Borne under a bad sign (2)


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Don’t call me the Dude; my handle is Ovalscream but The Stranger will do, styled, for this post, like the grizzled tumbleweed-voice of the narrator of The Big Lebowski, played by Sam Elliott. The Stranger provides a sort of solo chorus in the drama which soon unfolds, anonymous, of no distinction, neither an insider who sees things from pit row nor much belongs among the bundled faithful in the stands, or is bound with them in a singular manner, that devotion to fast cars at full song hurtling like day-glo Manga track-horses at super-equine speeds around Daytona’s 2-1/2 mile track. Yep, that’s me, here because I love a good story.

But shucks, I get ahead of myself.  Back up to Saturday morning, round 9 a.m. at a Denny’s in Ormond Beach just north of Daytona, on a clear then clouded then clear blustery morning, puddles in the parking lot from the front which rolled through the afternoon before.

There I had breakfast with Monte Dutton, the journalistic engine of the NASCAR This Week, and photographer John Clark, who comes down with Monte to Speed Weeks and takes the bulk of the stock NASCAR photos used for the year by their newspaper The Gaston Gazette.

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Monte and John.

Over our Breakfast Slams and coffee we talked, or rather, I asked a few questions and Monte opined and reminisced and joked and bitched. Monte talks the way the racecars he covers drive on the track –full-enginned and flat-out, hurtling through topics with the confidence of someone who’s been covering NASCAR for 15 years:

  • NASCAR luminaries he enjoys interviewing—like Smoke, who can be a real butthead but enjoys an feisty exchange; others he does not (Chad Knaus really is an asshole, he says, and Juan Pablo Montoya won’t speak with anyone who can’t advance his celebrity (like newspaper guys—he’s all Speed and ESPN and FOX);
  • On the difficulties of filing at night (he said the narrow window between the end of a night race and his filing deadline created an urgency which wasn’t much different than driving the final laps of a race).
  • Of Danica Patrick he said only that she had to prove herself on the track, that only Montoya had shown any skill at making the transition to NASCAR from other racing leagues.

John and I got little into the conversation, but we both seemed used to it. When I asked John how his son’s musical career was faring, he brightened up, talking about gigs the teenaged guitar player was picking up all over the place.

The day before Monte had been interviewed by a reporter from The Daytona Beach News-Journal on the basis that he was perhaps the senior motorsports journalist in the land, a face which made him sad and, given the woeful state of newspapers, hoping that the novel he worked on off-season might lead to a more lucrative and sane career.

Anyway, that night he was getting ready to head to a Jack Ingram concert (Monte had written about Ingram in his 2003 book, Americana Revisited, about the state of country-music originals in21st century America) and the phone rang. It was the reporter, who said she had a few things she wanted to clarify about the interview. After a few questions, Monte interrupted her. “You lost your notes, didn’t you?”  She had. He gave her a few more comments then rang off, eager to get to the concert, where, according to Monte, a damn good time was had for all, including Kasey Kahne.

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Jack Ingram performs in a concert the night before the Shootout.

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Driving down to the track I took a longer route so I could approach from the east and find parking nearby. The day had turned cloudy and rough—a fine mesh of raindrops formed on my windshield—but the omen of a rainy day at the track dissipated soon enough when the sun came out. I was cutting through east on LPGA Boulevard and stopped to get a copy of the day’s News-Journal (teetering on bankruptcy along with its parent, Cox Communciations—but  what newspaper isn’t?) at a gas station and use the loo to fund back all of that coffee.  Sure enough, there was an A-1 piece about the day’s racin’ events, but Monte’s comments didn’t appear until the jump to page A-8, and there only occupied a few column inches of copy.

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Coming out of the bathroom, I looked across the street to see an abandoned car lot. There’s a lot to Daytona Beach which is sun ghetto, the older part of the city wedged between the condo and resort high-rises along the beach and more expensive development further west, close to I-95. Old Daytona is here, aged from mere decades of use, split and cracked under the continual assault of the sun, populated by the city’s poorest, blacks and Latinos and aging sun-hippies who stayed for the dream and got lost there, skins tanned to a hard, melanoma-infested hide, idling their obscenely-prolonged years like the Dude, drinking and smoking up their Social Security checks while ambling the beach on battered bicycles, flesh a-sag, sunglasses hiding their eyes, whatever gaze they may still have on beach culture.

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The guy above is one of the Nihilists in The Big Lebowski, a former player in a German 70’s-era synth band much like Kraftwerk, who lives parasitically off  the LA scene as a porn star—he plays Carl Hungus opposite Bunny Lebowski in a flick called “Logjammin’” – and attempting to scam Bunny’s husband, the millionaire Mr. “Big” Lebowski  (not to be confused , but so much so, with Jeffery Lebowski, a dope-smoking slacker who prefers the handle of The Dude.)  Daytona’s white trash subculture—the hippie side of it, at least—can be personified by a Dude whose melanoma and darkening soul is more like kin Mr. “Well”  Hungus,  floating in blackout, wanting in on some of that big night music’s fame and glory, certainly the flagrant cash reserves of the celebrity Elect, however one has to prostitute onself or commit other larcenies of the soul to gain it.

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By the time I got to the track the day had lost its threatening grey tone and become just wind-blown and sunny, bright with that too-sharp-edginess of winter days, ozone level zero, radiance and radiation pouring over racin’s Mecca with the force of frontal-Lebowksi winds. I parked at the lot next to the Borders across the street from the track – forking out $40 – assembled all my clothing and gear – I was dressed in jeans, t-shirt, sweater, jean-shirt with a heavy coat for later after the sun went down – and packed my portable canon camera, a pocket telescope, small notebook & pen, ticket and Sprint Zone wristband, wallet, keys, migraine meds, sunglasses – and then unboarded to walk my way in.

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