The Endless Variety of Sport

Big Diamond Raceway in Pennsylvania. (Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, July 20, 2017, 11:15 a.m.

A lot is going on for a Thursday. Some of that is holdover from last night, when Matt Crafton won the annual indelicacy known as the Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora Raceway, near Rossburg, Ohio, which isn’t very near anywhere.

I never went to Eldora for a Truck race. The late David Poole and I drove over from Indianapolis one time to watch USAC midgets race there, and while I’d like to see the NASCAR trucks race in person, given one race to see there, I’d pick almost anything else: sprints, midgets, Silver Crown, dirt mods, late models, all racing vehicles designed to be more supple on dirt.

By Monte Dutton

Still a good show, though, particularly if one enjoys madcap antics.

What do I remember? More than anything else, I remember that the track has kind of a rocky plain behind the back straight, and when the national anthem was played, a cowboy on horseback cantered back and forth, waving a large American flag. Rossburg, Ohio, isn’t Tombstone, Arizona, or Deadwood, South Dakota, or Dodge City, Kansas, but it could’ve been that night.

The place was packed that night, too, but I’m sure it has more seats now. David and I sampled the race-track food, breathed the dirt, and had a grand time. The trip was also valuable for the conversations we had on the way over and back.

Over the years, I’ve seen my fair share of dirt tracks: Cherokee, Riverside (different name now, I hear), I-85 (no more), Laurens County here in South Carolina; 311 in Madison, North Carolina; Manzanita (no more) in Phoenix; Grandview and Big Diamond in Pennsylvania; and a few others that don’t come to mind at the moment.

Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges

The Red Sox close a homestand, and they’re headed to the West Coast to take on the Angels and Mariners, and that makes this “a getaway day,” so the last of four games against the Blue Jays is this afternoon at Fenway Park.

Jacoby Ellsbury. once Carmine, is now a Bomber. (Monte Dutton photo)

On Tuesday night, rain delayed the second game, and then Hanley Ramirez waited until there was one out in the 15th inning before he decided to hit a game-winning homer, so I’m still recovering from that.

Entering this game, Boston leads Tampa Bay by three games and, more importantly, New York by four and a half. It’s always dangerous to lead the Yankees shortly after the All-Star Break, and, sure enough, the Raging Capitalists just gained access to half the White Sox. Really free enterprise also gained the Red Sox the use of Pablo Sandoval, who wound up being a luxury car with an oil leak so severe that the Sox junked it.

‘Tis a strange Red Sox team: last in the American League in home runs, first in earned-run average, fifth in runs scored, one of the better outfields I have ever seen.

If you’ve got a decent British accent, it’s The Open Championship. If you’re saddled with my South Carolinian brogue, it’s the British Open, but, whatever, it’s my favorite golf tournament.

This year it’s at Royal Birkdale, which has always been north of Liverpool, or at least since 1889, but wasn’t awarded “royal status” until 1951, and that undoubtedly signaled its entry into the “Open rotation” three years later.

I like watching golfers try to get out of ridiculous bunkers and pesky flora with names like heather and gorse.

I like it, every now and then, for the greatest golfers in the world to play occasionally like I used to.

 

 

(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).

What’s to Bless and What’s to Blame?

Brad Keselowski won a Pocono classic in the Xfinity Series. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, June 11, 2017, 11:35 a.m.

This week’s NASCAR Monster Cup shindig is at Pocono Raceway. Unsurprisingly, it’s in the Poconos of northeastern Pennsylvania. The mountains aren’t very high compared to the Blue Ridge. They are minuscule compared to the Rockies. They are scenic, though. I used to enjoy visiting.

My first visit was in 1989. I had gone to a friend’s wedding in Pittsburgh. I thought, well, the track is in the same state. The drive on Sunday was grueling. It’s a long way from Pittsburgh to Long Pond. It’s a long way back. I nearly fell asleep at dusk in Indiana. Indiana, Pennsylvania. I revived myself looking at the statue of James Stewart. He was from there.

By Monte Dutton

I hope this 400-miler isn’t anticlimactic, but it will be hard not to be. Brad Keselowski brilliantly won Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, and it’s not often I use such an adverb to characterize a race in that series. Keselowski, who was the Sprint Cup champion the last year I wrote about it full-time, passed Kyle Larson on the final lap, culminating a stirring comeback. I was glad I got finished mowing the lawn in time to watch it.

