A Voter’s Got a Right to … Vote

(Monte Dutton sketch)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, May 25, 2018, 10:47 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Today’s world is one of absolutes. Most people don’t seem to believe in the right of anyone else’s opinion. They want to limit everything.

This week the NASCAR Hall of Fame announced that Davey Allison, Jeff Gordon, Alan Kulwicki, Roger Penske and Jack Roush are going in next year.

Fine by me. I don’t have a vote. As such, I’ve barely thought about it. I might have voted for the same five, but it’s moot, and hence will be mute. A process exists. A system. A group of distinguished voters gets together and fills out ballots. Each person who has a vote can vote for anyone (on the list of nominees) he or she wants. Those are the rules.

Roger Penske (right) with Rusty Wallace. (Getty Images/NASCAR)

Two weeks ago, I stumbled into a Facebook thread whose consensus view seemed to be that any old person who persisted in driving the speed limit in the left lane of an interstate deserved to be executed by the state. I wrote a short sentence to the effect that capital punishment might be a mite harsh, and the group turned on me.

Gordon was not a unanimous choice. A pity. No need, though, to decree that a voter be banished to Elba, St. Helena or Kentucky Speedway, even. Ninety-six percent voted for Gordon. It was virtually unanimous. Of all the people hot and bothered, I’d bet one wasn’t Gordon.

Davey Allison (Getty Images/NASCAR)

They give a guy a vote – not me, mind you, they’ve got more sense than that – and, then, if he doesn’t vote the same as everybody else, the guy should be banned!

How could this voter leave off Gordon? He must be a libtard (or a reberal?) or a moron, or on the take or on the lam, in somebody’s pocket or somebody else’s wheelhouse. Obviously such a voter has taken leave of his (or her) senses. He may have even gone off the reservation.

But how could anyone vote against Gordon? Do you know what this man has done?

Yes. He was doing what he did in No. 24 for the entire 20 seasons I followed the sport around.

I’m delighted he’s in. Gordon revolutionized the sport. He’s had my respect for decades. He is one of the few in NASCAR I’ve never caught in a lie. Gordon is tactful. He knows what not to say. What he says, though, is true. I expect this is still true, though I have left the troupe and flown the coop.

Jack Roush (Getty Images/NASCAR)

Remember. A person who has a vote has been “vetted” by the bigwigs who monitor such considerations. He (or she) might have wanted Buddy Baker in and known it was going to be tough, so he decided to vote Buddy with four others he didn’t expect to win.

The process can’t be free and limited. The ballot can’t be secret and public.

Alan Kulwicki (center) in victory lane at Phoenix International Raceway after winning his first NASCAR Cup race, the Checker 500. (Photo by ISC Images Archives via Getty Images)

I’m tired of looking at one collection after another of checks or crosses on a ballot, with a seismic signature. Here’s how I voted on the NASCAR Hall of Fame ballot because, as you can see, my selections were perfect in every way.

It’s a hall of fame. That means it’s a hall for people who are famous. Famous. It’s not a hall of winningests, or a hall of adept nice fellows, or a hall of those who are good on TV.

How is fame judged? Each voter gets to decide.

Ain’t that America?

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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I Guess I Boarded the Rollercoaster

Kevin Harvick leads the field. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, May 20, 2018, 10:13 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Never have I more needed a night’s sleep to consider a stock car race.

Naturally, I didn’t sleep well. I awakened at 6:30, and, when I yanked at the covers with my legs, somehow the contents of the lamp table crashed into the carpet. It took quite a bit of time to find the damned remote control. Then I tried to go back to sleep and failed miserably.

I’ve been thinking about the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star race, won by Kevin Harvick last night.

With reservations, I guess it was great. Great doesn’t often arrive with reservations. Maybe if it’s a vacation.

It was a radical change, and, at least where sports is concerned, I do not often like radical change. I would like to point out humbly that the sport’s precipitous decline has coincided with its radicalization. NASCAR’s leaders, almost alone in their solidarity, felt the sport needed change. They changed and they changed and they changed. Dr. Seuss could write a story about this.

Meanwhile, back in Whoville …

All I can say is this photo was adroitly cropped. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

The sport sped off into the distance, leaving a cloud of Chase (not Elliott, till later), Cars of Tomorrow, phases and stages, circles and cycles … and scenes that we’ve all seen before (Willie Nelson).

