MONTE DUTTON – SPANNING THE SPORT
Bummer. Major bummer.
A certain percentage of the NASCAR fan base wants to see and hear no evil. These fans cry out for positive news. They want no talk of crowds and ratings. They deem coverage only appropriate if it’s promotional in nature.
Sorry. The job is to spread the news of what happens, whether it’s Trump and Putin in Helsinki or Busch and Larson in Chicagoland.
I didn’t want the Kentucky Speedway stands to be sparsely populated. I didn’t want the overnight ratings to be even more minuscule than the year before.
Almost since my earliest memory, I’ve been following NASCAR races. I remember getting up early to hear the latest update on the doomed Fireball Roberts’ condition each morning on WLOS-TV from Asheville, N.C. I saw Ned Jarrett win the Volunteer 500 at Bristol when I was seven, and I was at Greenville-Pickens Speedway five years later when the first NASCAR race was ever shown flag-to-flag on network TV. The excitement I felt watching Jim McKay and Chris Economaki standing in front of cameras on the roof of the GPS press box was so great I still get chill bumps about it today.
Just before I started attending college, I drove to Darlington for the Southern 500 and sat in the front-straight, which are now the back-straight, grandstands for the first time. In my first 10 or so visits, I had been part of the minority not wearing Scout uniforms over on the other side.
I saw Richard Petty win on dirt, and Bobby Isaac when Greenville-Pickens was paved, and Buddy Baker in a Dodge Daytona at my first Southern 500. One big reason I still think David Pearson is the best there ever was is that most of the time I saw him was at Darlington Raceway, where he was the best there will ever be.
The first races I covered were at Darlington in 1981 and ’82, when I was barely out of college. In the late 1980s, I went to Daytona Beach – one year I slept on the floor of a motel room and the other on my brother’s couch in Jacksonville – and wrote magazine pieces for far less money than it took to buy gas. What it mainly bought, I expect, was beer.
Then, in the 1990s, I hatched this plan in which I could advance my journalistic career by specializing in NASCAR. This worked for 20 years, and I guess newspapers started getting tired of me at just about the same time the rest of the country started getting tired of NASCAR.
For all you folks who seldom write anything longer than a sickness excuse for your kid in the third grade – or a Facebook post about your latest homemade cheeseburger – I know you think you know more about journalism than I do. That’s the whole purpose of social media.
You’re wrong, though. The dirt sells better than the spic and span, but the job isn’t either. The job is what happens. The job is using your eyes and ears and writing about what you see and hear.