Growing up, my favorite sportswriter was Jim Murray. Most of his columns were supremely funny. When the moment required otherwise, he could stop your heart with achingly beautiful words.
One such column by him I remember was the one he wrote after his wife passed away. It’s been decades since I’ve read it, thus quoting it accurately is not an option. That said, as best I remember it started with him saying this was the column he hoped he’d never have to write.
That phrase came to mind yesterday after listening to the conclusion of the Daytona 500 (it ended a few minutes after I got off work), then frantically refreshing my Twitter feed hoping for some word of Ryan Newman’s condition. I watched the clip of the accident, Newman’s car going airborne and landing on its roof after a bump pass gone awry, then unavoidably slammed into at full speed by Cory LaJoie. I watched it once and once only. I couldn’t watch it again. And I dreaded having to think about the post I hope I never have to write. Thank God (literally) I don’t have to.
Now that we know Newman is at least alive, although details of his condition remain unknown save to those directly involved, it’s fair to comment on the race itself. By any other name, restrictor plate racing remains a gladiatorial event as far removed from actual racing as Greta Van Fleet is from Led Zeppelin. There is no way to make it safe, or enjoyable, or acceptable. None. It is an abomination deserving to be forever banished from NASCAR. Even with all the heralded advances in safety the past nearly two decades, it damn near killed Ryan Newman yesterday. Yes, it is impossible to make racing completely safe. However, when you have a format virtually guaranteeing one or more multi-car disasters, it’s entirely fair to dismiss said format as something worthy of continuation.
Lost in the above was some deft driving by Denny Hamlin to take the win, and the hope Ryan Blaney can sufficiently block out the voices screaming he was at fault for what happened to Newman to maintain the necessary focus and aggression needed to be a successful driver.
Here’s hoping for a much tamer Las Vegas this coming weekend.
… Daytona 500 weekend? Seriously?
And I still have to go to work.
Ah well. Catch up quick as I can.
Walt Disney World recently hosted Bubba Wallace and Ryan Blaney for an obviously early morning (i.e. before the park opened) visit to its Star Wars land, officially known as Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Photos courtesy of Walt Disney World, captions courtesy of an aging blogger.
Okay, so it’s late Tuesday evening and I’ve just now finished watching this past Sunday’s Busch Clash, won by Erik Jones. Although the actual winner was Mater, as his grandchildren saw more track time than most of the competitors. And I’m pretty sure even though I watched a recording of the race, in real time they’re still cleaning up the carnage.
The good thing about the race was it demonstrated you can indeed pass someone with this year’s packrat track package (can’t really call it restrictor plate package anymore, given how there is no more restrictor plate). The bad thing is packrat racing, like its predecessor, is one butterfly sneeze away from scrap metal city. Sure, it’s exciting. But it’s not racing, and it’s nowhere near the genuine excitement of short track racing. Packrat racing is to stock car racing what autotuned lip-synching choreographed bumping and grinding is to music. It’s flashy, splashy, and utterly vapid eye and ear candy lacking in substance and true soul.
Anyway, kvetching aside the race had its moments apart from the wallbanging bringing on multiple orders of Harvey wallbangers as crews try to embolden themselves as they start piecing their theoretical Daytona 500 backup cars back together. Most of them took place on the last lap, where some deft slicing and dicing enabled Erik Jones (with a definite assist from Denny Hamlin, who probably was far more interested in getting the thing over with than risking a last second daredevil dive for the win) to grab the victory despite a car that looked like it was suffering from a terrible nose cold. Other than that … yup, it was Daytona all right.
On to the Duels … which again I’ll watch on rerun. This darn work thing, lemme tell ya.
Sorry about the lack of updates this weekend; was caught up in workplace issues, not the least of which was climbing onto my employer’s roof yesterday while chasing down a wayward skylight that had blown off a neighboring store in the 40+ MPH wind gusts that permeated the day. Great fun. Anyway, catch up this evening. See you then.
This doesn’t really have much to do with NASCAR, but since it’s about family and so much of NASCAR is centered on family it fits in, methinks.
John Andretti was buried yesterday in his native Indianapolis. After his funeral, before proceeding to his final resting place the hearse carrying his remains took a solemn lap around his beloved home track Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indianapolis 500.
My father’s family moved to Indianapolis in 1921, when he was two years old. He grew up there. It wasn’t an easy life; his family was anything but well-off, and his mother died at an early age. Still, to him it was home. After marrying my mom in 1944 he moved out west in stages for employment purposes, going from Indiana to Illinois to New Mexico and finally California where I was born. When he retired in 1980, he along with my mother and yours truly moved from California to Indiana, specifically Greencastle which is some thirty miles west of Indianapolis. We often went there both while I lived in Indiana and during my visits there after I moved back to California. He showed me the neighborhood where he grew up, the schools he attended, and when my mother wasn’t in the car with us the locations of his favorite watering holes along with the houses where assorted girlfriends once lived. My Dad enjoyed life IYKWIMAITYD.
In my tender-headed … er, tender teen years I was quite convinced I was going to become a rock and roll star, thus was utterly consumed with playing guitar. My parents tolerated my fantasy perhaps too much, occasionally buying me an electric guitar despite the fact I was at the time far more adept at playing folk on my acoustic. The first professional quality electric guitar I had was a Gibson Les Paul Deluxe. I detailed the story surrounding it a few years ago, so skipping ahead I eventually traded the guitar for a different one and have never forgiven myself for doing so, even though I now own one very much like it.
