Changes Ten by Ten

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Fifty years ago, my father voted for and bet on Barry Goldwater, not to win the election but to carry South Carolina. He won. Goldwater lost. The election, not South Carolina. NASCAR’s greatest hero at the time, “Fireball” Roberts, was horribly burned at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He lived for more than two months, and every morning before I went out to the bus stop, I watched “Mr. Bill” on WLOS-TV partly for the cartoons but also because most mornings included a report on Roberts’ condition. Folks don’t want to believe it, but NASCAR was as big in the South then as it is now. It’s the rest of the country that took off. My first-grade teacher’s name was Margaret McIntyre.

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Forty years ago, Hank Aaron passed Babe Ruth in home runs on my sixteenth birthday. My dad took me, my brother, my friend Henry Blalock, “Big Don” Fulmer, and Bill Putman’s brother whose name I can remember, to the game. None of us had tickets, and all of us managed to get in. We ate at a truck stop on the way home, and I went to school the next morning, which was a Tuesday. My high school football team lost to James Island, 17-15, in the state championship game. We missed a field goal that would have won it. I was on the field at the time, and I can still see Binky Shealy’s kick soaring over the top of the right upright. I couldn’t tell, but the referee standing there could. I became editor of the school paper.

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Thirty years ago, I was the Sports Information Director at my alma mater, Furman University. In a span of nine years, I spent eight at Furman. In a way, they were the best years of my life. In another, remaining there postponed growing up. I was a workaholic and probably still am. Some people probably thought me an alcoholic, but they were wrong. I drank, maybe, three nights a week, but I made the most of it. Those were the days when I equated effort directly with success. I worked like hell all day and partied like hell on weekends (after working all day at athletic contests). I learned that year that I wasn’t cut out to be a public-relations man, even though I was good at it. That year was the quiet before a storm. On a football off weekend, Bernard Durham and I went to the fall race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Darrell Waltrip crashed, and the crowd cheered. Bernard, whose father was a drag racer, was appalled. My younger sister gave my mother and father their first grandchild, Ella. Ronald Reagan won reelection.

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Twenty years ago, I was writing about NASCAR, partly for the Spartanburg Herald-Journal and partly for FasTrack, a weekly. Dale Earnhardt won the last of his seven Winston Cup championships. I won my first NASCAR (NMPA) writing award for a story on Jeff Gordon’s first victory. It was the first time I went into a zone in which intense deadline pressure meant nothing. The second time was the day Earnhardt died. On the road, most of the writers stayed in the same motels, went to dinner together, played golf together, and got drunk together. It was like being back at Furman. I felt like I had learned what in life I could and could not do. I knew I could write and resolved to do it from then on. The notion that writing would become a dying art seemed impossible. The closest approximation of social media was writing “cutlines” (captions) for photographs. I wrote my stories on a Radio Shack TRS-80, and I could see six lines of them at a time.

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Ten years ago, I was slowly writing a book on the side. It was about music. I dug musicians and started teaching myself to play guitar. I started playing guitar more and more and golf less and less. The book, True to the Roots: Americana Music Revealed (University of Nebraska Press), was the first that wasn’t about sports and would be the last that wasn’t fiction. I could see the writing on the wall and was at least thinking about getting out of journalism. I couldn’t do it fast enough, as it turned out. NASCAR implemented the Chase format. I hated it and still do. Incredibly, George W. Bush was reelected president.

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Today, I worked on a short story and stopped to sketch a character I’m about to introduce into it. I had onion sausage and a cheese omelet for breakfast. I crossed the magical 600-page mark in a book about General Douglas MacArthur. I decided my next read – still about 250 pages left on the General – is going to be a collection of short stories. I’m considering changing the name of the current manuscript, but I’ve forgotten what it is. I’m about to try to get the thirty-fourth chapter finished, but it’s only the first draft. NASCAR practice is on television. One of my guitars is a few feet away, tempting me.

Other than that, ain’t much happening.


If you like these blogs, I’d love it if it you’d take the leap of faith of buying one or both of my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, available at,, and several other places. They’re available for Kindles at



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