The Sprint Cup car of Austin Dillon goes airborne late in Sunday's race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Ala. (AP photo)
Most of you won’t believe this, but I have something in common with Dale Earnhardt Jr.
We both hate being beaten to the punch. And yet, it happened to both of us yesterday. In Junior’s case, he was sitting in second place behind Jamie McMurray on the final lap at Talladega, plotting the move that would slingshot him around McMurray's No. 1 Chevrolet and into Victory Lane.
But before Earnhardt could pull his No. 88 machine out of line, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made his own bold move, an attempt at bump drafting with Austin Dillon that went awry and ended the race. Dillon’s No. 14 Chevy went airborne, bringing out the caution flag that ended the race in an anticlimactic fashion. It was an unfamiliar sight to the folks in the grandstands along the frontstretch who have become accustomed to dodging sheet metal as the checkered flag flies.
Many writers and broadcasters will tell you that the fans who are drawn to restrictor-plate racing come to see carnage, but that's a gross misuse of the word. The definition of carnage is “massive slaughter, as in war; a massacre.” I’ve talked to a lot of race fans over the years, and I have yet to meet one that has a blood lust. Most fans just want to see a few cars torn up and, if the stars line up just right, a good old-fashioned fistfight or a helmet toss.
I had a whole column on this topic forming in my head in the minutes following yesterday’s race. In much the same way as yesterday's race unfolded, ideas started swarming in tightly formed packs, ready to roar through my fingertips, onto my computer screen and into cyberspace in sleek, black lines of letters that would (hopefully) reach a thrilling climax.
And then the yellow flag flew and my column fizzled the moment I took a look at Monte Dutton’s blog.
I’ve mentioned Monte in passing in this column before, but for those of you who aren’t familiar with his work, Monte was the motorsports writer for the Gaston Gazette from 1996 until his position was eliminated just before the start of the 2013 season. It was a serious blow to fans who follow the sport because, for my money, Monte was the best in the business. He still blogs daily at www.montedutton.com, and even though he’s not at the track anymore, his perspective is still invaluable.
But yesterday, he sat down in Clinton, S.C., and took the words right out of my mouth, leaving me without a column. I’m not mad at him. As a driver might say, it was just one of those racin’ deals. We were fighting over the same intellectual real estate and he got there first.
So instead of trying to find different words to say the same thing Monte said, I’ll just go ahead and quote him directly as I try to salvage this thing by driving home a point I want to make about a rare boring race at Talladega.
A lot of people who cover the sport will spend the early part of this week jumping up on a soap box and lecturing fans who walked away from Talladega disappointed that they didn’t see The Big One. Those people are hypocrites. Take it away, Monte.
“How many really wanted to see a good, safe race, free of smoke and fury? I’d say, oh, 20 percent in the grandstands, 15 percent in front of the TV, and 40 percent of the media center,” Dutton wrote. “It’s not that anyone wants to see anyone killed. They don’t want death. They want death defied.”
In a world where daring becomes scarcer by the day, plate racing is one of the last great thrill rides. When disaster strikes and sheet metal is twisted beyond recognition, it sucks the air right out of everyone sitting in the grandstands and in front of their televisions.
But the real rush comes moments later when all of the window nets come down and drivers climb out of the wreckage. That’s the moment when fans cheer in much the same way folks rejoiced when Harry Houdini escaped from a straitjacket while under water.
None of us is immortal, but watching someone else cheat death feels like, for one fleeting moment, all of mankind is standing in Victory Lane.
Dave Ongie covers motorsports for the Times-News. On Twitter, he is @KTNSportsOngie. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can hear him Monday mornings at 9:05 on “Good Morning Tri-Cities” with Tom Taylor on 870 AM and 100.7 FM.