The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off: The Intimidator Versus the Irritator by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday June 25, 2009

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Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off: The Intimidator Versus the Irritator

Matt McLaughlin · Thursday June 25, 2009

 

Something remarkable happened Saturday night in Milwaukee. The Nationwide Series race featured a lot of side by side racing not only for the lead, but for positions in the top 5 and top 10 and throughout the field. With the majority of the Cup regulars, save Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch, a half continent away, some of the Nationwide regulars and part timers finally got to strut their stuff a little.

While not unprecedented, it was pretty remarkable how quickly Edwards and Busch were able to move from the back of the field to the top 10 in so few laps. Yeah, they’ve got the best equipment, but both drivers displayed a lot of talent in their charge to the front as well. It was even less remarkable that Busch was able to finally take the lead of the race and that he stayed there for such a long time. Busch has, after all, led more than 50 laps in 11 of the 15 Nationwide races he’s run this season and he’s led more than 100 laps in eight of those events. He’s won four of those 15 events and in major league racing—that’s a pretty remarkable average. That’s why he’s leading the points in that series.

Carl Edwards went on to win the race, his first victory of the season, while Busch finished second. Then something unremarkable, but still regrettable, happened yet again. In his post-race comments not only was Busch less than gracious, he once again came off as a whiny, petulant child who was going to throw a tantrum because he didn’t get his way. After all, it would seem, he is the great and wonderful Kyle Busch and he’d flown halfway across the country to compete at Milwaukee. The win was his just due, because, to paraphrase Chevy Chase, I’m Kyle Busch and you’re not. Deprived of a chance to taunt the fans or smash musical instruments, Busch made it clear that he felt robbed. That poor pit road reporter tried twice to lob Busch a softball question that would draw the desired response, noting it had to be fun and exciting to be have waged such a side by side battle with his chief title contender for all those laps. Busch responded snippily, once again tossing his team under the bus. Nor did Busch bother to congratulate Edwards on his win as Edwards has congratulated Busch so many times when the roles were reversed. You’d be more likely to see Busch grab up what’s left of his Nashville trophy and launch into a version of John Denver’s Country Roads in the wake of defeat. If there’s a single individual who demonstrates less grace and maturity in victory or defeat than Busch, fortunately, they’re not running well enough for the fans to have to endure them.

In his later post-race comments, Busch was just a bit more magnanimous. If I were assigned the job of his PR person (and I’d rather take on the task of mucking the Aegean stables with a teaspoon), after a race I would bind and gag Kyle and drag him for a 10 minute timeout somewhere before allowing him to address the media.

Kyle Busch salutes his fans, and detractors, at the start finish line each time he wins a race.

My purpose here isn’t to crucify Kyle Busch. Race car drivers don’t like finishing second. I get that. If they did, they shouldn’t be racing. None of us are perfectly black or white when it comes to our actions. Just about all of us live in the vast gray spectrum between those extremes, capable of occasionally selflessly doing the right thing but at other times saying or doing something we later regret and wish we could take back. Kyle Bush is not an evil person, even if at times he seems demonically possessed. Earlier this year, with far less fanfare than the deed deserved, Busch made some pretty noble gestures to help out former Busch series champion, Sam Ard, who is ailing as of late. It was one of those rare gestures when a contemporary driver took time to remember the pioneers of the sport that built the table in which today’s drivers feast.

To be frank, I have to laugh when Busch does take a win, then climbs out of his car and takes a bow to the crowd while the majority of them are booing his success. It’s an “in your face” gesture that I find appropriate as opposed to exiting his cars and flipping the fans the bird which would be grossly inappropriate. The effect is the same, though one gesture is almost self-deprecating (or as close as Busch is going to come to that) while the other would be provocation for a riot. The late Dale Earnhardt taught Jeff Gordon, among others, that it doesn’t matter if they’re cheering or booing, it’s when the fans are silent that you’re in trouble.

Some folks have taken to comparing Kyle to Dale and I find that irritating to the point of infuriating. There are similarities. Both drivers are or were supremely talented and successful at what they do and capable of pulling off long strings of wins without notice. Both have or had love/hate relationships with the fans—some booing them and some cheering them. (Though I’d quickly point out Earnhardt had a huge fan base that dwarfs Busch’s. It would seem sometimes that Busch’s fan club could meet in a Miata with two seats left open.) Neither driver liked to finish second. Earnhardt once dubbed the second place finisher “first loser.”