The IndyCar race from Texas dragged on until past midnight. The term that comes to mind is “too much of a good thing.” That race was run as if a bunch of fighter pilots decided they wanted to have a dogfight without leaving the ground. It was won by willpower in the form of Will Power.

Some say IndyCars ought to be equipped with canopies in the interest of safety. I think they ought to be run inside laptops because that’s what it looks like. The real race appears to be run using special effects. How do they manage to photoshop the action with only a seven-second delay? It must be the way that a sporting event in my high-definition living room occurs two seconds later than the regular-definition screen in the bedroom.

It would have been a perfect time to go live to Pocono and ask a NASCAR driver if he’d like to “do the double” (Indy-Charlotte) next year.

Hell, no. The Coke 600 is exciting enough for me.

An astronaut would say this. The only man who ought to “do the double” was Evel Knievel, and he’s gone.

It was must-see TV, though the ratings are unlikely to support this view.

Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges

 

Friday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck race was in Texas, in the form of an IndyCar undercard. The winner was Christopher Bell, though the replays seemed to show Chase Briscoe ahead when the track’s flashing yellow lights were activated.

(Getty Images for NASCAR)

It turns out those yellow lights, which have been in use at Texas Motor Speedway for many years, were just a publicity stunt. They weren’t hooked into race control, as the small, non-flashing, lights were. In order to justify the awarding of the race to Bell, not Briscoe, NASCAR officials basically had to reveal that the track’s rolling lights – they make it look as if yellow bands of light are chasing each other around the track’s catch-fence perimeter – were little more than a spectacular hoax.

No one ever disclosed that as long as their accuracy wasn’t an issue. When the high-ranking NASCAR official with his hand on the switch yells “put her (yellow flag) out!” and flips it, the fancy light show doesn’t activate. Apparently, that requires some other fellow to say, “oh, yeah,” and flip another switch as soon as he gets around to it.

This whole, convoluted story is emblematic of the way NASCAR does business. No one ever knows how things work until they don’t work well.

On the one hand, I’d like for today’s race in the Poconos to be without such drama. Other drama, such as the last-lap pass in Keselowski’s Xfinity victory, would be marvelous. Races like that don’t happen at Pocono Raceway often. It’s not a bad place, though. It’s an interesting place. A fan has to pay attention.

Fortunately, the Red Sox aren’t on until tonight.

 

(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).

 

The Roller Coaster in Daytona Beach

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

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, February 19, 2016, 10:35 a.m.

Sure. I watched the Can-Am Duel, which was dual because there were two, as there have been since there was a Daytona 500, which led to the commonly held opinion that there is a town called simply Daytona, which there is not. It’s Daytona Beach, though, as for that, it’s unimportant personally because I am not there, and if I still went, the odds are I would be in Ormond Beach, and there’s no issue there over there not being an Ormond.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

With the South Carolina Republican Primary coming up, I kept having to answer the phone during the races. Oh, I answer, because the only time my “land line” rings is either my mother or someone wanting me to answer a questionnaire that ends up being a request for money, of which I don’t have that much presently. How do they get results to polls, by the way? Everyone I know hangs up.

To make a long story short, they got my position right.

The parking lot. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
The parking lot.
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

As is the case an alarming number of times, I digress.

I already wrote, about another race, that Dale Earnhardt Jr. would probably win it if he’s around at the end. In the first Duel, I was right prematurely. What I wanted from the race was for Earnhardt to have to show what he has. He did. It’s a lot. He’s the clear favorite in the Daytona 500. In terms of this particular sweepstakes, the best jockey is riding the best horse. He’s got to guard against getting his trusty steed pinched into the rail.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Kyle Busch, not exactly a big surprise, either, won the latter race by a piece of paper. Matt Kenseth, Busch’s teammate, had to give up the lead so that he could use the turbulence of riding around another car to get the paper to fly off the nose of his Toyota and stop unduly heating up its innards.

This set in motion a series of events. Busch won, and Kenseth’s car got destroyed and, as a result, it will not start on the front row of the Daytona 500.

