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.

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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).

I Had to Think It Through

At Pocono in 2004. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, April 25, 2017, 10:50 a.m.

I first saw it on Twitter at roadandtrack.com. I thought it was a fake. I thought it was one of those stories where they made the website look like something reputable and then ran a head that said, “Hillary Clinton Using Slave Labor at Nigerian Brothel.” Then the writing would be so bad that I’d know it was ersatz.

By Monte Dutton

The story looked okay. The website looked like it might really be Road & Track. Other hastily thrown-together articles showed up on the timeline.

It’s real. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is retiring at year’s end.

I’m going to be about the 100th person in my cast of Twitter followers alone to write that I was surprised but not astonished. I get asked about Earnhardt Jr.’s future almost every week on the South Carolina Network’s SportsTalk show, where I generally appear every Friday night at 7:30 EDT (EDT being the standard reference in the Palmetto State).

(Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

I kept saying that it was too early to tell whether or not he had fully recovered from his concussion protocols. When he had his one decent finish to date, I said maybe it was a good sign. Like many, I watched Monday’s rained-out race in Bristol, and, when Earnhardt wrecked, I thought, Well, just another brick in the wall.

Many people will be surprised when I tell you the one word that comes to mind when three words – Dale Earnhardt Junior – flash into my head.

Earnhardt is a folksy, modestly educated North Carolina kid who learned much about fame from having a famous daddy. As amazing as it may seem, the word that occurs to me is …

… Civilized.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. masters the Talladega draft. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Junior is more civilized than his contemporaries. Maybe it’s because he is the son of a hard man who provided his son with examples but not lessons. The son had to learn how to think, observe, and analyze. All racers — many of whom today have lived either comfortable or sheltered lives, and, quite often, both — graduate from the School of Hard Knocks … literally. Not everyone makes the best of his degree. Junior must have concentrated on the liberal arts.

He understands how the world turns. He understands how the media work. So many people use the word “humble” with such reckless abandon. Most times an athlete says “I’m humbled,” he is nothing of the sort. Nothing about great achievement instills humility. Adversity instills humility.Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges

Dale Earnhardt Jr. lost his fierce, legendary father, which is bad enough in itself, but devastating particularly in the timing of the son’s loss. Their relationship had been complicated. Now they were both competing together, father and son, and against each other, man against man. Love had lost many of its conditions.

Phoenix. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)

In 2001, before any of what followed happened, I was struck by how happy both Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were. I was there when both raced yellow Corvettes in the Rolex 24. I was in a dinner line when The Intimidator picked up an extra set of silverware and provided one to me. That may not sound like much, but I would not have been more surprised had Earnhardt raised a sword and dubbed me Sir Monte of Dutton. He also high-fived me. People high-five me every day. Not Intimidators, though. Dale Earnhardt was very much alive, and no one thought that was going to change, and I still thought Speedweeks in Daytona was getting awfully weird.

I went to the funeral. I traveled to cold Rockingham for a collective temperament that was even colder. I was in Atlanta when Kevin Harvick won in the Great Man’s car, tastefully renumbered.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. drives to victory in the first of two Can-Am Duel races. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett for Chevy Racing)

More pity did I feel for Dale Earnhardt Jr. than had I for the loss of his legendary father.

Now, I feel great. I’ll miss him, but I don’t think he will miss it. He might miss it as much as I miss 10 months of flights, missed, delayed, canceled, and rerouted; rental cars, good, bad, inappropriate, and balky; traffic jams, Atlanta, LA, D-FW, and, occasionally, tracks; and those special occasions when I’d get cussed out by a man who hadn’t read the story about which he was perturbed.

Earnhardt Jr. with Jeff Gordon. (John Clark photo)

I miss it now. After four years. I missed high school football after four years, too, and it was also hell. I miss it so much now that I wrote a novel about it, and I turned its hero into the essence of what I think stock car racing needs. Barrie Jarman isn’t righteous, either to himself or God. He’s a brash kid who has an accurate estimation of how good he is, which is very.

No intention was involved, but a little, and by that, I mean, just a touch, of Junior may have seeped into my latest prose.

Like Kyle Petty, Junior wasn’t as good as his daddy. Like Kyle Petty, Junior is every bit the man, and, in both cases, it’s because the son had enough sense to follow his own dreams and take his own course. Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt were vivid products of their generation. So, too, were their sons.

It’s going to take someone living and breathing, not a creation of a hero in fiction, to raise this next generation. Barrie Jarman is as close as I can get.

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).

Another Sunday from a Distance

Chase Elliott leads the field at the start of the Daytona 500 (Photo by HHP/Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, February 27, 2017, 8:30 a.m.

Four years have passed. I still pay close attention to NASCAR. It’s not the same as being there. I try. Until, well, now, I wrote a Bleacher Report column each Monday morning during the season. That web site, like many others, is cutting back on NASCAR coverage, either that or they wanted a younger perspective and were nice enough not to tell me that.

