Dale Jr.’s Detroit wheels


space

space

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last Sprint Cup win came at Michigan International Speedway in June 2008, two years and 60 races ago. It was the sort of win which only counted because it was a win—a win tossed from dice. Earnhardt’s car was running so poorly during the race that crew chief Tony Eury Jr. decided to keep Dale out of the pits on a final round because it was the only way Dale—who back then had not won a race in 76 tries–could possibly stay in the hunt.

On the restart there was a crash – obviously bad news for the nearly-out-of-fuel No. 88.  Under caution, he passed the pace car – a no-no – but NASCAR only issued a warning which allowed him to stay in place. With a fuel strategy already imperiled by a green-white-checkered finish that extended the distance from 200 to 2003 laps, Earnhardt ran out of gas on the final lap, but a crash behind the leaders saved the day, bringing an end to the racing and leaving  Earnhardt with only the task of getting his car, in fits and starts, to coast across the finish line.

space

space

Whatever hopes were raised in Junior Nation by Earnhardt’s win that day in Michigan would prove a small flicker as he ended up finishing 12th in the points in 2008 and 25th in 2009. And the 2010 season is turning into a nightmare for Earnhardt, whose No. 88 car has suffered everything from a broken axle to splitter brace and  tire issues. Before Darlington he said that he didn’t have high hopes to do well there there (he finished 18th) and it would one day cause him to quit racing in NASCAR. Earnhardt finished 19th at Pocono last weekend and is 16th in the points.

Speculation whirls in the blogosphere about what’s next for the 7-time favorite driver whose father was a seven-time Cup champion. Earnhardt Jr.’s tenure with Hendrick Motorsports looks tenuous with Kasey Kahne scheduled to come on board next year. Dale could go drive for another team, or he could leave the driver’s seat altogether and become an owner. Or leave the sport altogether and hang out with friends in his Whiskey River bars.

“Jr. is just not happy at this point in his career,” one crew member said. “He’s uncomfortable in the car and unhappy with this current situation. He feels trapped.”

This is not the mythic storyline everyone expected of the son of one of the first inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. For a while, it looked like the son would race to his father’s glory, finishing 3d in the points in 2003, 5th in 2004 (with 6 wins) and fifth again in the points in 2006. NASCAR’s most popular driver for the past seven years is also becoming one of the sport’s most middling drivers. Reverence of Dale Jr. run weirdly out of proportion with actuality; to Junior Nation, Dale is myth personified; his fame balloons even as his career tanks.

space

spasapce

Oddly, Earnhardt Jr’s rise and fall so parallels NASCAR’s bubble and its recent deflation that many speculate that Dale Jr. is the sport, and as he fades, so does NASCAR.   As did Dale, NASCAR soared to an apex of popularity in the first half of the 00’s and slowly fell off from there. NASCAR has become an ever-middling sport, with attendance ever smaller at the tracks and TV audiences shrinking. (Speedway Motorsports Inc. earnings fell 52 percent year-over-year in the first quarter report, with revenues falling from $136 million to $118 million.)

Some say there is only one reason for the bubble and it’s pop; Dale Jr. Watching the son win at the summer race in Daytona in 2001 was something like pure horse, a fable hitting the brain with all of its opium. Zoom zoom, pure NASCAR ascent: latter-days Dale, splutter splutter, track attendance crashing like a doper coming down, down, down.

That’s a lot to invest in one driver, but it does suggest how emotional stock car racing is—or was. Other factors in the decline include the entrance of Toyota into the series, breaking the xenophobic memory what was once American stock car racing. There’s the development of the “generic” car used by all teams, a car which now belongs to any manufacturer car in the sense of which manufacturer’s logo is on their grill.

The manufacturers themselves are in retreat, stung by a drop in sales first brought on by high gas prices (when Earnhardt Jr. won in Michigan, gas was around $4 a gallon) and then the Great Recession which all but froze the money supply.  All the automakers took catastropohic hits. Some of the most famous brands in stock car racing – Plymouth, Oldsmobile, Ponticac – were discontinued.

Recently, on June 2, Ford announced it was discontinuing its Mercury brand, extinguishing the memory of one of NASCAR’s most legendary cars. Joe Weatherley and Cale Yarborough who both drove Mercuries, and David Pearson won 43 of his 105 Winston Cup wins in one.

space

David Pearson drives the Wood Brother’s Purolator Mercury in 1973.

space

Chrysler Auto’s Dodge brand is another fading star. Speculation was heavy at the end of the last season that Dodge would pull out altogether from NASCAR competition. Penske Racing is the only team to field Dodges this year. Kurt Busch, who is emerging as a major contender, is driving the #2 Dodge Miller Lite (more affectionately known as the Blue Deuce) like a bullet, so the perilous thread which holds Dodge to NASCAR is envigorated by one driver’s performance. (Brad Keslowski is 25th in the points standings  driving the #12 Dodge and Sam Hornish Jr. is 27th in the #77 Dodge). Dodge is running third among the four manufacturers in points for the season (with 2 wins); only Ford is running worse with no wins for the season.

No one can say how much impact the current Gulf oil spill crisis, now in its eighth week, will have upon the Big Three Automakers, but the country’s historic jones for speed has been contrasted by images of oil-drenched dolphins, birds and sea-turtles lying dead on Gulf Shores. There is good news–BP’s containment cap is drawing up more oil (some estimates put it at a quarter to a half of the spewing oil), and engineers are hopeful that a second dome to be lowered this week may seal the deal–But the toll is bad enough already, with the worst of it deep out of view, deep dark wings of oil fanning History to no good effect. BP has estimated their costs at $1.2 billion so far, but that’s a drop in the bucket compared to all of the fines and litigation the oil giant faces. Greater regulation is coming. Only half of the rigs in the Gulf (23) are said to be drilling right now. President Obama is pushing for more aggressive fuel standards on Detroit automakers, further stressing the industry.

space

space

Detroit is not a happy place; its unemployment rate has hovers around 15 percent, and among the black underclass the rate is in the 50 percent range. The Detroit city council recently passed a budget which would result in laying off 100 police officers and some firefighters and EMS personnel, closing 140 parks due to lack of maintenance funds and closing at least three recreation centers. (Detroit Mayor Dave Bing had vetoed the budget, but the council overrode it; but whaddayagonna do? $31 million in extra cuts only goes so far in city that’s broke).

It’s not much better for the entire state of Michigam, which led the country last year in unemployment at 13.6 percent. Many of those unemployed have been out of work for a long time – so long they’ve exhausted their state unemployment benefits. Congress is mulling whether the federal government should extend unemployment benefits beyond state benefits, as well as help foot the bill for COBRA’s to maintain health insurance, but that would prove a very expensive deal. The Fed can’t go any lower than it’s current lending rate of zero percent; when do unemployment benefits become permanent and we end up with a quarter of the country on the dole?

