NASCAR Fans, We Get No Love

There’s allegedly some kind of professional sporting event taking place tomorrow. When first informed of this my immediate response was, “But Daytona 500 qualifying isn’t until Sunday February ninth.” I was then informed the event was actually a Shakira and J-Lo concert sandwiched in-between two halves of some football thingy. Eh, whatever it takes to get people to watch.

Given that I am a San Francisco Bay Area native, I still live in said area, and I work at a sporting goods retailer that carries team licensed apparel as a core element of its business, it should be obvious to everyone that I am joking when I say I don’t know what’s happening this Sunday. My store’s entire center aisle is presently occupied with anything and everything 49ers related, and as my job duties consist of serving as the store’s front end overlord I spend the vast majority of my work day ringing up purchase after purchase after purchase of said 49ers merchandise. Given that my NFL teams of choice are the Rams and Colts, with my other favorite team being whoever is playing the 49ers on any given Sunday (or Monday or Thursday), the recent weeks have been rather painful. In some cases literally painful; whichever tendon or tendons attach my right bicep to the shoulder has/have become quite tender in recent days due to the multiple repetitive motions involved in cashiering. There’s a whole lot more involved than running things over a scanner, folks.

Courtesy of my penchant for using the workplace as a most excellent platform from which to observe the human condition, several notations regarding the public reaction to a local team reaching the summit of their sport (or at the very least being one of the two teams readying to vie for their sport’s ultimate prize) warrant mention:

    • No tests determining knowledge of the local team, its players, the sport they play, the league they are in, or much of anything else are required to purchase team apparel. The most painful example of this took place yesterday, when a customer responded to my response regarding which team I was rooting for this weekend (I said I didn’t care) was “well, you should still wish the 49ers good luck against Tennessee.” I’ll get on that the next time the 49ers and Titans get together, which won’t be tomorrow.
    • A further example of this also came yesterday, when a different customer looked at a decal sheet featuring 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa, then turned to me and asked, “Is he any good?” No, we sell more of his jersey than any other player on the team because our clientele is packed with long-term Kurt Busch fans who’ll buy anything with a 97 on it because it reminds them of back when he drove that number for Jack Roush.

Along with a noticeable lack of football acumen comes an amount of ignorance regarding how business in general, and retail in particular, so profound you’d think every single shopper was a career politician who is utterly convinced all businesses great and small are sitting atop an unlimited amount of money and the sole reason business is in business is in order to funnel all income into the government’s coffers for funding social engineering experiments. To wit:

    • “Do you have any more of this in the back?” Of course we do. We refuse to bring it out onto the sales floor because the notion of stocking shelves and clothing racks with items presently flying off said shelves and racks, the purchase of said items being our source of income, is utterly abhorrent to our dream of going out of business, becoming unemployed, and moving en masse underneath an overpass.
    • “How come you’re out of stock on this?” Oh, same reason you’re rather unlikely to find this season’s hot toys if you postpone your holiday shopping until Christmas Eve. Rude of us to let other people buy things you wanted for the sole reason of their coming in to shop before you did, we know.
    • “Do you know when your next shipment will be?” Um, probably whenever whichever delivery service stop by. Sorry we don’t have their GPS information.
    • “Will you be getting any more of these in?” If they make more, yes. See, merchandise tied into a specific event isn’t like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon used to be when it was on the Billboard charts for 741 consecutive weeks. Only so many pieces of these championship thingys get made, and when you combine that with the number of retail outlets clamoring for these items … you get the picture. Maybe.
    • “How come you don’t know exactly what you’re getting in and when?” Our super secret telekinetic mind wave wonder reader connecting us with all manufacturers, distributors, and delivery agents is currently in the shop. A thousand pardons.

I say the above noting if I went on 1/10th of 1% as much about NASCAR to any and everyone as people are going off about the Super Bowl, I’d be run out of town on a rail. We NASCAR fans who live anywhere other than a hot spot for it get no love, just like NASCAR gets no love from the sports world at large.

It’s enough to drive this teetotaler to drink.

The Nice Guy’s Gone

John Andretti died from colon cancer yesterday. He was 56.