I just looked up the lyrics of this great song and came across these: After carefully considering the whole situation I stand with my back to the wall / Walking is better than running away and crawling ain’t no good at all.

The fans got left behind. They had to start listening to what D.W. and Larry Mac said to figure out what the hell was going on, and, half the time, what they told them didn’t make much sense. They lost interest. They moved on, but most will tell you that’s what the sport did to them.

Maybe I’ve actually let myself get indoctrinated, but most of the people I see on a regular basis tell me they used to be big NASCAR fans but they aren’t anymore. I don’t ask them. They make a point of telling me. They don’t often tell me what they don’t like. It’s more like they ask me what they don’t like.

Why do you think it’s gotten so bad?

The Trucks at speed on Friday night at CMS. Johnny Sauter won. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

I don’t think NASCAR can stop the bleeding any time soon unless something crazy happens. Something that will pop up on the morning news and lead off Sportscenter. Nothing tragic, though. Something like a knock-down, drag-out battle for a win that culminates in the winner sliding across the finish line on his roof, then climbing out of the smoking heap and duking it out with the sidewinder who turned his car upside down and still finished second.

Then that hero would have to build on that legend for about a decade, at which point NASCAR might be back.

The race held my attention. It reminded me of The Winstons in the 1980s and ’90s, a time when it didn’t take restricted horsepower and a monstrous blade across the decklid to run a slobberknocker at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

I don’t know why it does now. I thought technology was our friend. It’s not.

This morning I threw my caution to the wind. Fans didn’t know what their tickets were buying last night, so there weren’t that many of them. I doubt the TV audience grew for the same reason. If this garish, exciting race is to do any good, it must be capitalized upon quickly.

For all the surprising runs to the front by suspects unused to being rounded up, Harvick still won. Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex won the segments.

I kind of feel ashamed that I liked it.

Some people said they didn’t even notice the much slower speeds. I did. The cars looked like they were dragging. My first thought was one of the old, unfortunate Sportsman races, and then I thought of ARCA and IROC.

This new package requires skill, but it’s that plate skill, that “is that hole big enough for me to fit in?” knack, and not the auto racing kind of skill dictated by the sensations of pants seats.

(Monte Dutton photo)

The highest level of stock car racing should be hard. It should mostly be run without cruise control.

Damned if I wouldn’t run it in the Coca-Cola 600, though. Damned if I wouldn’t announce it on Monday. Damned if I’m not ticked off at myself for writing it.

I read over and over this morning that it’s not happening. The owners wouldn’t stand for it. They get to veto anything that costs big bucks unless it’s in the interest of safety. On the other hand, they must have been persuaded to spend money for the all-star race. These are desperate times.

NASCAR has changed so much that it no longer has any choice in the matter.

For this and a variety of other reasons, I’ve learned to love the bomb this year.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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‘Those Who Cannot Change their Minds Cannot Change Anything’*

Kevin Harvick (left) and Rodney Childers’ rampage continues. (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, May 13, 2018, 10:43 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

On Saturday night in the plains of Kansas, a rousing Monster Energy NASCAR Cup conclusion provided an ornate exclamation point to what had been heretofore uneventful. Several times before the KC Masterpiece 400, rousing races came to uneventful ends.

Kevin Harvick has won both kinds.

Every sport has its parallel outcomes. Every sport has games that are wretched from start to finish and others that are breathtaking throughout, as does NASCAR.

To quote yet another country song: Some gotta win / Some gotta lose / Good Time Charlie’s got the blues.

Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski duel. (Sarah Crabil/Getty Images photo)

The world – and the NASCAR fan base – is made up of optimists and pessimists.

Sure, the finish was great, but the rest of the race was a snoozer.

Most of the race was boring, but the end was classic.

Those are the same views, spun differently.

Even though two drivers, Harvick and Kyle Busch, have combined to win two thirds of the races, the season has been full of surprises.

No, young drivers do no rule.

No, Fords are not outdated. Quite the contrary.

No, a new Camaro model hasn’t offered a stern challenge to Toyota superiority. No, in fact, there is no Toyota superiority.