Both races provided pertinent information regarding the likely outcome of NASCAR’s most prestigious race. At this point, with the actual running of the qualifying races little more than a formality, the best that could be expected was valuable information, which we got.

The second Duel even had a dual duel of its own.

The Camping World Truck Series race is tonight. I’m thinking of having a safety harness installed in my easy chair. It’s probably already too late to get that done. I guess I’ll clench my teeth again.

Xfinity Series practice. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to watch the opening scenes of Days of Thunder. Speedweeks is a roller coaster. The ride starts out with gentle ups and downs, just to get the squealing cords cleared out vocally. Now it’s gears grinding, pulling everyone up a ponderous grade. From here on lie free falls, loops that turn us upside down, and such pure speed, at long intervals, that, after a while, it seems as if a parking lot, perfectly aligned, is going nearly 200 miles an hour.

Amazingly, this formation flying will seem boring. It’s too much of a good thing, or, perhaps, too good of a much thing.

The ending will be whiz-bang, though. It will be swell, a humdinger and a ripsnorter. What few kids are watching will find it turnt, based and/or lit, terms that can be translated as “stoned” but also refer to most everything that feels good. Many are not about that life.

NASCAR, I mean.

(Graphic courtesy of Meredith Pritchard; cover by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Graphic courtesy of Meredith Pritchard; cover by Jennifer Skutelsky)

As you may have noticed, I use these blogs as a promotional tool for my novels. One, Crazy of Natural Causes, has been out since late July of 2015.

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

Another, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, will be out soon. I got a little news on Thursday. A release date will be announced in a few weeks. It’s a crime novel about corruption and patronage in a small town. The tale unfolds across two generations at the same time.

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

Crazy and Trespasses are my third and fourth novels. The Audacity of Dope was published in 2011, The Intangibles in 2013. I’m working on a fifth, Cowboys Come Home. Most of my books can be examined and purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

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

My short fiction, reviews and essays can be found here: https://wellpilgrim.wordpress.com/

Follow me on Twitter @montedutton, @hmdutton (about writing) and @wastedpilgrim (more humor and opinion). I’m on Facebook at Monte.Dutton and Instagram at Tug50. Look for me by name at Google+. Whew. It’s too much.

 

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

 

The Night the Lights Stayed On in Georgia

Kurt Busch leads Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Paul Menard at Atlanta on Sunday night. (Brian Lawdermilk photo for Chevrolet)
Kurt Busch leads Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Paul Menard at Atlanta on Sunday night. (Brian Lawdermilk photo for Chevrolet)

[cb_profit_poster sponsor1]Clinton, S.C., Monday, September 2, 2013, 11:04 a.m.

I feel a little left out on Labor Day this year. Does “labor” entail getting paid? Or is it just the actual work? Just to combat the angst, I’m going out sometime today to trim hedges. I’m going to try to write some fiction. That may make some money down the road. And I can keep my name out there, theoretically, by writing this blog.

I do a lot of theoretical work these days.

Oh, yeah. NASCAR.

Kyle Busch has four victories with one regular-season race left. (John Clark photo)
Kyle Busch has four victories with one regular-season race left. (John Clark photo)

Kyle Busch won the Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, putting himself in what would appear to be an enviable position in regard to the Sprint Cup championship, which gets down to brass tacks and a 10-race Chase in two weeks.

(A brass tack is roughly what regular-season points are worth.)

For most of the night, someone pulled away, and it was the younger of the two Flying Busch Brothers who pulled away when it mattered, figuratively picking through the pieces left by others who faltered by spin, engine failure, imperfect pit stop or other unexpected oddity.

An enviable position entering the Chase for the Sprint Cup is not unusual for Kyle Busch. An enviable Chase has thus far eluded him. It is the apple in his eye, the cherry on his sundae and the butter on his popcorn. It has often seemed as if he yearned for it too much. Amazingly, though, it’s still early in driver years as Kyle is a mere 28. Jimmie Johnson turned 31 during the first of his five successful Chases.