Michigan International Speedway has certainly experienced the crunch in the local economy. Track attendance has fallen at a rate so fast that speculation has whirled for some time that the second Michigan race would be deleted from the schedule, with the race going to Kansas City.

space

Track attendance was already down 35,000 from capacity when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the 3M Performance 400 at MIS in 2008. Denny Hamlin (above) finished 11th.

(space)

So NASCAR’s return to MIS is a shadowy and ironic one indeed, not only for its fading marquee star but also for sport itself, whose roots in stock-car racing have grown fainter, are almost now ghostly, receded back to a time when auto brands were truly reflected in the cars which raced, brands which families embraced and cherished and stayed loyal to for generations. When the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs racing are running away with the season (Denny and Kyle were 1-2 at Pocono). In a city which has the worst crime statistics, where 30 percent of the population live under the poverty level, where the general population is half the size it was in 1950 and where abandoned buildings and garbage-strewn vacant lots cover an area roughly the size of San Francisco. To a track where the shadow of the American automobile grows fainter and colder, a troubled spirit of the times. In a country which has lost its footing and may not be able to gain its feet, not with all the oil now smearing the pavement.

A bittersweet homecoming for us all.

space

space

* * *

It’s Saturday afternoon (June 5; I started the post yesterday morning) and I’m sitting here on the couch with Days Of Thunder on the DVD. I’ve never seen the 1990 Tom Cruise movie, but heard that its loosely based on driver Tim Richmond and his crew chief, Harry Hyde.

space

In “Days of Thunder,” Harry Hogg (Robert Duvall) and Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise) are modeled on NASCAR’s legendary team of Tim Richmond and Harry Hyde.

space

Granted, Days Of Thunder is only Hollywood NASCAR (and Jerry Bruckheimer at that, the clown prince of overkill) but its sources shine through.

What I see is a period piece of NASCAR two decades gone, the age of Richmond and Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace and Darryl Waltrip and Davey Allison—remember those guys? The tracks are the same – Daytona, Martinsville, Charlotte, Darlington – but the personas and style are something of another age – toothier, more brutal, I dunno. Freer.

space


Drivers power through the rounded front chute at Michigan International Speedway during the Aug. 20 Champion Spark Plug 400. Rusty Wallace drove to his fifth win of the season.

space

And more mythic, perhaps because it was burdened with a palpable fear that isn’t as present in NASCAR anymore. The wreck between Cole Trickle and his nemesis Rowdy Burns is old-school—operatic vehicle annihilation- as are the life-injuries they sustain. Fear is the subtext of Days of Thunder: driving with Death for 500 miles. After the death-defying, death-defeating COT wrecks of Michael McDowell in Texas and Carl Edwards at Talladega, we have wrecks without consequence—like a one-night stand without any possibility of disease or pregnancy or marriage. Without the terror, where’s the glory?

space

Ricky Craven goes airborne, old-school fashion, at a 1996 Talladega race.

space

Funny that John C. Reilly plays Trickle crew member Buck Bretherton, a guy who’s daddy died hitting the wall at Daytona in the previous year. Shades of Dale Earnhardt … and of Talladega Nights, where John C. Reilly plays Cal Naughton Jr. the teammate and lifelong buddy of Will Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby character. Bobby races to somehow gain the affection of his daddy, the alcoholic Reese Bobby, who told his son, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” Shades of Dale Earnhardt Jr. …

space

Cal Naughton Jr. (John C. Reilly) and Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) in “Talladega Nights.

space

Shades everywhere. Outside the living room windows it’s grown dark, getting ready to rain. Days of thunder in Central Florida: It’s hotter than hell and the seabreeze fronts which cross in daily from either coast build into some real mothers, 40,000-foot gyres of thunder and rain. I spent the morning as I spend every Saturday morning in these Florida summers, keeping down the grass in my yard as well as a neighbor’s who lives out of state. (Here in the summer, you could mow twice a week and still get overgrown.)

Geez it was hotter than hell out there today, weeding in the garden (everything now blossoming, even the pinwheel jasmines which survived the freeze of January), replanting a couple of hydrangeas, chopping up a large oak limb that fell in a storm earlier in the week.

space

The garden.

space

Then it was on to the usual mowing, weed-whacking, edging and blowing, the morning getting hot and hotter, sky clear and blue. Now it’s blowing and dark, the rain slowly picking up. This storm isn’t much for the season—a passing gesture—but sometimes they’re pretty scary. I drove through one on the way home last week where I was pelted with hail and wind was coming at me sideways and the rain was so heavy I couldn’t see a thing for fifteen seconds. Yee-haw.

Saturdays in the summer have this bi-polar nature, mornings sweating my ass off out in the big day music, afternoons cooling it in a cocoon woven of these fantasias of history and mystery and week-ending repose.

My wife is over in New Smyrna Beach having lunch with a friend at a seafood joint that’s on the waterway heading out from south New Smyrna Beach – they serve the best grouper sandwiches in the state. (The restaurant looks out over the spot where a father and his pregnant daughter were both killed over the Memorial Day weekend in a boating accident.)

Watching Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman (who plays the doctor who “nurses” Cole Trickle back to health) in bed together (with a seriously bad 80’s big-hair synth pop song in the background) is sad – we all know how that turned out, or didn’t. Tom and Nicole were part and parcel of tabloid news on the 90s, but they went the way of Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie, OJ Simpson, Monica Lewinsky and Jerry Springer.

space

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise meet ‘n’ mate in “Days of Thunder.”

Of course, we know how the 90s turned out, how they became the 00s which began with the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. and the Twin Tower bombings of 09/11 and ended with American soldiers hunkered down forever in the Middle East, the Great Recession and a year of natural disasters blossoming into the human one now in the Gulf Oil Spill from Hell.

History is hindsight, and it shadows the present not with prescience of things to come but the danger of ignoring the lessons of the past, which we seem forever doomed to repeat. But the lessons are sure coming at us fast, at the warp speed, it seems, of a broadband connection. The losses are piling up so fast it’s hard to properly account for them.

That we live in the age of NASCAR’s decline is just another exempla of times which are proving castrophic on so many industries and endeavors. (Like reading.) Ironically, drivers of our age don’t know the sort of turbulence that was omnipresent in NASCAR of 20 years ago, when wrecks could do real damage to a driver’s body and mind. (When Nicole Kidman’s character asks Harry Hogg why Cole won’t go see the still-ailing Rowdy Burns, Hogg tells her that drivers avoid all reminders of the dangers of their trade. “You get a driver to a funeral before he’s dead, you’ve made history,” he says.)