I’m not here to suggest that Earnhardt was always gracious or mature in his post-race comments. I recall a rather profane tirade he launched against Ricky Rudd after Rudd wrecked him while the two were engaged in a tight title battle. But for the most part, the Intimidator gave no quarter and asked for no quarter on the track. I recall vividly the Pocono race that Dale Earnhardt led going into Turn 3 on the final lap. Jeremy Mayfield knocked the No. 3 car aside to take the win. To rub a little salt in the wound, Mayfield claimed he hadn’t meant to wreck Dale, he just wanted to “rattle his cage a little,” parroting Earnhardt’s infamous comments after that infamous, but storied finish at Bristol. Clearly seething after the race, Earnhardt didn’t whine or cry about a win stolen from him or blame his crew. He just stated that he hoped Mayfield didn’t crow too much about the win. The clear implication was that he was Dale Earnhardt. He’d won a bunch of races and he’d lost a lot races. He could handle either because, in the long run, he was going to win a lot more races than Mayfield. (Later that year, I heard a fellow scribe ask Earnhardt if he was ready to join Mayfield’s fan club yet. “Mayfield has a fan club?”, the Intimidator sniped as if he was surprised by such a notion.)

That Bristol race was another barometer of the measure of Dale Earnhardt. He was used to being booed, just perhaps not that loudly or unanimously. Even the normally mild mannered Ned Jarrett, calling the race from the booth, had expressed disgust at the way Earnhardt wrecked Labonte. In his post-race comments it seems, if somehow it was possible, Earnhardt sounded a bit sheepish defending his maneuver, claiming he was only trying to rattle Labonte’s cage. “Sheepish” is an emotion I doubt we’ll ever see from Kyle.

There’s a huge difference between the Intimidator and the Irritator that can’t be changed. Kyle Busch’s parents helped start his career at a very young age. Earnhardt lost his dad as a young man after a period of estrangement caused by Dale’s decision to marry against his father’s wishes. With little support behind him, Earnhardt ran races not for the trophy, but to earn enough money to put food on the table to feed his family after dumping most everything he earned into his racecar. Earnhardt was 24 when he made his first Cup start for an under funded team. He was nearly 28 before he landed a full time Cup ride. Jack Roush was trying to get Busch started in the truck series when he was just barely 16.

Both Earnhardt and Busch enjoyed quick success in the big leagues. Earnhardt won Rookie of the Year honors in his first season on the Cup circuit and was Winston Cup champion the next. Then Earnhardt went through a long drought when he couldn’t seem to get out of his own way some weeks. People began questioning his abilities and calling his title a fluke thing. Eventually Earnhardt would pair up with Richard Childress and the two of them were off on a tear that saw Earnhardt the most dominant driver of the 80s and early 90s. In my opinion, that long drought was what forged Dale Earnhardt into the driver he’d later become. He learned to accept defeat with a measure of grace most weekends and to celebrate each victory, knowing wins at that level of racing were hard to come by and each was to be cherished. Busch, on the other hand, seems to feel he’s entitled to win each time he gets in a race car and any other outcome is an outrage.

Here’s a news flash for young Mr. Busch…No driver, not Dale Earnhardt, not even Richard Petty or David Pearson, won every race they ran. In fact, they lost a lot more than they won, and, as of yet, you aren’t worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as those three drivers. You’re seven Cup titles shy of Petty and Earnhardt and 90 wins shy of David Pearson’s mark. There are seasons that you’ll win bunches of races and contend for titles. And there will be seasons it seems fate has chosen you as her least favorite son. Count on it—hard times buddy, they come to us all, sure as the tickin’ of the clock on the wall.

Enjoy your success while you can, and celebrate it any way you choose, but quit whining when you lose. It’s irritating. The Intimidator didn’t whine. He accepted defeat, even if the flinty-eyed look on his face and his measured words made it clear he didn’t much care for it. He let those measured tones stand as a warning to his competitors, the media, the fans who loved him and the fans that loathed him that he expected to win next week or, if not win, at least make sure they all knew he’d been out there.

Yes, the fans want to see genuine emotion and strong personalities, not sponsor spewing robots in our sport. But when the only genuine emotions you can convey are petulance, arrogance, and pettiness, run, don’t walk away from the cameras. When the only glimpse you can give people of who you are is a truly vile display of your loathsome personality defects too numerous to enumerate, don’t be surprised when people don’t like you and cheer your losses. Kyle Busch’s self-centered Busch-centric view of the world has grown tiresome and irritating. You’re in the big leagues now, son. Grow up or shut up. There’s no crying in auto racing.

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Bad Wolf
06/25/2009 12:24 AM
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Other than his childish behavior that boy can drive. Once he grows up he will have a huge following in the Nascar/Iroc series. I have a feeling the Jr. Nation will jump on his bandwagon after jumping off that sinking ship.