Yet it seems as if it has taken Kyle such a long time. His own brother, Kurt, won the first Chase at age 26 but hasn’t come particularly close in all the years since. Together, Kyle and Kurt have won 52 Cup races – Kyle 28, Kurt 24 – which are more than two Thomases (Herb 48, Donald 1), Labontes (Terry 22, Bobby 21), Burtons (Jeff 21, Ward 5), Parsonses (Benny 21, Phil 1) and Bodines (Geoffrey 18, Brett 1).

Kasey Kahne has secured a spot in the Chase, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. is all but there. (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo for Chevrolet)
Kasey Kahne has secured a spot in the Chase, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. is all but there. (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo for Chevrolet)

The Pettys, by the way, are verticals, not horizontals. Three generations piled up 262 victories. At the top of the brothers’ list are the Allisons (Bobby 84, Donnie 10). As a side note, the Jarretts, father and son, combined for 82 (Ned 50, Dale 32).

The Busch brothers figure to have plenty of time to pile up victories. Kyle’s lust for victory can’t be contained in just the big time. If possible, Kurt would probably do the IndyCar/Sprint Cup double every week, not just in May.

Of course, it’s impossible, so don’t even consider such madness.

11:50 a.m.

Now there’s one more regular-season race, and the Chase has the requisite number of slots still up for grabs. This is going to produce a field at Richmond International Raceway whose motivations are sharply divided.

This is when drivers will proclaim that they drive the same, week after week, no matter the strategy, and it’s the only way they and other real racers know how. Then, after making the Chase, they’ll walk into the same room and say thank goodness the regular season’s over and now they can stop racing for points, or victories, or whatever it is this week that making the Chase requires.

For those whose place is secure, the goal is clearly to win because of the 10 bonus points in the Chase each victory awards. For those who must rely on one of two wild-card spots, a win is all that matters because it might get them into the Chase even though they will get no bonus points. Jeff Gordon is stuck in the middle because he might get in with a win or by making the top 10.

The vast majority of the Richmond starting field will have nothing to go for but a win because it is the only way on earth, amid the tumult of the Chase, for anyone outside it to receive any measurable attention.

Even if a driver has the honest belief that he can only “go out there and race,” there will be a crew chief, a spotter, an owner and God knows who else, muddying water that he’d prefer to be clean.

12:08 p.m.

This Chase is going to be missing some familiar faces. The reigning champion, Brad Keselowski, is likely to miss it. The champion before him, Tony Stewart, is laid up with a busted leg. Denny Hamlin, who has never missed it, will. Jeff Gordon must come through in the clutch and/or get a bit of help.

Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth are in by virtue of points. Kasey Kahne can’t fail to earn a wild card. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is virtually in, so much so that a failure might cause some to break precedent and fly a flag at half mast.

In other words, eight are in. It looks bad for Keselowski. It’s slightly less iffy for Kurt Busch, Gordon, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman. It’s likely for Greg Biffle and Joey Logano.

12:20 p.m.

For what it’s worth, I thought the first race for Goodyear’s new racing-tire design was encouraging. I think it made the racing a little better. It’s not magic. Rubber connects the cars to the pavement, but it’s only one element in what makes the cars go fast and put on an exciting spectacle. So far, so good.

12:39 p.m.

Put the Camping World Truck Series at a track where it has never been, on a kind of course last raced by the series in 2000, and a rousing show is likely, if for no other reason than the presence of a delightfully large number of drivers who really don’t know what they’re doing.

There’s just no telling what might happen. A woman of mystery may walk up and slap Max Papis. A very young driver named Elliott (Chase) may knock a slightly less young driver (Ty Dillon), descended from a Childress (Richard, his grandfather), in a car descended from an Earnhardt (Dale), out of the way to win via an actual pass that actually occurred … in the grass.

Was that Sunday, or was it 20 years ago?

Happy Labor Day. Tell a repairman you appreciate it. Leave a generous tip. Read montedutton.com. Tell me what you think.

[cb_profit_poster Lottery1]

Meanwhile, Indy cars raced "The Streets of Baltimore." This doesn't have anything to do with the blog, but it's a cool shot and I like the song. (LAT/Michael L. Levitt photo for Chevrolet)
Meanwhile, Indy cars raced “The Streets of Baltimore.” This doesn’t have anything to do with the blog, but it’s a cool shot and I like the song. (LAT/Michael L. Levitt photo for Chevrolet)

One Indian Name, and One that Isn’t

I would not mind if Michael Waltrip spent more of his time in a race car. (John Clark photo)
I would not mind if Michael Waltrip spent more of his time in a race car. (John Clark photo)

Clinton, S.C., Saturday, August 3, 2013, 12:59 p.m.

