s out. Lightning in a Bottle is the story of the next big thing, 18-year-old Barrie Jarman.

(Steven Novak cover design)

Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy Cowboys Come Home, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Crazy of Natural Causes, The Intangibles, and/or a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs. They’re all signed and reasonably priced. Lightning in a Bottle will be in stock shortly.

Signed copies of Lightning in a Bottle are also available at Emma Jane’s, 105 East Main Street on the Square, Clinton.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

If you’d like me to ship you a signed copy, you can find my address and instructions here. If you want to speed the process up, send me a note and I’ll hook you up with my PayPal account.

(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)

Kindle versions – you don’t have to have a Kindle, just a free app for your electronic devices – of most of my books are available here. Links to print copies are below.

(Joe Font cover design)

Cowboys Come Home is my brand-new, fresh-off-the-press western, a tale of two World War II veterans of the Pacific who come back home to Texas, intent on resuming their cowboy ways.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses is a tale about a crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.(Melanie Ryon cover design)

Crazy of Natural Causes is about the fall and rise of Chance Benford, a Kentucky football coach who reinvents himself. It’s original.

The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.

Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.

Follow me at Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Twitter (@montedutton), Google+ (MonteDuttonWriter) and/or Instagram (Tug50).

Those All-Important, Cliche-Ridden Bonus Points

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Tony Stewart (left): "To be honest?" I didn't even go into Kurt Busch's various offenses. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Tony Stewart (left): “To be honest?” I didn’t even go into Kurt Busch’s various offenses. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, S.C., Friday, March 28, 2014, 12:53 p.m.

“Quite frankly,” Buddy Baker likes Tony Stewart “to be honest.”

Those are two NASCAR luminaries’ favorite clichés. I enjoy listening to Buddy on SiriusXM, and I listen to him enough to know how fond he is of saying “quite frankly.” As I haven’t been to the track and attended the media conferences in quite a while, I’m not sure if Tony Stewart still replies to a question with a question.

“To be honest?”

No, Tony. We all want you to be a politician.

I’m just noting this. I’m not passing judgment. Most people are cliché ridden. For instance, I say “actually” too often. When I listen to myself on tape, I always cringe when I hear that word come out of my mouth. Why do I hate myself for saying it? It could be because, when I was a kid, a popular sitcom was Gomer Pyle, USMC, and Gomer had a girlfriend – which he doesn’t have in real life – named Lou Ann Poovy, and she constantly said, “Wayull, Gomuh, actually …” Somehow, even though Private Pyle was stationed far away from Mayberry, it sounded as if Lou Ann was somehow from there, too.

Cliches cross all borders of education, income and prominence. Howard Cosell loved “plethoras,” especially the veritable ones. Cosell had one of the more idiotic clichés of all time.

“Tell us, Champ, in your own words …”

As opposed to … the words of Johnny Carson. Or Thomas Jefferson. Or Carol Channing.

"Remember, guys, just two tires on the right side." (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevy Racing)
“Remember, guys, just two tires on the right side.” (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevy Racing)

The great writer Larry McMurtry often finds matters “vexing.” Larry McReynolds loves to claim possession: “our race leader,” “our points leader,” “our Sprint Cup champion,” the one who gets at least two right-side. Goodyear Racing Eagles and fills up with Sunoco Racing Fuel.

As opposed to three right-side Goodyear Racing Eagles.

There’s Larry, there’s Darrell, and there’s his other brother, Michael.

A penalty might be having to go to the tail of the longer line (there are two, you might recall), but the announcer will always say “tail end of the longest line,” a needless superlative.

Then there’s that NEW TRACK RECORD! They never mention all those drivers who set old track records.

Cliches aren’t all bad. They can be used for effect. I used to be fond of saying, when all hell was breaking loose (as opposed to all those partial eruptions of hell), “Another … big … day.”

Another of my favorite clichés, self-evidently, is “as opposed to.”

Yet, still, I persist in writing novels. The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope are available here if you’d like to buy an autographed copy and have me ship it to you. If you’ve got a Kindle, they’re available at amazon.com, not to mention a growing number of bookstores.

More of Life on the Road’s Greatest Hits

I hope to catch some baseball over the next few days. This photo was taken in Reading, Pa., several years ago.
I hope to catch some baseball over the next few days. This photo was taken in Reading, Pa., several years ago.

Somerset, Pa., Thursday, June 27, 2013, 7:54 a.m.

The road is finally getting old, and I’m starting to feel the call of home, though I’ve several more days between here and there. It’s been enjoyable and relaxing, touring the countryside and listening to music. Yesterday was mainly The Band and John Prine, zipping down the Pennsylvania Turnpike first to Harrisburg and then to here. Next it’s north to State College and then west to Warren, where I’ll spend the night before my gig – book signing/concert – at Hummingbird Café in Tidioute at 2 p.m. Saturday.