Andretti was one of the nice guys. His racing career lacked the glory of his uncle Mario or first cousin Michael; in 393 Cup starts he won only twice, the final victory coming in 1999. The final years saw him bouncing from team to team. He wasn’t the flashiest or fanciest, and it can be safely argued much of his popularity stemmed from his last name more than any on-track accomplishments.

But he was unarguably a genuinely nice guy.

Genuinely nice guys are distinguishable from self-proclaimed ones by what they do, not how they run their mouths. Andretti raised millions for, ironically, cancer research and treatment for children. His public mention of his own cancer when first diagnosed was done not for gaining sympathy, but to encourage men his age to get the dreaded colonoscopy needed to catch early warnings of problems. Because that’s what nice guys do. They look out for others.

John Andretti’s death won’t garner 1/100th of 1% of the lamentations Kobe Bryant’s has. This is to be expected. Bryant was a universal figure. Andretti was known but to devoted auto racing fans. But he was known, and he was loved.

Rest in glory, John.

Daniel Suárez’s Second Act

The announcement earlier this week that Daniel Suárez will compete full-time in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series for Gaunt Brothers Racing is something of a mixed message. While on one hand it’s good for Suárez to be back behind the wheel, and admirable for Gaunt Brothers Racing to step up to the Cup Series, it promises to be a steep hill to climb for all concerned.

Suárez is one of the several drivers in recent memory – reference Jeff Green and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as examples – who scored tremendous success in the Xfinity (or Busch or whoever was the sponsor that year) Series but either has not or did not take his winning ways to the Cup level. He hasn’t been terrible in Cup, but when in three years spent driving for high roller teams, namely two years with Gibbs and one with Stewart-Haas, you have naught to show but eight top-fives, thirty-two top-tens, and three poles to your credit, it becomes clear why Suárez is now with his third team in four years. It certainly didn’t help his cause that Martin Truex Jr. was available in 2019. But to be replaced for 2020 by Cole Custer, who has yet to prove himself at Cup level although he has been major mojo in Xfinity – sound familiar? – has got to sting.

Making the situation even more challenging for Suárez? This is Gaunt’s first foray into full-time Cup competition. It’s also crew chief Dave Winston’s first time in the hot seat since 2016. His career stats? One top-ten finish in sixty-one races. Ouch.

Obviously it’s far too early in Suárez’s career to toss him into the never-will-be pile. He’s only 28, and he is not unfamiliar with the path to Victory Lane. The question is how will he be able to handle a situation where expectations are understandably lowered. Will Gaunt be able to give him a competitive car? Will Winston be able to perform at the level required for a Cup crew chief to enjoy success? Will Suárez be able to sufficiently up his game and prove he’s not an underachiever? Time will tell, but with that said it’s impossible to not root for Suárez and company to turn themselves into a pleasantly positive surprise.

Priorities When Caught In An Unguarded Moment

As mentioned in the previous post, I am at present a retail gladiator. I say gladiator mindful of Russell Crowe’s line “are you not entertained?” from Gladiator, as keeping the customers outwardly amused while privately musing as to whether it would be socially acceptable to grab a sword and start swinging away is one of my standard go-tos when dealing with less than pleasant people. It’s my second go-round in this realm, with a decade plus stint as cubicle warrior sandwiched in-between. Each field has its advantages and disadvantages. A thumbnail sketch states the office world, with extremely few exceptions, pays much better than retail but is far more stressful.

Working in retail does provide multiple opportunities for observing the human condition, be it pleasant or sub-optimal. An interesting vignette transpired earlier today. Young mom was on phone chatting away, accompanied by her son whose age appeared to be somewhere in the two to three year old range. The son suddenly took off and toddled out the front door, which empties onto a sidewalk and from there straight into a quite busy parking lot. Mom, after futilely calling for her son to return to her side, almost nonchalantly made her way outside after him … without missing a beat in her phone conversation. All ended well as fortunately the boy stopped just outside the front door, where his mother grabbed him with her one free hand (the other firmly clutching her phone) and led him back inside the store. Maybe I missed it, but given the situation with its multiple very bad possible conclusions, her actions seemed more than a tad too casual for my taste. But what do I know; I’m just a retail worker.

