Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Saint Ronnie and Saint Dale


I am a political junkie and a NASCAR fan-atic and these are the two heroes in the world I inhabit...which pretty much puts me totally out of step with most of those around me.

Ronald Reagan, President, the Great Communicator.

Dale Earnhardt, Stock Car Driver, The Intimidator.

They have both long passed out of reality and into the stuff of myth.

Reagan devotees have put time and money into an effort to name everything but the kitchen sink after him - airports and schools and highways and ships and mountains and money. I wouldn't be surprised if some Republicans don't have a little bronze plaque in their kitchen - Ronald Wilson Reagan Memorial Kitchen Sink. In fact, the new country planned by some secession enthusiasts is tentatively named Reagan.

Dale Earnhardt worshipers are much the same. To them, Dale was the epitome of daring cool and no one else will ever measure up. No matter if they pass him in poles and laps led and wins and championships because everyone knows that NASCAR has become a woosified sport compared to back in the day when men were men and Dale was the manliest of them all.

Of course, the people who love them know what they would have thought and done in every situation. Like now. Ronald Reagan would have thrown down against Putin for invading Ukraine. Forget that he didn't do a thing when Russia shot down one of our passenger planes - and when a truck bomb killed 242 of our Marines, we simply packed up and left Lebanon. Forget that Reagan's "claim to fame" as a war president was the invasion of the tiny little island of Grenada. What would Reagan's response have been to Ebola? Ask yourself how he reacted to AIDS and that will probably give you some idea. (Hint: he ignored it).

And Reagan would never have shredded our revered constitution by using executive orders to grant clemency to illegal immigrants....except he did. Reagan would never have signed a gun control bill in defiance of the Second Amendment....except he did. As Governor, Reagan would never have approved any legislation that weakened the pro-life position....except he did. Reaganites have either forgotten, or found excuses for all these actions.

In the last many years, NASCAR has created a play-off system called the Chase. Many old-line NASCAR aficionados hate the Chase. They swear that Dale would have marched into the executive offices at NASCAR and demanded that it be repealed. They boast that Dale would have refused to drive in such a travesty of a series and NASCAR would, of course, have backed down rather than alienate its most popular driver.

Dale Earnhardt was before my time in NASCAR. Perhaps he was all that and more that his fans thought about him. But my belief is that he would have done exactly as every other driver has done - he would have raced and tried to win based on the rules mandated by NASCAR.

Saint Reagan. the Great Communicator, told the American people how unions were bad and firing all Air Traffic Controllers, banning them from practicing their profession again, ever, was what they deserved. Instead of being aghast at the pure brutality of his actions, we believed and yelled, "right on, Ronnie!" He told us that tax cuts pay for themselves and that if you pile the profits onto the rich, their left-overs will trickle down to the rest of us and we believed and yelled, "right on, Ronnie!" So, even though, lo' these many years later, time has proven over and over again that he was wrong, we go right on believing.

Saint Dale is to NASCAR what Ronald Reagan is to the Presidency. His ubiquitous number # 3 race car is tattooed on body parts and flown on banners and painted on the sides of campers. How many times do I hear, "Dale, would have done this" or "Dale wouldn't have put up with that" or "Current Driver wouldn't have made a pimple on Dale Earnhardt's ass"?

I don't understand this penchant Americans have for idolatry. Jack Kennedy and Bill Clinton were two of my favorite presidents but I acknowledge their weaknesses while still honoring their accomplishments. Jimmie Johnson is my favorite NASCAR driver. I think he is by far the best of modern times but I don't insist that he is is super-human.

And that's the problem with deifying  our heroes. It causes us to scorn the heroes of now. No one will ever be able to live up to Saint Ronnie and Saint Dale. No pedestals will ever be high enough to reach them. And while our rose-colored glasses are focused on the past, we let the present slip through our fingers.

Monday, November 17, 2014



Congratulations to Kevin Harvick - 2014 Sprint Cup Champion!

I have to admit that it was an exciting race even though I didn't have much passion for any of the four contenders. I do like the idea that the oldest of them won. It is great to see a driver who has worked so hard for so long be able to cap his career with a championship. Kevin came close several times but never quite got over the hump. Then last year, he took a risk and changed teams in a last ditch effort to make it to the pinnacle....and it worked.