I always thought Daytona was the coolest name. It sort of sounded fast. It epitomized speed, but I never thought about it much until one time when I was driving down there in February and realized it’s probably just a town named after a guy named Dayton. Naming a town Daytona Beach is sort of similar to a man named Ernest naming his daughter Ernestine.

I wasn’t precisely correct, but it was just a guess.

Daytona Beach – there really isn’t a Daytona unless you count the International Speedway – was actually named after a man named Day. Mathias Day Jr. was from Mansfield, Ohio. He bought a huge tract of land, built a hotel in 1871 and went broke in 1872, but the local citizens were grateful enough for his efforts that they named the town Daytona. Originally, the town on the west bank of the Halifax River was Daytona, and the strip of beach on the east bank was Daytona Beach, but in 1926, the two towns were combined into one, and now it’s all Daytona Beach.

This being the case, I was wondering if the Pocono Mountains, and hence the Raceway, were actually named by three families, the Poseys, Cohans and Nolans, who settled there, but I am happy to report that Pocono is a Lenape Indian word that means “stream between the mountains.” I expect the mountains were actually named by whites, if only because the Indians would have had more sense than to name them the Stream Between the Mountains Mountains.

Had I been asked to make a wild guess, I would’ve thought Pocono meant “race between the rainstorms.”

Perhaps my curiosity regarding names stems from the fact that I grew up in a town whose college is nicknamed Blue Hose and graduated from one dubbed Paladins.

While I’m on the subject, I was also thinking about the fact that many, if not most, Americans think it reasonable that anyone who moves to this country be required to learn how to speak English.

Wonder what American Indians think of this?

1:31 p.m.

Maybe this is another consequence of age, but I’m watching the prerace ceremonies of the Camping World Truck race, and even though NASCAR drivers aren’t getting younger (they can’t race in “the three national touring series” until they’re 18 now), they look younger.

Watching drivers standing for the national anthem made me think I was looking at placekickers from junior-varsity football teams.

Joey Logano is now 23. Twenty-three! TV announcers are fond of pointing out that he’s “still just 23.” Meanwhile, I’m thinking, how could he possibly be 23? He still looks like he just came through that growth spurt, the one that kicks in at around 14. He’s a lanky lad at the age where he ought to be a strapping lad.

As time goes by, I find myself thinking that Jeff Gordon is actually the next-generation Dick Clark.

So, yes, it could be … me.

Ryan Newman just won the Brickyard (I’ve written the full name of that 400-mile race enough times already), which is NASCAR’s most important race that the fans don’t care about.

He’s a lame duck. He won’t be racing at Stewart-Haas next year. Danica Patrick will.

You know he’s going to make the Chase. It’s evidence of a God.

The Truck race is coursing into my head in some variation of the subliminal. Prattling on.

“He’s gonna have to back off going into turn one.”

“Yeah, but he’s gonna go for it in turn two, Phil!”

I like Rick Allen. I like Phil Parsons. Michael Waltrip, I think, talks too much. If he’d just talk when he has something to say, he’d be fine. But he doesn’t.

Do You Know the Way to San Jose? From Eldora?

Dirt tracks were once common in NASCAR. This photo is from Hillsborough, N.C.
Dirt tracks were once common in NASCAR. This photo is from Hillsborough, N.C.

Clinton, S.C., Thursday, July 25, 2013, 9:45 a.m.

As Maureen McGovern sang, “There’s got to be a morning after.”

The morning after NASCAR’s triumphant return to dirt has left me feeling whimsical. Imagine! Racing stock cars (okay, scaled-down pickup trucks) on dirt! How come nobody thought of that earlier?

