Tag Archives: lady luck

Three fates, two minds, one track


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It was not the race result everyone was expecting. Denny Hamlin was tearing up the Phoenix track, well ahead of Jimmie Johnson. The No. 48 Chevy just didn’t seem to be able to muster enough champion horsepower in the late afternoon sun. His fade into history’s footnote (as in, set the record for consecutive championships at 4) looked like a sure thing.

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Chad Knaus extorted his driver over the radio. “Come on, buddy. You can find us something.” You could hear desperation in his voice. But there wasn’t anything to find. Johnson slipped one position in the running order, then another, while Hamlin picked up bonus points for leading the most laps in the race. “Believe me, I’m trying,” Johnson radioed back. “Don’t try, do,” Knaus radioed back and then there was silence. The inevitable continued rolling out.

Kevin Harvick had already slipped, a tire changer missing a lug nut on the last pit, forcing him to come back in, get the damn nut, more gas and two tires and miring him back in the field. His only chance was a long, long green flag run (with the leaders eventually needing to pit for fuel).

Entering the last 20 laps it appeared that that might happen. He charged slowly through the field, though it didn’t look like there would be enough race ahead of him to make it to the front without a caution or a competition pit by the leaders.

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And then the unexpected happened, and the race was turned on its ass. The No. 11 ran out of fuel way early. Crew chief Mike Ford told Hamlin that he was about eleven laps short of fuel. He had to come in.

He did, and that was that. The dominant driver in the Kobalt Tools 500 ended up finishing 12th, behind Jimmy Johnson in fifth and Harvick in sixth.

Fuel became the big issue on the final laps. Harvick was the only one who was sure to make it on fuel. Edwards kept the lead but was vulnerable. Juan Pablo Montoya, who was running second, ran out of fuel on the final lap.

And no one, on one at all expected the No. 48 to make it, their past attempts at fuel strategy never panning out.

Edwards did it, winning his first Sprint Cup in 70 tries (he hadn’t won since the last race of the 2008 season) and then, miraculously—-strangely, in that race of strange outcomes—-the No. 48 held out, finishing fifth just ahead of charging Harvick.

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At the next-to-the-last race of the 2010 season, Carl Edwards celebrated his first Sprint Cup win since the last race of the 2008 season.

Everything that looked like destiny for Denny Hamlin, who lead for 190of the first 300 laps, spiraled out of control on the last 12.

And thus Denny Hamlin’s Sprint Cup lock turned like that into a points dead heat, with Hamlin leading Johnson by only 15 points and Harvick by 46.

A points lead which will be challenged ultimately in one winner-take-all race at Homestead this weekend.

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Hamlin had the stunned look of a beaten man in the post-race press conference. “I couldn’t control it,” he said, meaning the strange twist of events at race’s end. “I did everything I was supposed to do. Things didn’t work out for me.” He couldn’t believe that the No. 11 had a fuel issue where the other cars didn’t, suggesting that Ford had been too conservative in his fuel mileage estimate.

And here’s my point: How is it that such certainty can suddenly turn on three dimes into something altogether different? Three dimes – Hamlin’s fuel pit, Harvick’s missing lug nut and Johnson’s miraculous fuel survival – which fell neatly an opposite way to set up the fiercest final Chase race in history.

Well, (I assert), that’s racin’: a tightly controlled mayhem where mastery and dumb luck have stunningly equal clout.

And that’s what makes it so damn fun.

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Johnson, whose No. 48 was clearly fading and looking lost to the Chase, emerged looking like the clear winner, having bested not Denny Hamlin but Fate, or rather been championed by Her this next time, at least enough to keep him within a shorthair of the Championship for another week.

Smiling and joking on pit road after the race, Johnson acted like he was way out in the lead rather than in a dead-heat with Hamlin. He sure was talking trash. “The biggest thing we have working for us right now is to put pressure on [Hamlin], and the fact that we reduced that points lead,” Johnson said. “I hope he has a hell of a time sleeping all week. I hope he hears every rattle in that car, and everything you could imagine at Homestead.”

Johnson’s uncharacteristically bad-assed statement was comparable to calling time-out to ice the opposing team’s field goal kicker on the last play of the game.

Let Denny think about how he did everything right to win and still lost as he heads to Homestead. Let him think, let him think. Johnson knows that the best way to lose a race is to let it get to your head; it is perhaps why he affects such a Alfred E. Newmanequse “what, me worry?” attitude off the track.

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Translating a “What, me worry?” attitude into 53 Sprint Cup wins and four consecutive championships over a nine-year career.