The Daytona 500 did not bode widespread good fortune for anyone.

(Sean Gardner/Getty Images photo)

This is not the first time I have pointed out the vast difference between the atmosphere at the track and the atmosphere in the old country.

Here, where traditionally the TV ratings for stock car races have been among the highest in the country, the alienation is oppressive. Most of what I read is about the disappearance of NASCAR enthusiasm in the young, and it’s true. But people here in Laurens County know that I spent many years writing about NASCAR. I meet many people nowadays for vastly different reasons, but if they know me at all, it is because they identify me with NASCAR.

NASCAR is as far from the youth radar as a shipwreck off the Galapagos. Most people who complain to me are older.

Two weeks ago, I was leaving a luncheon for honor students, and a member of the sponsoring Rotary Club approached me to ask that familiar question.

What’s wrong with NASCAR?

I was talking on the phone a few days ago with a coach who had taken a job elsewhere.

“I appreciate your time,” I said.

“Hey,” he said. “Before you go, could I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“What’s wrong with NASCAR?”

I’ve got the spiel down. The standard shortcut involves saying it’s easy to cite reasons but hard to determine where they lie in terms of importance. Sometimes I say it’s hard to solve a problem if the powers that be don’t acknowledge any exist.

In 2004, the Year of the Chase in the France calendar, NASCAR started changing everything at a dizzying pace. It was at about the height of its popularity.

After winning Friday night’s Truck race, Noah Gragson shows off his Spidey skills. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images photo)

Some trace the beginning of the end to Dale Earnhardt’s death, but, in the short run, NASCAR grew in the tragic aftermath. The sudden loss of its most legendary figure focused attention on the sport, and many people who had cared little for “car racing” started paying close attention, and NASCAR’s self-proclaimed visionary king, Brian Z. France, wanted to capitalize.

Kudzu didn’t have as many unforeseen consequences.

The changes got rave reviews at the track. After all, the hosannas came from those who loved the changes, not the ones who were growing more and more disillusioned by the day.

For almost a decade and a half, NASCAR has been changing and shrinking at the same time. One would think some of those smart fellows would have seen some correlation.

Out with the old! In with the new! Out with the success! In with the failure!

I’m a lifer. I loved racing from the first time I saw it on a quarter-mile dirt track in Greenwood, S.C., that was bulldozed a few years later. Two decades later I could still see the crumbling grandstands of that track each night when I drove into the parking lot to write about minor-league baseball.

This is not meant to be some definitive explanation. My views have been disseminated many times on this site and in other places before it, even before blogs and websites existed. I spent decades writing about the great hunt to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs. The Lords of Daytona Beach took many shots at the old bird, but I don’t think they honed in on her until late 2003.

Maybe NASCAR sold its soul, and the Devil came a-calling. Literature provides many applicable allusions.

They change and change and change. Wasn’t there ever one of those smart guys who stumbled upon the notion that what the sport needed was to regain?

*George Bernard Shaw.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

 

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The Baseball Sense of Deja Vu

Mookie Betts (Monte Dutton sketch)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, May 9, 2018, 10:19 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are tied for first place in the American League East. They have played each other four times, and each team has won two. Last night the Yankees won, 3-2, and that is why they are tied for the first time since March 30.

Compared to the Red Sox, or most any other team, the Yankees look like a football team. They are brawny. They are burly. They hit a lot of home runs. They strike out a lot. The Red Sox also hit a lot of home runs. The player who has hit more home runs than anyone in the major leagues seems little more than half the size of Aaron Judge.

Due to my age and a propensity for comparisons that accompanies it, Mookie Betts is Willie Mays, and Mike Trout is Mickey Mantle. Fortunately, Trout doesn’t play for the Yankees. The Yankees have Giancarlo Stanton, who hit two homers last night, and Judge, who, because he wears pinstripes, reminds me of Lurch in The Addams Family. He’s a fine player, though. All the Yankees are.

The famous last words said of many a player in my lifetime is that he is “the next Willie Mays.” Mays was the greatest. In my mind, he likely always will be. Mays could do everything a baseball player can do better than 90 percent of all the players who ever tried.