At around the turn of the 1970s, NASCAR noticed that dirt was dirty, and for perhaps the next 20 years, the primary ruling body of stock car racing did its best to get stock cars off it. NASCAR couldn’t kill the dirt tracks. Some tracks that had paved in the name of progress progressively went out of business. A few dug up their pavement and went back to dirt. NASCAR couldn’t kill the dirt tracks, which developed a racing subculture all their own. All over this country exist loyal groups of fans, much smaller than the ones who watch Sprint Cup but relevant nonetheless, who think the men and women who race on pavement are, uh, pretty boys (and girls). As last night made doubly obvious, many NASCAR fans have never been to dirt tracks or paid much attention when such races were on TV, but there is a group of feisty dirt-track denizens who go to their local clay cloud every week but wouldn’t watch a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway if they lived across the street. (Charlotte has a dirt track that really is across the street, so, hypothetically, the dirt-track fans across the street wouldn’t be unhappy.)

Last night, watching this curiosity unfold on my high-definition TV, I felt nostalgic. My memory is largely photographic, and as I watched Austin Dillon put another lap on Norm Benning, it was if my mind was running Youtube and Bobby Isaac was roaring past Soapy Castles in the back-straight haze of Greenville-Pickens Speedway. The two scenes, separated by 45 years, looked remarkably alike.

As the Statler Brothers sang in “Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott?”: “Tex Ritter’s gone and Disney’s dead, and the screen is filled with sex!”

Disney wasn’t dead Wednesday night. It appeared to remind many on social media of “Fantasia.”

Based on my experience at dirt tracks, the racing was ungainly. Compared to sprint cars, midgets, Late Models and dirt modifieds (my favorite on dirt, by the way), Camping World Trucks might as well have had, uh, camper shells on the back. On second thought, though, the stock cars of Isaac, Petty and Bobby Allison were fairly ungainly on dirt back in 1968.

The race had relatively few lead changes, which isn’t at all to suggest that it wasn’t exciting. It affirmed one of my long-held beliefs: lead changes are an imperfect way to judge the quality of an automobile race. Some of the best NASCAR races I’ve ever seen, particularly at Bristol and Darlington, featured few lead changes. Something I once heard Bruton Smith say comes to mind: “One of the problems at lots of these tracks is that, when one car passes another, the two cars aren’t within five yards of each other.” One of the appealing aspects of Eldora was the traffic. It wasn’t just that they were close but rather that they were wiggling, squirming and bumping all over the place.

The fans love it, but will it have staying power? The fans loved it when NASCAR first raced at Indy. Now they talk about the Brickyard as if it were toxic. Many of the fans who used to disparage road courses now say, “why, that’s where the real racing is.”

A dirt track is never going to be well suited to so-called “hospitality,” which doesn’t mean “being neighborly” anymore but “place where rich folks’ asses are kissed.” Someone noted that NASCAR president Mike Helton, appearing on the Speed set to slurp up some of the credit, seldom wears yellow shirts. I replied that his shirt was white when he got there. When I go to dirt tracks – and, yes, I’m charged up to do so this Saturday night – I wear goggles because, with contact lenses in, I would otherwise feel as if tiny clay missiles were being fired at my eyeballs.

A dirt track is fun because the racing is rousing, but it’s also fun because the crowd at a weekly track resembles that of a pro-wrestling show. They’s a good bit of drankin’ what goes on. A bedraggled fellow in overalls keeps staggering around, shaking his fist at somebody every time his car roars by. It seems that, between the tornadoes of dust, lots of similar phrases reach the ears in bits and snatches.

“By God, I’ll tell you what …”

“He’ll get his ass whupped if he don’t watch it.”

“You ain’t much of a man if you pull for that (so-and-so).”

“Whatuh (heck) you mean by that, you (undesirable person)?”

Just watch. Enjoy. Do not engage. Try not to laugh too obviously. Fights sometimes occur. Bail bondsmen seldom lobby for the closing of dirt tracks.

I apologize for loving it now. I apologize for loving it when I was about six years old watching modifieds race at a Greenwood, S.C., dirt track that has now been a parking lot for approximately 45 years.

What happens next? Does NASCAR try to capitalize on the deafening buzz? Are we looking at “Wednesday Night at the Races” becoming to the future what “Friday Night Fights” was to the past?

Mark the Date Brian France Invents the Dirt Track

Clinton, S.C., Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 10:19 a.m.

