NMPA
c/o Bridget Holloman, Exec. Secretary
P.O. Box 500
Darlington, SC 29540
Phone: (843) 395-8811

Columns
Daily & Internet
FIRST PLACE

Jim McLaurin
The State

ETHANOL NOT A PERFECT SOLUTION FOR NASCAR

     The phone rings at the big house on Junior Johnson’s spread near North Wilkesboro, N.C.

     “Junior home?” the voice says. “He’s down at the, uh, barn,” comes the answer. “Can I give him a message?”

     “Yeah. Tell him this is Bill France, Jr., and tell him I need a load of Wilkes County coolaid.”

     “Sir, Junior’s been out of the moonshine business for 50 years.”

     “Yeah, right,” says France. “Well, tell him to fire the pots back up. We’re fixin’ to get rich again.”

     That fictitious scene is a bit far-fetched. But if the folks at General Motors still have any clout with NASCAR, the good old boys who used to transport untaxed spirits on weeknights and then race their “hauling cars“ on the weekends, may be getting back into the whiskey business.

     Only this time, they’ll be hauling it on Sunday afternoons.

     According to a story by McClatchy Newspapers Washington correspondent Lisa Zagaroli Sunday, the GM brass will soon make a formal pitch to NASCAR to begin using ethanol to power the cars in its racing series.

     Ethanol, as any card-carrying environmentalist knows, is the “next big thing“ in fuels – never mind that, according to reports, it costs about as much to produce as it is worth. The Indy Racing League went to ethanol last year, and the Grand American Series uses E10 (10 percent ethanol, 90 percent gasoline).

     Ethanol also used to go by several informal trade names: “Bootleg,” “corn liquor,” “shine,” “stumphole,” or just plain old “skull cracker.” It has been the mainstay of illegal whiskey production in these United States since they were still colonies.

     While one has to applaud General Motors’ civic concern for a less polluted atmosphere (even as they roll the old gasburners off the production line with alarming regularity), you have to wonder at the efficacy of such a move.

     To get similar mileage as the Nextel Cup cars get out of a tank of gasoline – because ethanol is less efficient as a fuel – the tanks would have to be roughly the size of, oh, say, a load of Wilkes County Cool-Aid.

     And it will take a little more than just a GM charts-and-graphs presentation to make it happen.
     In case the boys in Detroit had not noticed, NASCAR just went to unleaded gas in February.
 
     • Ethanol note. This is not to infer that it’s OK to drive up to the local 7-Eleven ethanol pump, siphon off a gallon or two, take it out behind the outhouse and play chug-a-lug. We’re pretty certain there are additives in it that could spoil your whole day.

MEMORIES OF DARLINGTON LABOR DAY LIVE ON

    AT THE END of the weekly football coaches’ meeting last Monday, Brookland- Cayce coach Brad Coleman reminded everyone as we filed out that next week’s meeting would be on Tuesday instead of Monday.

    Without thinking, I asked him why. “Labor Day,” he said, and then it hit me: For the first time since I was in high school, Labor Day had slipped my mind.

    That’s sad, not only because it’s a sign of advancing senility, but because it’s a sign of indifference.
    There was a time when Labor Day was considered one of the Redneck High Holy Days, back when God was in his heaven and the racing crowd was in Darlington.

    I did watch Sunday night’s Sharp AQUOS 500 – whatever an AQUOS is – from California Speedway, but more out of a sense of duty than actual interest.

    As the commentators kept remarking on the incredible heat (107 degrees on race day), my mind kept wandering back to those two-a-day football practices of my youth when it was 110 inside my helmet, and we didn’t get pit stops.

    When I was in high school, I only went to one Southern 500, because back then the race was run on Labor Day, a Monday, which also coincided with football practice.

    Our coach believed racing was a sin. Attending one on Labor Day was – well, you didn’t want to think about Tuesday. We were all subject to the same punishment on Tuesday, and the only difference was, if you went to the race, it was punishment plus our first experience with a hangover.

    But for all that, the Southern 500 was always there. People talked about it for weeks on either side of the weekend.

    And it became the focal point of my autumns after I picked up a typewriter; ostensibly because I covered the race, but in reality because I came to learn how much the race meant to people from outside the Pee Dee.

    Guys I knew (some in the newspaper business, some not) who had been coming to Darlington since the 1950s pointed their year toward the sleepy little town at the end of every summer.

    It was different, they told me. People were friendlier than anywhere else. There was a parade and a beauty contest. Southern hospitality wasn’t a myth.

    Then I read something by a West Coast writer last Friday who said it wasn’t Californians’ fault that the race out there didn’t sell out, mainly because it was marketed to “Hollywood – whatever that is.”

    The upshot of the story was that NASCAR wants so desperately to be mainstream that it ignores the ticket-buying public who live within 30 miles of the track. (Where have we heard that before?)

    So when I listened to Dr. Jerry Punch and the rest of the ESPN crew talk about the 100-plus temperatures Sunday, I kept wanting to shout, “Hey, Doc! It’s 70-something in Darlington right now!“ Didn’t you?

NEW CARS, TRACK PROVE TOO NICE FOR BRISTOL

    You know who I miss? Dale Earnhardt, Sr. And do you know why? Because NASCAR is going to kinder-and-gentler itself right out of business.

    It has gotten to the point that the Politically Correct Police don’t even have to pull drivers over anymore; they climb out of their race cars spouting the party line before they even take the breathalyzer. Case in point: Last Saturday night’s Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. The track’s new configuration – read, fiddling with the banking – worked like a charm in two out of three events last week, but when it came down to the money race, the “Car of Tomorrow“ put on a show that most fans wish could have been put off until tomorrow. And the day after.

