Borne under a bad sign (4)


Kasey Kahne qualified 28th on Feb. 6 with a best speed of 189.056 mph.

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One

So what’s with the “bad sign’ in the title? You can call it an ill wind, or the Season of the Witch if you’re not into the whole brevity thing, but cast the events of Feb. 7 at Daytona Speedway in a mold which is defective for reasons that can’t quite be named, illed by vapors of the forge which are leaden before they turn gold. The source was somewhere about that day–maybe among my fellow fans, hidden under layers of sweatshirts and t-shirts and brassiere and fatty fatigued two-timin’ hearts and sliding-towards-cirrhotic livers; or about the track, behind those inscruitable Ray-Bans everyone on The Other Side of fandom’s thrall of racing; or out on International Drive, about the incessant business of tourism and flight from northern realities; or in the long-gone-to-seed back streets of Daytona where poverty cohabits with sun-glut in the indolence of decades-old abandonment to Rastas of the lowest charkas; or in the nation in its turbid decline with news of nothing getting done in Washington or its because the economy for too many million Americans is no longer a residence.

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Sometimes you eat the bar. That’s the good news, and we’ll get there presently. But sometimes, well, the bar eats you.


Look to the sport itself with ill winds of change blowing regularly through it, race cars become safe cars, drivers changing sponsorship colors and cars the way athletes in other sports drift from team to team in the self-aggrandizement of free agency (Clint Bowyer once suited up and drove in the coolest colors on the track—that black 07 Jack Daniels Chevy; now he’s got a red rubber nose driving in that clown-orange #33 Cheerios Chevy); foreign manufacturers (Toyota) getting into the fray; corporate sponsorship changing the names of races with maddening frequency (like Saturday night’s event, the Bud Shootout, morphed from the Busch Clash; who changes their beer, just like that?); or NASCAR’s alternating we-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-anything-but-your-money / we-love-you-so-much-we’ll-even-fuck-your-ugly-sister attitudes; or, sacre bleu, the worst offense of all, the heavens-upending presence of a woman in a NASCAR race, not as eye candy but offensive gun. Offensive to many, indeed, an ill omen for sure of floodgates opening and all manner of yahoos behind the wheel, trannies and full-body tattoo enthusiasts, Democrats and ivory tower intellectuals, Jews and gangsta rappers and homos Oh My …

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Ladies, how do you like your Clint served up? With Jack Daniels–or Cheerios?


Or look to the sky, up where ragged clouds were racing across the sky like ghosts of NASCAR past, enginned by one phenomena and fuelled by another. We are borne by that twin-cam sign, carried here to this moment (somehow at once Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010 and the Thursday after the event on which I drafted this post and the Friday I tried to complete it, filling in the blanks and  writing through to the end) by the constellation of the sum of this winter’s bum winter days and nights. The bad sign is in the shape of a two black bowling balls on either side of a single bowling pin which is both me writing and you reading: El Nino is one ball, and the other is what is called a negative North Atlantic Oscillation (an warp in the weather weave which sends Arctic cold much further south), the two pairing, like devil balls, to wreak boreal pillage and rapine in the these parts with cold, cold winds once again, on Wednesday, ripping through the trees outside like with the voice of an ice-witch (moaning, cruel, harsh), making more misery for infield campers at Daytona Speedway who thought that Speed Weeks in Florida would be a good getaway from more hibernal ports further north. And perhaps to them it still is, what with the latest snowstorm to dump 10 to 20 inches of snow over the Eastern seaboard with heavy winds gusting to 50 mph. Alternating with that cold is rain, and this Friday we’re in for another huge horsepiss of it, that southern trade wind ferrying over a bursting Gulf bladder our way, promising one hundred percent chances of rain starting early and sure to rain out all Daytona practices scheduled for this day. Hunker down, infield faithful.

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In the language of The Big Lebowksi, we could cast El Nino as the lewd and rancorous bowler Jesus Quintana, played perfect-pitch by John Turtorro, partnered with a big crewcut lug named Liam O’Brien (James Hoosier) on a team which threatens, in league play, to annihilate the Dude and his teammates Walter and Donny.

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Jesus has a ritual for each time he approaches the lane, lovingly caressing his bowling ball—even licking it as he raises it up for the roll—, loosing a perfect strike and then turning around to perform a loose-lipped Latin dance, eyes in dark triumph. Jesus is the big El Nino, a sex offender for whom bowling is like rape; his silent partner hurls his ball like in negative oscillation from parts  far north – he could easily have been one of the kidnappers in “Fargo”, another Coen brothers movie, set in the ultra-frozen tundra of Northern Minnesota. The two together to burnish their bowling balls hanging heavily in cloth, an act which suggests a pair of heavy testicles and masturbation, the pure exercise of sperm and spleen.

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Jesus and Liam polish their balls.