No more race tracks in my background. I can’t afford it.

So this is where I stand. I write NASCAR blogs in hopes that they will persuade you to buy one of my novels, which is one of the strangest and least successful marketing programs known to man. It doesn’t match the grand scale of, say, Nature’s Bakery.

Kurt Busch won the Daytona 500. He is a familiar face. He deserved it. He is a fine restrictor-plate racer who somehow managed not to win the first 63 such races of his career. He was due. He was overdue.

Beyond that, I watched the Truck race on Friday night. I was writing about a basketball game when the Xfinity race was being run. A reply of that crashfest is on TV right now.

Chase Elliott (r) captured the pole position for the Daytona 500. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. qualified 2nd. (Photo by Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)

As best I recall, a driver named Ali Baba won the Truck race, and Reed Ryan won Xfinity. OK, it’s Ryan Reed. He’s pretty familiar, though I’ve never met him or anyone else who has come along since January 4, 2013. He won the same race the year before last. It just seems as if every young driver is named either Ryan or something – Cade, Cal, Case, Chase, Cody, Cole – that begins with a “C.” There are a few stray Brendans, Ians, Jonathans, Nicks and Seans running around ovals at various rates of speed.

The Trucks winner is really named Kaz Grala. I once enjoyed kaz grala, a sweet confection, after a souvlaki plate at a restaurant in one of the boroughs of New York.

So I’m a fan.

If I was there, of course, I would know much more about Kaz Grala, not to mention all the other bright, young comets just starting to burn across the night sky. Lots of races are going to burn across the night sky, too, because out of all the bright appeal inherent in NASCAR’s bold new changes, one talking point isn’t making the races shorter. The Daytona 500 lasted as long as a 14-inning baseball game between the Red Sox and Yankees, and anything longer than that qualifies in some backward societies as infinity.

I watch the races and the ballgames, anyway. No telling how many prizes I could have won had I used this time more wisely.

The circus moves on to Atlanta while I have a home race every week.

(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.

(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.

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).

 

The Grind Gets Better

Into the Smokies on the way home. (Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, January 31, 2017, 10:58 a.m.

Let’s see. Today is the last day of the month, which means a download of my fourth novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, will no longer be 99 cents. Good news and bad news. I won’t sell as many in February, but I’ll make more money on the ones I do. The idea behind Amazon’s 99 cents specials is that they give the book a boost. It’s already sold the most of my five novels. I should probably write another like it.

By Monte Dutton

Maybe I am. It’s not finished.

Tonight Newberry is visiting Clinton for a big night of high school basketball, and I’ll be on hand to write about it and take a few pictures. The Red Devils clobbered Mid-Carolina while I was away. Newberry is only 25 miles away. The two schools played in most every sport even before they were both aligned in Region 3-3A. They split earlier games, both in Newberry, but the overtime loss was in a holiday tournament, and Clinton won the one that counted. Tonight’s will, too. The Red Devils have an undefeated region record on the line.

Mike Reynolds

I’m just getting reacclimated with the world. I spent most of four days avoiding all that was going on around me. I checked the Twitter feed occasionally. I watched the second half of Kansas-Kentucky on a TV in a Kentucky bar where I couldn’t find anyone who didn’t hate Louisville. The Jayhawks won, and that probably increased sales while the Mike Reynolds Band rocked the night away.

I don’t party much anymore. As best I can tell, I came out of it relatively intact.

The trip: (a.) increased my interest in writing songs and drawing sketches; (b.) lessened my sense of disappointent; (c.) provided me with sustenance and inspiration; (d.) got me out of town; (e.) satisfied a growing wanderlust; and (f.) gave me a chance to play a lot of music and listen to a lot more.

I’m sure I could think of several more, but this blog isn’t for money, and I’ve got to get to some things that are.

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This week is the Super Bowl. I assume, sometime recently, there has been a Pro Bowl. I watched a little of the Rolex 24 over the weekend, mostly with the sound off, and I tried for a while to find the ending, but I am not adept at surfing the program guide of Dish Network, so I watched Virginia-Villanova, again with the sound off.

The Falcons are playing the Patriots in the Super Bowl. The only other time the Falcons reached the Super Bowl, I watched in a condo in Ormond Beach, Florida. All I remember is that it wasn’t much of a game. One year while I was in Florida early for Speedweeks, the Patriots played the Eagles in Jacksonville, so, when I went to see some friends play music in St. Augustine Beach, the bar was full of NFL fans. I wore a Red Sox cap because, well, I wear one a lot. When I got in there, it seemed as if everyone knew me. Some people were slapping me on the back; others just looked at me with scorn and derision. It hadn’t occurred me that a Boston cap would get me lumped in with the Patriots.

This shouldn’t have been so hard to figure out.

I’ve rooted for the Red Sox since I was seven years old, but it all started with Carl Yastrzemski, not Boston. For that particular Super Bowl, which the Patriots won, I just wanted to see a good game.

That’s about the way I feel about this one.

