I Feel Like I’ve Gotta Travel On

(Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, January 13, 2017, 10:52 a.m.

I haven’t been to a race track since Homestead, Florida, at the end of 2012. On January 4, 2013, the Gaston Gazette informed that my position would be discontinued on … January 4, 2013. When I think about it, it still grinds my innards.

By Monte Dutton

It’s been a while. It shows. When Carl Edwards announced his decision to step away from NASCAR, it somehow made me think about stepping back.

I realized how much I miss by not being there. I’ve been writing from home for The Bleacher Report and competitionplus.com for quite some time now. I realized it was more difficult, but the Edwards incident underscored how much the loss of the intimacy of being there was costing me. Jeff Gordon’s gone. Tony Stewart. Now Edwards. A generation is changing, and it’s a generation I’m missing just by reading transcripts and watching TV.

It set me to thinking, and that is often a dangerous thing.

Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges

I’ve decided I’m willing to go back, at least on occasion. That, of course, doesn’t mean I will. I must have said a hundred times on radio shows, discussions with friends, etc., that everyone seems to want me back except anyone who could do anything about it.

I am well aware that the business has passed me by. I’m not sure there’s a journalism market for me any more. That’s why I went home to anonymity in the first place.

So, as you may have heard someone say to you before, if you hear anything …

(Alan Marler/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Why? Why? Why?

I’m finally tired of home. For the longest time, the surprise was that I didn’t miss racing more. When I was on the beat, I used to say that I’d been a gypsy so long that I wasn’t fit for anything else. It finally hit me over the past few weeks. I’m tired of being nobody. In retrospect, the cockeyed version of normality in my life was three days at home and four on the road.

The words I can’t believe are coming from my fingers: I miss travel. I have, however, visited such burgeoning metropoles as Saluda, Newberry, and Seneca during 2016. I even drove through Clemson once.

(Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)

Writing fiction means observing things other than Andy Griffith reruns on Sundance TV. As the late, great Hondo Crouch once wrote, “I’m out of soap.” The context might be helpful.

I’ve loved writing about local sports. It’s drying up, though. I don’t know why NASCAR should be any different. As noted above, it could be I.

As this has always been too low a priority in my mind, I held it back. I could use the money to grease the rusty skids of writing fiction. The royalties are rather sporadic.

I’m tired of slow pay and broken commitments. Last summer, I took a part-time job covering Laurens County for a nearby daily. I was happy with it because it was just about exactly as much as I wanted to write. I took it with the agreement that it would be year-round, not just football. That’s right. When football ended, it was, “Let’s rethink this thing.” Now, of course, losing that gig made it difficult to regain others, in spite of claims to the contrary.

So … to quote an old Johnny Horton song (and wish the subject was his, not mine):

I’m ready / If you’re willing!

(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. Note that my fourth, and best selling, novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, is on Kindle sale at $.99 through December 31. 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).

Nowadays There’s a Heap More to this ‘Writing’

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

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, August 5, 2016, 10:45 a.m.

By Monte Dutton
By Monte Dutton

I get to write about high school football tonight. A game story. Not a real game. A scrimmage matching the Wildcats of Ninety Six against the Red Devils of Clinton. On Saturday morning I’ll visit far Laurens (the high school is about 12 miles from my house) to watch five teams collide. Besides the Raiders, teams representing Emerald, Mauldin, Midland Valley and Strom Thurmond will be at the LDHS soccer field because K.C. Hanna Stadium is still recovering from the replacement of its turf.

Wilder Stadium. (Monte Dutton photo)
Wilder Stadium. (Monte Dutton photo)

The exciting morning so far has consisted of scouring the web for rosters: Ninety Six, Emerald, Mauldin and Thurmond. I lack Midland Valley. The focus will be on Clinton and Ninety Six tonight and Laurens and Emerald in the morning, so I reckon this will suffice.

Sportswriting, like politics before Trump, is the art of the possible.

Next up, on this the 2016 dawning of keeping up with football players, is a bit of study regarding online, football stat sheets that suit my fancy. (Printed out two kinds, went with the one that was vertical, printed 20 copies, boom!)

The business of sportswriting has ventured far beyond just writing. I expect to take some photos, tweet, and maybe even shoot some video. I’ve got to work out the kinks just like the athletes. In a way, these are preseason scrimmages for me, too.

DSCF3441Two years ago, I began covering high school games for the first time in, oh, 20 years or so. Last year, I started doing it regularly. At first, I felt like I was losing it. Back in the old days, man, I was a whiz. Now it’s hard to keep up.

