MONTE DUTTON: – DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES? YES!
Darlington is in the rearview mirror, and I always love Darlington like cowboys love cutting horses, but something just has to be written about one of the doggonedest racing stories I’ve ever seen.
Jeremy Clements, 32 years’ worth of where NASCAR stars used to come from and how they made it big, won the Xfinity Series race at Road America on the 27th day and fourth Sunday of August.
I have just published my second novel about a young race-car driver from Spartanburg, S.C., and Clements proved with evidence that would stand up in court that truth is stranger than fiction.
If you don’t believe it – the facts – just consider the words he said when he climbed out of his No. 51 Chevrolet. (Writer’s note: In Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated, Barrie Jarman drives a No. 59 Ford.)
“I don’t believe it. Honestly, it’s just a shock.”
I watched the race on TV, and it was lucky that the Boston Red Sox were getting beaten, but I didn’t feel that way at the time.
First of all, here’s a driver who came up on the dirt tracks, winning on a road course.
Here’s a driver from Spartanburg – which gave the world David Pearson, Cotton Owens, Bud Moore, Jack Smith, James Hylton (nearby Inman), etc., but no one else lately – winning with a family team that lacks the resources of everyone he had to beat.
No Spartanburg driver had won in the Xfinity (then Busch) Series since Larry Pearson in 1995. No South Carolinian had won since Greenville’s Jason Keller in 2003. No one had won from a small team since David Gilliland in 2006.
Okay. I flipped the channel from the doomed Red Sox, and Jeremy Clements was leading in Elkhart Lake, Wis. I couldn’t have been more surprised if Carl Yastrzemski had showed up at Fenway Park, 78 years young, and hit a grand slam against the Orioles.
Clements was leading because all the leaders had pitted. Oh, okay. By the time he pitted, he was eight seconds down with 10 laps to go.
Those tires made a difference, and Road America is 4.014 miles around. Clements caught Matt Tifft, driving a Toyota from Joe Gibbs Racing, with two to go.
Freeze the story.
When Clements was 19, he almost lost his right hand in a crash at a dirt track in Madison, N.C. It took 10 operations, the first of which took nine hours, to save it. The Johnsonville 180 was his 256th Busch Series start, and he had never finished better than fourth.
His granddaddy, Crawford, turned wrenches for Rex White. His daddy, Tony, builds engines. The son wasn’t built to give up. Most would have. At Darlington, Clements drove a red Chevrolet with a color scheme mimicking the Dodge A.J. Foyt drove to victory at Daytona in 1964. Foyt’s crew chief that day? Crawford Clements.
See? I finally got around to Darlington.
Ever since I watched the cars of Clements and Tifft spin out coming to the white flag – and Clements get his going first and win on a road course in a fashion similar to Pearson beating Richard Petty in the 1976 Daytona 500 – I haven’t been able to think about anything else.