They have as much comprehension of the old danger as we do of the psychic toll on America’s volunteer military, especially after two and three and four tours of duty. Take Ernie Irvan, who won about as many Winston Cup races as Dale Earnhardt Jr. has so far in what is now Sprint Cup competition. Back in August 1994, Ernie Irvan crashed in practice at Michigan when a tire went flat and he hit the Turn Two wall at about 170 mph. He was airlifted to Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Ann Arbor where he was diagnosed with critical brain and lung injuries and given only a 10% chance of surviving the night. But Irvan made a full recovery and returned to racing in NASCAR.

space

Ernie Irvan.

space

Then lighting struck again. In 1997 Irvan won his final race at the June race at Michigan. And then, exactly 5 years after his near fatal accident at the same track, Irvan crashed while  driving his own #84 Irvan-Simo Federated Auto Parts Pontiac in a practice session for the Busch Series race. Irvin was again airlifted from the track and was diagnosed with a mild head injury and a bruised lung as a result of the accident.

Less than two weeks later, on September 3, 1999, surrounded by his wife and two children, Irvan announced his retirement from driving at a tearful press conference in Darlington, SC.

The mythic backstory to Days of Thunder is about luck’s precipice when the fear of death is real. It isn’t in NASCAR any more, not since Dale Earnhardt Sr. died of blunt head trauma on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 and NASCAR made cars safe. And when the racing got safe, it lost the better part of its myth. The part of the racing which sends a shiver of edgy delight through our brains.

space

space

At the movie’s climax, Cole Trickle returns to Daytona six months after his near-fatal accident in the Firecracker 400, this time to drive the car of his now-friend Rowdy in the Daytona 500. His reason, he tells Kidman, is that “I’m more afraid of being nothing than being hurt.” This is telling: Destiny—the myth–may be fearsome, but lack of one is even more dreadful. It is death-in-life, which is just a Kidman shorthair short of life-in-death, which is everything that comes after that we know nothing about.

Even so, Trickle’s wreck-racked nerves bedevil him during the race and he is running in last place. There’s a crash which litters the field, and Cole has to run through the same scenario he wrecked in six months before. With only his trust in his crew chief to guide him, he drives on the high side and gets through and the race is on. (Swell the soundtrack here with trademark Bruckheimer schmaltz). Trickle catches the leader—his new nemesis, former teammate Russ Wheeler–only to take a near-race-ending hit from Wheeler. His transmission nearly shot, the crew manages to get Trickle’s car back on the track (the car will only drive in top gear, ha ha) and he tears to the front, bumping and grinding in the old-school way, in the way Tim Richmond raced, frequently battling it out with Dale Earnhardt. “This one’s for you, Harry,” Trickle radios in coming through the final turn. He passes Wheeler on the low side – something he never does – and takes the checkered flag. The movie ends with Hogg and Trickle foot-racing each other to Victory Row. (It’s a pretty silly scene, so it’s fortunate that the camera freeze-frames the two Hollywood  non-athletes early in their happy sprint.)

There’s a lot I could say here about the real figures upon whom the movie was based — Tim Richmond and Harry Hyde — but I’m going to save that for an upcoming post about—naturally—the summer race at Daytona. When we get deeper into the summer which defines that race.

Instead, let’s look at Talladega Nights, which could easily be taken as a spoof on Days of Thunder, turning the mythic heroes of the former movie into rodeo clowns. Like Cole Trickle, ace driver Ricky Bobby is involved in a wreck which nearly ends his career. Ricky Bobby wanders around the track, believing he’s on fire; recovering later, he believes he’s paralyzed. Such was the old fear.

space

Wreck-addled Ricky Bobby goes nuts on the track  at Rockingham, tearing off all his clothes, thinking he’s on fire. Only in his head …

space

Testing at Rockingham goes so poorly for Bobby that it shows he’s lost his nerve and he fails to rejoin his team. His wife divorces him to marry his buddy Cal because her only ambition is to have NASCAR’s No. 1 as her spouse. Ricky ends up delivering pizzas on a bicycle, but then his father Reese re-enters his life and teaches him to drive again, using his fear to his advantage. Thus Ricky makes his way back to the track and wins, in wild, old-school NASCAR fashion, the Talladega 500.

Beyond the ironic treatment of its predecessor movie, Talladega Nights parallels the changes in NASCAR since Days of Thunder was filmed fifteen years before. Drama becomes comedy—black comedy, really—since all the gods have fallen. Dale Earnhardt Sr. is gone; it the Dale Earnhardt Jr. who has the cameo appearance, walking up to Ricky Bobby and asking for his autograph and asking him not to tell the other drivers that he’d done so. The joke is that Ricky Bobby is so famous – Hollywood famous, just as Tim Richmond became – that stock-car racing’s most famous son paled in the limelight. Ever treated by their fans  as gods, NASCAR’s driver have become men behind wheels, pitchmen for their corporate sponsors and licensees, ever buttering with their smiles the old NASCAR lard.

space

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and a date at the opening of “Talladega Nights.”

space

* * *

space

I don’t know if the backstory of Dale Jr’s relationship with his father had anything to do with the scene, but like Ricky Bobby, Dale Jr. drives for Daddy-—or his shadow, just as NASCAR now races in its own shadow.

Dale doesn’t like to talk about his father much – in one recent interview, he called it “heavy lifting.” The relationship may have been buttered in memory, but the actuality of it was more difficult. Remember, Dale Sr. left Dale Jr. behind when he remarried. They got little time; he recalls staying in hotels with his mother so he could see some of his daddy, going to the races. Becoming a driver himself was the only real way he could stay connected with his father, he said once.

space

space

It was when Dale Jr. began to win races—first in Busch Series competition–the relationship between the two became different. In a recent interview following Dale Sr.’s induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Dale Jr. told Scott Fowler of the (Raleigh, NC) News and Observer,

I got taken a little more seriously. My words were a little more credible. I could see they ((Dale Sr. and Tony Eury, Sr.)) were thinking, ‘This might be pretty cool, man.’ We ended up winning seven races and the [Busch] championship that year.

Father recognized just one thing he could praise in the son—victory on the track. In the same interview, Dale Jr. was asked, “What is your favorite all-time racing memory that you and your dad shared?” He replied,

The 2000 All-Star Race I won in Charlotte when I was a rookie [at NASCAR’s highest level]. He was the owner of that team. It was just such a shock, I guess, to all of us that I won it. He came into Victory Lane and spent a whole lot of time with us. Normally he was very quick about getting in and getting out of Victory Lane, but he thoroughly enjoyed that one.

space

space

Glory days. The Pepsi 400 at Michigan in 2000 saw not two but three Earnhardts on the track, Dale Sr., Dale Jr. and Dale’s half-brother Kerry. It was only the second time in NASCAR history that father had raced against two sons (the first time it was accomplished by Lee Petty and sons Richard and Maurice). The race was not a distinguished one for the Earnhardts – Dale Sr. finished sixth, Dale Jr. 31st and Kerry dead-last at 41st. And then there was the 2001 Daytona 500, the last race the two appeared together in. Dale Sr. was running for the win but crashed on the last lap and Dale Jr. zoomed past, narrowly getting beat by Michael Waltrip for the win. Dale Jr. came back and won the July race at Daytona – who else could have, in that mythic year of loss? But there was no father by then to celebrate with him. Dale Jr. would race on alone.

space

space

* * *

space

space

Saturday afternoons are my only downtime of the week, those few hours a week in which I get a chance to nap and then laze on the couch reading and writing. Hey, it’s my sandbox, I’ll play in it the way I want to.

