‘You show ’em, Spike!’

(Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Monte Dutton

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, June 19, 2017, 11:37 a.m.

The highlight was the boiled peanuts.

Nonetheless, a lot went on over the weekend.

Hamlin over Byron on Saturday. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

For the second time in as many weeks, NASCAR’s Xfinity Series outshone its Monster Cup, or, it would have had there been as many sightings. Both Brad Keselowski’s stirring Pocono victory and Denny Hamlin’s side-by-side heartbreak of William Byron at Michigan were seen by a few thousand in person and an electronic smattering on TV.

Yeah, the Cup carpetbaggers won, but at least they were fine races.

John Hunter Nemechek won the Camping World Truck race at Gateway near St. Louis. I watched while switching back and forth between it and the Red Sox game in Houston. Every time Nemechek wins, I think of a chance encounter many years ago when I bumped into John Hunter and his father, Joe, at a Las Vegas casino buffet. We ate dinner together as a result. John Hunter was, oh, about 10, I’m guessing.

John Hunter Nemechek in Victory Lane. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

All else was standard operating NASCAR muddle.

A debris caution flag shaped the Michigan ending and helped Kyle Busch avoid an official Monster Cup victory, a task at which he has excelled all year. Instead, the currently winning Kyle, Larson, won for the second time in a row at the two-mile track, and Chase Elliott reprised second place, as well.

Yes, Kyle won the Monster All-Star Race, but that doesn’t count, and, yes, the driver with the perpetually poked-out lips retreated to the cozy comfort of his motorcoach, there to ponder what had happened … and maybe throw a few things. He offered no public insight into his misgivings.

Tony Stewart, still terrible but too old to be enfant, tweeted about NASCAR’s vigilant protection of plastic trash bags. Tweets are official policy instruments, as the Trump Administration has decreed. The change in journalism is basically this: Where once a story read, “After the race, he said …” now it reads, “After the race, he tweeted …”

Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges

 

Drivers, at least the young and forever so, often feel smothered by the intrusions of the media.

Hey, when I started racing, I did it for love. I didn’t sign up for all these other things, like talking to the media.

The problem came when they started racing for money, as well. As any welder with two kids and a wife knows, with money comes responsibility. Life changes when a man becomes a shift supervisor.

When once presented by a then bright, then young, driver, with this psychic trauma, the late David Poole, said, “Well, you know, you don’t have to be famous.”

Huh?

“You can go back to racing sprint cars three nights a week, and do it for love, and then you won’t have to be bothered,” Poole said, with a touch of paraphrasing induced by memory loss. “But racing right here, at this level, means you have certain commitments.”

Jamie McMurray (left) with Kyle Larson. (Christa L. Thomas/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Acolytes descend upon our bright, young heroes, to bask in their talented glow and assure them that everything they do is, like, so cool. They encourage the heroes to figuratively spit at their inferiors.

They remind me of the old cartoon of Spike, the tough bulldog, and Chester, the yapping Chihuahua.

“Hey, Spike, you wanna go chase some cars?”

Only Spike never slaps Chester against the wall and yells, “Shaddup!” at least not in the warmer climes of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. There the Tunes are Looney in other ways.

One such episode involves Spike, thinking he’s going to knock Sylvester the Cat around to please Chester, unwittingly running up against an escaped panther.

Few panthers stalk the media jungle, but they can get ornery, when aroused. It doesn’t take slicing poor Spike to shreds. He can be sliced by his own actions.

There’s an aspect of class warfare in it. Lots of entitled racers lack respect for the radiation-zapped (little ink these days) wretches. They’ve heard rumors that the media doesn’t make much money, and in a world shaped and framed by bank accounts, it’s natural for them to assume that its ranks are composed of men and women who obviously couldn’t do anything else.

Never mind that they can’t do anything else. The market value of racers is high, and, as anyone who is on social media obviously knows, anyone can write.

 

 

 

(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).

They Both Wore Their Own Kinds of Hats

The high banks won’t be the same. (Monte Dutton photo)
Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, January 11, 2017, 11:58 a.m.

Here’s what Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have in common, and it’s not much.

By Monte Dutton

Both, when they arrived at NASCAR’s highest level, were a sportswriter’s dream, and some of those then in the business couldn’t wait to tear them apart.