The State College Spikes (minor-league baseball team) are on the road. Rats. Somewhere between here and home, I’m going to find a minor-league baseball game to attend. Maybe Friday night in Erie. Maybe on the way back to South Carolina.

I watched last week’s NASCAR race at my friend Bernard Durham’s house in Chantilly, Va. I had a great time with my old racing buddy Andy Belmont, and his family in Langhorne, Pa. Last night I had dinner with Sheena Baker, an ex-colleague who, like me, had her job eliminated and now works here in Somerset, near her hometown. One pleasant aspect of this trip has been a rare chance to see people I don’t get to see very often anymore.

I’ve come up with some observations that will be of use in my third novel, Crazy by Natural Causes. If you’re keeping a scorecard at home, my first novel, The Audacity of Dope, is out and the purpose of this trip. The second, The Intangibles, will be out sometime before the end of the year. They’re all vastly different. They’re all fun.

Yesterday I found a bookstore in Harrisburg, Midtown Scholar, where I’d like to come back and do a signing, perhaps for The Intangibles. It has a stage for live music, and I like to combine my book signings with music. It seems to work well, particularly since I wrote the songs whose lyrics appear in The Audacity of Dope.

So far, I’ve enjoyed the drives through beautiful countryside, but I think I’ll have my fill by the time I get home. I’ll probably finish the Saturday gig and head south afterwards, where I’ll find a room from which to watch the Sprint Cup race in Kentucky. It’s going to be a long haul, and I’m planning on taking my time. When I get home, I’ll dig my way through a mountain of bills. On Saturday, July 6, I’ll be at Fiction Addiction in Greenville, S.C., for its celebration of indie authors. My spiel is scheduled for 5 p.m. on that date.

I’m not an indie musician. I’m an indie author.

I’ll try to come up with something more interesting for Friday.

Darlington a Long Time Ago

"Little Bud" Moore, not to be confused with NASCAR Hall of Famer regular Bud Moore, raced this Dodge Charger in the mid-1960s.
“Little Bud” Moore, not to be confused with NASCAR Hall of Famer Bud Moore, raced this Dodge Charger in the 1960s.

Clinton, S.C., Friday, March 10, 10:04 a.m.

The NASCAR race at Darlington Raceway means more to me than any other. If there ever was any doubt, now the venerable track only has one race a year. I love Darlington the same way Tony Stewart loves Indianapolis. It’s home. It’s where my daddy took me when I was a kid.

I didn’t go to Darlington until I was 12. I’d conned my way into a trip to Bristol, with friends of the family, when I was seven. I’d seen the Grand National Division (now Sprint Cup Series) race several times at nearby Greenville-Pickens Speedway. Beginning in 1970, my dad and I went to Darlington every year. The first one was on Labor Day, the Southern 500, but afterwards I couldn’t go on Labor Day because I had to practice football. By the time I next saw the Southern 500, I was a freshman in college.

When I was a kid, what is now the front straight was the back straight. That’s where Daddy and I sat, surrounded by scouts – Cub, Webelos, Boy – who probably got more of a cut rate than we did.

Jimmy Dutton was no saint. He’d gone to Darlington with friends in the past and never took me until 1970, I’m guessing, because it inhibited his ability to, uh, celebrate. Knowing the wrath of my mother, he had to conform to some modest level of decorum with the kid along. Accessibility was much greater then than today. We’d sit in the back-straight sun, but long before the race, Dad and I would take a long stroll through the infield, where invariably he would find several straggly miscreants he knew from back home, and he might just take a swig of something if he could find a chaser. (I always could tell when the old man was drinking because he kept licking his lips. Chip! Chip!)

On race morning, lots of people didn’t seem to be feeling well. The smell was awful. I recognized beer and vomit, but I didn’t recognize some third smell. Several years later, I would discover it was marijuana smoke. The hard-core partiers are long gone now, mainly priced out of the market. In 1970, a camper shell on top of a Chevy pickup bed was top of the line.

In the Darlington infield – I never spent a night there – crew-cutted rednecks and their sometimes insignificant others predominated, but there was always an uneasy contingent of long-haired hippies, many of whom had motorcycles and tried to look like Peter Fonda. Signifying irony, they almost always had peace symbols emblazoned on their jackets, leather, denim and army surplus.

There were always stories of fights – “Some of them boys’ll cut you,” Daddy said – but the energy was mostly spent by race day. I sometimes wonder what it must have felt like to hear “Gentlemen, start your engines!” with a splitting hangover. I don’t miss knowing.

Back then the Southern 500 was billed as the largest spectator sporting even in South Carolina. Today the track has twice as many grandstands, and a sellout is a little over 60,000. Back then the attendance was generously estimated at 80,000. It was enough to be comfortably ahead of what Carolina and Clemson announced when they played each other in football.