Leo Durocher, who managed the young Mays, once claimed a Houston center fielder named Cesar Cedeno was “the next Willie Mays.” Cedeno had an estimable career. He never reminded me of Mays, though. The only two who have ever reminded me of Mays were Andruw Jones, in center field, and Betts, who plays right most of the time.

Betts is similarly exciting. Mays was a machine of many moving parts. His cap flew off rounding first. Baseball would have hooked me if all I’d ever seen was Mays run. Betts is that way. Mays slipping out of his prime when I first saw him, but he hit a home run at the first big-league game (Atlanta, 1966) I ever saw, and there has never been any doubt in my mind that he is the greatest who ever lived. I’ve read several books about him. I’ve studied up. I can make the case, but it’s resolved in my soul.

(Monte Dutton photo)

I expect the Red Sox and Yankees will go back and forth for the rest of the season. New York is red-hot at the moment. Boston began the season that way. Both teams score many runs, and their pitchers allow relatively few.

Luis Severino was excellent for the Bombers last night, and so was Drew Pomeranz for Carmines. Tonight Boston sends Rick Porcello out against Masahiro Tanaka, and Thursday pits Eduardo Rodriguez against C.C. Sabathia.

Most of the season still stretches out to the horizon. Jackie Bradley Jr., who has spent his entire professional career hitting .100 for a while and then .400 for a while, couldn’t buy a hit right now with a chest of gold doubloons. Dustin Pedroia will be back soon. He hasn’t played a game yet at second base.

The Yankees are more frightening. The Red Sox are more threatening. They only play each other 15 more times.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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When the Going Gets Tough …

(Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, May 7, 2018, 9:48 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Week in, week out, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch drive the fastest cars. Or they are the best drivers. It is undoubtedly a combination of the two. Others drift in and out, roaring up behind them or falling toward the rear. If one is Death, the other is Taxes.

Eleven races into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup season, trends have been identified. Fords have won more than half the races. Toyotas are winning their share. Chevys languish.

The oldest cars are fastest. The oldest drivers are fastest.

That’s the trend. It can’t last. Old never does. It benefits from experience for a time, but Time fights a battle of attrition better than General Lee, and, by General Lee, I mean both the Confederate general and the orange Dodge Charger in The Dukes of Hazzard.

You don’t see the Duke boys winning races anymore, do you? I rest my case.

(Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

When a young driver – Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano – rises up to to ease a legend out of the spotlight, a chorus also rises to defend whoever the veteran of the moment, might be – oh, just randomly, maybe Jimmie Johnson – by singing, invariably, “I can assure you than Jimmie Johnson didn’t forget how to drive a race car.”

Preposterous!

Now a chorus rises to defend the ballyhooed young guns or Turks or lovers, and its only logical refrain is, “I can assure you that [Alex Bowman, randomly] hasn’t remembered, or discovered, how to drive a race car.”

He doesn’t … know … just how to race a car! A car! A car! He cannot race a car!

I stretch my opera cred, of which is there little.

The young may take to the streets with all their boundless enthusiasm, but to change the world, they will have to get their legislation out of the House of Representatives.

(Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Experience won three times at Dover International Speedway. The first, late on Friday afternoon, was the best and most memorable because the veteran who won, Johnny Sauter, took a bright young driver, Noah Gragson, to school. Many times have I written that, in NASCAR, wrecking another driver is an act of destruction, but “rubbing” is an act of skill.

When Gragson advanced up to challenge Saturday, it was new territory. The kid had his gloves off, figuratively, and Sauter knew how to survive the contact and benefit from it. Gragson, alas, did not. I admire him for owning up to his mistake, but I couldn’t help but note that Cale Yarborough wouldn’t have gotten all weepy about it.

As such, I thought, it was the perfect outcome. Gragson needs to get tougher. That experience will toughen him.

Nowadays, the kids have more money, but it’s not a game of croquet.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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Logano’s Turn to Be a Talladega Genius

Fans cheer the flyover prior to the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, April 30, 2018, 12:16 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

Talladega Superspeedway is a moving target in several ways.

Metaphors proliferate. A parking lot going 200 miles an hour. High-speed chess. High-speed Tetris. High speed, for sure.

After Joey Logano broke a long dry spell by winning the Geico 500, crew chief Todd Gordon said, “We came to a race track where Joey is one of the best plate racers, Brad (Keselowski), as well, and they work off each other.”

