Rumor Mill

MONTE DUTTON: THINGS NEED TO GET BUMPY AGAIN

 

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I love Martinsville Speedway. It’s the same way I love Darlington, not to mention Fenway Park, Ryman Auditorium and Wilder Stadium (where I played high school ball).

Martinsville was a place I never went until 1993, when I was 35 years old. I then wrote about 39 more races in a row until I lost my ride in 2013.

Back then, H. Clay Earles held a genial sway in the press box. A little pond was situated behind turns three and four. Dogwood trees were everywhere, blooming in the spring. I can name dozens of baseball parks that are charming. Martinsville was the first speedway that deserved the adjective.

Like everyone else, they built it up during the boom times. Drained the pond. An aluminum grandstand rose, and it looked to me like one of those garish collars Elvis wore in his latter years. Also, I think it is ideally suited to a college baseball park. I miss the pond and the dogwoods, particularly since the track doesn’t need the seats anymore.

Now, though, I’m watching on TV, so it’s not a crushing blow.

Brad Keselowski richly deserved his victory, which is always true at Martinsville in spite of all the stages, wave-arounds and lucky dogs running around to plausibly prevent it.

To each his own, but it is hard to believe that such a unique, charming race in such a quaint, Mayberryesque place does not sell out. I remember when the fans were queued up, waiting for the box office to open, so that they could squeeze into seats on the back straight. Now banners stretch across them.

You don’t like racing anymore? Even at Martinsville? You must not have liked it too damned much to begin with.

Ah, but it’s time to move on. Deep in the heart of Texas. Clap-clap-clap! Where a man named Eddie Gossage gets up every morning and wonders what a man named Jerry Jones is thinking. In Texas, they never heard of dogwood trees. Cottonwood they got. Cowboys ride bucking broncs in the infield.

Martinsville is the national anthem played crisply by a military band. Texas is Van Cliburn (R.I.P.) missing his helicopter, and a cowboy named “Woody,” who had earlier sung the aforementioned “Deep in the Heart of Texas” on horseback, being called on to perform the anthem, whose words he did not know. That was back when TMS opened. I miss the delightful disarray. The first race had monsoon rains, fans parking their cars in the grassy separation between directions of I-35W, and a hellacious crash in the first turn of the first lap of the first Cup race ever run there that had the convenient effect of allowing more fans time to get inside.

I didn’t really think I’d miss it when it happened.

Now it’s smooth. Just like the races. Get rid of smooth, and add lots of bumpy, and it would fix a lot of what’s wrong in the NASCAR of today.

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