Right up until the very end, Phoenix was a talent show; in the final laps it showed its true colors as a mind-fuck. The unexpected had shown its clout once again, and revealed the high-wires these cars actually race upon, suspended hundreds of feet in the circular air.

Phoenix was racin’ at its best, delivering a satisfying knockout punch from out of that nowhere which is perhaps the only good thing the sport has going for it.

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The current NASCAR motto, “Everything else is just a game” shrewdly plays upon the mystical allure of the oval grotto. Into every race goes the finest auto technology available, with the best and smartest money creating clear leaders – but it seems that when these smart forces are comically ratcheted by monkey wrenches, upending outcomes with banana peels.

Clearly, Fate had spoken –- or the gods –- had turned Denny Hamlin’s dominance into hubris and Kevin Harvick’s missing lug nut into a golden horseshoe. And Jimmie Johnson, who had long been the dominant driver at Phoenix, leading more laps there over the past five years than all the other drivers combined, and yet didn’t lead a single lap at Sunday’s race at Phoenix — still beat his Sprint Cup challengers.

I suggest that the strange mix of domination and chance is what makes these final Chase races so damn satisfying to fans.  Not in a long while has the desperation of the few provided satisfaction to so many.

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Not that Jimmie Johnson is a fan favorite, by any means, but his weird survivals and un-champion-like, laid-back demeanor makes him the lowly country rube who manages to pull the Sword from the Stone where all the high knights of the court have failed.

He sure fooled me on Sunday. Or rather, his fate sure fooled me.

Go figure.

(OK, I’ll try …)

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This notion of unnatural selection (of chimp as champ) isn’t rational, but like the irresistible appeal of wrong lovin’, the appearance of divine intervention (for better or ill) in races is, in my opinion, what keeps the sport running at full song.

Sorry, Monte. I know you’d like a drier, more journalistic truth about racing. You’ve asserted recently the best cars win races. And you know what an uphill battle it is to convince anyone of that, because “what’s between the ears trumps what’s under the hood” – meaning, people are going to believe their own race narratives no matter what actually happens.

Now, I’m all for Truth. My brain tells me that Hamlin has the best car and the best crew chief this year. The evidence of that was clear at Phoenix. I despise the hijacking of truth by corporate media interests. FOX News is the worst, so confusing GOP PR with truth that facts are pulled out of any ass to make a point that takes a news cycle to get shot down, but by then the damage has been done. (MS-NBC is FOX News in drag – same methods, diff’rent party.) Flipping channels the other night, I heard Bill O’Reilly lead a debate on whether National Public Radio offered fair and balanced journalism – as if they cared in anything other than unleashing a wrecking ball on the competition.

However, as we also saw at Phoenix, the truth only gets you so far in racin’—maybe up to the point where some celebrity or lucky fan gets to shout, “Gentlemen, START YOUR ENGINES!” That’s when all the dirt devils and she-demons pour in through back door of the speedway and the shenanagins begin. Driving counterclockwise in the manner of medieval witches (who were also called “weird sisters”) circling backassward around a cauldron, their muttering and motion invoking arch weirdness. Engines mysteriously fail to fire or blow halfway into a race, bits of metal or plastic appear on the track causing leads to get lopped off, cars smoke and spin and wreck this other driver or not, rains begin to fall, fuel gauges play tricks. The margin  of error is too small and there are just so many things which can go wrong.

And when a wreck turns fantastical, going airborne, turning pirourettes in the air, landing with a glance which becomes smash which becomes a series of barrel-rolls showering the catchfence with parts ending in a fuming flaming shatter, the precipice of death is never more visible to the hundred thousand attendees and millions watching the race from every angle on TV. When the driver shakenly emerges and waves his hand, there is a collective sigh which is part relief that a man has beaten Death this once, part disappointment that such sacrifices have disappeared from the land. Then someone crosses the finish line -– often a master, many other times a lucky dog who survived others’ disaster –- and then Fate’s fickle money shots in Victory Lane.

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Sound reasonable? Of course it isn’t. Racin’ is an enduring article of faith in a world where the rational has killed off the Deity and His traces in just about every other place where the light shines. Racin’ with Wynona is old-school, like still-whiskey and Westboro Baptist Church and good ole boys who smoke Marlboros and drink Budweiser by the barrel, who wear t-shirts that read, “Tell your boobs to stop staring at my eyes” and still salute the Confederate flag. The South rises again at every race, ghostlike, still dripping blood from the horrendous losses of Shiloh and The Wilderness, unrepentant, unbowed, and reverently holding beer cans high to the winner, that hell of a good-time man who beat the devil at his own game.