Every time a race is run at Talladega, particularly in the spring when new rules are in place, unexpected changes occur in the style, the balance of power, the ability to pass or lack thereof, and which drivers are adept and which aren’t.

This time Joey Logano’s number popped up. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Four of Jamie McMurray’s seven career victories have occurred at “plate tracks,” two apiece at Daytona and Talladega. It is popularly believed that McMurray is adept, but what has he done lately? In his last four visits, his “finishes” are 19th, second, 37th and 28th. Jimmie Johnson’s last six placings (because “finishes” often don’t mean finishing) are 18th, 22nd, 23rd, eighth, 24th and 12th.

It’s not that those numbers are surprising. Many drivers have Talladega histories that might as well have come up in the Powerball tube. McMurray, though, touched off one of Sunday’s two major crashes, and Johnson, the seven-time champion, caused the other.

McMurray also flipped 11 times in a Friday practice crash.

In the last 10 Talladega races, the leaders in terms of average finish are: (1.) Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 11.2; (2.) Kevin Harvick 12.0; (3.) Kurt Busch 12.5; and (4.) Ryan Newman 12.9.

Logano’s average is 15.6. Seven drivers are better. Keselowsk’s is 17.3. Thirteen are better.

The numbers mainly make numbers irrelevant. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won six times at Talladega, averaged 16.8 in his last 10.

“Lies, damned lies and statistics.” Mark Twain said it often and attributed it to Benjamin Disraeli.

I could’ve sworn it was Larry McReynolds.

A decent portion of hell breaks loose. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

If anything truly dominates Talladega, it’s a car, not a driver. Fords have won the last six. Chevrolets won 13 in a row from 1999 through the first race of 2005. Then Dale Jarrett won in a Ford, and Chevrolets won four more.

Two massive pileups notwithstanding, the race on Sunday was, by Talladega’s garish standards, uneventful. The inside line was mostly the place to be. No one seemed to have much appetite for the supposedly “all-important” stage points.

Fox commentators Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon tried everything shy of the Warren Commission to absolve Johnson of blame for a crash he most definitely caused. It’s all right. It doesn’t take much of a mistake to set off a Talladega dust storm, but Johnson made one, and there really wasn’t any need to claim a tornado swooped down over the third turn and disappeared as quickly as it arrived.

Does McGruffy-Wuffy have a tippy-wippy? Was Johnson covered for a zombie apocalypse in his policy? Who, in fact, did frame Roger Rabbit?

“Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer” was a song penned by Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh. It was about a World War II bomber, but it could have been about a stock car at Talladega.

And Kenny Wallace could have written it.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

My writing on local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

Posted in NASCAR | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Logano’s Turn to Be a Talladega Genius

Never Average, Usually Wild

(Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, April 29, 2018, 8:32 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Joe Garagiola said baseball is a funny game – once upon a time, I read the book – and Talladega Superspeedway is a funny place.

It’s hard to round up the usual suspects. By the time they’re detained, their lightning-fast race cars are often crumpled and disfigured. Those cars, even while they’re still intact, aren’t as fast as they could be. Their engines have these devices called restrictor plates, which used to be placed between carburetors and manifolds, but that was when they still had carburetors. Now they’re somewhere else, but the specifics of fuel injection elude me.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Monte Dutton photo)

All I really need to know is that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won last year. Stenhouse is a good driver, but his trusty mounts do not have the gallop speed necessary to win at most tracks. He also won at Talladega’s older brother in Daytona Beach, Fla.

What do these men have in common? Richard Brickhouse, James Hylton (R.I.P.), Dick Brooks, Lennie Pond, Ron Bouchard, Bobby Hillin Jr., Phil Parsons, Brian Vickers and David Ragan.

They all won there. Combined, they have won 13 times, and nine were at Talladega. For seven, it was their first, and for six, it was their only.

Are you tired of Kyle Busch after three straight victories? Did Kevin Harvick make you weary earlier in the year? Either may win the Geico 500. Those mysterious plates don’t hinder the best and brightest. They just elevate the better and brighter.

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

The site of NASCAR’s most frenetic races fills my memories and freezes them in time. The action and videos exist in my mind as moments and snapshots. Over two decades, only three times was I sick on a race weekend, and two were at Talladega. It was where I saw two dear friends for the final time, and both perished suddenly a few days later.