Lest I fear the onset of dementia, soon I realized, or rationalized, that the last time I wrote about high school football, there was no Twitter to tweet, no blogs (let along video blogs) to blog, and, even though I had taken photos at games before (uh, in the 1980s), I didn’t have to crop and process the photos, now digital. I can fiddle around with the exposure without a twisted paper clip with a piece of masking tape around the end.

I don’t have to roll film canisters, develop them, and douse shiny paper in the glow of ruby-red light. Over in Greenwood, at the Index-Journal, nothing will be shipped to “the back” through pneumatic tubes because newspapers no long have “the back,” a.k.a., the composing room. My story will, however, flash through the air from this contraption to the ones across the lake.

In other words, this gig is both a hell of a lot easier and a hell of a lot harder.

Clinton High School seniors
Clinton High School seniors

 

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

Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy either Forgive Us Our Trespasses or Crazy of Natural Causes, and you’ll get a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs, absolutely free. Tell ‘em Mr. Monte sent you, y’hear?

(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.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses is the latest. It’s a tale about 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).

A Tale of Two Williamses, Mostly

(Monte Dutton photos)
(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, January 16, 2016, 12:10 p.m.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

It’s been a lively week for your local high school basketball reporter. The writer yearns mainly to write and for something to happen that he finds intriguing. In my stories at the GoLaurens (and GoClinton) website, I’m reporting. Then I watch late-night TV because I can’t sleep, ponder what has happened while nodding off, and wind up writing something like this the next day.

News travels so quickly nowadays. Everyone is in such a hurry. Got to get the story posted. Got to tweet. Got to get it first.

Too often, first and right are mutually exclusive, and the social media is full of would-be journalists crowing about real journalists “printing lies” ten minutes after they retweeted the same thing without attribution, or, worse yet, tweeted it as if they dug it up (the inaccurate report) themselves.

K.C. Cofield
K.C. Cofield

Okay. That’s my irritable introduction. I like to think things through before I write them. That makes me obsolete. I’m walking while all the cars are breaking down.

DSCF1628First things first. Friday night’s girls’ game, on the surface, seemed pretty routine. Greenwood (9-4) won by 18 points, 55-37. What was interesting about the game was that Laurens did everything well except … hit. The Raiders, who are 8-8, hung in there on the boards against the larger Eagles. They committed one fewer turnover. They took good shots.

DSCF1622And hit almost none of them. Only 14 in the game. They attempted 73. It was one of those nights in which it looked as if the Raiders were trying to crack the glass with their layups.

DSCF1638Nineteen point two percent.

The Laurens head coach, Yoneko Allen, was approximately as exasperated as I was. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes the shots look like they came off pinball flippers.

Are there still pinball machines? Virtual ones, maybe? Okay. You know what I mean.

DSCF1649

Kemarion Williams in black. Ladarius Williams in white.
Kemarion Williams in black. Ladarius Williams in white.

Laurens (10-6) dominated the boys’ game, but it revolved around a burly fellow named Kemarion Williams who scored two points for Greenwood (6-6) and I’m sure is a fine football prospect. He has the size to play anywhere.

In the first quarter, the Raiders’ K.T. Abney dribbled down the left side and ran afoul of Williams. The collision looked a little like a cartoon. Abney went down and, despite the thud, slid across the floor like a careening race car, though, thankfully, not into a concrete wall. Something, perhaps a few Raiders taking exception, made Williams angry. By halftime, he had four fouls and several more daring attempts. His elbows were flying like F-16s.

A Laurens Williams, Ladarius, played splendidly, scoring 21 points. With just over two minutes remaining, and Laurens more than 20 points ahead, Williams in white (uniform) drove to the basket and got fouled to the floor, though not by Williams in black, who was apparently boiling like a skillet full of gravy on the Eagle bench. Williams in white injured his ankle, and the game had to be halted while Laurens trainer Barry Atkinson attended to him.

Less than a minute later, the Raiders’ Tae Henry broke similarly into the lane and was fouled with similar ferocity. His head bounced off the floor, and he had to be helped off. Laurens head coach Ben Sinclair left his fallen player and attended to the closest referee, who responded with a technical foul.

DSCF1651

Sinclair said later that he regretted his actions but felt as if the referees were letting the game get out of hand because Laurens was way ahead and, by insinuation, they wanted to get home. I did, too, but I didn’t have a whistle, and Sinclair had a good point.

So the game ended and everyone lived happily ever after … not.

Williams in black was unimpeded by a limitation on fouls once the buzzer sounded, and, while I’m not sure what happened, he apparently was also unimpeded by the postgame tradition of shaking hands. The benches emptied. The coaches pulled their players back. A passel of students charged out, and nothing much really happened, thanks to the quick, appropriate intervention of various representatives of Laurens District 55 High School and coaches of the two teams.