Congratulations to Stewart-Haas Racing. They've won two championships in their short existence, a hell of an achievement considering the competition....and considering that they've faced some serious hardships in that time.

Congratulations to Ryan Newman. I know he wanted to win but second is something to be proud of for a team that surprised everyone getting so far. He and Kevin switched places and it worked out for both of them.

I felt sorry for Denny...he sort of has that always a bridesmaid and never a bride quality but he's still young, so he has time to get there and I think he will.

Same with Joey. Since I first became a NASCAR fan, I've heard the old saying, "you have to lose one to win one". This one was Joey's to lose. I think he'll be a champion before his career is over too...probably more than once.

Congratulations to Kyle Larson - Rookie of the Year. What a tremendous season this kid has had. I'm only surprised he never managed to make it to Victory Lane but his time is coming. NASCAR should love Kyle for his showman qualities. He makes racing exciting. A take-no-prisoners racer, rather like Kyle Busch but more level-headed.

And speaking of fabulous seasons, congratulations to Chase Elliott. He and Kyle Larson are the future of NASCAR and it is a thrilling future to look forward to for fans. Not to mention, the Dillon boys, Justin Allgaier, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Blaney.....and on and on. These are the kids that will take Jimmie's and Jeff's and Matt's and Kevin's and Junior's places when the time comes.

Congratulations to Johnny Sauter - Camping World Truck Series champion and first back to back champion in the series.

Congratulations and good bye to Steve LeTarte - well, not totally good-bye, just as a crew chief. We'll actually see him more than ever in his a new position as a television announcer. And good-bye to Jimmy Fennig, who is leaving the crew chief box along with LeTarte. Maybe it will be good-bye to some others we don't know about yet. The rumor is that Joe Gibbs Racing is going to shake up their crew chief/driver combinations so we don't know how that will turn out.

Congratulations to the final four contenders. Why do you suppose it was that all four were in the top seven or eight most of the night? Did other drivers make way for them? Were they simply more driven by the quest for a championship? I'm certainly not suggesting any conspiracy theories, just curious about how and why that happened. Jeff Gordon was the only one to give them much competition all race long...and even though they were the final four, they weren't the four you might have predicted to all be up front in the last race based on past performance.

Congratulations to NASCAR. Even though I personally don't particularly care for this format, it appears that NASCAR hit a home run with the fans and that's the most important thing of all.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Ready for Daytona!


And then there were four - Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman. Congratulations to Kevin Harvick for pulling this one off. His only chance to advance was to win and win he did. His car was definitely "freaky fast" all day.

Although I don't like it personally, I think Brian France got what he was hoping for out of this year's Chase. He said he wanted more "game seven moments" in NASCAR and I believe that's what we've seen here at the last.

In both Texas and Phoenix, the points standings changed from lap to lap. Teams would be in the top four and fall back to be replaced by others who advanced and then it would all change up again. Poor Jeff Gordon. What a roller coaster ride the last two weeks have been for him. In Texas, he looked to be safe to move on until Brad shot the gap between him and Jimmie on a restart and he ended up hitting the wall with a cut tire. Then in Phoenix, he was in by a single point until Ryan booted Kyle Larson so that Jeff and Ryan switched places.

I have to say, I don't think either Brad last week or Ryan this week did anything wrong. This is what NASCAR wants. They have sold this format to us as drivers stressed to the max. The NASCAR commercials all focus on the pressure they're under. They sweat; they clench their fists; crew chiefs bite their lips. We, at least some of us, maybe most of us, want that. The "do whatever it takes" mentality. The fight last week created the publicity for this week.

Whether the best four drivers will be fighting for the championship, I have my doubts but, it doesn't matter. They are the best four under this set of rules. If Ryan Newman earns the Cup without any wins, he will be as legitimate as any other champion. You can only play the game the way NASCAR sets it up.

Again, I think NASCAR will be pleased that whoever wins, it will be someone who has never won a championship before. That aspect of it, I admit, is rather satisfying. I'm not rooting for anyone in particular now. Homestead will be stress-free for me because of that.