I remember exactly where I was when Davey Allison’s helicopter, Tony Roper’s truck and Jack Roush’s ultralight crashed. Roush lived. Roper perished in Texas, but I washed it on TV next to a swimming pool in Anniston. The memories are in color. The color is red.

Not all the memories are sad. Many others are funny. If ever Talladega hosted an average race, it was an anomaly. Lay all those races end to end, and they still point in all directions.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

My writing on local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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A Glorious Anachronism

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, April 28, 2018, 10:57 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I thought about James Harvey Hylton the day before yesterday. Some local hardhead came up, and it made me think of what James called himself when I was wrting a long profile of him back in 1993 or ’94.

The Last of the Mohicans. That he was.

I’m not overwhelmed with sadness. James was 83 and a racer till the end. When he and his son, “Tweety,” perished in a highway crash this morning, they were headed back to Inman because ARCA ran a race at Talladega on Friday and James owned an ARCA team.

As I’ve gotten older and experienced the tragedies that all of us go through, I’ve come to reserve my deepest grief for those who don’t get a chance to live a life as full as Hylton’s.

Frank Sinatra never did it his way anywhere close to as much as Hylton did. When I still went to the tracks, I almost always strolled over to the ARCA garage to chat with him and Terry Strange, who considered James the closest thing to a father he ever had. Terry was seriously injured in the crash, too.

James Hylton (arcaracing.com)

I had even mentioned James in the blog this one was supposed to be and will probably be resumed tomorrow. He was in a list of unlikely Talladega winners. I remember distinctly James outdueling Ramo Stott, in the Talladega 500 on August 6, 1972 as I listened on the radio. He drove an orange Mercury sponsored by a short-lived soft drink named Pop Kola. He also won the Richmond 500 on March 1, 1970.

The only driver who ever won a championship in NASCAR’s premier series in No. 48 is Jimmie Johnson, but Hylton was runner-up in the standings three times – 1966 to David Pearson, ’67 and ’71 to Richard Petty – not to mention third four times and fourth once. His was a substantial career, and not only was he the last of the Mohicans. He may have been the greatest of NASCAR’s true independents.

James was 78 when he ran his last ARCA race, finishing 18th in a race known as the Kansas Lottery 98.9 – predictably at Kansas Speedway — on Oct. 4, 2013. He raced because it was all he ever wanted to do, and his personality was that of a cowboy, a guitar picker and a mountain trapper.

And, oh, yeah, a Mohican.

Once, at Charlotte Motor Speedway, James was frustrated after failing to make the field for an ARCA race. He slid behind the wheel of the old Dodge that he claimed had a million miles on it, ready to head home. A guard told him he couldn’t go out the chain-link gate he came in, and James told him, by God, he would. He backed that truck up, revved the engine and ran it right through the gate. I can’t find any evidence that he ever ran Charlotte again. I’m satisfied he didn’t pay for that gate.

(Getty Images for NASCAR)

James had a homemade dynamometer in the yard of his shop. It had a rusting tractor seat, a gear shift, a transmission into which his engines were inserted, and a huge propeller. He measured the horsepower from the revolutions of the propeller. He told me he got that idea from Robert Yates and insisted it was more accurate than those high-dollar dynos others used. He also mixed up a silicate solution that he poured into an engine to make a cracked block last for a while. He told me that stuff cost $40 a can at the parts trailer, but he could mix it up for a lot less, and the only difference was that his wasn’t tinted black.

It was fitting in more than one way that James died on the way home from Talladega and not just because it was the site of his greatest victory. He told me it was also the beginning of his end. Both of his victories occurred afterwards, but he was a ringleader in the group known as the Professional Drivers Association (PDA), which boycotted the first-every Talladega race. Most of the big names followed suit, but Big Bill France eventually crushed that union. Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and others worked their way back into NASCAR’s good graces, but James didn’t have their star power, and the powers that were eventually squashed him like an annoying bug. He thought they stole some of his sponsors and ran others away from then on.