(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.

(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.

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).

Let Freedom Sparkle

(Monte Dutton photos)
(Monte Dutton photos)
Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges
Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, July 1, 2016, 9:22 a.m.

Independence Weekend! America steps boldly into the second half of another eventful year. The stock cars are roaring in Daytona Beach. The baseball teams are wearing all sorts of star-spangled pajamas. Fireworks galore, and since this year the Fourth of July isn’t until Monday, I expect they’ll commence tonight and keep on popping them in the wee hours right on up Tuesday.

Monte DuttonNo need to try it at home, kids. Awe-inspiring fireworks displays are available, risk-free, in every downtown square, every minor-league ballpark, and not nearly as much by drunk Uncle Ed, waving a lit Roman candle around in the backyard and inadvertently bouncing a fireball off a donkey’s butt.

Have no fear. If that happens this year, Action News and the humane officer (often a contradiction in terms) will be on the scene, taking fingerprints and making sure all incriminating video is already on YouTube.

Me? I’ll be pecking away at a keyboard, as usual, just like now. The toil of editing a manuscript is not a great way to celebrate freedom, but, as Charley Pride used to say onstage between songs, “it sure beats picking that cotton in Mississippi.”

It sure beats hauling that hay in South Carolina. At this point in life, of course, had I followed in my father’s footsteps, I would have been supervising the hauling of hay in South Carolina. Since the course of my life has been so vastly different, hay is still being harvested in the pastures around my home, but now my only involvement is the yearly receipt of a check and the regular sensation of staggering out of bed in the morning, yawning, looking out the front window, and saying to myself, “I’ll be dogged. Hay.”

I’ll spend a half hour yakking with my mother on the phone. We’ll talk about the books we’re reading, and the latest on that crazy Trump, and who died, and into whom I bumped the other day, and has she seen the latest pictures on Facebook of “the baby”?

The rumble and the roar. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
The rumble and the roar. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

I’ll watch the NASCAR races so that I will be qualified to write about them, but now, instead of sitting in a press box annoying officials with my questions, I’ll be annoyed at the announcers on high-def, but it won’t get heated because I can play some carefree Marty Robbins song — “Singing the Blues,” say — or philosophical Tom T. Hall ditty — “Old Dogs, Children, and Watermelon Wine” — and it will settle me down no matter how many times the announcers use harsh words like “carnage” to describe a wreck. If they’re going to use “carnage,” then they might as well use “bloodbath,” too, because they mean the same thing.

See? That’s why I play guitar.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

My new novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, is a crime thriller.

Set in the hills of Kentucky, Crazy of Natural Causes is a fable of life’s absurdity, seen through the unique perspective of ruined coach Chance Benford.

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

Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories, all of which are derived from songs I wrote.

All three of these books, already autographed, are available at L&L Office Supply, 114 N. Main St., Clinton. Buy one of the novels, and you’ll get the short stories absolutely free.

Most of my books are also available here.

Spanning the Globe for the Constant Variety of TV Sports

Sonoma comes next, but that's another week. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Sonoma comes next, but that’s another week. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

L&LComplete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, June 20, 2016, 9:45 a.m.

Wow. I’m a bit overwhelmed.

I can’t come close to quantifying all that happened in my living room. By extension, it was, oh, from Oakland, Plum (Pennsylvania), Newton (Iowa), Omaha, Boston, Le Mans (France) …

By Monte Dutton
By Monte Dutton

The grass didn’t need mowing (later this week, I expect). I had clean clothes, though I seldom wore them (the clean ones). My guitar(s) could use new strings.

I had just completed the first draft of a manuscript for my next novel. I was in need of relaxation. Damn it. I’d been passionate all week. I needed to unwind.

Forget about your cares / It is time to relax / At the Junction.Theme from Petticoat Junction

Apparently, it was hot outside. I suspect it might have been. I went through a drive-through.

Dustin Johnson, the big galoot, won the United States Open. He’s a South Carolinian, born in Columbia, college at Coastal Carolina, now lives occasionally and officially in Myrtle Beach. He has heretofore been noted for superhuman skills and a frail psyche in the major championships of golf. On Sunday, Johnson kept his wits while, all about him, other golfers were losing theirs. He played against type. For the past few years, I’ve been rooting for him against type. He kicked some type ass.

(Monte Dutton sketch)
(Monte Dutton sketch)

Then there was the basketball game. Game Seven of the NBA Playoffs. A stereotypical battle between the bruising East (Cleveland Cavaliers) and the graceful West (Golden State Warriors), descended from Lakers against Celtics. None of the first six games had been close. The seventh was. The fiercely aggressive Cavs from the long-derided Rust Belt city came from two down to win three straight for the title. So was the great LeBron James defined forever.

Other Kings besides Le Bron. (John Clark photo)
Other Kings besides Le Bron. (John Clark photo)

It’s sort of rewarding to watch a great sporting event without a heavy rooting interest. Often it takes a rooting interest to watch passionately, but watching dispassionately, caring about the outcome but not obsessed by it, can be just as enjoyable and more relaxing.