NASCAR racing has many facets, but there is no greater divide than the gulf between a Wednesday-night Truck race near Rossburg, Ohio, and a Sunday-afternoon Cup race in the aptly-named Indianapolis neighborhood of “Speedway.”

Seating capacity is a subject of some debate at both venues, but recent best guesses hold that Eldora Speedway holds around 17,000 and Indianapolis Motor Speedway 260,000. In other words, Indy is five times as large as Eldora in terms of length but 15 times larger in capacity. On the other hand, Eldora will be jam-packed, and Indy sparsely populated. I expect that Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at the Brickyard will lack little other than tumbleweeds as evidence of vacancy.

Step right up! Good seats remain!

Getting back to Eldora, early in my career, I covered a lot of dirt racing. It’s been amusing to take in the musings of former colleagues who have never seen it in a setting other than this rather exaggerated one. “Look at the tires! They have grooves!” I keep seeing photos of the surface on social media, as in, “Really – and I am NOT kidding – this track is actually made of … dirt!”

The Blaneys, father and son, at Eldora (Paul Arch photo).
The Blaneys, father and son, at Eldora (Paul Arch photo).

Over the years, while covering NASCAR races, I’ve made my share of side trips to short tracks. I haven’t done it recently because, since Jim McLaurin and Rick Minter preceded me in disappearing from the circuit, I haven’t had any close friends interested in going. Some of the colleagues who sneered at a trip to the old Manzanita (near Phoenix) or 311 (near Martinsville) are now treating this jamboree of the Camping World Trucks as if it is something new, exciting and completely different.

I doubt this is going to be a really great dirt race. Too many of the racers will be amateurs. I doubt there will be a lot of passing. Indications are that it will lack the gaudy power slides common to races among cars designed with dirt in mind.

But I do enjoy dirt tracks, and I expect to enjoy this race. Even though it may not be an artistic success, it will be interesting to see what happens.

I imagine a NASCAR media guide 10 years from now:

2013: NASCAR Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Brian Z. France invents dirt-track racing.

Don’t laugh. In 2004, after the first Chase, NASCAR issued a fact sheet noting that Kurt Busch’s Nextel Cup title marked the closest championship race “in the history of the current points system.”

Also, of course, the only championship race in the history of the “current” system, which had been invented (legitimately) a year earlier.

NASCAR has tacitly claimed credit for HANS Devices and SAFER Barriers, both of which were in use elsewhere before the self-proclaimed Masters of Marketing got their hands on them.

Given its past, NASCAR believes in manifest destiny. This dirt race is going to be as great a success as roughly 17,000 seats and Speed on a Wednesday night will allow. Do you think NASCAR officials are going to say, “Hmm. Well, that was fun, but one was enough.”

Ten years from now, NASCAR may run dirt-track racing, a prospect that chills me to the bone.

Then, it won’t seem so unrealistic. Some people will actually believe NASCAR invented dirt tracks.

Indy Week Gets a Coat of Dirt

I once saw No. 43 win on dirt, but it was Richard Petty in 1968.
I once saw No. 43 win on dirt, but it was Richard Petty in 1968.

Clinton, S.C., Monday, July 22, 2013, 10:08 a.m.

In spite of a hefty blast of promotional rocketry from the friendly folks at ESPN/ABC, NASCAR’s annual visit to Indianapolis Motor Speedway seems about as appealing to many fans as colonoscopy prep.

Okay, maybe just the male fans.

Judging from the customized fiber-optic impulses that flow into my virtual world, the big race is Wednesday night at a dirt track in Ohio.

The trucks are racing at Eldora! Happy. Happy. Joy. Joy. One consequence is going to be the application of whatever the numbers are to the days when NASCAR’s best – not trucks, but the predecessor that is now grandly and gloriously Sprint Cup – raced on the dirt.

I’m happy Trucks – yes, those Camping World-promoting Trucks – are making a stop at Tony Stewart’s house of wind-blown claymation, Eldora Speedway, which is listed as Rossburg, Ohio, but is actually located in a place distant from anywhere. Stewart should use his political clout to get the nearby crossroads, undoubtedly unincorporated, changed to Buckeye Corners, or Smokestack Gulch, or Hooterville. David Poole and I went there for USAC sprints and midgets one time on a Brickyard weekend. When we stopped to ask directions, it got to the point where I felt sure I was about to hear “all right, then, you drive, oh, pert’ near a country mile, make a left on the next paved road, and …”

That little trip was a long time ago, when Earl Baltes still owned the famed speeddrome. Since then, many NASCAR reporters have ventured to “quaint Eldora” for Stewart’s annual amateur night with the late models. This, I suspect, constitutes the entire dirt-track-watching career of many writers and even a few broadcasters.