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Actually, racin’ is much older than faith in stock cars.  They’re just the latest vehicle used in the ritual trial to prove the favor of Fate’s goddess. Racin’ survives from the second millennium BC, hearkening back to an age when the gods spoke to everyone, making every decision for us which consciousness eventually took over. (You try hauling ass and turning left faster than an angel can fly; you don’t think, you drive, obeying the voices which come into you over the radio in your headset).

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Princeton psychologist Julian Jaynes (d. 1991), whose theories of bicameralism and the cultural evolution of consciousness were largely ignored until the development of brain scanning technology which lent great credence.

That’s the theory, at least, of Julian Jaynes, a former Princeton University professor of psychology who shook the science of mind back in the mid-1970s with his theory that human consciousness is actually a late, cultural invention. Formerly, humans had what were called bicameral brains, with the actions of left hemisphere relegated to “man” and the right hemisphere to “the gods.” The gods spoke through auditory hallucinations in the right hemisphere, speaking in one’s ear, so to speak, whenever any decision or action requiring thought was needed.

Fine and dandy, but shit always happens. Bicameral mind began to break down in the late 2d millennium BC when the auditory hallucinations of the right brain began to grow silent, losing their easy groove, requiring greater stress to speak at all, and eventually, on the personal level, went silent.

That’s because language-—particularly written language– began to overwrite the dominion of gods, replacing heavenly speech with articulated thought, creating a metaphorical interior world which had a force equal to survive and then master the outside world.

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Philistine Linear script, 1200 BCE: The self as text.

And so the gods began to disappear, growing remote, no longer in terran temples but somewhere up in the sky or down there in the sea, mediated by angels and deities, intermediaries which furthered the distance between god and man.

Religions formed as means of re-accessing these gods, and personal practices – like omens and superstitions, rituals and magic – were means of re-accessing the fading hallows of the god. But make way for rationality, the product of conscious thought, and by 600 BC – especially in Greece – we see civilization beginning to take off.

Now that technology is speeding faster than a quark on the lam, white noise is all we get of all those former certainties. Modernity, the inevitable product of civilization at warp speed, sucks.

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Bosch on WAY South Beach: Detail from Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych “The Garden of Earthly Delights” (ca 1510 AD), mapped the way from pre-conscious Eden into the darkness of the human mind.

That’s why the culture of the irrational is so resilient. According to Jaynes, irrationality is the very underpinning of rational civilization. You can’t get one without the other lurking in the shadows.

The Christian God lost much of His power as the Dark Ages morphed into Renaissance – some like Harold Bloom assert that the human was actually invented by Shakespeare’s self-reflexive characters as they tackled existence without a God’s direction.

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Illustration from King James’ “The Daemonologie” (1597); cover art of “Abraxas,” Santana’s second album (1970).

But King James – authoritor of the King James Bible, still the Bible of choice for many today — was obsessed with demonology, and Shakespeare was said to have written “Macbeth” for his benefit. Macbeth is an old-school warrior, haunted by witches and obsessed with destiny (much like every Sprint Cup Driver); Hamlet is driven by the Ghost of his father, but he questions every Christian dogma on his way down the primrose path to his destruction, showing a depth in the human intelligence which few have been able to peer down into.

God kept dying through the ages—drying up, fading into masses recited in dead Latin, exciting various proponents of one or other version of Christian truth into massive bloodbaths, fading to the point where Nietzsche would declare in the late 19th century that God was dead.

And yet He has kept surviving, perhaps because of our mortal fear of death, perhaps because, as Keith Richards once said, nothing interesting happens where the light is too bright.

Does it srike it odd to anyone else that in this age where knowledge is doubling every 15 years or so killer apps have about an 18-month lifecycle, that anti-intellectualism has never been more pervasive in the culture? The Texas Board of Education is bent on getting evolution out of science books, and Sarah Palin aw-shucks her down-home Alaska roots while she grinds her elk-blood-soaked boots onto the necks of Washington elites and readers of The New York Times. The culture seems to get dumb and dumber just as civilization gets smart and smarter; in this age of polarization, the extremes are mind-blowing, like pairing the big-bang spirallinggs of the Hadron particle accelerator with the backwarding declamations of “Jersey Shore” guidos and guidetttes.

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Dumb, Dumber, Dumberer and Dumberest.