Flash forward to today, when on that seeming rarity for me known as a day off of work I was doing some light maintenance on a guitar – installing a new bridge (real tough – you pull the old one off its mounting pegs and put the new one on), adjusting the neck, etc. A luthier and/or skilled repairman I am not, but I am capable of doing the basics. Sidenote: the guitar in question is close to the same color the aforementioned Les Paul was when I was gifted it, which is one of the reasons I bought it a few months ago.
As I was setting the intonation (in English, making sure each string plays in tune up and down the entire neck), I suddenly found myself talking to my father as if he was there watching me. He was an engineer by trade, and a highly skilled one, thus making it somewhat curious that I am anything but mechanically inclined. It’s also worth nothing my father passed away nearly twenty-one years ago. Yet there I was, talking with him and assuring him yes, I know what I’m doing here Dad, as surely as if he was physically present. And it didn’t seem in the least bit odd.
As I finished setting up the guitar and set about playing it, I smiled at the thought of how my intended upcoming musical adventure is a mixture of country and blues, and how my father would get quite a chuckle out of the sight of his son Mr. Rock & Roll accompanying my musical partner (and most superb singer) when we first hit the stage together and break out “Crazy,” a Willie Nelson composition made famous by Patsy Cline.
As noted, my father has been in heaven for nearly twenty-one years. It still takes but brief reflection on him to bring on the faraway stare, the moistening eyes. Yet I smile, not only in anticipation of that coming day of great reunion promised by Our Lord but also at how such simple things as adjusting a guitar bring warm memories. Life continues. We may be but temporary assemblages of dust on this planet, yet we are immortal even as life itself is immortal. For we are life, and shall always be.
Much has been made in recent years of NASCAR’s struggles at the ticket window and in television viewership. Reasons flung about for this usually center on the loss of major stars due to recent retirement -Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards – with precious little save Chase Elliott for replacement as far as fan affection goes. Others point to deterioration in racing quality, with ever fewer on-track lead battles being the norm rather than the exception. Still others cite NASCAR losing site of its main fan base in vain pursuit of pop culture pseudo-glory. It’s a mix of all of the above, but the latter is the main culprit.
NASCAR expended tremendous energy in the 2000s and to a lesser degree the 2010s chasing after the sporting equivalent of a Super Bowl halftime extravaganza in lieu of focusing on its core strengths, which far more align with a backyard barbecue and some blues than shimmering bodysuits and stripper poles. At the risk of touching on the political (not that I object to discussing such matters, but I’d rather soft-pedal the topic in favor of others), it’s quite like how the Washington DC/New York City politicos and media – pardon the redundancy – love nothing more than to look down on most everyone living anywhere else in the country and then being genuinely astonished when someone comes along and wins a national election on the primary platform of being with said looked down upon people instead of demanding the people being with them. Certainly the departure of NASCAR’s brightest stars plus a failure to strengthen and/or rectify the sport’s actual core, most commonly known as auto racing and all this entails, have contributed to NASCAR’s decline in the public eye. But it is trying to appeal to those who wish nothing to do with the commoners that make up the sport’s fan base that is the primary culprit. When you ignore Cars and hype Talladega Nights, you’re doing it wrong.
Refer back to the aforementioned backyard barbecue and blues. NASCAR should embrace that embodied by the late Rory Gallagher, an Irish blues guitarist without peer who for decades bubbled underneath the general public consciousness as too unfashionable for the pop charts yet was wholly embraced by the knowledgable few for his authentic, gritty, bare roots music. Gallagher passed away at age forty-seven from complications following a liver transplant necessitated by years of excessive drinking fueled by personal heartache and professional frustration over never receiving the acclaim this most modest among men deserved. His brother Dónal has kept Rory’s memory alive through maintenance of his recorded catalog plus mining live recordings for previously unreleased material.
NASCAR, like Rory Gallagher, was never meant to be fifteen minute candy for the easily bored self-satiated. It is successful solely when it is auto racing from and for the heart; a sport celebrating oneness with its fans. There have been encouraging signs in this direction. Hopefully they will continue.
In the meantime, listen to Rory Gallagher.
As NASCAR dusts off the cobwebs, Clint Bowyer shakes the cobwebs out of his head left over from last night’s Chiefs Super Bowl victory celebration, and everybody who’s anybody (or is at the least trying to become somebody) heads down to Florida who wasn’t there already, a few notes from the few things that are actually going on as the Daytona fortnight commences. And no, kiddies, this doesn’t involve playing Fortnite.
SiriusXM will serve as primary sponsor for Martin Truex Jr. this year in a handful of races. My unimpeachable sources – okay, I made them up – have informed me this agreement comes with several publicly undisclosed nuances, to wit:
— Car will randomly disappear at several points during the race, just like your SiriusXM signal every time a leaf blows by.
— Pit crew will have Howard Stern wigs stapled atop their helmets.
— First 10,000 fans will receive a free life-sized Claire B. Lang bobblehead! Don’t worry, it’ll still fit anywhere.
— Driver/crew radio communications will be available on a limited run channel, the exact channel number changing five times during each race stage.
— All crew members have been strongly cautioned to not accidentally tune into the Grateful Dead channel during the race, thus hopefully avoiding the dreadful error transpiring during a SiriusXM-sponsored race last year when the gas man filled the tank with Sunoco patchouli oil.
In other news, congrats to Christopher Bell on his recent nuptials.
As the cap’n says, stay tuned.