James was bitter, but he didn’t give a damn what they did, and, in the hereafter, I hope he wins.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

My writing on local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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Hail the Conquering Hero

Kyle Busch celebrates with the fans. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, April 22, 11:15 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Kyle Busch may be a flawed hero, but, at the moment, he’s the only hope.

That may be a consequence of immediacy, which seems to be all that matters anymore. In the Age of Technology, there is no past, no future, only present. Busch has won three races in a row. Kevin Harvick won three straight earlier in this very season, but no matter. Even before Busch increased the relevance of the title, Toyota Owners 400, the marketing engine was cranking. He and Dale Earnhardt Jr. publicly buried an old, rusty hatchet. The sudden Man of the People climbed into the grandstands to mingle with the fans.

Darrell Wallace Jr. leads a pack of cars. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Richmond Raceway’s return to the springtime night was a good, not great, race, but if a classic is run every week, it ceases to be a classic. Five days earlier, in the gloom of a Monday afternoon, Busch won a marvelous Bristol race in front of a crowd that rounded down to zero. Saturday night’s was merely disappointing, in spite of lovely weather.

At the moment, there isn’t much else out there, and Busch is basically it. His Toyota advertised three flavors of M&Ms. None was vanilla. He’s got that going for him.

Busch started 32nd. It’s not the disadvantage it once was, what with all the bells and whistles, but it’s good for the sport to see a fast car slicing and dicing its way through the field.

I kept my head down, kept myself focused all night long, trying to bring home a win,” Busch said.

Who could dislike this guy? (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Perhaps the excursion into the stands was a good test of how fans are finally getting accustomed to Busch’s contrary ways. Those who lingered were happy to see him. Those who didn’t were either in their personal vehicles, trying to get out of there, or stomping toward them with invective on their breaths.

Aw, what the hell.

Don’t worry,” Busch said. “I was definitely eyeing it out, like, who’s there, who’s there, who’s there.  Saw a lot of ‘18’ stuff, so I just decided to go up there, give some guys and some kids some high fives, what’s ups. Fortunately, I got back out of there. They held onto me for a second, then my brute strength ripped me out of their arms and brought me back to civilization on the race track.”

The masses may not be fully acclimated, but they’ve lost their interest in fistfights. It’s called progress. As Virginia’s Statler Brothers almost sang, “Junior’s gone, and Disney’s dead, and the screen is filled with sex.”

Harvick still lurks. Chase Elliott still runs second. Jimmie Johnson is starting to rustle. The other kids are removing the training wheels from their bikes.

It’s natural to play the hot hand.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

My writing on local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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No Need to Stop the Presses

A Mustang leads a Camaro leads a Camry. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, April 20, 2018, 11:45 a.m.

 

By Monte Dutton

As of the end of 2017, 125,809 Ford Mustangs were registered around the world. The United States had 81,866 of them tooling around. Next year, oh, 10 or so, maybe as many as 15, will be lapping a variety of tracks in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races.

 

It’s no surprise. Chevrolet debuted its version of the Camaro in Cup this year. Camaros and Mustangs have been the model of choice in the Xfinity Series and its precursors since 2011. Once they enjoyed the company of Dodge Challengers until Chrysler left the sport in 2013. Toyota persists with its NASCAR version of the Camry, mainly because the Japanese manufacturer enters no equivalent to Mustangs or Camaros on the highways, let alone the raceways.

NASCAR needs more such fans. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

 

I modestly called for “muscle cars” or whatever one chooses to call them – “muscle cars,” “sports cars,” “baby grands,” or, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. might say, “whatnot” – in NASCAR’s second-string series for most of a decade before they were adapted for such competition. My idea was that the Busch (then Nationwide, then Xfinity) Series would be a great place to get kids involved. It would provide an identity to a series that mainly consisted of racing between less powerful, minutely smaller cars that looked just like those in the more significant races run the following day or night.

 

It didn’t happen. Next year it’s back to slightly sportier basics.

 

This leaves with me with mixed feelings. I guess the benefits of pulses that could mildly quicken overweigh the concerns of renewed sameness. Forty percent of me is happy. Thirty-five percent thinks nothing matters. Twenty-five percent sinks into a blue oval funk.

 

I hope it works. I hope anything works. Camaros and Mustangs beat electric driverless cars.

 

I mean, don’t they?

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

My writing on local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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