Fear of modernity has almost surpassed fear of death, especially as dying gets marginalized, censured from the evening telecast about the war in Afghanistan and hidden away in anonymous nursing homes. The former fear is old enough, dating back to the very birth of modernity when human consciousness pried its way free of the bicameral brain.

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An apple a day keeps old gods away.

The Garden of Eden story is a tale about fears of modernity, with Satan’s offering just what modernity brings – knowledge of good and evil. When god spoke loudly in our ears, there was no need for good or evil – Just Do It was the overwhelming command; but when an inner world grew up around the tree of knowledge, morality – subjective conscience – became a stand-in for the evaporated Voice.

Evangelical movements have swept the United States every 20 years or so, and contemporary fundamentalism is strikingly similar to Muslim fundamentalism. The members of Westboro Church have as much love for the U.S. military – and contemporary society’s acceptance of homosexuals — as the Taliban.

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Birds of a fundamentalist feather.

We may never be rid of the shadow of bicameral mind, but like a schizophrenic recovering from the shower of voices in his or her head, we may learn eventually to temper it, to give it a certain due while suppressing the darkness further from our lit capitals. When is it ever truly dark in a city? How far must you drive out of town to see the stars?

Actually, mind may be slowly growing towards a more mediated consciousness. Banning irrationality has worked as well as, say, Prohibition: nothing like putting tape over a stripper’s nipples to make her boobage more compelling. Rather, it may be that people become self-authorized, i.e., able to have their personal relations with God of their own choosing – be that deity Old Granddad himself or the ocean or a rich metaphorical monestary in the mind – with the permission of society. It seems that the evolutionary direction is toward mediation of the brain’s hemispheres, so that one talks out of both sides of the brain, so to speak, at once verbal and spatial, deep and far, technical and mythical. Just think if we worked at things with our whole brains at play. Then the Kingdom of Heaven would no longer be lost at Eden or drifting beyond reach in the sky. Then it would be somewhere between heart and mind, soul and brain. East of the Sun and West of the Moon.

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East of the Sun, West of the Moon.

Or so Julian Jaynes saw it, until he died in 1997. His theories didn’t have much truck in varied scientific circles until brain imaging technology began to show neural activity which was amazingly constant with his idea of consciousness rooted in language (in the left hemisphere of the brain) with all sort of archaic, mystical, wondrous and strange stuff originating from a goddess’s castle at the bottom of the sea of the right hemisphere.

As it turns out, we really are bi-. –Cameral, that is.

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Back to Homestead, or on to it, for the final, winner-take-all race of the 2010 season. Miami will be a comfort to many, for winter is a-cumin-in for much of the rest of the country. The dark season formally began when we set our clocks back last weekend. Earlier this week Minnesota was dumped with a foot of snow. Trees have lost their leaves and lawns are turning brown. A cold wind blows down from the north. Ratso Rizzo, the sick and dying New Yorker in “Midnight Cowboy,” is aboard one of those haulers now driving way, way south, ferrying a hard-frozen soul into the balmy regions of paradise regained.

The forecast for Sunday’s race in Homestead is 80 degrees and partly sunny: summery weather indeed for just about anybody who doesn’t live in Florida, where this weather has been the norm in a temperate autumn. Warm without the hot humid gator fangs of what’s truly summer in Florida. Warm as a baby’s bottom, as a topless sunbather’s breasts, as the soft waves breaking so milky-blue at South Beach.

It will be warmer than the Daytona 500, a few hundred miles to the north and at the far end of the season. Central Florida was cold back then, in its coldest winter in 20 years. Someone even built a snowman near Pit Row one afternoon as Speed Weeks approached, following a slushy rainstorm.

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Snowstorm in Minneapolis, the usual at South Beach, Miami, Nov. 2010.

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Miami is no country for snowmen, except those boreal dudes in desperate need of shedding their pelts of ice in return for a decent soak wan sunshine, tall glass of rum-and-pineapple juice in hand, a combo playing bossa nova while half the reclining chairs around a beachside hotel are filled with oiled hotties.

Sweet home Miami, Homestead here we come.

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But Florida – especially South Florida – is no Eden, not any more. Massively over-developed, Miami is an day-glo carbuncle on the southernmost tip of Florida’s garish peninsular penis, sold out to big money and dope-runners and the spray-tan of every other form of self-aggrandizement.