Here’s my news story of the night’s events: http://www.golaurens.com/sports/item/22705-laurens-boys-drub-greenwood-81-61-girls-fall-55-37

(Graphic courtesy of Meredith Pritchard)
(Graphic courtesy of Meredith Pritchard)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

The editing process is complete, and I’ll let you know when Forgive Us Our Trespasses is available for download from Kindle Publishing. It’s a tale crime and corruption, young and old, good and bad, cops and robbers, etc.

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

Meanwhile, Crazy of Natural Causes, set in Kentucky and concerning the reinvention of a football coach, was published late last summer, and, if you haven’t read it, I’d appreciation it if you’d give it a look here: 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

(Melanie Ryon cover design)
(Melanie Ryon cover design)

My second novel, The Intangibles (2013), is about a high school football coach and his players trying to cope with rapid change in the 1960s South. http://www.amazon.com/The-Intangibles-Monte-Dutton-ebook/dp/B00ISJ18Z6/ref=pd_sim_351_2?ie=UTF8&dpID=51JrJlU8vKL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_UX300_PJku-sticker-v3%2CTopRight%2C0%2C-44_AC_UL160_SR107%2C160_&refRID=0AD3V83MM7SDKFNKQ5YB

(Joe Font cover design)
(Joe Font cover design)

The first, The Audacity of Dope (2011), is about a pot-smoking folksinger who wants no part of being a national hero. http://www.amazon.com/The-Audacity-Dope-Monte-Dutton-ebook/dp/B006GT2PRA/ref=pd_sim_351_2?ie=UTF8&dpID=51zCT-MrcFL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_UX300_PJku-sticker-v3%2CTopRight%2C0%2C-44_AC_UL160_SR105%2C160_&refRID=09V773T1A5GZXP96KS3Y

My short stories, book reviews, and essays are here: https://wellpilgrim.wordpress.com/

Follow me on Twitter @montedutton. I’m a tad more irreverent @wastedpilgrim and a little more literary @hmdutton. I’m on Facebook at Monte.Dutton and Instagram at Tug50. Um, I think that’s it.

In My Element

Wilder Stadium. Richardson Field. (Monte Dutton photo)
Wilder Stadium. Richardson Field. (Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, August 22, 2015, 10:30 a.m.

Football has changed. I still love it.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

The players are bigger, though not so much at Clinton High School as the teams it faces. The best word to describe the Red Devil linemen these days is stout. Those who aren’t are generally lanky.

The defense doesn’t crush opponents. The offense doesn’t pummel them into submission. Sometimes it seems as if the rules of football don’t allow the playing of football anymore.

“But back in … my day.”

My day wasn’t any better. It was just different. I liked it, though. Football hasn’t changed any more than everything else.

I've had a change of venue. (Monte Dutton)
I’ve had a change of venue. (Monte Dutton)

After twenty years of watching stock cars go around and around from relatively close range, now I go out on Fridays and Saturdays to watch Red Devils, Paladins, and Blue Hose. I still write. I’m as competitive ever. I want to do it better than anyone else. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I lose. The desire is still there.

It sometimes confounds my subjects. What they don’t understand about writers is that we’re competitive, too. Journalism isn’t really about the truth. It’s about getting as close to the truth as possible by writing what the subjects tell us the truth is. It’s not the same, but the pursuit of truth is righteous and exhilarating for those of us who have acquired the addiction.

After Friday night’s football game at Wilder Stadium, which has seldom been wilder, I was in the zone. Sometimes it isn’t pretty to watch. In fact, come to think of it, I’m never pretty to watch. Hence the bachelorhood.

Talladega. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Talladega. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

One of the more frequent questions I was asked about NASCAR during the aforementioned two decades was, “Who’s your favorite driver?”

Fans root for drivers and teams. Writers root for stories.

Once, at Atlanta Motor Speedway, on a Saturday many years ago, I got finished talking to Bud Moore, and, as I walked away, he grabbed my shoulder and yelled in my ear.

“By God, your ass got a story to write about now,” he said.

Exactly. I love it when all hell breaks loose.

Laurens County Speedway, (Monte Dutton photo)
Laurens County Speedway, (Monte Dutton photo)

What I love particularly about sports is that it’s all out there for the world to see. Politicians choke in the clutch, but, quite often, they get to hide it behind closed doors, talking points, and othere diversionary tactics, and they don’t consider it the least bit impolite to ignore the question asked and say what they want to say, anyway. Incredibly, some athletes do it, too, most often those who make a lot of money. The making of lots of money often leads those who make it to lose all respect for those who don’t.