I loved the public-address announcer, Ray Melton, who spoke in what can only be described as a Southern staccato. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to world –famous Darlington Raceway, the Lady in Black, for the 21st annual running of the Granddaddy of Them All, the Southern 500!” Melton referred romantically to brave drivers racing “high, wide and handsome” through the tight turns.

Buddy Baker won my first Southern 500 in a burnt-orange Dodge Charger Daytona with a flat-black roof that made it look like it had a vinyl
top. Back in those days, that was soooo cool. You think these new Gen6 cars are bad-ass? Get out of town. I remember watching Buddy wrestle that winged battleship through the turns. Maybe it was the absence of power steering or the presence of bias-ply tires, but Baker on the pavement at Darlington in 1970 looked a bit like a dirt track now.

Gosh, I loved those cars – the Plymouth Superbirds, the Ford Torino Talladegas, the Mercury Cyclones – with their huge (426, 427, 429 cubic inches) engines and fierce roars. That, though, was when I was 12, during the brief period when dinosaurs ruled the asphalt. The only way I could possibly consider the SS’s, Fusions and Camrys as cool would be to be 12 now.

For the record, I still doubt I would.

Lots of Character (and Characters) in this Class

The Wood Brothers pit David Pearson at Dover.
The Wood Brothers pit David Pearson at Dover.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame is holding its grand induction tonight, honoring in person the careers of Rusty Wallace and Leonard Wood and posthumously the grand memories of Buck Baker, Cotton Owens and Herb Thomas.

What can one write about Rusty Wallace that he has not himself suggested? When I arrived on the NASCAR scene, he was near the top of it. He was, is and forever shall be a talker. If ever there were a stock car racer incapable of holding back, it was Wallace. He’s prone to hyperbole, which causes some to cheer and others to jeer. Interviewing Wallace could be exasperating. Of his own free will, he would invariably say something expansive enough to make headlines. Once I tried to pay Wallace a compliment that he took exactly the wrong way.

“I’ve always admired the fact that you say what you think and don’t worry too much about the consequences,” I said.

Wallace’s eyes flashed. “Well, I tell you what, I’ve let you guys blow things wide open one too many times,” he said. “I’m going to stop speaking out if you guys don’t stop making a big deal about everything.”

Then, barely taking a breath, Wallace would go on to say something so colorful that Les Nessman couldn’t have kept it out of the morning farm report on WKRP. Yes, thinking of Rusty Wallace makes me smile.

Thinking of Cotton Owens makes my eyes dampen. I cut my NASCAR teeth at the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, which gave me a chance to get to know the Upstate South Carolina luminaries Owens, Bud Moore, David Pearson and James Hylton. On several occasions I drove to Cherokee Speedway (and once to forgotten I-85 Raceway) to watch Cotton turn the wrenches on the dirt-track entries of grandsons Ryan, Kyle and Brandon. I’m not alone in the belief that Cotton and Dot were the finest couple I’ve encountered in racing. Perhaps it’s because I spent those dirt-track Saturday nights in the infield, watching Cotton counsel his impetuous charges and blunt the jealousy other competitors occasionally expressed at having a legendary mechanic prepare four-cylinder compacts as immaculate as superspeedway Chargers.

I read a column describing Leonard Wood as shy and quiet. That’s not the Leonard I know. About once a year for 20, I’ve enjoyed the distinct privilege of chatting with Leonard in some Sprint Cup garage. At various times we’ve talked about Jim Clark, Marvin Panch, Tiny Lund, Cale Yarborough, Neil Bonnett, Fred Lorenzen and, especially, David Pearson.

In fact, the mention of that name – “Pearson!” – caused the eyes of both Cotton Owens and Leonard Wood to light up. They both spoke of him as if he dressed in phone booths and wore a cape. It reminded me of the way baseball old-timers speak of Ted Williams.

Cotton said he and Pearson broke up because “I felt like he was my son, and I think David acted sometimes like I was his daddy, and you know how hard it is for daddies and sons to get along.” Twenty years ago, it was unusual to drop by the Peach Blossom Diner off I-85 without encountering a breakfast bull session involving Owens, Pearson and Moore. That place hosted lots of laughing by legends.

Most of what I know about Buck Baker I got from his son, Buddy, who has a delightful knack with similes and metaphors even though he probably doesn’t know what those words mean and couldn’t possibly tell them apart. I know that Elzie Wylie Baker Sr. made Elzie Wylie Baker Jr. earn his way to the top, and the work ethic his father required made Buddy the driver he became.

I wrote about Herb Thomas two days ago, and I won’t pretend to be someone I’m not by claiming I know more about NASCAR’s first two-time champion and the Southern 500’s first three-time winner than I’ve already revealed. When I covered minor-league baseball, I got to know Luke Appling a bit, and the two reminded me of each other.

I’m not going to be at the induction, but neither is Cotton, who barely lived long enough to know, on his death bed, that he was going in. That will make me wistful, and given a choice, I’d whole lot rather be wistful somewhere else.