Donald Sher Roth of the Miami Herald recently blogged about the hostility of South Florida’s residents, citing a 2010 Travel and Leisure article placing Miami almost dead-last on its list 35 Favorite Cities in America, even though a 2009 survey placed Miami first in attractive people. Roth attributed Miami’s bad rep to an almost complete disregard for social conscience – its citizens the most aggressive, arrogant and annoying of any place on earth, as likely to hit-and-run as leave it to you to step in their dog’s shit.

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It’s important to use proper turn signals when driving in Miami.

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Homestead is still recovering from the annihilations of Hurricane Andrew, a Cat-5 buzzsaw which ripped through the town just south of Miami in 1991 like the Rabid Wild Sow of Hell, a pissed-off cyclone blowing houses down with enormous farts from the sky. And even though the race at Homestead-Miami Speedway is the season’s last, race attendance has typically been anemic, as is attendance a just about any Miami-area sporting event. Maybe everyone would rather be at the beach. Or maybe no one wants to face what awaits them on the roads, trying to get home.

The Homestead race this year should see top attendance, what with it all truly coming down to that singular venue. We’ll see. I have my doubts. Miami is a long way for a NASCAR faithful to trek, especially these days. And with faith in NASCAR at an all-time low.

NASCAR wants to move the season’s final race to Las Vegas, placing it nearer to the location of the season’s end-of-year banquets and celebrations. They better make up their minds, because the gods are surely angry at those surly, uppity Miamiams.

Researchers in Greenland and Antarctica are becoming alarmed at the rate those massive ice sheets are now melting, far faster than the speedy 20th century, which saw a 7-inch rise in sea-level. By 2100, the seas could rise another three feet, putting a good chunk of South Florida, including Miami and Miami-Homestead Speedway, under water.

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Ice is melting faster than a Holopaw debutante’s resolve to stay virginal after a couple of belts of Rebel Yell in the back seat of an old Caddy convertible.

Now, global warming is more the result of a billion new cars in China than a ten thousand hothead drivers in Miami, but that point will be lost on members of Westboro Baptist Church. They will feel vindicated in their belief in the wrath of a dead god. Most of us Floridians won’t grieve the drowning of the Miami Miasma, either — Governor-elect Rick Scott and Tea Party Senator-elect Marco Rubio are both from those parts, and all of Florida will now pay for their presence in the offices of power — but then we’re not looking forward either to the migration of millions of ill-tempered assholes into our neighborhoods, up here on (somewhat) elevated and drier land.

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Florida ca 2100. Note the greatly receded coastline, with Miami under a good 200 feet of water, and the new beach starts west of Daytona.

Maybe we can bus ‘em to Kansas where they can be reeducated in the ways of the Lord by the wonder-wonks of Westboro.

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Guess who’s coming to dinner.

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To work through to the end of the point in this post, I’m going to have to go back – back before the beginning of the season and back before the beginning of NASCAR. Way way back there I think are a few things which best explains the next and last race I’ll probably ever write about.

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In 1902 a curious find was unearthed from the Trundholm moor on the northwest coast of Zealand, an island off the southeast coast of Denmark (a location comparable to Iona off the coast of Scotland): a bronze statue of a sun chariot, featuring a large bronze disk that’s sitting on a device supported by spoked wheels. A mare stands in front, also on a similar apparatus supported by wheels.

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The Trundholm Chariot.

Curiously, the piece is gilded on one side only and supports the notion that the Trundholm Chariot was a votive of the sun goddess Sunna. In Norse legend, Sunna drives her sun chariot across the sky, chased by wolves. Her brother is Manni, the moon. The lack of gilding on the obverse side of the votive suggests a return passage in darkness, in the transit from sunset to sunrise. The piece is dated to the 18th to 16th century BC.

The burial of such an exquisite and costly piece was obviously intended as a offering to a deity, surely the Sun goddess Sunna: such rituals were one of many ways that people stayed connected to an increasingly remote heaven. No longer whispering in their ears, the gods were symbolically planted back under ground, that their voices may one day rise again.

Many silent centuries ensued as memory of Sunna faded away. But racin’ kept her gilded mojo, assuring to every victor her blessing.

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The Tarot is a manner of card-divination which emerged in the mid-15th century (though some say it roots back to ancient Egyptian practice) which was somewhat similar to a deck of playing cards. The Querent asks a question, and then the cards are laid out in some sequence. What’s called the “minor arcane” of the Tarot are four suits (cups, wands, pentacles and swords) working from one to ten and topped off by four royal cards (page, knight, queen, king). Each card has a significance and potency, especially when aligned near others. Then there are the “major arcana” cards, featuring allegorical illustrations and personages – the Fool, the Hierophant, the Wizard, the Tower, the Sun, the Moon, the Lovers, the Devil, the World, etc. By laying out the cards in a proscribed manner, one’s fortune – and destiny – supposedly could be divined.