Tony arrived in 1999, more a white tornado than Ajax Cleaner.

“Ajax is the one with more ammonia!” as the ads said.

I was closer to the battlefield than most. I think we got along because we were both incurable smartasses. I was writing a book about Tony. That book would have been better if it was all I had to do, but there was this piddling matter of having to write three newspaper stories a day from the track. Some of our conversations went like this:

Tony: “That sonuvabitch. I’ll never talk to him again.”

Me: “Did you actually read what he wrote?”

T: “I don’t care what he wrote.”

I miss that Tony Stewart laugh. (John Clark photo)

M: “Well, the most objectionable thing he said was lifted with attribution from my column.”

T: “I didn’t read it.”

M: “Isn’t that a little like me saying you can’t drive a lick without ever watching you race?”

T: “I guess.” He’d smile. Get those dark eyes to stop flashing, and Tony could make fun of himself.

Somehow, I could reason with him. Maybe it was because he knew I wasn’t out to get him. Maybe he took my criticisms more constructively. I never found Stewart to be dishonest, though, as time went on, he learned grudgingly to be more honest in private than public. NASCAR never broke his spirit, but it trained him a little. A bit of a wall developed, but I doubt Tony built it. It was constructed around him. Perhaps the Mexicans paid for it.

Tony Stewart is the most interesting athlete I’ve ever written about.

When Tony once disparagingly referred to Carl Edwards as “Eddie Haskell,” he was typically gaudy and ill-considered. Carl isn’t the weasel of Leave It to Beaver. Carl is more like Theodore Cleaver, “the Beaver” himself, or older brother Wally. Carl can be a bit more of an Eagle Scout than the real world can withstand. Carl believes the good guys always win. It wouldn’t be enough to win the championship. Carl would want to ride off in the sunset.

Carl Edwards aspires to greatness by nature. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Carl never won the championship, but he still wanted to ride off in the sunset before he got too old to enjoy it.

I loved writing about both of them, but, more than that, I loved hanging out with them. I loved watching Nelson Stewart, Tony’s father, race a TQ Midget, with Tony fretting as if he were the parent and Nelson the son. I loved it when Carl showed up in the parking lot of Charlotte Motor Speedway, took my guitar and played it better than I could.

Now that I’m old, washed up and out of touch, I want Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards to have that delicious opportunity.

Last night, I played an old Hank Williams Jr. song I had almost forgotten:

You gotta say things you want to say / Go out and do things your own way / You can climb any old mountain once you’ve made up your mind.

Emphasis on old mountain. Tony belonged in the era of Curtis Turner and Junior Johnson. Carl wanted to stand up for truth, justice and the American way. Tony needed a jug of moonshine. Carl needed a cape.

(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).

Sleighbells Ring-a-ling, Ring-ting-ting-a-ling …

Clinton High coaches Josh Bridges (left) and Eddie Romines watch the action. (Monte Dutton photos)
Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, December 21, 2016, 11:56 a.m.

I needed to get out of the house. I’d been here for most of Monday and Tuesday, writing my next (sixth) novel past 75,000 words and almost to 250 double-spaced pages. I don’t think I’ve written as much in a two-day span since I was closing out my book on Tony Stewart, Rebel without a Cause, back at about this time in 2000.

By Monte Dutton

And that wasn’t fiction. As it was about Tony, a good bit of it was stranger.

I decided I’d reward myself with a nice dinner so I went to Fatz Café, where I ordered the blackened chicken Caesar salad and had the chicken replaced with salmon. I like Fatz Café – it’s the best and only of its kind we’ve got here in town – and dating back to the menu of a café that closed about five years ago, my palate particularly likes the combination of Caesar salad and salmon.

Fatz Café is out on I-26, next to the Hampton Inn, and Clinton High School is conveniently nearby. The Red Devils, girls and boys alike, were playing a high school team curiously representing Greenville Technical College, a charter school or some such, so I swung by. Basketball is difficult to shoot with the camera I own, which leaves me shamed in comparison with other professionals, but I don’t make enough from writing about games, let alone shooting photos, to justify buying anything new. I wanted to experiment with the camera before I’m actually out on assignment bona fide, most likely during the New Year.