The difference might be whether one curses at the TV or not. I sounded more like Jed Clampett. I be dogged. Hoo, doggie. No exclamation points. Oil. Black gold. Texas tea.

(I wrote the words above with the full knowledge that those old enough to remember The Beverly Hillbillies are outnumbered by those who don’t. On the other hand, there’s TV Land.)

Do you remember having a mistaken opinion about what a word means when you were a kid? For some reason, I once thought Chanticleer had something to do with Christmas. The reason I learned what it means was probably the existence of it as a nickname at Coastal Carolina University, which, as a fellow state school, synonymized (spontaneous word invention) Gamecock.

Whatever. One Chanticleer won the U.S. Open, and a coop full of them won its first game at the College World Series. Admittedly, I only saw the final inning of CCU’s 2-1 victory over Florida. My schedule proved too crowded. If I’d had two more sports, college baseball and hemispherical soccer, to switch back and forth from, I’d have a splint on my right thumb now.

Big Papi in Atlanta a few years back. (Monte Dutton photo)
Big Papi in Atlanta a few years back. (Monte Dutton photo)

For passion, I had a pair of Red Sox victories over the Seattle Mariners at Fenway on Saturday and Sunday. On Friday, the night they lost, David Ortiz hit his 521st home run, tying him not only with the wondrous Ted Williams but also with Willie McCovey (another favorite of mine) and Frank Thomas. Ted was my dad’s greatest hero, him and Johnny U. I doubt Jimmy Dutton turned over in his grave, but he definitely noticed. I never saw Williams play, but he’s the reason I’m a Boston fan in baseball. My dad handed him down to me, and I adopted his successor, Carl Yastrzemski, in left field.

The Colts left Baltimore, and Unitas died too young, but Fenway Park is still a constant, better than ever. Yaz was even in the TV booth for an inning not too long ago.

(Photo by Richard Prince for Chevy Racing)
(Photo by Richard Prince for Chevy Racing)

Le Mans. I’ve never been within an ocean of the race, but I have a story that relates to it. The late Chris Economaki was the greatest all-around authority on auto racing I’ve ever known. I don’t think Chris would make a strenuous objection to the notion that he was not without an ego.

One day in Daytona Beach, Ken Willis, the irreverent and wisecracking scribe of the local daily there, and I were trading irreverences, when, all of a sudden, he asked me if I knew what year Fireball Roberts ran the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I said that I thought maybe it was 1962 but pointed to Economaki and said, “Ask Chris. He’ll know.”

Willis said, “Hey, Chris, what year did Fireball run Le Mans?” Willis pronounced it with the “s” on the end.

Apparently, Chris didn’t know the answer, which he could not possibly admit, so he stood up out of his chair, said, very loudly, “It’s le-MAH!” and walked swiftly out of the room.

Miraculously, by the way, 1962 was indeed the year Daytona Beach’s own Fireball Roberts competed at Le Mans.

Sam Hornish Jr. and son celebrate in Iowa. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Sam Hornish Jr. and son celebrate in Iowa. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

I miss Chris. He watched me play music twice in the Poconos, offering his acerbic reviews between songs.

Anyway, a Toyota dominated the race and broke down with three minutes remaining. It was sort of the most dramatic ending since the one Hollywood and Steve McQueen staged 46 years ago for the movie Le Mans. Porsche won. The new Ford GT won its class. Most of my time watching the race was spent in reverie, fascinated at the spectacle of all those magnificent machines roaring around and occasionally sending up roostertails that had nothing to do with Chanticleers or Christmas.

A substitute teacher won the Xfinity Series race in Iowa, where, of course, if you build it, they will come. Okay. Sam Hornish Jr. is also an Indianapolis 500 winner, but his NASCAR career never hit the heights and eventually tumbled into the skids, and winning the race might not really make much difference at this point in his career, other than being laudable and, as people always say when they’re trying to get you to do something, “it looks good on your resume.” Sam Hornish and I have approximately the same need for a resume at this stage in our lives.

So, yeah, I’m glad he won.

William Byron stands atop the NASCAR Truck world. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
William Byron stands atop the NASCAR Truck world. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

On Friday night, I also watched the Trucks race at the Track of Dreams. In summary, this kid William Byron is really something. He’s the hottest Roman candle out there below the high-dollar fireworks of the Sprint Cup Series.

The poor Atlanta Braves. They swept the New York Mets on a weekend when I didn’t even notice.

What do I do for an encore? Oh, work on some fiction. Go see some high school players pitching and catching. Catch a little Legion ball.

Write these.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

My new novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, is a crime thriller.

Set in the hills of Kentucky, Crazy of Natural Causes is a fable of life’s absurdity, seen through the unique perspective of ruined coach Chance Benford.

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

Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories, all of which are derived from songs I wrote.