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Now, one of the Major Arcana cards is the Chariot, and there’s an interesting story associated with this card which we need to remember at Homestead:

The Fool is close to completing what he set out to create long ago, back when the Magician revealed those tools to him. But enemies are now standing in his way, devious human enemies, bad circumstances, even confusion in his own mind. There’s no more forward momentum; he feels he is fighting just to stay where he is. Walking along the shore, watching the waves come in, he puzzles over how to defeat these enemies and get things moving forward once again.

It is here that he comes across a charioteer, standing in his gold and silver chariot, his black and white steeds at rest. “You seem a victorious warrior,” the Fool remarks. “Tell me, what is the best way to defeat an enemy?” The Charioteer nods out at the ocean. “Have you ever been swimming in the water and been trapped in that tide which pulls you out to sea? If you try to swim forward, head-on, you go nowhere. You swim forward, the tide pulls you back and, if you tire yourself out, you drown. The only way to win without sapping all your energy is to swim parallel to shore, and come in slowly, diagonally. So, too, when fighting in a chariot. You win by coming up alongside that which you wish to defeat.” The warrior nods to his beasts. “Your steeds keep the wheels turning, but it is your control and direction that brings victory. Dark and light, they must be made to draw in harmony, under your guidance.”

The Fool is impressed and inspired. He thinks he now knows how to win his own war. He thanks the warrior, but before he leaves, the warrior stays the Fool, “One thing more,” he says, “no victory can be won unless you have unwavering confidence in your cause. And remember this above all, victory is not the end, it is the beginning.”

The Charioteer, as some have divined in meditation, is a tricky sort of character, double-natured–perhaps of two minds: A warrior who fights on land and water and who succeeds not frontally but from the side. A  tricky dicky. Jaynes asserts that one of the first symptoms of consciousness was guile: a defeated people had to ignore the demands of their god for retaliation (which would have often meant slaughter) and, instead, acted compliant while planning their revenge. Think of Odysseus managing to massacre all of those suitors trying to get into his wife Penelope’s panties; he had to approach his own home pretending he was a beggar, so he could slip through the defenses. Badasses weren’t muscle-bound berserkers, they were mind-fuckers, riding their chariots on the ledge between head (reason) and gut.

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Odysseus, having pretended to be a lowly beggar outside his court, gets allowed in — and then takes his revenge on the Suitors.

And finally, the Charioteer knows the end of battle is not Victory but what comes after. This was lost on Don Rumsfeld when he went to war with Iraq in 2003, but Jimmie Johnson learned that Top Five keeps you alive where Victory will bite you in the ass. He didn’t lead a single lap last week in Phoenix and yet he still managed to finish ahead of the one who led the most laps.

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Jaynes suggests that musicians and poets manage to work from both sides of their brains: sound patterns register more fluently from the right hemisphere, with their meanings affixed to language originating from the right. Most of the old religious liturgies were sung because they sounded like the old voices of the gods. Music was a gift of Apollo, divine, harmonized to the heavenly spheres.

Now, most musicians know that keeping things mediated between the two lobes isn’t an easy thing to do. Words get lost in the melody, and if you have too much purpose, if you think too hard, you lose the thread of the song.

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Two representations of Arion, the mythical Greek singer who knew how to ride a song. (The left one’s tattooed on my left arm, since I’m left-handed, and compose my verses in long-hand.)

Arion is the legendary player of the lyre in Greek history (or pre-history) and a good singer, too, attributed with inventing the dithyramb, a literary composition for chorus. He was such a good singer that it literally (OK, mythically) saved his ass.

Arion had attended a musical competition in Sicily and was returning home when he was kidnapped by pirates who wanted his prize money. He was given three fates: commit suicide with a proper burial once back on land or get thrown into the sea. Arion buys time by asking for permission to sing a last song, a paean to Apollo. The song is so beautiful that entranced dolphins circle the ship. At the end of the song, Arion throws himself overboard rather than die and one of the dolphins carried him to the sanctuary of Poseidon at Cape Tainaron.

I have a tattoo at the top of my left arm of Arion riding a dolphin, playing a flute; it was actually a logo for a series of poetry books. It reminds me of that precarious balance between words and music, how help comes from below rather from the skies, and how every next sentence is a dive into the drink, not knowing with any certainty what is to come next.