Michael T.
06/25/2009 02:19 AM
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I remember when Kurt was the most hated driver out there. Fans from the Las Vegas area gave warning, “Wait until his brother moves up. He’s twice as bad.” Boy, they weren’t kidding.

Bill B
06/25/2009 07:21 AM
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No one is supposed to like losing, but if Kyle can’t make peace with the fact that losing is part of the profession he has chosen then he should look elsewhere and find something to do that doesn’t bring out the prick in him (if that’s possible).

Tom
06/25/2009 07:48 AM
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in a world of “vanilla” I find myself liking him, he’s got talent!

WV Ghost Dog
06/25/2009 08:19 AM
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Kyle Busch is still a lot younger than Earnhardt was when he started Cup racing. Maybe he will grow up.

Ed
06/25/2009 08:19 AM
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I’m with you, Tom. These days anyone with a bit of “personality” negative or not, gets my attention. He’s a jerk, but so was Earnhardt on many occasions.

Reva Lynn Beagle
06/25/2009 08:28 AM
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I’m one of the “Jr. Nation” fans and trust me, I will never ever abandon Dale Jr. for Vile Kyle. Seems his momma didn’t spank him as much as she should have.

Gina
06/25/2009 09:01 AM
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I can’t deny the talent, but the whining and “entitled to win” attitude continue to rub me the wrong way. The Irritator, indeed!

Carl D.
06/25/2009 09:40 AM
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I too think Kyle will eventually gain some maturity to go with his unquestionable talent. As was pointed out above, Kyle is younger than Dale Sr. was when he started, so he still has some growing up to do (I hope).

I think that Kyle Busch is probably the most talented pure driver in Nascar right now, but because of his attitude, I’m hoping he misses the chase this year. Some humiliation might be humbling.

Ann in DE
06/25/2009 09:49 AM
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Kyle Busch can win every race and I still won’t respect him. I can’t imagine how mortified his parents must be to listen to his interviews or watch his behavior. His lack of respect for anyone and anything is a direct result of his upbringing and personality and has nothing to do with maturity. I don’t see him changing through the years, only getting worse. By the time he wins a title, nobody will be watching.

Glenn
06/25/2009 11:58 AM
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Just a whiny little baby, disrespectful and childish, shame when he has so much talent.

RamblinWreck
06/25/2009 12:41 PM
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Nobody likes a new kid coming in, running his mouth, and backing it up; DW, Earnhardt, Stewart were all hated by a pretty big fan following before they stuck around and became respected competitors.

And let’s be honest… Dale was rude and snippy towards reporters, raced dirty, usually had a smug smile whenever he did something that other people disagreed with, and he was one of the few drivers I’ve seen take his hand off the wheel at full speed just to flip another driver the bird. I miss the old man, and the circuit isn’t the same without him.

Ford Fan
06/25/2009 12:58 PM
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Ann,
Not sure how mortified his parents are by his behavior. Seems like they should have nipped it in the bud a long time ago. From what I have read they did not exactly rein him in as a youngster. The story is they falsified his age so he could race. Maybe that is where some of that entitled attitude comes from.Sometimes the apple doesn’t fall from the tree.

janice
06/25/2009 02:41 PM
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matt,

i had first hand experience with shrub years ago at ams. child wanted his autograph and he told the child and his father “he doesn’t do autographs”. he was walking along pit road to go to his car. no one was around him but his pr person. me, and my tact, yelled, “guess you don’t want any fans”. people remember stuff like that behavior for a long time. in all the years i saw Dale race, i never once saw him be rude to a child. i hate it when i read people comparing shrub and Dale. NEVER!!!!

Maria
06/25/2009 03:57 PM
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It does not matter how many times Kyle finishes 1st, he will never be a true WINNER unil he has a major change of attitude. He needs to stop acting like a 5 year old little girl, when he is not 1st. When he grows up, and acts like an adult, then he will be a true Winner. Until then, he is just a kid who finishes 1st. Nothing more. There is a BIG DIFFERENCE between the two.

P on U
06/25/2009 03:59 PM
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ha ha!!! The Irritator!!! That’s brilliant! Michael T. – Kurt was ‘cooled out’ by the open palm to the face from Jimmy Spencer!

You see Na$crap today is like an overprotective parent, back in the day things would sort themselves out in the school yard if you know what I’m saying. Maybe Jimmy Spencer should get off that crappy pre-race show he does on Sundays and be a ‘cooler’ if you will in the garage area! Keep these punks in check! LOL!

Kyle Busch needs to smacked around a bit both on and off track if you ask me!