All three of these books, already autographed, are available at L&L Office Supply, 114 N. Main St., Clinton.

Most of my books are available here.

Fashion Cents

So long, A-Rod. Ya whiner. (Monte Dutton photo)
So long, A-Rod. Ya whiner. (Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, October 7, 2015, 10:04 p.m.

Over the years, it’s been my observation that most fans think their favorite (driver, athlete, politician, etc.) is the only guy who tells it like it is, and their least favorite (driver, etc.) is a whiner.

I miss the hoodie.  (Alex Howard photo)
I miss the hoodie. (Alex Howard photo)

I really think it’s terribly unfair for the first round of the baseball playoffs to be winner-take-all, but I didn’t burn as righteously last night when the New York Yankees were being eliminated.

They’re just whiners.

At the moment, on my high-def screen, the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates are massing at home plate in an anticlimactic scrum precipitated by a Buc plunking the Cubbies’ ace, Jake Arrieta.

As my late father was fond of saying, “Chaps love to play.”

With the 2015 Red Sox already a memory, and not a particular fond one at that, I am a bit of a disinterested observer. I’m wearing my standard baseball-watching gear — sweats and a tee shirt — and the top of the stack this night was a UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs gray that is exactly like what John Travolta wore in Pulp Fiction, only I bought it in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury District before the movie came out, which was in 1994.

I watched it in February 1995, with Mike Hembree, at a cineplex near Daytona International Speedway. Seeing Vincent (Travolta) wearing my tee shirt was one big surprise. The other was when Vincent plunged the needle into Mia’s (Uma Thurman) heart, which may have been the last time I jumped and left the ground.

And I was sitting.

I have lots of really old clothes. This occurred to me when I looked at myself in the mirror with the UC Santa Cruz tee shirt on.

Damn, this thing is more than 20 years old!

I’ve got a Fairmont State shirt I bought when I was at that West Virginia college broadcasting a football game more than 25 years ago. It was white with glow-in-the-dark orange lettering. Now it has a slight cream tinge to it because I unwisely wore it to a dirt track once.

I have caps that are easily that old. The Watkins Glen Senecas cap is going to disintegrate any time now. I’ve started to upgrade a bit. The age of the cap I was wearing at a high-school scrimmage actually became a topic of discussion in the stands. It’s black with “Clinton” in script on the front in red and white. It’s from sometime in the 1980s. I have a red cap with CHS across the front that is from the ’90s. About a month ago, I bought a new cap that is gray with a red bill and a red block C on the front. It might well be the last one I’ll ever own. Clinton one, anyway.

Just yesterday I bought a new hoodie because from now until next spring, it will be my most commonly worn item of the clothing that isn’t on my feet. Hoodies don’t last long. I always leave them somewhere. When I left my beloved Red Sox pullover at a rained-out Presbyterian College baseball game, well, I hope whichever PC student picked it up is actually a Boston fan.

Yes. I still have a couple of my old football jerseys in the closet.

Some people love their pets.

 

(Design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Design by Jennifer Skutelsky)

The tee shirts come in handy when I’m writing fiction, too. My latest, Crazy of Natural Causes, is a KindleScout winner that is on sale for $1.99 right now. You say you don’t read books on your phones? What’s $1.99? Give it a try. http://www.amazon.com/Crazy-Natural-Causes-Monte-Dutton-ebook/dp/B00YI8SWUU/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1436215069&sr=1-1&keywords=Crazy+of+Natural+Causes

 

It’s Got to Get Better

(Getty Images for NASCAR)
(Getty Images for NASCAR)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, July 3, 2015, 12:15 p.m.

I’m looking forward to the Coke Zero 400. I wish it wasn’t on Sunday night and don’t understand why it’s not the night before. I can only assume it’s something TV wanted, but one reason I’m waiting for the race with vibrant anticipation is that NBC is going to televise it, and I don’t know how that’s going to go, but I’m ready for a change.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I hope the coverage will be outfoxed. Fox’s coverage, that is.

That’s asking a lot, though.

Maybe NBC will be more interested in what happens instead of what it and NASCAR wants me to see.

Maybe NBC’s announcers won’t freeze up any time something controversial happens.

Maybe NBC will treat it as a sporting invent instead of the world’s silliest situation comedy.

Maybe NBC won’t hide the crowd. And debris. And rebel flags. Maybe NBC will give those of us at home an honest take on what happens.

(Getty Images for NASCAR.)
(Getty Images for NASCAR.)

I understand the difference between my job and theirs. Television is in it for ratings, and that entails a certain promotional bent. It’s no fairer to ask television to do a three-part series entitled “Why the Racing Sucks” than it is to expect the Atlanta Braves’ announcers to come out against a new suburban stadium.

My job is just to write what happens, based on what I see. It’s not been easy at home to see through the Fox whitewash.

I’m optimistic the coverage is going to get better. It’s a modest expectation.