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The Uffington Horse.

The other figure I have tattooed on my (other) arm is a representation of the Uffington Horse, a 374-foot figure carved in white chalk on the slopes of White Horse Hill in Oxfordshire, England. Without constant periodic cleaning, the figure quickly vanishes from sight; up until the 19th century, a ritual scouring of the chalk trenches was done every seven years, accompanied by a festival. Couples sleeping within the small circle of the head (and directly upon the eye) were guaranteed fertility.

Most agree that the figure is a horse, though some of the locals assert it’s a representation of the dragon that St. George killed. Scientific dating places the hillside carving toward the end of the Bronze Age, somewhere between 1400 and 600 BC, attributing the carving to migrating Germano-Celtic tribe from the steppes of Eurasia whose totem was the horse. (The Celtic sea-god Manannan rides a white chariot called Ocean Sweeper over the swells, drawn by a golden horse called Splendid Mane)

A big-ass votive for a lost god: There is a church and that is its steeple, but what happened to god and all of His people? No one rides the Horse.

Still, the energy of the figure remains and sustains. I often think of that horse as I haul ass at the gym on a cycle, summoning energies older and bigger than my own through the image of a huge, hills-racing horse.

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Finally, atop my father’s Irish crest there is a naked man riding a fish. Three drinking cups adorn the face of the crest, and the motto reads Non Providentia Sed Victoria -– “Not by Providence, but Victory!” You’d think we were a pirate clan, but actually, our heritage was bardic –- the three drinking cups symbolizing the old Irish triad which said songs fit in three categories –- Laughter, Weeping and Sleep.

Odd that song and war would be paired in the image, but something tells me that the rider of the Tarot Chariot knows something similar to Arion whose song guaranteed passage back to land aboard a dolphin, as does the Uffington Horse who rides the swells of the hills, as does my own totem of the naked man atop a fish: a deep image of racin’ perhaps, intimate of land and sea, united (at least, well-mediated) of right and left brain.

All of these suggest that the leys of song and victory are meandering, indirect, and dark, bereft of the blessing of the old sun-goddess, or blessed from the mysterious place where She swam over the horizon for the last time, returning in moonshine and wild sex and lucky breaks on the track, urging her Horse on to victory there between the dry and wet minds, overriding the squawk of spotters and crew chief like the voice of Obi Wan Kenobe in Luke Skywalker’s ear as he makes a final run on the Death Star.

“Luke … Trust the Force,” the dead Jedi knight whispers into the young racer’s ear.

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“Giddyap!” whispers the lost Goddess through the ghostly wires of her appointed Victor’s headset, as soothing as the sound of lost love in the whine of the wires attended by the Witchita Lineman.

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With less that 50 points separating the top three suitors for possession of Wynona’s blue bonnet, bustier and thong, expect the heat to be fiercer at Homestead-Miami Speedway than a dope-runner’s girlfriend sunning herself on the deck of his gently-drifting Cigarette speedboat at noon. It all comes down to this.

One race, winner take all.

Know that crew chiefs Mike Ford, Chad Knaus and Gil Martin are not getting much sleep this week as they tool and prepare the Nos. 11, 48 and 29 cars for Sunday’s Ford 400. The technology available to these three men is as cutting-edge as it gets, the best that three racing organizations – Gibbs, Hendrick and Childress – can buy. Crew chiefs fulfill the ancient role of the smith, armorer to the hero, the ones with the devilish knowledge of the forge, hammering out on a huge anvil something hauled up out of raw nature’s womb.

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Crew chiefs Mike Ford, Chad Knaus and Gil Martin: Their  job is to tool the best car for Hamlin, Johnson and Harvick.

Their faith in technology – I doubt they’d call it faith as much as certainty, but only belief is absolutely sure of itself – the faith of these three crew chiefs in their quest for stock car racin’ perfection is as deep and abiding as the faith in a vengeant God by the yammering Yahovahs of Westboro.

(Quick caveat: I mean no offense against the Christian faith — in any faith, for that matter. Culturally, God may be slowly disappearing, but belief is enduring. The futurist Alvin Toffler once proscribed a manner for surviving the onslaught of futurity: the willingness to change on one side mediated by deep roots into tradition on the other. A marriage of the minds, so to speak.)