CHS subs wait for a whistle, along with public-address announcer Buddy Bridges.

I don’t know why I even bothered. I keep trying to find a way to shoot at a higher shutter speed, but I can’t use an aperture small enough to make it work. I’m sure I’ll do what I always do, which is shoot dozens of shots hoping a half dozen or so will be usable.

Clinton dominated both games. The girls won, 55-22, and the boys, 69-51. About all I learned was that Greenville Tech Charter wears blue and is nicknamed Warriors. Once the boys’ game seemed well in hand – the Red Devils raced ahead in the second quarter – I went home to watch an impressive Western Kentucky squad pound Memphis in the Boca Raton Bowl. Tonight Brigham Young plays Wyoming in the fabled San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

Hum baby. Clemson is playing South Carolina in men’s basketball at the same time, so I’ll have something to switch back and forth between.

Presents for grand- nephews and niece should get to the appropriate places on time. Most of the family is nearly broke, so we all take what we can spare and spend it on the young’uns. Maybe I’ll splurge and buy myself a funny tee shirt or something on line.

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 third novel, Crazy of Natural Causes, is on Kindle sale at $.99 for the entire month. 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 the latest. It’s 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).

(Design by Steven Novak)
(Design by Steven Novak)

Tales of Tvlvteke

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

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, October 23, 2015, 9:03 a.m.

Talladega. It must be more than “border town” in Creek, which is the official explanation. According to no less a source than Wikipedia, the Creek (and/or Muscogee) word is “Tvlvteke.”

Tvlvteke Superspeedway! Who’s with me?

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

It’s a long way from Tvlvteke to Talladega, or home to “Starwood in Aspen,” but that’s not important.

Talladega must mean “ball of confusion” in some American Indian tongue. Allegedly, it was built on a burial ground, and that explains everything. If you were an Ancient American spirit, back before Native was cool, you’d be seriously annoyed twice a year when a bunch of loud contraptions start hightailing it around, disturbing the peace.

White man’s revenge? Why would the white man seek revenge? He won!

Good, bad, and merely vivid, I had a proportionally higher range of memories from Talladega Superspeedway than most tracks:

The day Jimmy Horton’s red Chevy sailed out of the track, and there was so much smoke that very few noticed it. The telltale sign was an even higher cloud of smoke that rose behind it. It was a red-clay cloud.

A symphony of screeching metal.  (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
A symphony of screeching metal. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

The brief era of maniacal bump-drafting, when everything was two by two, and the end was blockers versus jammers, just like roller derby. Every time the rules change, something unforeseen occurs at Talladega. I wasn’t particularly fond of the tag-team derbies, but they were … interesting.

Raucous stories from a time when sports writers didn’t just have a drink. They drank.

Ah’ight, now. Thassa damn nuff. I gotta write about a #$%&*@! race tomorrow. I can’t be hung over, y’know. Gotta get some #$%&*@! sleep. Enjoyed it, y’all.

Aw, hell, don’t run off, son. We gon’ cut a watermelon here in a minute!

Fortunately, it was also a time when sports writers mostly stayed in the same quaint lodges, back before Marriott Points contributed to the general breakdown in camaraderie and esprit de corps.

You can feel the rumble every time the the steel chariots roar by. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)
You can feel the rumble every time the the steel chariots roar by. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)

Today’s media contingent is more fueled by energy drinks, meaning they lack the patience inherent in other vices that will also kill them.

The time David Poole was detained by an Alabama state trooper for driving down the shoulder of a road where a sign had been posted advising motorists to do so.

“Why do you think no one else was driving down the shoulder of the road, Mr. Poole?”

“Because it’s … Alabama?” replied the North Carolinian.

Back to the actual racing, Talladega being one of the venues where on track was even more colorful than off.

The day when a NASCAR judgment call put Jeff Gordon in victory lane instead of Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the Junior partisans, good and true, pelted Gordon’s car with beer cans, exploding against the sides and top of his Chevy like a fireworks display. A festival of suds! Suds and Stripes Forever!

Tony Stewart (John Clark photo)
Tony Stewart (John Clark photo)

Ten thousand fans mooning Tony Stewart during driver introductions. Stewart had been quoted as saying there were more “rednecks” at Talladega than anywhere else, so they rose, turned their backs, and squatted, in righteous indignation to prove him … right?