Since the Ovalscreams obsession has taken over – these posts occupy just about every free moment of a week in which there are few – I use this afternoon to write. It’s not a bad deal, really: I don’t have to work a second job (not yet …) and the books I care to read aren’t going anywhere (I’m eager to finish Moby Dick – my fifth reading of that book – and get started on my second reading of Denis Johnson’s Already Dead, or  maybe an eighth reading of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow – see where this is headed?). On my schedule and in my world, having the opportunity to crank out words on a laptop all afternoon is a treat.

The sun is back outside, rain clouds passing to the east (my wife later told me that she and her friend got nailed down a the restaurant by one storm, and then driving home she got hit by another muthah of wind and lightning and sheets of rain). I can almost see the steam rising from the garden.

Crazy heat.

I don’t know if this sort of airless oppression from heaven’s hot summer hell was behind the rampage of Robin Parks, a bald, aging guy from Polk County, but last night he got good and drunk and then drove his car along US-92 near Lakeland, firing rounds from a .357-caliber Smith and Wesson into passing cars. One round struck a van and nailed the ass of a teen who had been out celebrating his high school graduation with his parents. Five minutes later Parks fired into the 2003 Kia of 30-year-old Katrina Hines, the round going through her (other) cheeks. Three minutes later he fired into the Chevy Mailbu of 20-year-old Robert Handy of Winter Haven, and when Handy rolled down his window to figure out what the fuck was going on, Parks started yelling racial slurs and rammed his car into Handy’s Malibu until both cars couldn’t drive. That’s where cops found and arrested Parks, who had a blood alcohol level of .226. When his wife was contacted (she was out of town on business), she said Robin had been laid off by the U.S. Postal Service last December. He’s now in Polk County jail on four counts of attempted murder.

space

Robin Parks’ mug shot after his road-rage attempted-murder spree. He told cops people were after him.

Crazy from the heat? You never know when these human bombs will go off, or even why, but I imagine a rancid trailer out there in backwoods Polk County (where there is a sprawling rural metropolis of trailers, the only housing many people in the cracker dispensation can afford), a silver oven cooking  everyone inside, the poor unemployed jerk working on a bottle of Jim Beam with the TV tuned to FOX News and resentment burning high and higher with each slug of bourbon, like gasoline being poured onto fire. With the only cool thing in reach that steel .357 Smith and Wesson pistol, loaded with six big enough bullets. Bang bang bang bang: Problems solved.

Is there a threshold of misery which causes these assholes to go off? The Associated Press maintains a state Stress Index, based on factors like unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcy filings. Florida is the fourth worst on the index, just behind California, Michigan and Nevada.

Let’s see:

– In California, porn actor Steven Clancy Hill, who had just been fired by Ultima DVD Inc., went on a rampage on June 5 with a prop Samurai sword, killing a fellow porn actor Herbert Wong (“Tom Dong”) and two production employees and then, after an 8-hour standoff on a cliff over the San Fernandino Valley, jumped to his death.

space

Porn actor Steven Clancy Hill killed a fellow porn actor named Tom Dong  and two production employees and then jumped off a cliff after a standoff.

space

– In Nevada, James Biela, an ex-marine and martial arts instructor who had been a pipe fitter, went on a rampage  of serial rapes in Reno back in 2008, finally raping and then strangling 19-year old Briana Dennison with her thong underwear and taking the panties for a keepsake. (His other two rape victims claim he took their underwear after the assaults, and his ex-girlfriend claims he was addicted to porn sites featuring teens in thongs.) Biela quit his job on the day he killed Dennison; he was caught several months later Beila was caught and tried and found guilty of the crimes. He was sentenced death by lethal injection on June 8.

space

19-year-old Briana Dennison, who was raped and murdered by James Biela back in 2008. This week he was convicted and sentence to die by lethal injection.

– In Detroit, a 34-year old man (an umemployed, habitual criminal) shot and killed a 17-year old boy in May for giving him a dirty look. In the police manhunt that ensued, a 7-year-old girl was killed by a police bullet fired when a raiding crew stormed her home looking for the killer. She had been sleeping on a living room sofa.

– On Tuesday morning, June 8 (I insert this a few days later), another guy went off on his ex-girlfriend, killing her and the guy she married when she left him and then smoking his own pistol. He’d been stalking the pair off and on for several years. Got busted on drug charges. Lost his job. All that cooked his resentment into a rage, and the bullets started flying.

space

Couple at the left murdered by unemployed neighbor/ex-boyfriend. As kids were walking by to get on the school bus.

space

Here in Florida, the good news is that the state experienced its first improvement in its unemployment rate in April, the first time since 2006.

The bad news is that, according to University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith, the BP oil spill could cost Florida 195,000 jobs and cost more than $10 billion in lost tourist revenue.

And that’s only if the spill can be contained to the state’s Western beaches. If the spill follows projections that it will get caught up into the rapidly-moving Loop Current, it could round the southern tip of Florida and start affecting Florida beaches on the east coast within weeks.

space

space

And if that happens, Snaith says, the impact on jobs and lost revenue will take off exponentially.

Also on Tuesday, hurricane forecast experts at Colorado State University have increased their predictions and are now calling for a very active 2010 season in the Atlantic basin with 18 named storms.

Lovely, isn’t it?

space

space

* * *

space

I’d love quit my dying job and career and industry to do something I love, like write full-time–but we all know what a joke that is. Like the real Dale Jr. asking the fictional Ricky Bobby for an autograph; writing about big-time things is nothing like getting paid to do big-time things.

I made the wrong, easy moves long ago. When I was in my 20s, I left behind my aspiration to become a professor or a novelist, dropping out of college to play rock ‘n’ roll with its more immediate payoffs. I just ended up playing in nowhere garage bands and developing a profoundly bad thirst for booze.

space

Yours truly, rhythm/lead guitarist for Slick Richard, 1979, playing my heart out to “Dirty White Boy” at a freebie gig our dipshit agent said would be “great exposure.

space

When I sobered up and re-joined the human race, my aspirations became more earth-bound. I worked my way into a professional-enough job at the local newspaper, got married, spent eight years in night classes at a local college to get my BA in English. By then I was 40 and there was no hope of getting on track with a tenured professor gig. I tried getting some poems published, but after a year or so of getting rejection slips from farm-league college publications, I stopped trying. Besides, by then I had a marriage and a mortgage to support.

I kept writing – some 10,000 poems over the next decade, plus numerous posts in various forums, even a bit of fiction —  but I never tried publishing more than a dozen or so book reviews. I didn’t have the nerve, I guess. Now that I’m into my 50’s, the sense of something having passed me palpable, but I keep writing anyway. It’s in my bones. I’m a bit like Cole Trickle: I’m more afraid of being nothing than being hurt—by silence, in my case.