Jaynes was quick to point out that bicameralism survives even into the brightest arenas of science, with each school defending their Truth with the zeal and bloodlust of an Inquisitor defending the Church. Philosophers and psychologists alike howled derision at Jaynes’ notion that awareness doesn’t equal consciousness, that until language constructs an inner metaphorical world, subjective thought can’t take place. Scientific paradigms are now adjusting to irrefutable evidence produced by brain scans, the way Mike Ford is seriously re-evaluating the issue of fuel consumption of the No. 11 Toyota Camry.

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For Hamlin, Johnson and Harvick, their preparations for the final and deciding and definitive race of the 2010 Sprint Cup season must follow a bit more fluid course. They must take in all of that data, calibrating their attention to the specifics of their car as it applies to Homestead’s intermediate track, with its banking and turns and straightaways. They also take in data about the weather, tire wear, pit road speed, fuel consumption, etc.

Yet -– and this is crucial to Sunday’s outcome — at the same time they are sending out their feelings into the undersides and peripheries and insides of Homestead, which is not just a track but an entire season, and not just a season but a career, and not just a career but a Destiny as it works out at speeds of up to 175 mph.

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Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick must wind through all of this brain- and soul-data the way the Tarot Charioteer wends a course between land and water, successfully negotiating both with an eye toward Victory the way a driver must see through a wreck: The end is not the checkers but finishing in front of two other men sufficiently so, men they have been pitted against since Speed Weeks last February, and for several seasons previous.

It is a perilous race. Of the three, only Hamlin has won at Homestead, in last year’s finale. Harvick has finished second twice; Johnson has finished second once, and finished 40th once after a crash. None are masters of this track; the track has no master, the way Miami is surly and unruly unlike Alabama fans at Talladega – under the rule of harsher mistress, perhaps.

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If Jaynes is right, the divine voice who once instructed every one of us how to proceed through prehistory has faded a long way from our ears, growing distant the way that the universe is expanding to a point where one night in the future we won’t be able to see many stars in the sky. By then, the moon will also appear small in the heavens, having drifted far from Earth’s orbit; by then it may be gone altogether, leaving the Earth like the jilted lover in “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.”

And as that divinity fades, so does Wynona, NASCAR’s goddess of fate. Once mighty at the track, we’ve done our best to banish her presence  from there, especially since the introduction of the Car of Tomorrow, a car so safe as to eliminate Her greatest clout — the fear of death.

The Winston girls in their short shorts and cancer-causing sponsor have been replaced by Sprint Cup girls so zipped up that the only trace of vestal femininity are in their wide beauty-pageant-smiles which race victors so happily provide champagne facials and other choad-load effervescents.

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A Winston Cup girl doing her post-race duty, and Sprint Cup girl Monica Palumbo, who’s job is brand placement and that’s all.

Incredible the distance now from track to TV, where most folks watch races; even further online racing apps, where the collective experience of racin’ is reduced to one devotee with his hands on his joystick.

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Why put up with the hassle of being there when racin’ – and lovin’ – are now so virtually real? (The NASCAR 09 video game costs $29.99; the RealDoll, $5,999. Dating, at least, is still cheaper.)

If NASCAR seems on its death-bed, Wynona’s exclusion surely plays a part. She may have cursed the sport, the way Psyche was cursed by Aphrodite for failing to tend her altar. But that doesn’t mean She doesn’t still have plenty of clout, especially in the middle of all that high-tech driving apparatus Sprint Cup drivers must worm their way into. Each – and especially, right now, Denny Hamlin, Jimmy Johnson and Kevin Harvick – knows that without Her blessing, they’re fucked. If there’s one song a Sprint Cup driver knows by heart, it’s “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress” by Jimmy Webb:

I fell out of her eyes
I fell out of her heart
I fell down on my face
Yes, I did, and I — I tripped and I missed my star
God, I fell and I fell alone, I fell alone
And the moon’s a harsh mistress
And the sky is made of stone

The moon’s a harsh mistress
She’s hard to call your own.

The deal each driver must make with Her comes from an age that’s as buried as the Trundholm Chariot was. Yet that heart and womb is still fertile, and the big winner at Homestead this weekend must strike a profane deal with Her whether he cares to or not. Crew chiefs try to master every chance element to get thrown their way during a race; a driver’s mastery comes in knowing just when to roll the dice. Even in these smaller, lonelier times.

Providence was not what we thought it was, and Victory isn’t as it is supposed: In fact, the way we think racin’ is is not the way She runs it at all.

Knowing that, a driver can only surrender to whatever Fate awaits him down the track – and then go drive the ever-lovin’ wheels off his car.

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More about Julian Jaynes here.

More about Homestead and South Florida  here.