They’ve heard some of us don’t even make a hundred thousand dollars a year. People who don’t make lots of money can’t possibly be very smart.

Okay, Jesus, maybe. Gandhi. The stray prophet. The token eccentric.

Near the center of the photo is the new Clinton High head coach, Andrew Webb. (Monte Dutton photo)
Near the center of the photo is the new Clinton High head coach, Andrew Webb. (Monte Dutton photo)

Here’s how nuts I am. I’d have rather been at the A.C. Flora-Clinton high school football game than the Super Bowl. A few weeks ago, I enjoyed a trip to Laurens County Speedway more than my most recent visit to a NASCAR track. In the past year, the most miserable experience I’ve had on assignment was an Atlantic Coast Conference basketball game.

On Friday night, after Clinton’s overtime upset, I asked the Red Devils’ head coach, Andrew Webb, if he made any adjustments when his team trailed 14-0 in the first quarter.

“We really stuck to our game plan,” he said. “We didn’t change anything. We did what we said we were going to do. Our coaches up top made some good adjustments throughout the game, put us in better spots, but as far as changing the game plan, we didn’t change anything. I think we were so amped up that we just made some little mistakes (early). We calmed down and executed.”

Paladin Stadium (Monte Dutton)
Paladin Stadium (Monte Dutton)

I have known writers who sort of badgered coaches because they had in mind what they wanted to write and were determined to fill in their planned blanks. I’ve tried not to do that. I don’t mind if coaches dispute the perceived direction of my question. That’s why I asked it.

It was hot as hell. I was sweating furiously. I was trying to develop an angle that I didn’t think anyone else would. I was trying to get close to the truth by asking people what the truth was.

It’s what I love.

 

The Intangibles is set in a small Southern town during the 1960s.
The Intangibles is set in a small Southern town during the 1960s.

I spend so much of my time holed up at the house writing that, when I get out, it’s golden. A conversation under the grandstands may conjure up a short story. A phrase may show up in a novel. A character may begin with the guy in front of me in a line, or a woman at a bar whose mannerisms I observe while sitting in a booth five yards away. Writers are observers. Journalists cultivate that craft. I’d appreciate your consideration of the books I’ve written. Here’s where you can examine and buy them: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

The Carolina Panthers from Afar

[cb_profit_poster Beer1]Clinton, S.C., Sunday, December 22, 2013, 2 p.m.

It’s raining outside. The Saints-Panthers game is frozen on my TV because this is what happens on DirecTV when fierce thunderstorms hit.

I sort of miss writing columns at Bank of America Stadium now.
I sort of miss writing columns at Bank of America Stadium now.

What I won’t do to make sure I can see each and every Boston Red Sox game for three quarters of the year. Which I took advantage of a great deal this year. In 2011-12? Not so much. Then again, it wasn’t so bad because I had other things to occupy me, and I was traveling a lot. I’ve got plenty of things to occupy me now, but they don’t involve packing suitcases and dragging them around nearly as much.

If the Red Sox stink next year, I might well be miserable. That’s the way it works for sports fans.

The game is back. The Saints have pulled ahead, 6-0, while the game was off the TV literally and the radar screen figuratively.

I’ve become a Panthers fan. I wasn’t always. It was strictly cold-blooded.

Back in the 1990s, I occasionally wrote columns at Panthers games when NASCAR didn’t occupy me. Then I stopped as a matter of principle because the paper always wanted me to help out with the NFL but didn’t provide me any when the races were run at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

If the Panthers were good, they got the coverage. Racing got crowded to the bottom of the sports front. If the Panthers were bad, racing moved right up top. Hence, things were better for me when things were worse for the local NFL team.

In 2011, I relented, in part because I had some interest in Cam Newton, and in part because times were getting tougher at both the paper and papers in general. All of us started wearing more hats. It started to seem as if the website and social media were more important than the actual paper, perhaps because printing it required paper.

I gave it my best effort. I learned how to blog and tweet. I studied all the new-fangled masterpieces of journalism. Occasionally, I got chided for writing above the heads of readers. When Twitter came along, it really moved full circle.

For the first time in my career, I started hearing, “Well, we won’t get the race in the paper, but don’t worry. It’ll be on the website.”

So I started videoing and blogging and tweeting and retweeting and posting and sharing and God knows how many other things that, at first, seemed alien to my being.

When they asked, “Hey, you want to write some columns at Panther games?” I said, “How soon you want me to be there?”

It did no good. When the Grim Reaper showed up, I got no media timeout.