The Internet, which many argue has contributed more to the demise of reading than any other contemporary influence—has been my sole vehicle of publishing, through a number of blogs over the years. I haven’t gotten any better at it—the size of these posts are evidence enough—but the medium does afford a certain grandiosity which is novelesque in its ambition. Novels may demand too much time and attention for digitally-scrambled brains; or it may simply be that there is no risk in blogging, especially anonymously: no editor to woo, no publication firewalls to breech, just blah blah blah and me me me.

The medium is surely popular – 50 million blogs tracked by Technorati as of 2006 and the blogosphere doubling every six months or so, with roughly 175,000 new blogs created every day. A lot of other people believe in me me me, too. Perhaps the very ease of getting out there has gotten made so many voices public.

space

A conception of the blogosphere. There’s me at 4:39 a.m. on June 11, that tiniest lil’ strand of NASCAR enthusiasts whipping toward Detroit from Central Florida …

space

But then again, the sheer size of the blogosphere is killing the sense of a literature there that will ever be understood, much less read. With so many new blogs spewing from the vent, one is quickly lost in white noise.

Which is, I suppose, the appropriate metaphor for the time: a former landscape disappearing beneath so many white bits and bytes, an immensity of noise drowning itself out.

While putting a shitload of people out of work.

Which I submit as subtext for the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 at Michigan International Raceway on June 13, 2010.

space

space

* * *

space

But writers have to learn to write both ways, speaking out of both sides of their mouths, with the heart and the brain, the head and the dick, from the lofty cortex and out the lowly ass. Writing is a race, with surges and falls, requiring tires and gas and trackbar adjustments. When it all seems headed down the same fated road, a bit of debris gets thrown onto the track and everything changes. When Pocono was all green-flag runs—the entire race up to the end – it was clean and clear sailing for the leaders, getting so far ahead that the distance between them and the rest of the pack was the size of a yawn.

But things change. Let’s say that bloggers don’t mean to be heard, or write with little expectation, after a while, of finding an audience. So why keep on keepin’ on? Perhaps we aren’t talking to each other, anyway. At the end of the Middle Ages there was a boom in the building of cathedrals—hundreds of those monster edifices were raised across Europe, perhaps in the knowledge (or fear) that God’s age was passing. They were monuments to a faith, and the expression was not necessarily for the benefit (or glory) of humans.

space

Saints in attendance at the cathedral of Niadros in Norway. To the author, they’re all the predecessor dead white guys who paved the path we write on.

space

Centuries later, workers re-furbishing one cathedral found a stone fly on the head of a stone saint placed high up in a nave. The point? The fly was not meant for our view, but God.

Maybe I write for that Audience: dead writer and angels, the ur-Author in all of us who bids us Speak, or simple as a confession to God. I’d write this anyway; I put this out there so you can listen in.

space

* * *

space

Or maybe I’m like everyone else, or as Everyman I don’t have the nerve to try something really big and put my real name on it.

space

* * *

space

What if the blogosphere is a neural ecosystem which has gotten algae into it – lets call that algae The Free – and its starving off everything else in its rampant growth.

Suffocating, ain’t it?

space

Algae often grows from runoffs of water from fertilized lawns. There are plenty of ways we can choke an ecosystem — with oil. And nitrogen. And web pages.

space

* * *

space

Or perhaps the blogosphere is an ocean that’s become fouled, fished out, emptied of all but the noise.

space

spacespa

* * *

space

space

Back to the theme, I wonder if Dale Jr. too has lost his nerve. In the same interview, the reporter posed the following question:

Your dad was never adept at explaining to reporters the essence of what made him great. He usually made his talent sound like it was just instinctive. Why do you think he won those 76 races and seven Cup championships?

Dale Jr. responded,

I think it had a lot to do with the way he came up. His experience in running short tracks in those little old sportsman cars, trying to make an extra $300 or something to put food on the table that week.

If you look at pictures of him back then, he looks so rugged – it’s such a contrast to how polished the racing is today.

And then, when he made it, he never really lost that drive – that willingness to be cut-throat. I don’t know how he was able to do that when he got so established, but he did. He never lost that “I’m-doing-this-to-put-food-on-my-table” mentality, even when he had all the food he could ever need.

space

space

Dale Jr. has won 14 Cup races, and just one of them since May of 2006. (Talladega Nights was released a few months later.) Where Dale Sr.’s career keep progessing to greater heights, Dale Jr. has declined. Asked how he thought his  father would think of his career, Dale said,

I think he’d be 50-50 on the racing part. He was always kind of 50-50, even when we did really good. He would be pretty proud of some of the things me and my sister [Kelley] have done – charity work and things like that.

Hardly The Intimidator, but Dale Jr’s success may never be successfully measured on the track. Sons rarely eclipse their fathers in the way that’s most important to them. But they still rise to an occasion.

Even if it’s just to keep their father’s memory alive.

space

space

Why else bother with history? It’s just a momentary stay against oblivion and its Lethe, that great river of forgetfulness which souls cross and become ours no more.

Oh well. It’s late afternoon and I’ve had my fun. My wife will be home soon. The cats need feeding, and I should  start the marinade of tomatoes and basil and garlic which  I’ll use for a pizza maguerita. Maybe some day not too long from now I’ll remember this afternoon with such ennui, no  longer able to indulge in so grand yet meaningless a sandbox. Making sand cathedrals for a God who deigns to erase every day’s productions at the shore with a night tide that obliterates every sign of human presence and scattered detritus of the fall up and down the sandy lane – plastic water bottles and chunks of mast, dead pelicans and blobs of oil. The sun coming up as it does in Florida’s summer, lifting like a dripping egg of fire, spilling its molten yolk over the sea, yearning toward heaven where it will burn angel and tide’s angelus alike.

space

space

* * *

space

Tuesday morning

A lulled, swoony darkness outside at this hour of 4:11 a.m. after a storm walloped the town with furious winds and sheets of rain so thick the sky poured a thousand rivers at once, hurling bolts of lightning which boomed in that rolling, summertime surf of big night sound, shaking the lamps in the living room and cowering the cats. I was at the gym on the recumbent cycle going at it as usual – hard and fast, my heart’s engine at full song, as the racers say – watching the updates on the local news. The storm was just north of town—a 40,000-foot-high mother with purplish whorls headed this way and a band of circulation forming in the middle—when I decided to get home and unplug the vital appliances, the computer and my wife’s sewing and embroidery machines. (Over the years, lightning has taken out the lower a/c unit, a huge oak tree in the back yard –the roots got struck and the tree died—a neighbor’s TV, and the entertainment center of the neighbors who lived on the other side of our house). Grabbed my stuff out of my locker and walked out into one helluva downpour, lightning  cracking all about, my sneakers sloshing in the 2-inch lake that had quickly formed in the parking lot. Drove home slowly behind a pickup truck and then got inside and started unplugging stuff.

