Up with Furman

(Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, November 12, 2017, 10:29 a.m.

It’s not often I feel the joy I felt Saturday. Waylon Jennings once sang that, down in Alabama, “they call me the man of joy.” He wasn’t singing about me. Writing breeds satisfaction, not joy. Life is a struggle as I write and write and write, hoping one day more substantial numbers will appreciate my work.

By Monte Dutton

Karl Marx claimed that religion was “the opiate of the masses.” I don’t believe he was right, but, had he written it about sports, he might have had something.

I sat in Section 7 of Paladin Stadium watching Furman rout The Citadel, 56-20. The first half was almost perfection. While I was in Section 7, with Barry and Dan Atkinson, and Dan’s son, Charlie, and daughter, Nora, the Paladins were winning their seventh straight game, and it was over their (and my) archrival.

While driving to Greenville on Saturday morning and humming the fight song in traffic, I thought of a Groucho Marx line that perfectly depicts my feelings about The Citadel: “I have nothing for respect for you, and very little of that.”

Okay, it’s harsh. But funny. The Citadel does have my grudging respect. To me Furman-Citadel is Athens-Sparta. Liberal arts versus military. It’s overly simplistic, but so, too, is it to those of us who are not scholars of ancient Greece.

David Lyle (left) and Kevin Morgan (Ed Bopp photo).

The Bulldogs had won the three previous years. Some sense of decorum had to be restored. Before the game, in the parking lot, I spent time with old friends who hardly ever lost to The Citadel.

I wouldn’t call 35-0 at halftime, oh, diplomatic, but it was more than satisfying. My ailing knee didn’t hurt. My problems disappeared, “blowing through the jasmines of my mind.” I didn’t need a summer breeze to “make me feel fine.” Really. I was glowing. I felt rosy. It wasn’t a summer breeze at all. It was cold, though I took little notice. I cultivated an unprecedented liking of Seals & Crofts.

Happiness. Happiness. Everybody’s looking for happiness.

Life Gets Complicated, Lightning in a Bottle and Cowboys Come Home are available at Emma Jane’s and L&L Office Supply in uptown Clinton.

When I’m watching a baseball game on TV, if it’s not close, I’ll see what else is on. An old movie, or the news, or an old Columbo episode. If I keep the game on, I’ll read a book. Unless it’s a Red Sox game. The Sox can be leading, oh, 19-1, and I’ll still watch. If it’s the Yankees, I may catch a replay on NESN.

The leaves on Paris Mountain seemed neon-infused. As the Furman football team performed gloriously – almost defying belief – I felt transformed by the sheer glory of it all. As the clock expired, I wished the Paladins could keep right on scoring touchdowns, but I walked out to the truck and drove on home. I listened to the post-game show on the radio, and I switched to the Clemson halftime show, and, by the time I got home, the Tigers and Florida State were late in the third quarter, and I watched the rest of the game, or, rather, it was on TV. Nothing but the Paladins could command my attention. Same with Alabama-Mississippi State. Same with Saturday Night Live. Same with social media.

Nothing mattered but my pride in the Furman Paladins, who are back.

Now I must get back to convincing folks to read my novels and finishing the next one.

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

Most of my books — non-fiction on NASCAR and music, collections that include my contributions, seven novels, and one short-story collection — are available here.

Boys, Tweet at It

"What? Me worry?"
Kyle Busch: What? Me worry?

[cb_profit_poster sponsor1]Clinton, S.C., Sunday, October 6, 2013, 12:37 p.m.

It’s another NASCAR Sunday here in the living room, my attention undivided by the existence of a Boston Red Sox playoff game today. They are en route to St. Petersburg, and I can watch the second half of an NFL game after the Kansas Speedway race is over, barring the unexpected.

What I miss from 20 years of actually being at tracks like the one in Kansas City (Kansas, mind you) is perspective. I read the tweets and a few stories to which they lead. I peruse a transcript here and there. But I’m not there. I don’t see expressions. I don’t see whether the guy is being mischievous or murderous. I can’t read him for honesty or propaganda.