Here’s my advice to the journalists who must emerge from this wreckage: Being a team player means nothing. When the time comes, it’ll only be seen as a sign of weakness.

I really like the Panthers now. I just don’t have much way of showing it.

[cb_profit_poster Travel1]

Oh, the Poor Little Rich Kid Got His Feelings Hurt

[cb_profit_poster Guitar1]Clinton, S.C., Sunday, September 29, 2013, 11:29 a.m.

When a team, or an athlete, gets criticized, or does something wrong, the response is often a retaliatory attack on the messenger.

How can Driver X possibly drive his race car at 200 mph for three hours with the media yapping at him? Or her?

Competitors are so frail, so sensitive, so helpless.

"In my defense, it was heartfelt."
“In my defense, it was heartfelt.”

This notion really makes me laugh. Competitors aren’t supposed to be delicate. They’re not supposed to get all touchy-feely.

There’s no crying in baseball!

Now, obviously, age does make a difference. It’s inappropriate to write an account of, say, a Little League baseball game that is as brutally honest as a story of the seventh game of the World Series. Discretion is in order. How old and mature an athlete is makes a difference. So does whether or not he plays for money, or even how much. All such considerations are part of the story.

The bottom line, though, is what happens. A reporter is supposed to write what happens. A columnist is supposed to add perspective, opinion and/or analysis. Regardless of age, money, whatever, though, it’s supposed to be accurate. Opinions should be supported by more than “I’ll fix his ass.”

Obviously, the truth can hurt.

Let’s suppose an error by a 10th-grade shortstop costs his team a game. There’s no need to be cruel, but one shouldn’t write “Little Johnny tried valiantly but could not corral a bullet off the bat of Little Jimmy” when the ball was a dribbler that went through Little Johnny’s legs. Don’t make the kid a goat, but just write the winning run scored on an error. Have a heart, but don’t conjure up a whopper.

Fans tend to be apologists where favorites are concerned.

What drives me crazy is the notion that something that someone, anyone, writes can have a crucial effect on the performance of a skilled athlete. It’s impossible, on one hand, to claim that the star linebacker is the toughest, meanest SOB ever to lace up his cleats, and then to claim that he dropped a sure interception because the damned media put too much pressure on him.

Good grief. What kind of excuse from hell is that?

Let the record note that I have been a persistent critic of some of my former colleagues. I think the news, the sports and, quite possibly, the weather have been wracked by the pervasive infestation of a plague of gossip. People hate to hear me say it, but I think one of the reasons is that, within the dried-up, dying carcass of what used to be called journalism, one of the culprits of change is the simple fact that one person is asked to do what at least two and often three people used to do, and gossipy rumors are easy. No one has time for the in-depth, comprehensive reporting that used to be the state of the art.

So, who’s the left fielder dating? No one? Okay, then who’s his best friend on the team? What’s he think about whom his best friend is dating? Has he been to any cool parties lately? Was he at the Arcade Fire concert? Did he tweet about it?

I don’t miss that stuff because, no matter how independent a journalist is, he (or her) can never set his own agenda. Part of it is set by what others write, and what the sports editor wants him to write, and what the latest focus group concluded, and what team the publisher’s grandson is on. Every job, even legendary folk hero, has its annoying tasks.

Part of the job is what the people want, and part is what the people need. They may love the point guard, but if she’s missed her last 11 three-pointers, even her fans need to know about it.

This stock car racing stuff isn't for people who tend to get their feelings hurt. (HHP/Brian Lawdermilk photo for Chevrolet)
This stock car racing stuff isn’t for people who tend to get their feelings hurt. (HHP/Brian Lawdermilk photo for Chevrolet)

A champion isn’t going to be devastated by some pundit trying to make a name for himself. A champion is only going to be motivated by proving all his detractors wrong. If a story criticizes a team, does the coach hide it from the players? Does he tell them not to read the paper or surf the Internet? No! He posts it on the bulletin board. He leaves clippings in every locker. The champion thinks, well, I’ll prove that jackass wrong. He doesn’t cower and weep quietly because his feelings are hurt. He doesn’t go into a blue funk. He’s supposed to be a champion. He’s supposed to be a master of the universe. Is he making a million bucks? If so, it’s not because he just can’t take it when that mean, old writer claims he can’t hit the breaking ball.

Take your best shot, scribe. Anything you can dish out, I can hit in the alleys for extra bases.

That’s the attitude of a champion. A champion figures I’ve got my job, and he’s got his. He can write or say what he wants, and I can prove him wrong.