The scenario brought to mind assorted reactions to Kobe Bryant and his daughter’s death, along with others equally loved by their families and co-workers, this past Sunday. For many the grief is understandably palpable; a teammate / friend / hero suddenly gone even as he was just beginning a highly successful and admirable second chapter of life. There are those taking the moment as painful illustration of how we need to cling to one another, forgiving each other our trespasses as none of us have any guarantee of life tomorrow on this planet. Others see his passing as an excuse to exploit the accompanying grief, selling and reselling anything connected to him at exorbitant prices. Still others are in part or whole unmoved, choosing to focus on the negatives in Bryant’s life while ignoring the good. Of such is human nature.

The question has come up as to whether this is the most shocking sports death in recent history. More than a few have opined no, Dale Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500 was more shocking. This may seem strange to the NASCAR unaware, given the sport’s inherent danger for every driver at every moment of every race. However, one may forget that at the time of his fatal accident Earnhardt was revered by many as an almost mythical figure, one who would always circumvent the odds and never succumb regardless of the circumstances. To see video of the crash now, one would think while it was a hard hit, that would be that and Earnhardt would shortly emerge from the infield care center with a few choice words for his fellow drivers and genuine joy that Michael Waltrip, driving for the team he owned, had won the year’s biggest race. He never made it to that point.

Life is uncertain, unknown, a pre-measured quantity of which no Earth dweller knows the length. Is it not good then to enjoy what can be enjoyed, such as the competition and skill that is NASCAR? The true NASCAR fan watches not for the accidents, but rather the carefully executed pass; the battles for position on the track, the strategy of pit stops. We can all think of things to complain about all night when it comes to the sport, most of the kvetches well justified. But is it not better to celebrate we are here to kvetch? And, in light of this, perhaps kvetch less? All of us will one day face being caught in an unguarded moment. Live and love accordingly.

No Longer Silent After All These Years

Hi. Remember me? Sorry I’ve been so off and on (mostly off) these past several years, but this past decade — yes, decade — saw me far more often than not used as a rather unwilling cosmic punching bag. During its span I buried my mother and oldest brother, and fought a pernicious strain of depression that was no small contributor to me changing jobs eight times in ten years, half of said address revisions at the suggestion of my employer that I never darken their door again. I’ve partied harder.

Two other factors leading to my not altogether unforced silence have been working most weekends the past several years, thus precluding watching most of the races live. This status, alas, still exists, as one of the built-in joys known to us retail types. I foresee much race watching on digitally recorded delay in my future. Also, much of my original blogging foundation was based on taking potshots at assorted NASCAR MSM types (they occasionally shot back, by the way). This fell by the wayside when, via a couple of different connections, I found myself sitting in the same room with said reporters, working as a reporter myself and doing my best to not geek freak at the ability to ask what had previously been naught but televised images in firesuits questions regarding that weekend’s race which I’d be watching from the press box. It offered a previously unavailable appreciation for how hard reporters work, thus dictating setting aside the snark as an appropriate course of action. That, and it was pretty petty, childish, stupid, and otherwise un-Christlike of me. Besides, there are so few reporters left covering the sport that alienating any of them makes even less sense than before. Also, absurdist comedy is way more fun, which is a roundabout way of saying expect to see a lot more of Billy Bob “Crash” Cruddercup and variations thereof.

Anyway, other intents for the site include being an aggregator for direct sport/team/driver/track/sponsor announcements. The process of making such happen will take a bit as I experiment with site layout and the like; while WordPress has its advantages, it can also be a most recalcitrant beast about such things. That, and I imagine I’ll have to do a fair amount of sweet-talking various PR types that despite whatever legends they may have heard about me – if they’ve heard of me at all, given how long I’ve been out of the loop-de-loop about the roundy-rounds – I do not have the mark of the beast on my forehead and I really am a nice guy who can write a bit. Speaking of such, if anyone wants to hire me as a writer for freelance gigs or a permanent position, let me know.

And so … back to the beginning. As I posted on my first blog post some seventeen years ago (ouch), one man, one voice, one opinion. Consider it as you will.