As a kid, I twice saw NASCAR’s top division race on dirt at Greenville-Pickens Speedway before the half-mile track was paved in 1970. Richard Petty won both (in 1968). I generally went to Darlington once a year – high-school football on Labor Day stole the Southern 500 after 1970 – but Greenville-Pickens, located at the Upper State Fairgrounds on U.S. 123 between Greenville and Easley (which is in Pickens County) was really my regular haunt and stomping grounds. I stomped around, often in the infield, for Grand National, Grand American, Grand National East and National Sportsman races there, most of them 200 laps/100 miles. Sometimes, if I could find a ride, I’d even watch Jeff Hawkins, Buddy Howard and Johnny Allen duel in the regular Saturday-night programs.

I still like dirt tracks, though I haven’t yet visited the one nearby this year. Who knows? Maybe this Saturday night before the Brickyard. I’d probably be willing to bet that the weekly outlaws at Laurens County Speedway will put on at least as competent a show as the pavement-prepped truckers of Eldora.

That is, unless … Scott Bloomquist wins.

Or maybe I’ll go to Greenville-Pickens. I haven’t been there in 10 years. It really depends on whether or not I can find a friend to tag along.

Meanwhile, away from the ranch – surely there’s one or two near Eldora – there’s this Sprint Cup race that is supposed to be one of the season’s highlights.

It’s funny how public opinion changed. I’m pretty sure you can place the, uh, line of demarcation at July 27, 2008, when Jimmie Johnson won at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the second of four times to date. It was the day of the tire debacle, when tires popped like helium balloons and Goodyear and NASCAR officials behaved as if they were inhaling said helium.

Follow the yellow brick road.

The attendance of that race was estimated – wink, wink, nudge, nudge – at 240,000. That race was known as the Allstate 400. Last year’s race, the Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400, again won by Johnson, listed 125,000.

This year’s race is the Crown Royal Presents the Samuel Deeds 400. In the aftermath of Eldora, it’ll be “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.” (For non-Frank Capra and Gary Cooper fans, the modern remake was simply “Mr. Deeds.”)

Nowadays, of course, abashed NASCAR doesn’t even list crowd estimates, which hasn’t stemmed the decline in attendance but has virtually eliminated winking, winking, nudging and nudging.

Say no more. (If you’ve never watched Monty Python, this is the point of the blog where you have no clue. My apology.)

I happen to like NASCAR races at Indy. Perhaps it’s just a quirk of mine. I like tracks that are difficult, with an emphasis on places where the cars run routinely close to walls. It’s why I adore Darlington. At Indy, it gets my juices flowing to watch Cup cars dive into the first (or third) turn, drift up against the wall on the short chute and then dive back into turn two (or four) to zip down the long straight.

Some places are great because it’s easy to pass. Darlington and Indy are great because it’s hard.

I even like qualifying at the Brickyard. I’d tip the band to see it done like the Indy 500, with the order determined by a four-lap average, not just one hot lap.

I’d probably hate missing Indy more if I hadn’t missed it last year. My sister passed away right before I was scheduled to leave.

What I love about the Speedway is the atmosphere. The huge museum in the infield is “can’t miss.” There are only three places where I’ve felt as if I could see ghosts: Fenway Park, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Ohio Stadium (only been there once, and not for a game, but I swear I saw Hopalong Cassidy catch a pass).

I went to Indy to write about Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, but I always thought about Bill Vukovich, A.J. Foyt and Rodger Ward.

As far as seeing the race, there won’t be much change. I’ll be forced to base my observations on what TV chooses to reveal. On the one hand, if I was there, I’d have access to real, live people. On the other hand, watching the race on TV is less distracting at home than the gossipy hum of Indy’s sprawling, glassed-in media center.

Then there’s that saving grace of the whole year.

I own guitars.