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Driver stuff, perhaps, though what are we to do with Danica and the rest of the girls? I dunno about you, but Danica has gotta be carrying at least one testicle somewhere in her equipage, just to have the tejas to get out there on the track an try to beat the boys at their own game. There’s a line between WAG and chick driver, and it’s a broad one, a raging river which, once crossed over, there is no coming back. Whether Danica can hang in there in the pack, is fast enough to veer in that hundredth of a second which careens a lucky driver through the spinning crashing smoking screeching melee of The Big One remains to be seen: If she can’t, she won’t stay long, no matter how much of the marketing machine tries to keep her here. But I’ve seen the look in her eyes. There’s venom there, enough to bowl strikes.

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Convincing Jesus Quintana, aka The Boys—is another matter. Those Nationwide and Sprint Cup  boys know their stuff better than anyone else. Only Juan Carlos Montana has any success crossing over from other racing leagues, and he was a champion in those other leagues, not a one-race winner. He’s a tough customer and won’t be easy on Danica.  “You’re not foolin’ me, man,” he says to Walter after the Dude’s teammate had their match reschuled because he won’t bowl on the Jewish Sabbath. “You might fool the fucks in the league office, but you don’t fool Jesus. This bush league psyche-out stuff. Laughable, man – ha ha! I would have fucked you in the ass Saturday. I fuck you in the ass next Wednesday instead. Wooo! You got a date Wednesday, baby!”

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As I will reiterate here, Danica’s first stock car date on Saturday was not a win but a survival in the bush league. Her next, on Saturday’s Nationwide race, will be cut from much tougher fabric, more like chain mail—suit up, baby.

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Two

First up on Saturday was the qualifying heat for the pole and front row honors at the Daytona 500. I settled way down in Depalma, close to turn 4, hoping to get some good pix of drivers coming around. Although blowing hard, the day was brilliant, and as heavily wrapped as I was, my face got a good sunburn over the afternoon.

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It was slow event, with each driver taking a warm-up lap and then two qualifying runs around Daytona’s 2 ½-mile track. The grandstands at 1 p.m. were still pretty empty, so sitting back to watch was a little like catching a farm-league baseball game, lazing as the cars zoomed past.  When was the last time I sat and did so little? I felt like the Dude in one of his sparse moments of rapture during The Big Lebowski in between the incessant rain of shit that falls on him through the flick. That’s me that moment, not a care in the world, everything apparently working out fine: sunshine and racin’ at Daytona with the whole damn world outside.

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Any thought I had of catching the cars in their heat turned out to be pretty foolish; a car approaching at 190  miles per hour is just too fast for  digital electronics. Score one for old school.

I don’t know if wind conditions changed, but the early qualifiers had the best times — Newman, Montoya, Earnhardt and Martin all had runs in the early stages and placed in the top 5. (Yes, you know, Martin won the pole—the 49th of his careeer–and Earnhardt won the front row next to Martin.)  But with the top 26 placing within a half a second and ranging in speeds of 191.188 to 189.195, there sure didn’t seem like anyone was standing out. Norm Benning, who finished dead last in 54th place, ran a time of 180.607, down less than three seconds from the top lap time. It was a big afternoon for Chevrolets–if such things mean anything any more with the generic car—taking 8 of the top ten spots.

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Martin winds down from his pole-sitting run; Cheerios Boy Bowyer takes off  (he qualified 8th).

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Over the next two hours the cars rolled out, one by one, with the next car taking its warmup lap as the last car slowly made its way round to pit row.  After all of the 20 or so Sprint Cup drivers took their runs, I walked over to the fan zone. It’s quite a haul, down from the grandstands, out onto the main concourse, around to the tunnel at Turn 4, down under the track (quite a jack when a car races overhead), into the infield with all of its designated areas for RVs, eventually into the Fan Zone proper next to the Sprint Cup and ARCA garages.

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The big event as I got over there were incredible qualifying runs by Bill Elliott (fourth), Scott Speed (13th) and  Joe Nemechek (16th). all of them  Elliott was just coming in after his run for inspection, and the gaggle of media on the one side of the fence were matched by the gaggle of fans on the other to cheer him as he got out of the #21 Motorcraft Ford.

While he was being interviewed there, Elliott said:

It’s still always nerve-wracking because when you roll in here it’s one thing, but once you do everything you’ve got to do [through inspection] and then you leave pit road on your qualifying run, it’s a whole different world. Two years ago there’s no comparison [in this program]. Last year, [crew chief David] Hyder started turning things around about this time and I feel like last season was a tribute to the Wood Brothers and the way their team should be.

And with that, Elliott walked off and his Ford was rolled away as the next car out of qualifying made its way in for inspection. – Reed Sorenson in the Dollar General Toyota, having qualified 38th. A few of the fans stayed to watch but most wandered off. The big action was over.

I turned away too, looking for other sights to slake the eye, kill some time before the ARCA race, document something of the moment …

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