How the Checkered Flag Fell at the Beauty Pageant

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, November 18, 11:57 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

New assignments abound. For twenty years, most of my time was spent writing about race cars. I started writing books. I taught myself to play guitar and found I had “a handy knack for rhyming,” which led to songs. I started writing novels.

I never wrote about a beauty pageant until Thursday night.

The occasion was the Miss LDHS pageant. LDHS stands for Laurens District (55) High School. In fairness, I have also judged a “Puttin’ on the Hits” contest in Joanna, but I don’t think that’s the same category. Miss LDHS probably isn’t the same category as Miss America, either, but the overwhelming likelihood is that I will never have a chance to compare the two. Besides, I didn’t judge Miss LDHS. I just observed and wrote about it.

As a practical matter, the normal rules of journalism are suspended. It’s the same with local drama. If the Little Theater is producing its own version of, say, A Streetcar Named Desire, it’s not likely to be as wondrously performed as it is, or was, on Broadway. George Loomis, by day a druggist at Walmart and by night a would-be Marlon Brando, is not going to like it when some local yahoo calls his performance wooden. He put a lot of effort in that role and takes it very seriously.

Many publications farm this coverage out to some affiliated observer – the director, say – and he (or she) will craft paragraphs that flow along the lines of:

Equally magnificent, in the pivotal role of Claire, was May Livingston, whose performance was riveting …

Riveting. Like Rosie the Riveter of World War II patriotic fame. Ruhruhruhruhruhruhruh …

I thought I could convey a certain lighthearted touch, but I didn’t have the time. By the time I got done processing photos, it was getting late, and I wanted to get the story published quickly. That’s the advantage a website has. It’s the art of the possible, quickly delivered. Write as well as possible within a tight time frame. My earliest experience with this pressure occurred while taking standardized tests. My toughest was the Bristol Night Race back when scribes were scribes and the desks were nervous.

My good-natured amusements didn’t get in. That’s what blogs are for, particularly when the home wi-fi has failed and a writer doesn’t have anything else to do.

Two mischievous boys – I’m estimating middle-school age – were the stage crew. After each competition and especially after each talent competition, they walked out rapidly – that walk that’s just shy of a trot – and moved things around. Mic stand. Wooden box. No heavy lifting. They reminded me of ball boys at tennis matches. They did not take themselves too seriously. It was hard work, but it was fun.

In the talent show, one entrant dressed up in a race-car driver’s firesuit and performed a dance routine. I enjoyed it. The show had a good balance. Violin. Viola. Clogging to a Britney Spears song. A photography enthusiast composing a slide show stressing the inspirational qualities of the Raider football team.

Some time later, the reigning Miss LDHS, now off at college, returned to perform on the piano and had her final sweep around the stage before she handed over her glistening crown to the new winner. As she walked as if balancing a book on her head, smoothly and with impeccable dignity, the checkered flag from the stock car racing routine was trapped under her long, red evening dress for several “laps.” Finally, one of the lads from the stage crew emerged on the run-walk, pursued Miss LDHS 2017 briefly and successfully stalked his prey by yanking the flag loose and retreating from the spotlights’ glare.

These moments make the spectacle better. Small mistakes can be endearing.


The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)


The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.


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