Wild storm, but it passed quickly—strolling fast down and across the state. It’s what the weathercasters call an “isolated thunderstorm, a gnarly rogue cumulus taking a random shot at spots of Florida: They’re common in summer, and no one knows which part of Central Florida is going to get hit. One day it’s Orlando or Winter Park; another, up in Lake County, a third day it’s Oviedo and Disney. Sometimes the same community gets hit twice or three or four times while the rest of the area stays bone-dry (and hot). Walls of storm which blanket the state are usually on the leading edge of cold fronts and are more typical of winter, though the seabreeze fronts coming in from either coast sometimes form armadas of storm which are sure to water gardens and commuters from the nose to balls of the state, or from the toes to the nerps.

The great thing about these storms is the saturated, satiated stillness which follows, at least until the sun comes up with its next feral installment. It’s quiet and five degrees cooler this morning outside (yesterday I put the a/c on around 6 a.m. when the thermostat read 81). I can sense the pleasure of the garden, branches of the crepe myrtles hanging heavy with their massive wet blossoms, the birdbath overflowing, crickets and even a few frogs singing in the water-bloated satch of late night. The coming day’s sun and heat (mid-90s forecast today) will translate this post-coital drowse into an embroiled lovers’ erectile longing, everything green stretching up and up from the soil, aching, ah, almost dying to kiss the burning lips of the sun …

space

space

Occasionally lighting catches a roof on fire, and there’s always a few lighting-related deaths in the summer, but the storms aren’t feared the way they are in the late winter and early spring, when tornadoes form so readily in their jackboots. In a year when bad weather has teamed with natural and human-made catastrophes, the next round of bad nature news goes to the Midwest, where a band of storms unleashed 50 tornadoes late last Saturday night. In Illinois, more than 50 people were injured and the roof of a movie theater was ripped off (a few years back, they might have been watching “Twister,” ha ha; remember the scene where a twister rips apart a drive-in movie screen, knocking it apart just as Jack Nicholson is busting down a door with a hatchet in “The Shining”?). In Michigan, siding tore off a nuclear plant, causing a shutdown. But the worst damage was in northern Ohio near the Michigan border, where an F-3 tornado left a strip up to 300 yards wide and 10 miles long littered with wrecked vehicles, and family possessions. 50 houses were destroyed and five people were killed, including a mother and her 4-year-old son and the father of a high school valedictorian who had been preparing to address her classmates Sunday, just a few hours after the tornado swept through with wind gusts of up to 165 mph.

space

space

By the time the front hit Pocono Speedway last weekend – just about the time of the green flag – the storm had lost some of its punch, but the ominous snarl of cloud over the raceway was a reminder of the world we fare in which cares little for human enterprise. It’s a big world we live in, no matter how we try to box it in with our houses and electronic devices and personal manias and obsessions. Go sit on once-pristine Pensacola Beach today in the sun with all of that white beach now getting puckered with black kisses of oil if you want to get a feel for how inept we are at mastering our environment.

Detroit’s a long way from Pensacola Beach, Florida. The only tangents which connect them in my imagination are big storms and tar balls. And NASCAR, which was born on Daytona Beach and was reared and roared for decades by the Big Three automakers. The 2010 NASCAR season has proceeded as usual on the drivers’ side of the cars, with all of the mixups and spats and bum luck and winning stratagems weaving one drivers’ still-obscured destiny as winner of the Sprint Cup: but on the other side of those cars, outside where the stands grow emptier and the skies seem ever-empurpled with rain and the localities surrounding  the tracks wither and starve (did you know that Martinsville, VA., has, at 25 percent, the highest unemployment rate in the state?), the ley of the real landscape—both human and natural (and which aren’t as far apart as you might think) is weird and turgid and foaming at its crest, like a hurricane’s storm surge covering the roof of a house that’s already gone underwater on its mortgage.

space

space

In Detroit, where things have fallen a long, long way, the traditions of Devil’s Night on Halloween began back in the 1930s, where youths took their liberties outside of the law with petty acts of vandalism – soaping and egging windows, toilet-papering neighbors’ yards. As the city declined, so increased the ferocity of Devil’s Night; by the 1970’s, Devil’s Night had become an occasion for random acts of arson. (Some property owners in an ever-depressed market joined in the fun, burning down their own houses to collect insurance money.) By the early 80’s, some 600 to 800 fires were set during the three days and nights prior to Halloween. The city began fighting back in the 90s by declaring Angel’s Night, gathering up some 50,000 volunteers to patrol neighborhoods and instituting a 6 p.m. curfew for youths. But as inner-city blight becomes suburban wanna-be fashion, so has Hell Night taken to the surrounding communities. In 2006, Saginaw, an industrial town some 100 miles north of Detroit, some 42 homes were set ablaze on Halloween.

space

space

The tradition of Devil’s Night, of course, goes back to pagan days, as Halloween is the eve of the Celtic New Year when the dead come back to roam country lanes at night and spook and play tricks on the populace; it’s always been a heady incentive for rebellious youths to get some payback on Authority. But the intensity and ferocity of Detroit’s Devil’s Night speaks of something I’d call urban solastalgia, the sense that the lousy ghetto called home is somehow getting worse, eroding beyond mere hopelessness. So burn the fucker down, the city become a wicker man with its remaining populace locked inside. Burn it in sacrifice to the god of the fall, the goddess of extinction. When despair rises above a certain temperature in the ghettoes, buildings begin to burn.

The front which tore through the Midwest with tornadoes cooled things down some. But things won’t say settled for long. The forecast for the week leading up to Sunday’s race at Michgan International Speedway for warming temps and increasing chances of thunderstorms.

space

* * *

space

space

And amid rumors that his days at Hendrick Motorsports are numbered, Dale Earnhardt Jr. heads to Michigan with all the uncertainties and frustrations of the season intact but hanging in there nonetheless.

Over at the website Jr. Nation, fans were, as ever, optimistic, supportive, and well, mothering.

Just before the Pocono race, stephanieluv88 posted:

Ahh super excited almost race time; I just want too wish Dale good luck? I think today is his day but then again i say that every race but he’ll do good i know!!!!!!!!!!!!! Also umm did anyone see him today on the countdown to green; um yeah he was lookin good haha =)…

And after the race, chickenwingz wrote,

HELLO JR AND THE ENTIRE NATION. YOU AND THE ENTIRE 88 TEAM DID A GREAT JOB YESTERDAY. WE AS A NATION APPRECIATE ALL THAT YOU DO WEEK IN AND WEEK OUT. THERE IZ STILL PLENTY OF TIME TO MAKE THE CHASE AND YOU STILL HAVE A SHOT. KEEP YOUR HEAD UP, ENJOY YOUR WEEK AND LETZ GO GET THEM NEXT WEEKEND

While a professed adoring fan, dCobra urged Dale Jr. to get some balls:

Dale Jr, what is wrong with driving like your dad. You are not him, but he drove every race to win. He drove every race with a passion. You do not have to be him, just drive with the passion to win as he did.