Meanwhile, I’m going to celebrate America, perhaps even by watching the Xfinity Series race at home. I have no plans of attending someone’s barbecue, largely because no such opportunity has been offered, and I’m ill equipped to throw a party on my own.

I’ll probably do what I always do: write, watch sports and movies, play my guitar, read a book, and promote my upcoming novel in advance of its release. When I traveled to most of the races, I missed most of the holidays others celebrated, and that’s still the case.

My life’s rewarding. I’m doing what I want. I’m trying hard to be successful at it, and that’s a decent way to honor America, independence, freedom, and liberty.

As Augustus Macrae once said, “They’s worse thangs.”

I’m writing these godforsaken novels, so I hope at least somebody reads them. Here’s your shot: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

All Hot and Bothered

Rosemont Cemetery, Clinton, SC. (Monte Dutton photo)
Rosemont Cemetery, Clinton, SC. (Monte Dutton photo)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, July 1, 2015, 1:30 p.m.

Times change, but the Constitution changes with them. That’s the way the Founders intended it. To some extent, we all wish things were the way they used to be.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Two nights ago, I was talking with a close friend, and we talked about how much more sensitive people have become. For instance, both of us grew up Washington Redskins fans. It never occurred to either of us that someone would consider the mascot offensive. We just figured that no one would name a team in order to insult anyone. The fact that the team had the name meant its fans meant no harm. They meant honor. It might not have been considered honor by others, but that was the intention.

The first time this ever affected me directly was in college. I was on an intramural basketball team, and we all had cheap cotton jerseys. The team was Redmen, and it wasn’t because we were all St. John’s fans (for that was then their nickname), and it didn’t have anything to do with American Indians. It was because a good many of us chewed tobacco. Our team was a veritable cornucopia of offense, but we didn’t mean it that way. We meant it as a joke, mainly a joke on us.

Furthermore, one of our players was of Italian descent. We all had nicknames above our numbers on the back. My number was “50,” and my nickname was “Tug,” which hardly anyone other than my father ever called me. It was all I had. My Italian teammate put “Wop” above his number.

Latham Stadium, Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina. (Monte Dutton)
Latham Stadium, Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina. (Monte Dutton)

Another American of Italian descent, who wasn’t on our team, told him he ought to be ashamed of it. It was a slur, he said. We went back to the sporting goods store and had the nickname changed.

To “Swopy,” which didn’t mean anything other than it was a name other than “Wop.”

It was the first time I ever heard of such a thing. I felt sorry for my teammate, but it made me realize that what was acceptable was based on whether or not someone was offended.

For instance, it was common when I was a boy — and, for that matter, now — for the term “redneck” to be used. Some take pride in being a “redneck.” It can be a term of either admiration or derision.

Not my father. He considered “redneck” a slur on farmers. Once I called someone a redneck in his presence, and he went crazy. I stopped doing it. If I had called someone a wop, dago, kike, slant-eye, jerry, kraut, polack, linthead, or wetback, he wouldn’t have said a word.

Maybe linthead. That was back when there was such a thing in the South as a cotton mill. People lived on “the mill hill,” which often wasn’t a hill at all, but my mother grew up in one textile neighborhood, and my father grew up on the border of another. Back then mills weren’t gigantic empty brick buildings with kudzu covering the walls. Back then, half the people I knew worked in them. In fact, some of my football teammates got through playing on Friday nights and drove straight to Joanna because that mill allowed them to work six-hour shifts on weekends. I went home to sleep and could barely get out of bed the next morning.

Can't we all just race? (Photo by HHP/Alan Marler for Chevy Racing)
Can’t we all just race? (Photo by HHP/Alan Marler for Chevy Racing)

I’m not as sensitive. Perhaps I should be. I do, however, believe in principle, and I don’t think many do. I see a certain tyranny of both the left and the right. People get mad about everything. It’s their right. I think it’s just a consequence of a market that doesn’t have anything to do with money. If everyone felt the same way about the word “redneck” that my father did, civil people wouldn’t use it unless they were prepared to fight for the right to do so.

I am a Southerner who finds the Confederate flag offensive, but I also believe in freedom of expression. I believe people should keep their own houses in order before they go around demanding that everyone else do so. I think the country is damaged by two groups of people: (1.) those who take no responsibility for their actions, and (2.) those who have made up their minds on how to live and demand everyone else adopt the same rules.

I also grew up during the civil-rights movement, and its effect on me is underscored by the fact that my second novel, The Intangibles, is a tale of those years.

I watched a parade of run-down, white Cadillac convertibles roll through one of this town’s black neighborhoods flying Confederate flags, with “Dixie” blaring through speakers, and signs tacked up on telephone poles that read “KKK Watching Over You.” I have been threatened over the fact that my best friend in high school was black. It’s also true that most people, black and white alike, thought the Ku Klux Klan was nothing but riffraff, even then.