    Yet the drivers, almost to a man, jumped out of their machines spouting the virtues of the new track and the new cars and the fact that the could actually race at Bristol. And, give credit where it’s due, there was some racing going on out there in spots. But not Bristol racing.

    Bristol racing is not guys being able to pass each other, it’s two guys fighting over the same spot, usually to the detriment of one or the other.

    Bristol racing is the late Earnhardt elbowing Terry Labonte out of the way on the last lap for the win; it’s Rusty Wallace tossing a water bottle at his buddy Earnhardt after an equally disappointing night.

    It’s even Kevin Harvick sliding over a hood to get at Greg Biffle.

    It’s not two drivers – race winner Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne – combining to lead all but 13 of the race’s 500 laps, and then explaining it away (as Edwards did, bless his heart) by saying that “everybody just kind of got to where they belonged by lap 250 or 300.”

    The convenient scapegoat – Goodyear – couldn’t be blamed for this one, because the hard tires used on the Nextel Cup cars Saturday night was the same rubber that the Craftsman Truck and Busch Series used to put on great shows the two previous nights.

Was it the “Car of Tomorrow?” Maybe, because that’s the only other big variable. But maybe it was an aberration and not a trend.

    You have to guess that most of the 160,000 season ticket holders aren’t going to turn in next year’s tickets, but it’s also a safe bet that they didn’t go home feeling neither warm and fuzzy nor fighting mad. That’s Bristol racing, and that’s what Earnhardt was all about.

RUDE FANS CAN’T TAKE SHINE OFF GORDON’S WIN

    If Jeff Gordon had to move past Dale Earnhardt into sixth place on the all-time victories list, as he did Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, he could not have chosen a worse spot.

    The big track in Alabama, though it is a couple hundred miles away from the late driver’s home in North Carolina, is in the heart of Earnhardt country. Gordon’s win in what TV commentators called “overdrive“ of the Aaron’s 499 – the extra-laps concession NASCAR has made to ensure at least a shot at a green-flag finish – did not set well with the hordes of Earnhardt fans.

    The win was the 77th of Gordon’s career, and some of Earnhardt’s fans, just as they did last week when Gordon won at Phoenix to tie Earnhardt on the victories list, voiced their displeasure by chucking things at Gordon’s car.

    Watching it on TV, a scene from “Lonesome Dove“ came to mind, the one in which Captain Woodrow F. Call nearly whipped a man to death with a branding iron, then offered no more explanation than, “I hate rude behavior in a man. I won’t tolerate it.”

    I’m not saying Gordon should have climbed the fence and gone after the crowd with his helmet. One, Gordon’s a little guy, and two, he would have been vastly outnumbered.

    What I would have liked to have seen, though, is for the handful who were arrested and carted off to jail to instead have been taken out behind the woodshed.

    Gordon, as usual, handled it with the right amount of class. The Earnhardt fans no doubt didn’t like the burnout Gordon did but, hey, he did win the race. And unlike the previous weekend, when he carried a flag bearing Earnhardt’s No. 3 around the track as a tribute, he deserved to celebrate this one by, and for, himself.

    The only good thing about the whole mess is that Gordon is finally over the hump. And with each victory by Gordon, the sting of having their champion bested will fade for Earnhardt fans, and their conduct might improve accordingly.

    But if there are fans who remember Cale Yarborough – who is next on the list, with 83 wins – and plan a similar display, they might do well to remember this: Yarborough is about as tolerant of rude behavior as Woodrow Call.

BOLD FAN, NOT FIGHT, MAKES FOR COOLEST MOMENT OF RACE

    By far the most interesting thing about Sunday’s Centurion Boats at The Glen (was it just me or did some of you look for cabin cruisers, too?) was not the I-don’t-want-it-you- can-have-it nature of the finish, nor even the wussy little shoving match between Kevin Harvick and Juan Pablo Montoya.

    The coolest thing to happen Sunday was, during the red flag delay to clean up for the Harvick-Montoya mess, a fan jumped out of the grandstands, ran up to Matt Kenseth’s car and got his autograph. I wouldn’t rank it up there with those two guys running Hank Aaron down on the basepaths after he hit No. 715, but was a moment that should go down in fandom lore for sheer audacity.

    (Kenseth, talking to crew chief during the break: “I think we need to go about a half a round of wedge on the next pit stop or maybe a half a pound outta the right rear. Wait a minute. You’re not gonna believe this.....”Fan: “Say, dude, will you sign my hat?”)

    It’s probably better than hitting a deer at Pocono, but you have to wonder by how much.

    That was only marginally weirder, however, than the end of the race. Here’s Jeff Gordon setting sail to his ninth road race victory (a record), and all of a sudden you’ve got Gordon doing the loop-the-loop two laps from the end. Returning, as it were, the favor Stewart had done him by doing the exact same thing earlier in the afternoon.

    First of all, neither one of those guys spins out on a road course without getting a little help. Then both of them do.

    That’s sort of like Tiger Woods dribbling one off the tee on 17 to give up the lead on the 71st hole of the PGA tournament, and then Ernie Els doing the same thing on 18 to give the lead right back.

    At least the spinouts were embarrassing in a different sort of way than the little grammarschool altercation between Harvick and Montoya. Maybe the HANS devices make it difficult to take off the helmets, who knows? I’d at least like to think that was the reason they kept them on. But I know that somewhere Sunday night Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers were weeping for our current generation. Matt, will you sign my hat?