The wrecks people survived there. Not death. Death defied. I’d have hated to be a driver during the 1990s. Being a sports writer scared me.

 

(Graphic courtesy of Meredieth Pritchard)
(Graphic courtesy of Meredieth Pritchard)

Now I watch from a safe distance of two states over. What I earn from NASCAR is more spending money than livelihood. Take my books. Please. http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

A Loss of Character … and Characters

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

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, September 19, 2015, 12:55 a.m.

One of the reasons I didn’t enjoy covering NASCAR as much in the final few seasons I was traveling with the circus was that it became so formal. More and more, it was journalism by media conference, and it became harder and harder to have personal interactions with the drivers.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

My best memories were always personal moments: a talk with Jeff Gordon between the rows of haulers in Fontana, dozens of conversations with Tony Stewart, sharing a golf cart with Jimmie Johnson at an outing near Talladega, and many other scenes when the handlers weren’t hovering nearby.

I didn’t see the end of this morning’s Camping World Truck Series race at Chicagoland. I had just finished visiting my mother and heard John Hunter Nemechek’s victory-lane interview. It made me recall the time I bumped into him and his father at a casino buffet in Las Vegas. I don’t know what year it was, but John Hunter was just a kid, no more than 10 years old or so. Joe was then in his prime as a Cup — it was probably still Winston at the time — driver, and there was some tension between us whose origin I don’t recall. Either he and I had had some minor disagreement in some interview, or maybe it was something I had written, but we sort of eyed each other warily.

Anyway, we had some little conversation that broke the ice. That was always the best way to smooth relations, and Joe introduced me to his son and we wound up eating together, and we parted, not as friends but as friendly.

The reason it’s always John Hunter, not John, Nemechek, is that the driver who won Saturday morning’s race is named after his late uncle, who was killed in a Truck race at what was then Homestead Motorsports Complex. John Nemechek’s death is the chief reason the track was reconfigured. Homestead opened as a scaled-down version of Indianapolis, flat with four distinct turns. The trouble was that a 1.5-mile version of 2.5-mile Indy resulted in transitions that proved dangerous, and those turns were rounded, and banking was increased, to correct the problems that contributed to John Nemechek’s death.

Just hearing the kid’s voice made me recall that long-ago meal at the casino buffet.

Jeff Gordon(HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)
Jeff Gordon(HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevrolet)

Johnson was still a Busch Series (pre-Nationwide and Xfinity) driver when we played golf together. We were getting ready to hit shots when this fellow who was about my size and considerably drunker appeared in the fairway looking for his ball.

“What y’all boys doing tomorrow evening?” the fellow asked.

“Qualifying,” said Johnson.

Jimmie Johnson  (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)
Jimmie Johnson (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

This did not dissuade the fellow, who was wobbling a bit as he pondered his shot back across a row of trees into the appropriate fairway.

“Wull, when ye get th’ough, come on over to them Lincoln Grandstands,” the man said. “Me and the boy’s’ll be getting druuuuunk.”

“Count on it,” I said, intending to do no such thing but not wanting to make the fellow mad.

Johnson and I were having a few beers, too, but we weren’t in this fellow’s league.

In the early years — I started writing about NASCAR full-time in 1993 — golf tournaments involving media, drivers and friends of drivers were common. The courses started getting nicer. The players started getting richer, and the media started getting excluded, and the same process started applying to interactions between media and drivers. We went from being friends of the sport to being necessary nemeses.

My stories started losing character because they had less characters in them. The same became true of the media itself. When I got asked out to dinner with a driver, my goal was impressions. I wanted to make an impression on them and gain an impression of them. It used to tick me off when my colleagues turned these social functions into “media availabilities” and then when the handlers started setting them up that way.

I’m sure some of them started saying, “look at that Dutton. He’s not even taking notes” and “let’s not invite him next year.”

Tony Stewart (John Clark photo)
Tony Stewart (John Clark photo)

The reason Stewart and I almost always got along was that the first time I met him was over spaghetti at an Italian restaurant in Dover, Delaware. Let’s just say we both appreciated the other’s sense of humor.