Ken Nambu
06/25/2009 04:37 PM
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I just don’t think Kyle Busch is as tallented as he seems. His brother seemed to have sparks of brilliance and even won a championship, but he’s going downhill. Jr. never even made it to the top and never will, and he’s falling too. I don’t see Kyle winning a championship. Part of what drives him is his youth and punkness. As he gets older and matures, his racing is going to erode.

Joe W.
06/25/2009 04:52 PM
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Great article. You have summed up Kyle Busch perfectly. I will never agree with the Dale Earnhardt comparrison for the very reasons you mentioned. I agree he has talent but Carl D. I really do not think he is the most talented driver. The things I have seen Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Mark Martin do over the years tells me they have more raw talent. I also saw big Dale do things at Bristol that the irritator(love that nickname) will never be able to do.

Jer
06/25/2009 05:22 PM
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I hear a lot of complaints of how NASCAR has changed. Forgot its roots. That NASCAR is more focused on entertainment than competition. And this all is true, but something else has changed too. “The FAN”. Rewind three decades back and you will see my point.

I began following NASCAR in 1961 listening on an AM radio and attended my first race in 1963. Fireball Roberts, Fred Lorenzen, Junior Johnson, David Pearson and Richard Petty were the standouts of that time. No one was much concerned of anything about, but rather how they performed during the race. I must be one of the few “Race Fans” left, because I don’t care if the driver is a jerk or is from racing royalty. I don´t care if the driver is a pretty boy or uglier than sin. I don’t care if the driver is popular or what country he comes from. I don’t care whether he does back-flips or burn-outs after the race. I don’t care if he speaks PC or every other word is beeped out. Heck he could be a deaf mute, what does it matter, won’t affect his driving skills. I don’t care if he is boring vanilla or charming, or whether he gives to charities or not. I don’t care who the car owner is or what brand decal is on the car. I don’t care if he is a teenager or an old fart. I don’t care whether he sells millions of T-shirts or none. As long as the driver is not DWI or using his car as a weapon the rest is just useless gossip crap.

Where have all the “Race Fans” gone? Real “Race Fans” are concerned with what happens between the green flag and the checkered flag. Seems most “fans” now days are more concerned with the “Pre-Race” and the “Post-Race crap. The race itself has become secondary. If you are a “Race Fan” you make your judgment only by the on track performance of the driver. Is he a “Wheel Man”? Does he have a relentless desire to win? Does he know how overcome setbacks and still be a winner? These qualities can only accomplished on the track. It’s up to the driver, not what the media thinks or the modern fans wish for or dreams of them.
On-track performance rules. Most of the drivers just show up to point race. You know top 5s or a top 10.
Folks, at the moment, like it or not, We are down currently to about three drivers (Smoke, KB and JJ) The others well……you get the idea

I find to hard that anyone could argue otherwise, if so, maybe its time for me to fade into the sunset, perhaps that’s where my fellow “Race Fans” have gone and now its time for me to join them and leave NASCAR to the today`s modern fan.

RaceFan
06/25/2009 06:12 PM
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I wish Kyle’s sponsors and owner would step in and require certain behavior. They are the ones that have the real power here to make Shrub change. Coach Joe & Home Depot did it to Tony, and Tony is drastically improved over the way he used to act. It can be done to Kyle and I think it will if he last long enough. Gibbs Racing has too good a name and reputation to allow this kid to ruin it.

Of course some don’t care about how a driver behaves or doesn’t. They probably don’t have kids. If you want a sport to grow it must be marketable to a large portion of the public. Nascar wants to make money too. If drivers can say anything they want with no limits or expected behavior that sport will be tough to market. And if I’m the one writing the check at M&M’s; which by the way is how Shrub is able to drive a car on 36 weekends a year for an incredibly well paying job; then yes I want him to drive and I want him to want to win with everything in him. But he also better be able to lose with class for the most part or I’ll take my candy elsewhere.

wcfan
06/25/2009 07:10 PM
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Yes there are many differences between Dale and Kyle, but at the end of the day Both of them got/get everything out of the car that it had if this is a win or last thats the all that car had in it. There are very few nascar drivers that you can say this about (Smoke, Biffle, Gordon in his prime)

Tom
06/25/2009 11:57 PM
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Hey, Jer good points watching ole Fireball back when a ball game got rained out up here in the north, I saw a class act, before he got out of the car a crew member passed a bowl and some water in the car so he could clean up before talking to the TV crew, and he was polite and courteous. The big thing is these kids are coming up so fast that they don’t have time to grow up. Much like the kids in the stick and ball games, like you said it’s the stuff before and after the race the fans come for. Chris Economaki once said they come to Indy to party and Daytona for the race. Everybody was “shocked” when Kyle busted up the trophy well NASCAR wants to treat these races as rock concerts, guess what they are getting, let’s hope nobody shows up with body piercings and tattoos on their forehead. Also, as for whining back in the eighties the biggest whiners were Childress and Earnhardt, so much in fact when some reporter asked Rusty Wallace about a comment they made he said ask him if he wants some cheese with that whine. Like I said before if they had cameras and mics every where like they do today maybe we wouldn’t think so much of our hero’s. At lease nobody is getting a “tire iron combing” these days. I heard that Childress’s wine business is doing good, I guess the man knows wine as well as “how to whine”…..