Vicksburg, Miss.  (Monte Dutton photo)
Vicksburg, Miss. (Monte Dutton photo)

In the sixties and seventies, rebellious expression was everywhere: raised fists, black power, white power, flower power, peace symbols, sit-ins, smoke-outs, smoke-ins, swastikas, crosses of both the Christian and German persuasions, and even motorcycle helmets fashioned in the Nazi style. In the South, there must have been 10,000 billboards that read “Impeach Earl Warren.” He was then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

If those times taught me anything, it was to believe that people have a right to be stupid. That is this country’s great unwritten freedom, the right to be stupid. Without it, truly, our civilization would grind to a halt. As Lincoln said, “Some of the people are stupid all of the time, all of the people are stupid some of the time, but not all of the people are stupid all of the time.”

It was Clyde “Short Stuff” Lincoln, from that Lincoln bunch that lived out Barrel Stave Road. My granddaddy said wudn’t none of ’em no ‘count.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in Daytona Beach this weekend, or in Darlington on Labor Day, or anywhere else, but if this was when I was growing up, attempting to ban the hoisting of the Confederate flag — by the way, I’ve noticed that saying “rebel flag” has also gone into disfavor, even though, for people who don’t consider it to have a racial connotation, that’s exactly what it is — would effectively make twice as many fly it.

That may not be true anymore. I hope it’s not. The world has changed since when I was but a lad.

Psst. You know, he's black. (Photo by Ed Zurga/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Psst. You know, he’s black. (Photo by Ed Zurga/NASCAR via Getty Images)

When I began writing about NASCAR, rebel flags could be seen in the infields of tracks that weren’t in the South. In fact, I remember being amazed one Friday when I drove through rural Delaware and Maryland, en route to a Baltimore Orioles game, because, with NASCAR in the area, people away from the track, those who lived out in the country, put up rebel flags in front of their houses. I’m assuming they didn’t fly them year around, but I may be wrong. I’m also assuming they were symbols of general rebellion and nonconformity, not political specificity.

NASCAR officials first said they wouldn’t allow Confederate symbols to be sold on their property, which, I’m assuming, was already true. They said they supported efforts here in South Carolina to take down the aforementioned flag from the Confederate memorial at the Statehouse. I’d have left it at that.

If they had, there’s a good chance it would have died down.

It’s the same reason I have never understood why people who own businesses insist on making political statements. My dad used to like this short-order place in a nearby town, and when we were out looking at horses or cattle, or selling or delivering fertilizer, we’d stop by and have some fried chicken or a couple hot dogs. That place is still open, or was about ten years ago when, feeling nostalgic, I decided to stop in.

Just inside the door was a table full of general right-wing pamphlets. Little Confederate flags were on sale, and cheap gray Rebel caps, and T-shirts of the “Fergit, hell!” variety, but the fellow who owned the place also despised Bill Clinton, and I didn’t.

I wouldn’t eat there again if it sold the only hot dogs between here and Nevada. I’m sure that fellow doesn’t get much black business. Why alienate people who like hot dogs and fried chicken? You’re liable to keep alienating until there’s no one out there left.

The world is always going to have people who divide it into “them” and “us.” Black and white. Native and foreign. Rich and poor. Educated and ignorant. Smart and stupid. Urban, rural, and the suburbans who cut both ways.

Some of them load up the truck and move to Beverly. Swimming pools. Movie stars.

Live and let live. That’s what I say. That, and, please, pretty please, buy my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

Maybe then I can move to Beverly, though I’m satisfied I’ll always be gone to Carolina in my mind.

In and Out, Up and Down, Left and Right …

(Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)
(Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, June 29, 2015, 10:29 a.m.

A few observations from Kyle Busch’s victory in Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, the road course in California’s Wine Country:

The chief question raised by the weekend is whether or not Kyle Busch can make the Chase. His Sonoma win was, of course, preordained by the vast number of observers who said he had no shot when he placed dead last in Michigan. That’s, in small part, because God has a sense of humor.

The out-again, in-again Kyle Busch celebrates his Sonoma victory.  (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
The out-again, in-again Kyle Busch celebrates his Sonoma victory. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Now the chorus has moved from hopelessness to hope, from doom to destiny, and from “no way” to “he’s going to make it.” The numbers still don’t favor him. Precision is impossible because 30th place in the points is a moving target. The driver occupying 30th changes, but the best estimate suggests that an average of about 13th or 14th will get him in. It sounds reasonable, but his current average finish, even after Sunday’s win, is 20.0, and his average for the entire 2014 season was 17.6.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

As Joe Gibbs, Busch’s owner, said, “I think it’s a great sports story because, if you think about Daytona, and for Kyle to come back from, really, a broken right leg and a broken left foot, the race we were really worried about when he came back was this race because it was going to be, obviously, road racing. It takes a lot of pressure on your foot, so I think this is a great story for us.”

It could, of course, be the beginning of an even greater story.

Another major obstacle comes up right away. Anyone can crash at Daytona, and many likely will. If Busch finds trouble there, he’s right back in “no way” mode. The chorus will change for the third race in a row. Moderation is rare in the media center, TV booth, and grandstands, not to mention the social media and blogosphere.