For what it’s worth, the amount of criticism fired directly at any journalist worth his salt is at least comparable to the ricochets that occasionally wing the “defenseless” competitor. I always told race-car drivers, “You think I’m tough? You ought to read my email. I’m Fans Light.”

What’s more, most of what I write has my name attached to it.

My favorite response to criticism was to stand in front of my detractor, look him in the face, and wait patiently for his rant to conclude, at which point I would say, “In my defense, it was heartfelt.”

I was sometimes wrong, but I was never insincere.

Now I can write what I want. It’s liberating, but I was never devastated when readers, or, for that matter, subjects said horrible things about me. The last time I got really mad at someone who lashed out at me, a minor-league pitching coach and I had to be separated in a clubhouse, but that was a long, long time ago. I’m tougher now.

[cb_profit_poster Guitar2]

No, I’m Serious, Really, This Is How Everything Changed

I took this photo on September 15, 2007, at Fenway Park.
I took this photo on July 15, 2007, at Fenway Park.

[cb_profit_poster Storytelling]Clinton, S.C., Wednesday, September 11, 2013, 2:01 p.m.

Lots of times, when I write this blog, there’s a certain echo effect. I have a sense of déjà vu. I’m writing something I’ve written before, but, in most instances, it predated the existence of montedutton.com.

So here we go again. Fortunately, the events of September 11, 2001, never go away.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

My life now is vastly different, but that day would be about the same. I had returned home from Richmond, Va. The time between one NASCAR race and another was spent following off-track developments and finding time to wash clothes, cut grass, pay bills, empty trash and pack for the next race. On that morning, I was doing what I would have been doing this morning: sitting in the living room, pecking away at a laptop and half paying attention to the television set, which was set to 24-hour news. Twelve years ago, I wouldn’t have been tweeting, but otherwise it was pretty similar.

If you’ve got an interest in this blog, you’ve already reacquainted yourself with the details. My memories are similar to others. At first, I thought some pilot had suffered a heart attack while approaching LaGuardia or Kennedy, and his plane had veered into the World Trade Center. My gosh. How awful. Then, of course, the second plane hit, and everyone knew something much more dreadful was occurring.

I became very determined. I decided I would be unafraid. No terrorist threat was going to change my life in any way. It would give those despicable zealots satisfaction, and on an individual, not just patriotic , level, I was not going to let that happen. If NASCAR ran its race in Loudon, I would find a way to be there. I would continue to fly. I would continue to travel. I would continue to attend large events.

The next morning, I took my nephew Vince to school. We talked about the terrorist attacks, and I told him that even if the airports were closed, I was going to drive all the way to New Hampshire. He was silent for a while. We came to a stop sign.

“If you fly on a plane, hundreds and hundreds could be killed,” Vince said. “If you drive in a car, it’d be ones and ones.”

As it turned out, NASCAR did, in fact, postpone the race in New Hampshire, meaning that I didn’t go there until Thanksgiving. That was the most eventful year I covered racing. I may remember more from 2001 than last year. Most of it was bad. All of it was vivid.

Dale Earnhardt in the Rolex 24. Earnhardt in the IROC. Earnhardt’s death. Earnhardt’s funeral. Harvick’s Atlanta upset. Elliott Sadler’s Bristol win for the Wood Brothers. Bobby Hamilton’s upset at Talladega. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s dominance of the summertime Daytona Beach race. Ricky Craven winning at Martinsville. Bill Elliott at Homestead. And the final race? The one on the Friday after Thanksgiving? Gordon. Robby Gordon.

It was a year of great togetherness as a country and, even, as a sport. Earnhardt’s death sort of brought NASCAR fans together in a way.

At the same time, seeds of divisiveness were being sowed. In an eerie sense, one that I cannot fully describe, I feel as if we have squandered all that in the years since. I keep hearing people say “everything changed,” and they say it so often that it loses its meaning. But it is true. I changed profoundly that year. I became more stubborn. Perversely, what began as togetherness morphed into skepticism. I got tired of putting up with crap.

For the final few seasons of my NASCAR writing career, I became deeply concerned at the directions journalism was taking. I started branching out, wrote a book about music, started playing guitar and writing songs, and went back to an old love, fiction. NASCAR wasn’t as much fun, and while part of it was because of the way the sport was changing, part of it was also because I was changing. What sustained me was my competitiveness and the desire reflected in an old country song: “Do what you do, do well, man, do what you do, do well.” (You knew I wasn’t going to let an entire blog pass without quoting a country song.)

At the end of the 2012 season, while listening to my iPod on a plane, I wrote myself a note. It’s still there.

One more week.

Do I feel this way every year? Yes.