I still think bad races hurt more than good races, even wins, help. Junior, Kyle and Brad are all proof of that. I think NASCAR is leaning more toward an X Games "watch this!" mentality than one based on pure performance but hey, it's NASCAR's sandbox, as they say, so I'll live with whatever they decide. We'll see what 2015 brings.

Kurt Busch. We don't know much yet but nothing I've heard surprises me. If ever there was a tremendously talent person who continually sabotages himself, it is Kurt. He just seems to have a self-destructive side to his personality. I will say, the crew chief and team switch seems to have benefited him....though Danica, not so much.

I hung in and watched the entire Nationwide race, though I was tempted to turn it off when I could see it was going to be Kyle and Brad chasing each other around all night, because I wanted to see if Chase Elliott could secure the championship....which he did. Yay, Chase! Now, of course, we'll all be dying to know what happens next. He'll probably race Nationwide one more years (at least, according to Rick Hendrick) with maybe a few Cup races as well. But then what? Someone has to leave Hendrick for Chase to come to Cup. Who will it be? Rick let Brad Keselowski slip away because he didn't have an open ride. I don't think he'll want to let that happen again.

I will give Brad credit for an incredible pass at the very last to steal this one from Kyle. I'm glad I saw it.

I missed the Truck race, I wish I could get more excited about the trucks but I just can't. For me, they don't have the sex appeal of cars.

I can't believe this season is almost over. For all the griping I have done lately, I hate seeing it end. I already can't wait until Daytona!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Gladness and Madness!


Geez, I almost hate to write this blog because I don't think it will be very popular with my best NASCAR friends.

Oh, not the part about how gleeful I am about Jimmie winning. They'll understand how I jumped and wrung my hands and begged him to take the checkered flag. Take that, New Chase....the last two races have been won by non-contenders and I hope the last two are as well! Go, Jimmie! Go, Junior!

No the part I'm talking about is the fight and who was or wasn't at fault. We have heard over and over again from announcers that this is the most intense and pressure-filled Chase there has ever been. They say that like it is a good thing. They say these guys are out there riding on the edge of their last nerve! They say they are probably not sleeping at night. They say Crew Chiefs are ordering antacid by the case. Cool, huh?

So, are we surprised when drivers will do whatever they think it takes to win, especially if they are down in the points and need that win to possibly survive? Are we surprised that they'll bolt for any hole they see that might take them to the front, even if it is a little iffy? Supposedly, that's what we want them to do.

Don't get me wrong. I'm very much rooting for Jeff to win this championship and I'm not at all a big Keselowski fan but still, I don't think Brad K did anything wrong. I don't think he did anything any of the others wouldn't have done. Do you really think Harvick wouldn't have tried to blast his way through if he'd been in that position? Brad is brash and mouthy and that makes it too easy to make him the scapegoat.

Not that I blame Jeff for being furious. He had his Chase pretty well under control and now he's barely in the top four so sure, he is royally pissed about that.

Kevin Harvick should have kept his nose out of it. It wasn't his fight to get involved in.

But here's something I'd like a long-time NASCAR fan to explain to me. Dale Earnhardt was gone before my time but I've certainly read a lot about him and the love so many NASCAR fans had for him. They reveled at his willingness to knock someone out of the way to win. Why was it good when Dale did it but awful when Brad does it? Do we like the "knock'em, sock'em" kind of drivers or not?

Why is it when Tony Stewart says he'd wreck his Mom to try to win a championship, we cheer - "yeah, Smoke, that's the old spirit!" But Brad is a jerk for doing what Tony said he'd happily do?

I don't understand it.

As for the other races, I didn't watch the Truck race because I figured Kyle would win....sure enough. I did record the Nationwide race but for some reason my recording ended with 12 laps to go. I wasn't too upset. I assumed it would be either Kyle or Joey....sure enough.

The first half of the Cup race was entertaining for Jimmie fans, maybe not so much for others. The second half was surely surely pretty entertaining for everyone with lots of cautions and the lead trading hands. Two green/white/checkers.

And then, of course, the fight with what looked like about 100 participants and actual blood on both parties...not exactly spurting from mortal wounds, but still....

If that's your kind of race...and can probably expect more of the same in Phoenix because Texas brought the points closer together than before so all eight have a chance. If you think they are all going to be gentlemen, you're crazy.