I am a dedicated fan you yours and it hurts to see you struggle like you are. Please take this as it is intended.

Jill looks ahead to Sunday’s race:

This is our race to win in Michigan. I remember when we won there. It was so awesome and your so awesome. Things will be fine. Your the best in the whole world and always will be. Have a nice day dear. Go get them and show them who is the best. Heres a hug. Love You Always Dear,

And Disney 2010 wrote,

from a die hard fan, heres to hoping this season on the turn around for you jr. wishing u all the best success at michigan. congrats on moving up in the points, keep up the good work!!!!! I speak for me in saying i get offended by any hint that compares jr as being in sr’s shadow still. Jr has prove to me he is his own man by his example on and off the track. thank you jr.

Yes, hope rides ever high for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the country which calls itself Dale Nation. It would be good to see some of that die-hard enthusiasm re-infect sectors which have turned, just like a tub of Heluva Good!, into a splat of sour cream.

space

space

* * *

space

Whatever happens at Michigan this weekend, all eyes are on the Nationwide race this July at Daytona, where Dale Jr. will climb into a replica of the #3 Wrangler Jeans Chevrolet driven by Dale Earnhardt Sr.

space


space

(And please don’t call ‘em Chevvies, any more: Chevrolet’s new ad agency is so brand conscious that an edict went out the other day at Chevrolet headquarters in Detroit that all employees had to cease and desist using the word “Chevy” when referring to the “brand” Chevrolet. “We’d ask that whether you’re talking to a dealer, reviewing dealer advertising, or speaking with friends and family, that you communicate our brand as Chevrolet moving forward,” said the memo, which was signed by Alan Batey, vice president for Chevrolet sales and service, and Jim Campbell, the G.M. division’s vice president for marketing. A postscript to the memo says that a plastic “Chevy” can had been placed in the hallway; every time someone said the word “Chevy,” that employee would be expected to put a quarter in the can.  Dunno about you, but it’s going to be hard to erase that word from the lexicon. Who doesn’t have Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” playing in their head, where the action takes place in the back of “60 Chevy”? Dick Gulstrand, a long-time racer who has been inducted in the the Corvette Hall of fame, put it this way: “It’s a ‘Vette, it’s a Caddy, it’s a Chevy.”) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/10/automobiles/10chevy.html?hp

Making the announcement in April on what would have been his father’s 59th birthday, Dale Jr. said it was a fitting honor for his dad’s induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

space

space

Earnhardt Sr.’s  number is owned by Richard Childress, the car owner he raced for in the Sprint Cup series, and it has not been used since Earnhardt Sr. died. Dale Jr. was ambivalent about keeping the No. 3 retired. “It’s ridiculous to try to retire numbers or favor numbers for certain drivers,” he said. “The 3 meant a lot to Daddy and meant a lot to a lot of race fans, but there’s some kid that’s growing up that really was never a Dale Earnhardt fan that drives the No. 3 and he might want to be No. 3 all his life, and to not give him that opportunity just ain’t fair.”

The No. 3 Wrangler Chevrolet ride may be Dale Jr.’s last great hope—maybe his last great appearance.

For others, that fabled ride may come sooner. It has to.

Jack Roush, whose Ford teams have failed to win all year, was all vocal support for Motor City as the NASCAR entourage of haulers hit the road for Detroit. “MIS, I think, has been one of the best racetracks, certainly in the north-central part of the United States here, and I think it deserves two races,” Roush said. “They don’t have any bigger problem selling tickets than anyplace else in our troubled economy, and it’s certainly a place I enjoy racing because it’s where I call home.”

A very different tack than the comments of Felix Sabates of Earnhadt-Ganassi racing who said last year, “I’d cut Michigan off the (NASCAR) schedule altogether. Michigan — I’m talking about the state — is never coming back to what it used to be, so why go there and throw good money after bad money? I mean, there’s nobody left in Detroit other than the police and the unemployed.”

The truth, like all truths, is somewhere between those two comments. Things are recovering somewhat in the Motor City. Sales at the Big Three automakers are up after dropping to their lowest levels in 50 years.

A recent article in The Detroit Free Press describes attempts by Detroit police to get guns – and drugs – off the streets. “In a city where an average of three people are shot every day, Chief Warren Evans said the only way to combat guns is to get the illegal ones off the street. If that means stopping people breaking minor laws, he said, so be it.” So far this year, police have confiscated nearly 1,500 firearms. Along with increased street patrols, the gun-confiscation task force may account for 99 fewer nonfatal shootings and 40 fewer homicides this year so far.

The Michigan economy isn’t in a steep downward slide, either, and unemployment is down to 14 percent—still worse than any other state in the country, but not losing any more ground. Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga pitched a near-perfect game last week and perennially-rocking Detroit son Bob Seger (whose song “Like A Rock” became the Chevy–uh Chevrolet—theme) heads out on tour later this year.

space

Bob Seger, a Detroit son who got away.

space

But the hole we’re in is deep and finding a way up and out isn’t something Dale Earnhardt Jr. can achieve for us by righting his season. It’s not like the economy is affecting his peformance in the big big picture; Dale still leads the Hendricks Motorsports stable of drivers in total earnings at $30 million a year, followed by Jeff Gordon ($27 million) and Jimmie Johnson ($23 million.). According to Forbes, the value of a top 10 NASCAR team has dropped 10 percent since 2008, but things are still cozy up there (Hendrick Motorsports is worth $350 million, Roush Fenway Racing $238 million and Richard Childress Racing $153 million).

When you imagine the astonishing gap in earnings between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and a typical, unemployed, die-hard member of Dale Nation, you sense that the unreality of our addiction to celebrity is on a par with our greed for speed. Maybe both are mythic, are part of the subtext of myth which masks the brutal realities we live in.

space

space

What is truly mythic is the reality of the economic hole we’re in, a hole which has a Deepwater Horizon feel to it and whose consequences are to a populace what all that geysering oil is to a Gulf ecosystem.

Bob Herbert did some tallying in a recent NY Times op-ed piece:

More than 15 million Americans are out of work, and nearly half have been jobless for six months or longer. New college graduates are having a terrible time finding work, and many are taking jobs that require only a high school education. Teachers are facing the worst employment market since the Depression.

… It’s impossible to overstate the threat that this crisis of unemployment poses to the well-being of the United States. With so many people out of work and so much of the rest of the population deeply in debt, where is the spending going to come from to power a true economic recovery? The deficit hawks are forecasting Armageddon, but how is anyone going to get a handle on the federal deficits if we don’t get millions of people back to work and paying taxes?