Is it worse? Seems so.

My job – my field of expertise as a writer – has taken me hostage. I feel I’m being held against my will. I plot escapes but never go through with them.

All I need is just the most modest of assurances that I can actually pull it off.

Or maybe I’ll never get out of this world alive.

NASCAR Fever! Catch it!

Then release it.

I’m such a lucky guy. On January 4, 2013, Halifax Media Group, parent company of The Gaston Gazette, eliminated my job. I pondered this, but I didn’t really accept it until, oh, maybe, now.

It was time.

So everything’s super. I’ve just got to figure out how to make all this multi-tasking into a living. Thanks for supporting my website and my writing in general.

[cb_profit_poster Guitar2]

Faster and Faster and Faster …

The Oregon coast
The Oregon coast

Clinton, S.C., Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 9:46 a.m.

I don’t think there’s ever been any danger of the Justice Department seizing my emails. I doubt the existence of a NASCAR leak would unduly alarm those in the halls of government.

It concerns me, though. I’ve never been one to reveal sources, not even to colleagues. For some reason, people suspect that journalists can’t keep secrets. The rapid growth of the social media has only widened this suspicion. Yet many times I have told an interview subject, “If you tell me something is a secret, honest to gosh, I won’t even tell my mama, but if you don’t tell me it’s a secret, it’s my job to tell the whole world.”

In other words, we’ve got to be straight.

As time went on, the practical importance of secrecy did diminish. Informal conversations became less frequent. Most of the stories were written from group sessions, often formal media conferences, and private interviews became more and more difficult to schedule.

Not for TV, mind you. Those people pay big money, and sponsors just love free advertising.

Then there’s the social media. I’ve watched it go from MySpace – my interest there was always based on spreading my music, not my NASCAR – to Facebook to Twitter, and I was generally late to every party. Eventually, I learned the ropes, but I’m sure there’s another latest thing poised to make the existing means of communication obsolete, uncool and “so last week.”

Nowadays it’s a full-time job just ignoring LinkedIn invitations.

The world’s got a lot fewer secrets. Once upon a time, I’d have some sort of scoop, and everyone would talk about it a week later when FasTrack (the weekly paper I once edited) came out. A few years later, garage rats would talk about it a day later when it came up on the newspaper website, or “on Jayski.” For the last couple of years, the story became widely circulated within a few minutes after I finished writing it.

Unfortunately, nowadays, it often seems as if tweets are more important than stories. Hardly anyone has any secrets, in part because they can’t control themselves. Twitter is kind of an old ladies’ sewing circle gone worldwide.

Madge, did you hear about where Virgil Posey was seen last Wednesday night?

Not at church, Sue Ellen, at least not according to what Bonnie Lee told me at Dr. Ralston’s office.

Oh, heavens, no … I bet it was some poker game!

Sometimes it’s obvious that people respond to the slug without reading the link. It’s understandable. Writers are trained to write catchy tweets as a means of enticing people to click on the story. Sometimes the tweets are so catchy that people don’t bother.

Last week I saw that rarity, an insightful tweet. I didn’t copy it down, but it went something like this: Twitter is where you become best friends with people on the other side of the world. Facebook is where you come to despise people you’ve known all your life.

There’s some truth in that.

After initial dread, I’ve come to enjoy both Twitter and Facebook. As a general rule, Twitter is more professional and informational, while Facebook is more social. My Twitter following is more related to my NASCAR writing career. My Facebook (alleged) friends come from a wide array of interests: NASCAR, other sports, hometown, high school, college, writing, politics, etc., etc. My stories often get more hits on Twitter but more comments on Facebook. A higher percentage of people on Facebook have personal agendas, whether it’s politics, food, religion or a never-ending series of cute photos of dogs, cats and other beloved animals. I’m often asked to save puppies whose location I don’t know and pray for people of whom I’ve never heard, and there’s no telling how many free iPads I could have by now if I just clicked on the links instead of reported them for spam.

Social media has an effect on my life similar to snow skiing. When I went skiing as a young man, it seemed really simple. I’d go faster and faster and faster until finally I crashed. Then I’d get up, and go faster and faster and faster until I crashed again. Eventually I would reach the bottom of the hill where there was a warm fire and alcoholic beverages, and the next time down the hill wouldn’t hurt as badly.

That’s the way social media is, but I mean it in a good way.

The Audacity of … Life

Three decades ago, I was in the public-relations business, sub-phylum college sports information director. As a regular part of the job, I sent out fact sheets that included a section called “highs and lows.” They were comparisons of the best and worst performances of the season by the school’s sports teams.