Is the blogosphere social media? Or is it just yet another stakeholder?

Now, where does Busch go, now that he has a win under his belt? He could become cautious which will seem, in his case, like a lion cowering at a kitty cat, or he could press the advantage. Let’s say he crashes at Daytona, has another bad finish or two, in the 10 remaining races, but wins two or three of them?

The ball may wind up back in Brian France's court. (Monte Dutton photo)
The ball may wind up back in Brian France’s court. (Monte Dutton photo)

If Kyle Busch is a multiple-race winner but not in the top 30, it will be very difficult for NASCAR to let that lie. Brian France has already granted him one waiver. The old “EIRI” for which NASCAR is famous — “except in rare instances” — has never been truer than in recent years, when a previous Chase field was expanded from twelve to thirteen because the final regular-season race (2013) was determined not to have been on the up-and-up.

One of the intents of the current, bloated Chase field, and the maniacal rules governing it, is to get the winners in and let them prosper.

I think the NASCAR excitement manufacturers will sit back and watch, hoping Busch makes it on his own, but, if he doesn’t, they’re going to be powerfully tempted to blur the rules again.

For the first time ever, the brothers Busch finished 1-2  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)
For the first time ever, the brothers Busch finished 1-2 (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)

All right. Moving on, twenty years ago, coverage of races wasn’t quite so prone to overkill. Now it’s Kyle won, so let’s beat it to death. Let’s do what it takes to maximize the web hits. Kyle wins, and here’s what Junior and Danica have to say about it!

I remember when fellow could get his name in the paper by finishing eighth, as Kasey Kahne did at Sonoma. Now what papers are left don’t have much space, and Kahne gets on the web by having a girlfriend with a baby on the way.

Inquiring minds want to know!

Same season, different team for Carl Edwards.  (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Same season, different team for Carl Edwards. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Not only is it noteworthy that Kyle and Kurt Busch finished 1-2 for the first time in their careers, but that one race earlier they “bookended” the standings by placing first (Kurt) and 43rd (Kyle) in Michigan. The two have often been either close together or far apart, and it’s not chassis setups I’m noting.

Before the final restart, a social media acquaintance asked if I thought Jeff Gordon had a shot, as he was third at the time. I replied in the affirmative. Gordon finished 16th. Tony Stewart, who finished 12th, drives No. 14 and has led the same number of laps this year. I take no comfort in pointing out such details.

Clint Bowyer finished in the top five (third) for the first time all year.

Last year Carl Edwards somehow managed to win two races, and that’s how he made the Chase. This year, with a different team, he has already won but is 17th in the point standings, which, under the current format, is no more pertinent to the Chase than his 11 lead-lap finishes and his average qualifying performance of 9.6. In spite of switching from declining Roush Fenway to elite JGR, Edwards is having the same year.

No one is happier to be leaving California than David Ragan, in spite of the fact that Michael Waltrip had his back in the TV booth. The two know each other, I think.

“You have to hold your own,” Ragan said after being involved in two significant crashes. “If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change anything.”

Ragan wasn’t being facetious or coy. He was being honest. He has a reputation of being uncertain on road courses, and other drivers expect him to get out of their way. He’s got the best ride he’s had in a while. He’s trying to keep it. He did his best. It’s what we should expect.

Had the cards fallen a little differently, either Jimmie Johnson or Kurt Busch might have won. No change there from oval to road.

A.J. Allmendinger and Kurt Busch started on the front row. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
A.J. Allmendinger and Kurt Busch started on the front row. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

When I started writing about racing on a regular basis, road courses were often dreaded by fans who now adore them. When I started going to Sonoma and Watkins Glen, few were the drivers who could plausibly win. The biggest change is in the transmissions. The Jerico transmission showed up in the 1990s and made the footwork, the heel and toe switches from brake to clutch, two feet doing three jobs, unimportant. Changing gears is now greatly simplified. Now the road courses are such than most drivers, given track position, are capable of winning.

Guess who won last summer at Daytona? (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Guess who won last summer at Daytona? (Getty Images for NASCAR)

An obviously skilled road racer, Marcos Ambrose over the past few years and A.J. Allmendinger now, can surmount disadvantages in equipment that are apparent at other tracks, which, incredibly, is what last week’s Sonoma and next week’s Daytona have in common, not in terms of Allmendger or Ambrose, but in the case of other drivers who have exceptional skill at plate tracks.

David Ragan, for instance. And Aric Almirola, who just happens to be the winner of last year’s summertime race at vast, sprawling Daytona.

One final observation about both Sonoma and Daytona: These two tracks are bringing the fun back at a time when NASCAR desperately needs it.

 

For those of you obsessed by NASCAR, thanks for reading me here, but if you have other interests, if you actually still enjoy reading other things like short stories or books, give wellpilgrim.wordpress.com the occasional look. Better yet, consider buying one of the books of mine listed here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1