MONTE DUTTON - MEN WHO COULD TAKE ’EM DOWN A PEG
NASCAR’s first weekend off left me refreshed. For at least a week, I’m tired of griping. I think I’m going to tell a few funny tales of days on the road.
I’d love to be the funniest NASCAR writer, but I doubt I’m overly modest about my writing, and I still don’t have an exalted view. By definition, a writer thinks what he writes is good because why would he (or she) write any other way? Few write swill on purpose.
Yet, still, in spite of the innate vanity of journalism, while I was paying close attention and trying to amuse myself, I concluded that the funniest NASCAR writer was Jim McLaurin of my home state, and the funniest man who wrote about NASCAR was Larry Woody of Tennessee.
Jimmy Mac and I used to room together, in part because he had a knack for forgetting to make travel arrangements and I started making sure my motel rooms had two beds just in case. He could write an amusing obituary, if so inclined, and giving him a stock car race to describe was like baiting a field. Get a few beers in him, and Jim could tell a story about growing up in Clio, S.C. (pronounced “kleye-oh”), full of characters named “Cheese” (his brother) and “Tootie Boy,” and the plot turning on a country doctor who enjoyed having a few nips late in the afternoon.
Even now, Jim gets more laughs from Facebook posts than I do from novels. He is a learned man with knowledge of the wrong sides of tracks, which is why he can somehow make a man named “Tootie Boy” perspicacious.
Once Jimmy Mac was accompanied to Darlington by a young woman who had never been to a race track before. I think her name might have been Amanda. In order to make her job of assisting him with coverage easier, Jim decided to write the IROC story – those cars didn’t have numbers on them – and give her the then-Busch Series race, which was then titled the Mark II Vans 200. As the race wore on, Jim noticed that Amanda didn’t seem to be paying much attention, but he thought, well, she could probably get what she needed from the post-race press conference and the obligatory paperwork.
As the laps were winding down, Amanda tapped Jimmy Mac on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, Jim, but I was wondering … when does the van race start?”
A shame. What could have been more fascinating than watching 36 identically prepared conversion vans jousting one another and jostling about at the Track Too Tough to Tame?
If NASCAR had opted to race vans or SUVs instead of pickup trucks, it could all have been different.
Woody, often known to others as Woodrow, was a man of rapier-like wit. His witticisms created failed attempts to suppress the laughter. Among them:
“ARCA drivers are like mud turtles. You can’t kill ’em.”
“I’m going to write two more stories about that SOB. One if he wins, and one when he dies.”
“Those fans are like roaches. There’s 10 for every one you can see. Shine a flashlight, and they’d start scurrying every which way.”
Races at Indy were difficult in the early NASCAR years because there were so many fans crowded at every gate. Several of us would be trying to push our way through a mob to a gate that our credentials would theoretically get us through. Knowing full well the snide reactions he’d draw, Woodrow, satire freeing his mind like WD-40, would yell, “Move aside. Working media, coming through!”
Racing had personalities back then. The woods were full of fascinating creatures great and small. If Tom Higgins were alive today, and yelled out “Merciful God, boys!” a public-relations assistant might have him escorted off the premises on account of offending all the world’s gods lacking mercy.
Colorful writing, of course, requires colorful people about which to write. Guys like Jim McLaurin and Larry Woody related well to race drivers who had brothers named “Cheese” and friends named “Tootie Boy.”
I exchanged emails with Woodrow last week. He wrote that he was anxious to see which sinks first, newspapers or NASCAR.
As a man with great wisdom but less humor than Jimmy Mac and Woodrow wrote, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. Nothing ain’t worth nothing, but it’s free.”
The whole scene was fun. NASCAR has little wrong with it that hanging out with Sterling Marlin and Harry Gant couldn’t fix.
Back in my day, about everybody got the measles.