The conversation with Gordon was over the fact that I was writing a book about him that his “people” hadn’t approved, and I wanted him to know that and not through the filter of his “people.” Hendrick Motorsports has lots of “people.” As a general rule, they are buttoned down people.

I told him I didn’t write “official” books.

Not as many smiles these days. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevy Racing)
Not as many smiles these days. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevy Racing)

“I’ve got no desire to depict you as anyone other than the extraordinary talent and person I consider you to be,” I said, “but I guarantee if you or those around you have the right to approve every word, there will be a few of them who say this or that has to come out, and this or that will be the most interesting and entertaining part of the whole book, and the book won’t be any good, and it won’t sell, and I won’t be proud of having written it.”

Gordon said he understood, and the two of us left knowing how each other stood.

Nowadays, I just watch them on TV and read transcripts, but it doesn’t matter all that much because it would be mainly the same way if I was there and didn’t have a camera crew trailing me.

That took lots of the fun out of it from my perspective, and it’s all I can come up with when I think about the unexpected surprise that I don’t much miss being there anymore. The Chase opener will be the 99th consecutive race I haven’t attended.

It’s the kind of streak that doesn’t make it into record books.

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

I’m happy. I’d be happier if you’d help me make ends meet by buying these novels I write nowadays. There’s only a smattering of racing in them, but there are some good characters. Take a look. http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

Smoke and Mirrors

The Tiger in Winter?
The Tiger in Winter?

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, July 17, 2015, 2:33 p.m.

Tony Stewart and I go way back. I wrote a book about him years ago, early in his career, but I haven’t talked to him since 2012, and his troubles are hard to analyze from afar. I read the transcript of a media conference from a few days ago, and it made me sad.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

It seems impossible that Stewart, a three-time Sprint Cup champion, is struggling so, and it seems just as unlikely that he doesn’t seem to know what’s wrong. He doesn’t blame his crew chief, Chad Johnston. Nor does he blame his crew. He blames himself. He takes it like a man.

The new “package” in place this year has mystified Stewart. Someone asked him how much he has to “change.”

Change. Tony Stewart. What a concept.

“Honestly, I don’t know that because I haven’t figured it out,” Stewart said. “It’s a scenario that, when you drive for so long, you’re used to one thing, I mean, coming into this year, and taking the amount of horsepower they took out was a pretty radical change for the Cup Series.

“I think it was more the horsepower reduction than it was anything [else] that I feel like has hurt me this year. I’ve grown up driving high-horsepower cars, high power-to-weight-ratio cars. This is what I’m used to feeling.”

It doesn’t just mystify Stewart. It mystifies me. Stewart was, and still is, the great throwback to the drivers of an earlier generation — A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones, Mark Donohue, and others  — who could climb into anything with four wheels and win with it. He was the last of the red-hot racers, a champion in both IndyCars and NASCAR, not to mention the best midget racer I have ever seen.

How could Tony Stewart struggle this long in anything?

It makes me think of my response many years ago when Stewart told me he had purchased a team of greyhounds.

“Let me get this straight,” I said. “You love racing so much that they don’t even have to have wheels on them?”

I also want to declare that I’m not counting him out. I’d never count out Stewart. I’ve seen him perform too many amazing feats of driving virtuosity. His 2011 Chase remains the most amazing performance over a 10-race span I have ever seen.

Here’s what I have concluded. Citing a horsepower reduction of 125 just doesn’t account for Stewart’s woes. It would explain much more for those less talented.

Bobby Allison stayed active right up to serious head injuries cut short his remarkable career.
Bobby Allison stayed active right up to serious head injuries cut short his remarkable career.

Stewart may be the ultimate example of what I’ve believed for two decades. I’ve written it. Few others have accepted it because, in my opinion, they were in denial. The numbers are there.

The drivers who maintain their skills well into their forties are those who remain active. The popular notion is that young drivers need the seat time, and perhaps those who haven’t fully honed their skills do, but the decline of almost every NASCAR star has coincided with cutting back on the schedule and competing only in Cup. The drivers who kept on winning were those who were willing to climb into a race car any time a nearby short track opened its gates on a Thursday night when the engines were quiet at the big one.

Being active was the reason Stewart stayed sharp. What’s more, it was even more important for Stewart than most others because he loved it so much, running dirt modifieds and winged sprint cars, showing up unannounced and racing with the local heroes.

