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This is a week of penultimacy, leading me to ask …

… Is that a word?

NASCAR is in Avondale, Ariz., for its next-to-last race.

Virginia Military Institute is in Greenville for Furman’s next-to-last home game, but that’s likely more important to me than you.

Penultimacy is fair warning. Penultimacy should give a man time to prepare for great change.

For me, life starts changing when baseball ends. It finishes changing when NASCAR ends. It starts to get normal when racing begin again. It gets fully normal when the first pitch is thrown and the first bat swung in anger.

In between, I enjoy what others may regard as a normal life. I read more books. Interest in football amps up. I watch more old movies. I play my guitar more. I laugh at politics right up to the moment I cry. Then I pick up my guitar again.

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

Soon there will be something called basketball games. I will pay close attention to the ones about which I write. Otherwise, I will mainly look up from my Kindle when Dick Vitale starts yelling. In other words, I don’t get much reading done at all.

I love hockey in the playoffs, but it doesn’t occur much to me until then, unless Mike Emerick is on the play-by-play. I think of Emerick as Jimmy Buffett did of Patsy Cline.

There is just no one who can touch her (him). Hell, I hang on every line.

Sometimes, in the dead of winter, with a coat of ice weighing down the branches on the road to the house, I think I should give up on NASCAR, but I could no more do that than I could give up black-tar heroin and playing slot machines.

I could give up kidding. There’s always someone who takes everything seriously.

NASCAR is in my blood, or maybe it’s gasoline fumes and noise. Decades ago, when I still built model cars and played racing simulation games on my laptop, I thought, Well, I’d be better if it was a real car. I could feel the rear end start to come around and catch it. Then I’d keep playing, and I could feel the rear end coming around. Sitting in a desk chair. Watching a video screen. The human body, even mine, is an incredible work of art.

I still get a bit of that feeling when I’m watching races on TV. For 20 years, I was there. Now my body tends to simulate it. I just don’t have any need for binoculars anymore.

Few of the drivers do I know anymore. Few of the writers do I know anymore. On my few visits back, few of them know me anymore.

I’ll be at the Touchdown Club in a couple hours. Someone will ask me, “Hey, where’s the race this week? It’s still going on, right?”

I’ll think, Phoenix! Just two races left! Title’s on the line! What’s wrong with you?

But all I’ll say is, “Phoenix.”

They ain’t got it like I do.