Nascar Fan 83
06/26/2009 12:25 AM
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Dale was a dick. Kyle is a dick. They both win alot although the competition is tougher now.

Kyle Busch Fan
06/26/2009 08:16 AM
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Your purpose isn’t to crucify Kyle Busch, but you call him—let’s see here—whiny, petulant, arrogant, needing of a timeout, petty, vile, tiresome, irritating and loathsome. Are you sure you’re putting away the hammer and nails there Matt?

I remember when a young driver came along in the 90s and turned the whole sport upside down, winning dozens of races. He was almost always gracious in both victory and defeat, always thanked his sponsors and his team, was well spoken and was a good role model for children. In other words Matt, Jeff Gordon was everything you think a great young driver should be.

The way fans of Earnhardt and his son reacted to him, you’d have thought he molested their daughters. They booed the hell out of him, gave him the finger every time his car went by, threw beer cans at his car when he won, and did everything they could to convince the world he was a homosexual…a rumor, by the way, that found its roots in a joke from the Intimidator himself. Many of them still to this day give a standing ovation at even his scariest crashes, long after Daytona 2001 showed that drivers don’t always walk away.

This is the crowd Kyle Busch ought to try to please?

So Kyle Busch said the new car sucked once. If he says it 20,000 more times he’ll be somewhere in Matt McLaughlin’s league.

So Kyle Busch smashed a guitar in victory lane. He won the trophy and gave pieces of it to his crew. I really don’t care.

So Kyle Busch doesn’t want to answer moronic questions from reporters when he loses a lead late in the race (“Gee, what happened there Kyle?”). Can’t say I blame him for that.

So Kyle Busch gets mad at his crew like every other driver on the planet. I still haven’t seen his owner sit him and his crew chief down for milk and cookies yet.

So Kyle Busch doesn’t give a crap what fans of anyone named Earnhardt think.

Good for him.

Tam
06/26/2009 07:19 PM
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Matt, you indeed are trying to crucify Kyle Busch. Just as you hate everything else about racing today. Do you really think you can make a living being nothing but a “grumpy old man?”

I have been a NASCAR fan since Bill Elliott won my heart winning the 1985 Daytona 500. And I can honestly say I enjoy racing today as much as I have at any time since those glory days of the mid-80’s. I am lovin’ it! How about you let ME write your column and put a positive perspective out there?

Attitude is everything. And yours is far worse than Kyle Busch’s on his worst guitar-smashing day.

By the way, I am from Milwaukee and I was thrilled to see Kyle and Carl show up and put on a great show.

And as for Dale, Sr.? Well, he put a heck of a lot of people in the wall during races, which to me is worse than anything that is said or done after the race is over. Lives are at stake on the track. Guitars are at stake on Victory Lane. Just which is more important?

Go for it, Kyle! You can smash my guitar any day. And you can mouth off to the media or simply walk away as Bill Elliott frequently did when he was pissed off. The fans matter; the press does not.

Matt
06/26/2009 08:51 PM
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KBF- No, Rick Hendrick didn’t sit Ky;e down for milk and cookies. He fired his ass for being so corrosive to the team and immature. But yeah, given Kyle’s success as of late Rick might be second guessing that call.

Tam, you can write my bosses at editors@frontstretch.com. Tell them you have my personal blessing and encouragement to be my fill in writer for this Thursday’s column (I’m on vacation this week to due the local car show and post-event party). Go on ahead and try to do what I do. Every column is like walking out on a high-wire. You want to make it look easy but it ain’t. Let’s see how folks react to your “Happy Furry Monsters feeling Glad” take on things (You-tube it if you don’t know what that means.”

Tom, Ren, et al, let’s have some fun with this. Let Tam write a column for Thursday. Make sure that comments are open. I’ll stop by to critique what she has to say. Because I think we can all agree a grumpy old man in a loud Hawiian shirt, driving a black Firebird with a gold screaming chicken on the hood is after all the best arbiter of taste and subtelty.

The Grumpy Old Man Who Hates the Car of Tommorow.