Then he took two terrible blows, one injuring him physically and the other emotionally. In 2013, Stewart suffered a horrible leg injury, and, in 2014, he was involved in an accident in which a young driver, Kevin Ward Jr., lost his life.

He missed a lot of time, and his skills dissipated. The older he gets, the harder they are to regain. I suspect he remains haunted by Ward’s death.

As luck would have it, the last time I chatted with Tony Stewart, someone -- Jerry Jordan, I think -- took a picture of it.
As luck would have it, the last time I chatted with Tony Stewart, someone — Jerry Jordan, I think — took a picture of it.

Another aspect of Tony Stewart’s personality is that, beneath the bluster, he is quite sensitive. He is a man who can be an ogre, and the reason is that it hides his rich humanity, and, like many athletes, he sees it as a sign of weakness.

I’m afraid his valor has been beaten down into a hollow shell. When I hear him speak, he seems muffled and restrained to my distant ears.

I can’t wait to see him conquer his demons and win again. I don’t know if he will. For the first time, I doubt his capacity to recover.

But, as noted already, I haven’t counted him out. I think he’s got a last hurrah in him, and I wish I could be there to see it. I’ve seldom wanted to be wrong as much as now.

 

Read my thoughts about writing, my short stories, and my book reviews at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and consider buying my books, most of which can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

Up This Hill and Down

Its a merry-go-round, but, oddly, all they ever have is a Ferris wheel. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Its a merry-go-round, but, oddly, all they ever have is a Ferris wheel. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, June 25, 2015, 10:11 a.m.

The week brings with it a vague, simple optimism for NASCAR fans, beaten down by rain, strategy, and leaders who run away by virtue of somehow getting in front and pulling away via the vagaries of aerodynamics.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Sonoma is a road course, and a road course is something different, and something different is desperately needed in the NASCAR doldrums. The Sprint Cup Series needs some wind in its sails. Basketball and hockey are over. The Chase is out there on the horizon.

Road courses are rare. Both are in the summer. Twenty-five years ago, many fans dreaded the races at Sonoma and Watkins Glen. Now they adore them. Once the outcomes of those races seemed predictable, back when only a few drivers were winning them. Now the road courses seem more competitive than other races.

This week, drivers are saying “anybody can win.” They’ll say the same next week, too, because it’s summertime in Daytona Beach, featuring sun, fun, and aero conditions that enable passing instead of minimizing it.

Imagine. In the short span of two weekends, NASCAR might build some steam, gain some momentum, energize the fans, build its brand, address the stakeholders, and assorted other cliches of a cliche-ridden pastime.

Kurt Busch can spin 'em. Cliches, that is.  (HHP photo for Chevrolet)
Kurt Busch can spin ’em. Cliches, that is. (HHP photo for Chevrolet)

No one rides a cliche better than the incomparable Kurt Busch.

“Sonoma the race itself is a rhythmic balance that you get into,” said Kurt via media release. “You work all the corners [and] you try to tie them all together to create your lap time.”

Got it.

“Road courses are unique [in] how you get into that rhythm, and you don’t even realize that you are halfway through the race before you really even get settled in,” Professor Busch further stated. “Road courses are challenging in so many different ways.”

Kurt wasn’t alone in citing the alleged difficulty of racing in the season’s first road course without having an opportunity to try it out in advance.

“What is going to be tough about Sonoma this year versus years past? No testing. No road-course shakedowns, no ‘go to VIR (Virginia International Raceway) or another road course to get the car prepped. It’s going to challenge the drivers this year in a unique way,” he further opined.

“Fun,” as David Poole used to be fond of saying. “You can’t beat fun.”

“Normally we can go and run a road course around here for an afternoon,” said Kasey Kahne’s crew chief, Keith Rodden, “and that usually gives Kasey, myself, and the engineers some time to relearn turning both left and right. But this year we don’t get that, so it’s going to be fun.”

Gosh, have I turned both left and right in my passenger car or pickup truck lately? I believe I have. Whew.

What I had been awaiting, as I perused the emails, was what someone was going to say inevitably, because race drivers, particularly modern ones, love to say that one track is like another that would seem to be totally different.