Some inner-city neighborhoods, where joblessness is off the charts, are becoming islands of despair. Rural communities and rust belt cities and towns are experiencing their own economic nightmares.

There is no plan that I can see to get us out of this fix. Drastic cuts in government spending would only compound the crisis. State and local governments, for example, are shedding workers as we speak.

Policy makers have acted as if they are unaware of the magnitude of this crisis. They have behaved as though somehow, through some economic magic perhaps, or the power of prayer, this ocean of joblessness will just disappear. That’s a pipe dream.

Even if we somehow experienced a sudden, extraordinary surge in job growth (which no one is expecting), it would take a very long time just to get back to the level of employment that we had when the recession started in late-2007.

So here we are, stuck in this spreading gulf between the nation’s richest people (among whom many NASCAR drivers and owners are resident) and a vast, spreading subculture of poverty which is adding new citizens from the failing middle class every day.

It is as if Devil’s Night has moved into our day to stay.

space

space

* * *

space

In Dundee, Michigan – some 20 miles southwest of Detroit – cleanup efforts continue in the aftermath of a tornado which swept through the town in the early hours of Sunday morning, June 8. For some, it was a hard hit in a rural area already devastated by high unemployment.

space

Brenda York, 47 of Dundee, Michigan stands beside her business York Nursery Supply which was leveled by the June 6 tornado. The York’s century-old home is also a total loss due to structural damage.

space

“You never think it’s going to happen here–happen to you,” said Brenda, who fled with her husband Mark around 2 a.m. from their 2nd floor bedroom as debris from trees and neighboring homes flew through their room and the roof was pulled loose.

“It’s done,” she said. “My business is inoperable, no money coming in. I just feel devastated because it’s my business and my home.”

Here in Florida this morning, it’s cool compared to the norm, following the a cool front whose furthest strands raked the state earlier in the week (that’s where the 40,000-foot-monster thunderstorm which raked our town arose from) and has kept temps, for a few days a least, from getting out of the 80s. But summer is mighty here and temps are forecasted to soar back up to the mid-90s, with increasing chances of rain. Cops were searching Lake Bennett in west Orange County with sonar, scouring the bottom of lake for the body of Tracy Ocasio, a young woman who met a guy at a bar months ago and has never come home. TV reporters stalk Pensacola Beach in search of tar ball eye candy, even though such evidence is so infinitesimal compared to the dearth and death drifting deeper down offshore – those lumps of smelly black gel like the tip of an iceberg, like the roof of a house that’s gone underwater in its mortgage. Some elderly guy over in Daytona Beach rolled his wheelchair into a pool and never came back up. It was reported that last month, the Orlando market logged 1,569 legal filings for properties taken over by banks — up 44 percent from a year earlier.

space

Orange County police (left) use sonar to search the bottom of a Central Florida lake for missing Tracy Ocasio. 29-year-old James Hataway (right) currently being held on separate assault charges, is considered a “person of interest” in the disappearance.

space

And on Monday—a month before the Coke Zero 400 – NASCAR announced that cars in that race will have larger carburetor restrictor plates, up from 63/64-inch to 1-1/32 inch. “We think this will be a needed boost due to the additional drag we’ve picked up since switching from a rear wing to a rear spoiler,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. But why announce it so close to the race, except to give sales for the event a boost? Like Michigan, Florida is deep into doldrums which may follow a precipice downward defined by oil, or the spillage of it in quantities so great that recovery may be decades away, just like our unemployment problem and housing problem.

But whaddayagonna do but fugataboutit–and go to a race. Inside the confines of a track its all indulgence, beer in unending fountains poured from $4 cans, track bunnies looking like everything that could pleasure a man and cars so loud and fast they can dislodge a person’s uninsured teeth as they go round. There’s always hope, that fool’s gold which springeth eternal from the heart of despair, that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will finally start winning again and all will be right once again, not just in NASCAR but in the days and world we find ourselves ever-more devastated by.

space

Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads in a Michigan race some years back.

space

The fear isn’t on the track in any more. It’s just outside the stadium, leaking in from a thousand rents our the daily surfaces, rising to levels that can’t properly be dispersed or squelched or bailed out or sandbagged.

The fear is that we’re that bird in the now-famous photo become covered with oil, slowing in frustration and despair til we move no more.

So go, Dale, go. Drive like a motherfucker. Become our fear’s Eliminator. Don’t win on fumes, shove everyone aside who’s in your way and win by a mile. Recover your season so we have an enduring myth once again. Show us that it’s possible, even on the silliest stage of all.

space

space

space

space

space

space

spaxce

space

space

space

space

space

space

space

space

space

space

space

space

space

space

space

4 responses to “Dale Jr.’s Detroit wheels

  1. Sherena Bates

    Jr- you keep your head up. You can only try your best & if that means giving up NASCAR than so be it. I personally would HATE to see that, because if you left I’d stop watchi it! Do whatever makes YOU HAPPY!!! Your fans- if they are “real” fans will be behind you 110% in whatever decision you choose! I wish people would quit comparing Jr to his dad. He’s NOT Sr. They are 2 totally different people. Just because they are father/son, doesnt means anything! Jr is his OWN person—LET HIM BE THAT! Not a name! Go get ’em JuneBug!!

  2. Your words ring true — personally, professionally, just as a citizen of the republic and an observer of perilous times — on many levels.
    Or maybe we’re all just full of shit, and that’s what led to these all-encompassing doldrums in the first place.

  3. Thanks. But yes, or we’re all just full of shit.

    Thomas Friedman in the NY Times today quoted a letter received by the Beaufort Gazette in South Carolina the other day, which puts blame not on BP or Obama or Mama but right there onto the image of the person staring back in the mirror, onto the consumer who consumed our way into this mess

    “I’d like to join in on the blame game that has come to define our national approach to the ongoing environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. This isn’t BP’s or Transocean’s fault. It’s not the government’s fault. It’s my fault. I’m the one to blame and I’m sorry. It’s my fault because I haven’t digested the world’s in-your-face hints that maybe I ought to think about the future and change the unsustainable way I live my life. If the geopolitical, economic, and technological shifts of the 1990s didn’t do it; if the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 didn’t do it; if the current economic crisis didn’t do it; perhaps this oil spill will be the catalyst for me, as a citizen, to wean myself off of my petroleum-based lifestyle. ‘Citizen’ is the key word. It’s what we do as individuals that count. For those on the left, government regulation will not solve this problem. Government’s role should be to create an environment of opportunity that taps into the innovation and entrepreneurialism that define us as Americans. For those on the right, if you want less government and taxes, then decide what you’ll give up and what you’ll contribute. Here’s the bottom line: If we want to end our oil addiction, we, as citizens, need to pony up: bike to work, plant a garden, do something. So again, the oil spill is my fault. I’m sorry. I haven’t done my part. Now I have to convince my wife to give up her S.U.V”

  4. What an absolute joy to read a piece that’s literate! Thanks, pal. Keep it up.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s