The years taught me to be an observer, and now I can’t observe. It’s okay. I’m observing lots of other stuff. All in all, if I can sell enough of these upcoming novels to make a living, I’ll be happier than when I was scurrying amidst the fire ants of the media.

Happiness I got. Money I need. Money is much more important when one doesn’t have much.

So, to paraphrase Robert Kennedy in less than fortuitous times, Now it’s on to The Intangibles, and let’s win there.

That wasn’t the best tone I could have set.

Okay, perhaps I should offer a new twist on one of my songs: I got cash money, and I’m working steady. I just need to make cash money from working steady.

Wait. What was I writing about? Oh, yeah. NASCAR.

All I have to offer is the perspective of 20 years on the beat. (Charley Pride: All I have to offer you is me. Sorry. I can’t help it. That song was written by Dallas Frazier, and now I’ve got to play it on my guitar. Be right back.)

It used to be that race drivers didn’t talk about it much when they had a feud going. If a driver thought he’d been wrecked by another, he just filed it away, and if he got even, he certainly didn’t crow about it. Of course, it wasn’t a secret, but mainly what happened when Dale Earnhardt took the law into his own hands was that he mildly denied it with a smart-ass grin on his face, which, of course, said more than any words would have. Earnhardt knew it was unlikely that even NASCAR officials would discipline a driver for the look on his face.

Darrell Waltrip was the first notable race driver who, to borrow the popular expression, “ran his mouth.” He was the first overt practitioner of gamesmanship. He tried to get under people’s skins, and Earnhardt did that, too, but via a non-verbal style. You’ve heard of someone who can stare a person down? Earnhardt could glare a person down. It wasn’t a secret that he and Geoff Bodine didn’t particularly care for each other, but it didn’t require much elaboration. Earnhardt didn’t care much for anyone at first. He respected those who stood up to him and ran over those who didn’t.

Now it’s different. Not just NASCAR. The world. We’re all tweeting and retweeting and linking and posting and sharing and … avoiding eye contact at all costs.

Early in my NASCAR writing career, there were several occasions in which I was interviewing a winning driver in victory lane while wondering, at the same time, if the runner-up driver was arriving on the scene with a tire iron. That was when my job often took me to short tracks and minor series. A brawl between pit crews once broke out in the Lanier pit garage while I was interviewing a driver next to the car. I didn’t get punched, bumped or even touched, but I was in the middle of a whirlwind of angry activity.

Now it’s sort of like the old saying has reversed: Sticks and stones won’t break my bones, but words will surely hurt me.

Brad Keselowski figures he's got nothing to lose. (John Clark photo)
Brad Keselowski figures he’s got nothing to lose. (John Clark photo)

Brad Keselowski is in a war of words with Kyle Busch that has raised the specter, through my readings of Kansas events, of hostilities on the track, and by track, I mean the track where a race will be run in a few hours.

I don’t think anything is going to happen. Keselowski is a clever young man. I think his goal is to get under Busch’s skin. He doesn’t want to literally knock Busch down a peg in the Chase. He’s trying to give Busch “lowdown, mind-messing, working-at-the-race-track blues,” and, as you undoubtedly know, a race track pays much better than a car wash and is quite a bit more stressful. Jim Croce knew that because he wrote “Rapid Roy That Stock Car Boy,” too.

That stuff didn’t work with the King, the Silver Fox, Cale and Bobby. It didn’t work with Buck, Fireball and Fearless Freddie. It damn sure didn’t work with Earnhardt the Elder.

If Kyle Busch is ready to win the Sprint Cup championship, it won’t work with him, either, but, hell, in Keselowski’s defense, and in his position, it couldn’t hurt.

Thanks for sticking with me as I write about NASCAR, and no telling what else, mainly from the solitude of home. You’re my window to the world (thanks, John Hiatt). Let me be your window to the fictional world when my next novel, The Intangibles, comes out in a few weeks. In the unlikely chance that you haven’t already read The Audacity of Dope, let’s fix that.

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