Looking forward to short-track racing in Wine Country.  (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Looking forward to short-track racing in Wine Country. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

“It is more like a short track there,” said A.J. Allmendinger.

Careful study invariably yields drivers who say Pocono is like a road course, and it’s like Indianapolis, which thus is like a road course, but both are like Martinsville, which is as far from a road course as Capetown from Point Barrow.

Occasionally, a driver will say something that seems to make sense, such as allowing as how Talladega bears some similarity to Daytona.

On the other hand, drivers often say that seemingly identical tracks — Charlotte and Texas, say, or Auto Club and Michigan — are nothing alike.

It’s vexing.

The chorus further informs us that Sonoma is “more technical” than Watkins Glen and that the speeds of the two are “drastically different.” All the two seem to have in common is that “things can get crazy out there.”

Obviously, only a masterful driver of virtuosity and renown could ever win races at both places, except that whoever wins on Sunday will undoubtedly say, when August arrives, that his (or her) Sonoma victory gives him “a leg up on the competition” at the Glen.

Such is the nature of the beast that is the weekly media release.

Did I mention it’s “a finesse race track”? Or that it has “a lot of character”?

Tony Stewart intends to drive his car throughout the race. (John Clark photo)
Tony Stewart intends to drive his car throughout the race. (John Clark photo)

“Sonoma has a lot of character because of all the elevation changes,” Tony Stewart said, and later added, “You are always driving the car.”

If this is not the case at other tracks, perhaps it provides some insight into Stewart’s woes this year.

They all “like road racing a lot,” and it’s pretty much the same for “plate tracks,” concrete, short, intermediate, long, flat, banked, and equipped with “interactive fan experiences.”

It’s all technical, character-building, and balance-requiring. As any reader of driver quotes realizes, a car can be “too free.”

 

Have fun watching the all the colorful cars go “up this hill and down, and up this hill again.” If you think of it, check out my books, which are at least as different as Sonoma and Martinsville are alike. You can read all about them, and, preferably, buy one or two or five, here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

I Bat My Brains on Most Mondays

Kurt Busch reminds me of "Flounder" at the end of Animal House. Oh, wait. I remind myself of "Flounder" at the end of Animal House. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch reminds me of “Flounder” at the end of Animal House. Oh, wait. I remind myself of “Flounder” at the end of Animal House. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, April 27, 2015, 9:34 a.m.

Every Monday finds me in the same predicament. I’ve written my weekly Bleacher Report column, and I take a look at how many have read it and how it’s been perceived. I look at the poll results. I go through the emails I didn’t go through the previous night. I think about where the next NASCAR race is (Talladega).

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I sip coffee and try to come up with an idea for a day-after blog here. Sometimes I get this blog started before I really know what it’s going to be. This is such a morning. My mind is flitting around from one tidbit to another without committing to anything coherent.

So … I’ve got two paragraphs. This one makes three, but it doesn’t count because it’s about the two above it, and they’re about nothing.

In lieu of a topic that floats my boat – Selma Hamrick used to say that quite often when I worked at FasTrack, a racing periodical – I think I’m going to watch Aerial America on Smithsonian. It’s about Washington, D.C.

Kurt Busch dominates the Toyota Owners 400.  (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch dominates the Toyota Owners 400. (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

 

10:49 a.m.

Kurt Busch.

As a writer, I love him. Writers like those who give them material. He is complicated and interesting. I mentioned Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the Bleacher Report column I wrote last night.

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2444262-kurt-buschs-richmond-win-gives-him-another-chance-to-leave-troubled-past-behind

I expect we’ll see another round of “New Kurt Busch” stories this week. “It is to laugh,” as Bugs Bunny said.

The test of a man’s character is not how he responds to prosperity. Kurt has always been cooperative, civilized, and occasionally even witty after winning races. Kurt’s problem has always been how he responds when things don’t go to suit him.

There is no new Kurt Busch. There are Dr. Jekyll when he wins and Mr. Hyde when he doesn’t.

Here’s what I’ve observed of both Kurt and Tony Stewart over the years. I think there’s a side of both of them that is scared to act magnanimously. Both of them believe showing their asses is what they are supposed to do when adversity strikes. They’ve got it in their heads that, if they don’t throw a tantrum, they don’t want it badly enough.

