Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, January 25, 11:09 a.m.
I got up this morning – which is something most folks do and the way an inordinate number of old blues songs begin – and, before too long, started sipping coffee and reading the NASCAR Media Tour transcripts.
While reading the remarks, apparently delivered to the Tour from an airplane, of NASCAR Executive Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing Steve Phelps, it made me think of Jimmie Johnson and Tom Brady. The two have similar public personas. Both seem to be nice fellows, but the former seems unappreciated in relation to his achievements, and the other doesn’t.
Johnson has won seven championships, and Brady, in 10 days, will attempt to lead the New England Patriots to a record sixth National Football League championship. Bart Starr quarterbacked the Green Bay Packers to five championships, but the first three were before there was a Super Bowl. The only other player on five Super Bowl winners was defensive player Charles Haley. The Packers had many on NFL championship teams.
Johnson has won seven Cup (Nextel and Sprint; it’s Monster Energy now) championships, equaling Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
Phelps cooled a little controversy that arose in Charlotte over Kyle Busch’s belief that the sport is promoting young drivers at the expense of proven veterans. Busch’s snit and the countervailing huffs of promising tykes were exactly the types of molehills launched atop mountain ranges at the Media Tour every year.
Phelps was conciliatory, and the general line of his defense was sensible. When Kyle, now all of 32, was a wunderkind, the sport didn’t have the dearth of exposure it seeks to remedy now. Now, alluding to the late Lewis Grizzard, Junior has retired, and the sport ain’t feeling so good its ownself.
What got me thinking, in addition to Sheriff Andy Taylor figuring out that ol’ Luke was stealing cattle by putting work boots on their feet, was Phelps’ reference to the strange lack of respect and love granted Johnson for being so good it’s sickening to many fans. At this point, most concede his greatness, but his detractors are about like the Brady haters who apparently think anybody could win all those Super Bowls with slightly less air in the footballs.
Phelps also mentioned the lack of apparent zoom in the star of reigning champion Martin Truex Jr., whose sparkling season was inspirational in several ways. Truex, like Johnson, is a nice fellow, unlikely to host the Grammys but a great NASCAR success story.
I can’t help but wonder if nice fellows have gone out of style. Johnson’s sunny disposition is not too different from Petty’s. He deserves the love that longevity usually affords. He’s smart, good-natured and, on occasion, funny.
Today people in all walks of life love to raise hell. I doubt Earnhardt, original recipe, would have spent much time on Twitter, but he most surely would have lit it up.
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The hero of my two racing novels, Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated, is a wild throwback to the heroes of yore but a kid with all the modern problems, not the least of which is bucking up to folks trying to tell him what to do. Meet Barrie Jarman. You can’t help but like him for his roguish ways.