At this point, I can’t imagine doing PR. I concluded way back then that I was too hardheaded to do it. Having, on occasion, to make a person look good, when it was my experience and professional estimation that he wasn’t, took a toll on me. It got hard to look at myself in the mirror. It wasn’t without its rewards, but I’ve never regretted the decision to move on.

I migrated to journalism because I thought it was an honest profession. I still think, in spite of the lack of esteem most folks today seem to have for journalists, that it’s an ethical, independent way to make a living. It’s changed in lots of ways that make me uncomfortable, but that’s just the way of the world. In a metaphorical sense, and with apologies for borrowing the words of a once-popular song, journalism has taken paradise and put up a parking lot. The beauty is gone. I’ve hope that it will one day return.

Meanwhile, I move on because I must. Having my job eliminated pressed the issue. It made me do what I wanted to do anyway. Now it’s my job to make it all work, and I also get by with a little help from my friends.

This morning I’m thinking about the highs and lows and how they’ve changed. I’m sort of in a period of calm before things heat up a bit. March will bring with it promotional appearances for my novel, The Audacity of Dope. I hope those of you who see me will find my presentation unique. I’m planning on telling people how and why my first novel was written, read from it and pick up my guitar and perform a few songs from it. The novel obviously doesn’t have actual music – there is no accompanying CD or video – but I wrote the songs sung by the main character, Riley Mansfield, and the lyrics are inserted in the text. I can go to a coffeehouse to play music and talk about the book, and I can go to a bookstore to talk about the book, and play a little music.

I expect to be able to announce more appearances soon, but right now I’ll be in my old NASCAR stomping ground, Martinsville, Va., at the Binding Time Café on March 7 from 3 to 5 p.m., then in Winston-Salem, N.C., on March 8 at Barnhill’s from 6 to 7:30. On March 16, I’ll appear in Charlotte at Poor Richard’s Book Shoppe from 3 to 5 p.m., and I think there will be a March 28 appearance at the Laurens County (S.C.) Library, though I guess that’s not finalized yet. I owe Rowe Copeland – well, come to think of it, I actually do pay her – for booking these appearances in my behalf. She’s my “book concierge,” and I’m lucky to have her contacting places and tying up all the loose ends in my behalf. I think I’ll be announcing more appearances soon. Rowe is trying to string them together so that I don’t have to head one direction one day and the opposite one the next. It can be complicated, and I’m well aware of how much I need her help.

We’re trying to create some kind of breakout. The Audacity of Dope has been well received – take a look at the customer reviews at amazon.com – but I need more receivers. Another novel, The Intangibles, is on the way, and a third, Crazy by Natural Causes, is in progress.

To borrow from one of my own songs:

The world is changing

Always rearranging

From birth to the end

With my Facebook friends

Not to disparage Twitter, mind you. Facebook fit the refrain.

At present, my highs and lows have changed. After 20 years traveling the highways and byways chasing NASCAR – Willie Nelson: “Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway” – I’ve barely left the county and not too often the city in the slightly more than a month since my unexpected layoff.

Were this a normal year – oh, wait, it’s never been normal; how about usual? – I’d be packing for Daytona Beach right now. Daytona Beach in February: see why I reconsider “normal”? I would’ve been writing about the NASCAR Hall of Fame and “Acceleration Weekend.” I’d be cranking out stories for the preseason NASCAR section and making travel arrangements.

Instead, I’ve been cranking out chapters of a novel and filling out all sorts of paperwork still related to the change from having to not having a definable job. Had I not been relieved of my job, the high of the week just completed might have been the posthumous induction of Cotton Owens to the Hall of Fame. The low might have been having to write about all the gossipy nonsense that really opens NASCAR seasons long before the Sprint Unlimited. In fact, the gossip, unlike the race, really is unlimited. As a beat reporter, I’d have been drug into issues I consider trivial and childish by a combination of peer pressure and executive decree. Now I’ve got this blog, and I can write anything I want.

Yes, for the umpteenth time: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. Nothing ain’t worth nothing, but it’s free.” Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” soundtracks this segment of my career. It’s my job to make something out of the nothing.

I’m freeeeeeeeeee! If I get any freer, I’ll be poooooooor! (As I keep trying to tell my friends in the Tea Party, there are no freedoms without limits.)

The amended high of the week just completed was performing songs on an electric guitar on Friday night … for absolutely nothing but fun. The low was realizing just how much things cost when one’s employer isn’t chipping in.

As Gen. George S. Patton said (at least in the movie), quoting Frederick the Great: “L’audace! L’audace! Toujours l’audace!” Translated from French: “Audacity! Audacity! Always audacity!”