Most people go through this stage but grow and mature out of it. Most people aren’t great race drivers. Many great race drivers never grow up.

As I made mention of the 2003 incident at Michigan International Speedway in the Bleacher Report column, this morning I found this report on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlaPj6lsGKc

11:20 a.m.

What is normally a great time of the season is taking place, and I think it’s been kind of disappointing. Three of the past four races have been on short tracks. In one of my recent Bleacher Report polls, about half of those who responded cited short tracks as their favorites. A little under 20 percent voted for the restrictor-plate tracks, Daytona and Talladega.

Jamie McMurray (left) with Kyle Larson.  (Christa L. Thomas/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Jamie McMurray (left) with Kyle Larson. (Christa L. Thomas/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

As noted above, Talladega is next.

Basically, I’ve been laboring over this blog because I’ve been laboring over this sport. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out just how so much has gone awry. The recent “double-file restarts” blog was an example of what I determined from thinking about this issue and discussing it with a couple close friends.

http://montedutton.com/blog/2015/04/15/why-double-file-restarts-stink/

The top 10 in Richmond’s Toyota Owners 400 were, in order: Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick , Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Jeff  Gordon, Clint Bowyer, and Martin Truex Jr .

Has a familiar ring to it, huh?

Kurt Busch led 291 out of 400 laps. It used to be rather unusual for anyone to dominate a short track like that.

The ninth-place finisher, McMurray, said, “Well, Kurt had what you needed to win (Sunday). I could run him down by the end of the green-flag runs, but he just – he had such a quick car on restarts, and I got three shots at him on the outside. They kept throwing the caution, and I tried a little something different each time to see if I could get him to spin his tires or make a mistake, and he just didn’t make any mistakes.”

Is it I, or does someone say approximately that every week?

11:42 a.m.

During the two decades in which I went to at least 75 percent of the races every year, one of my fascinations was rainout crowds. For instance, up until about 10 years ago, there were tracks – Martinsville and Talladega being the most apparent – where almost everyone came back to watch the race even if it was run on Monday.

Guess who finished second? (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Guess who finished second? (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

On the other hand, Atlanta was a track where only a small percentage returned. I thought this was because of rush-hour traffic and still do. In fact, a great tragedy of Atlanta Motor Speedway is that it used to be a nightmarish place to get in and out of, regardless of time. Now that problem has been fixed by the construction of the Bruton Smith Parkway. Unfortunately, by the time the problem had gone away, so had the fans.

It’s the embodiment of the old Yogi Berra line: “That place is so crowded, nobody goes there anymore.”

It’s not true anywhere anymore. (Or anymore anywhere.) Have the fans gotten richer? It used to be that when a race fan paid $100 for a ticket, he was not going to miss that race, come, well, seldom hell but often high water.

Maybe it’s high-definition TV. Maybe bosses have gotten stricter. Maybe the fans are getting older and less willing to stay all day and then drive home all night. It used to be the economy, but now the economy is better, and gas is cheaper, and nothing is changing.

I get chided from time to time for being negative. Hell, I’m not negative. I’m sorrowful. It troubles me to see a sport which has dominated a good portion of my life fall on such hard times, and it also troubles me that people get mad when they hear so-called “negativity” without doing a whole lot to fix it.

It’s the racing, stupid.

I actually hear fans now who openly favor corruption. In other words, if the race is boring, they want to see bogus cautions. They want an inspector to drop a piece of metal out the side window of a truck, then get out and go pick it up.

If they’re going to manipulate the finishes, at least be open about it. They have these “competition cautions” early in races. Why not have them late? It would be honest.

Besides, they’ve pulled out every trick that P.T. Barnum ever dreamed up, anyway.

NASCAR ended up being a bad influence. I like writing fiction nowadays. My most recent short story at wellpilgrim.wordpress.com may be my favorite, and it’s not all that long: https://wellpilgrim.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/the-smart-kid/

I’m trying to get a new novel, Crazy of Natural Causes, published through the KindleScout program. It’ll take two clicks, beginning with this one, to help me out: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1H8P26P38KYW8

I’m asking a lot in this blog, and leaving lots of links. Here’s one that will enable you to purchase my books: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1