Matt McLaughlin · Thursday July 23, 2009
Friday started out an ordinary enough sunny July day here in the suburbs of Philly, well west of the I-95 corridor. Given the spectacular weather and my penchant for such things, I boarded the Harley and spent some time exploring new blue highways. I arrived home in early evening and, as is my habit after a long ride, went inside to fetch a beer. I planned to enjoy it sitting beside my beloved Harley as the engine sang that soft clicking sound of an air cooled V-twin that had just gotten a good workout.
The first sound of the helicopters approaching wasn’t too worrisome. Here in Chester County, we have not only too many white-tailed deer but too many yuppies in their Land Rover SUVs yapping on their cell phones distracted to the point they’ll occasionally run into each other hard enough to inflict grievous personal injury. It’s unfortunate, but nature has its own way of clearing out the low tide of the gene pool. It was only when several black helicopters began circling over my farm that I became alarmed. When thick-waisted men dressed as Ninjas began descending towards the porch where I was enjoying the nightly show of fireflies amidst the Tiger Lilies, I began to get a little panicky. Now, I’ve done my best to live the right way — I get out of bed and go to work each day, but my blood was no longer so cool. Looking back at my admittedly misspent life, I could envision no sin so grievous to warrant such a high-profile invasion of Eyesore Acres, the odd bit of land I call home. All I could figure was that either Chester County was getting really serious about the collection of unregistered motor vehicles I share the land with, or the librarian at Ithan Elementary school was really determined to get back that biography of Ben Franklin I’d never returned before heading off to my aptly named “high” school.
The first fellow to approach me was clearly not in a kind mood. He took my beer, ground out my cigarette on the porch, and kicked my dog. And here’s the weird part: I don’t even own a dog. They’d brought one with them just to kick it. These guys were heavily armed, so I had to think on my feet. Very quickly, I decided to resort to my lifelong defense of “I didn’t do it, if I did so, I must have forgotten about it. I truly regret it and promise not to do it again. Can I have my beer back?”
“What’s the meaning of this?” I began, asking a bit too plaintively and whiny for my own tastes.
“Son, you’ve been inducted into the NASCAR Citizen’s Journalist Media Corps,” I was told brusquely.
“I’ve been what into who?” I asked confusedly. “Why didn’t I get the memo? I’ve never expressed a desire to join in any such thing and quite frankly, to be trite, I have no interest in having anything to do with any club that would have me.”
But these men wouldn’t take no for an answer, telling me in no uncertain terms I was to report to a re-education camp immediately. After expressing an interest in remaining where I was to continue watching the fireflies and Tiger Lilies, I was injected against my will with some substance the likes of which I haven’t ever encountered… other than the time I fell asleep at a Jerry Garcia concert during “To Lay Me Down” and woke up five years later at 23 years of age and gainfully employed, picking up the dog poop in the front yard hoping it was hard.
I woke up in a barracks with my fellow new recruits of the Citizen’s Journalist Media Corps at the unholy hour of 5 AM by a trumpeter playing “Little Digger.” Talk about a rude awakening: I haven’t had a wakeup call like that since I awoke beside the Chick From Hell I was engaged to and decided it was time to throw my stuff in the El Camino and get out of Dodge. Breakfast was somewhat palatable, trays full of piggies in blankets with a variety of enticing dipping sauces — but with nothing to wash them down with other than endless cups of NASCAR grape Kool-Aid that left me a little fuzzy around the edges. Still dazed, I was taken to a barber where my shoulder-length, aging hippie gray hair was trimmed back to something that looked like a Brillo pad that had outlived its usefulness. I was then stripped of my natty attire — faded blue jeans, a Grateful Dead-inspired Hawaiian shirt, and flip flops — and ordered into a pair of tan khakis and a little alligator polo shirt. Because of their previous dealings with the mainstream media, NASCAR officials were surprised to learn any writer might have a waist size under 50 inches; as a result, I had to be issued a hank of rope to keep my poor ill-fitting britches up.
Once properly uniformed, my fellow Citizen Conscripts and I — the drill sergeant called us hobbyists — were forced on the first of several 10-mile runs that day. Now, I’m an old guy, someone who breaks into a sweat walking to the mailbox; so the runs were painful to say the least. But worse yet was the chant we were taught and instructed to say as we wallowed through a swamp of meaningless press releases.
“I don’t know, but I been told, the Car of Tomorrow is better than the old. I don’t know, but from what I’ve seen, the Chase is the best way to determine a Champ-eee-yun.”
As we progressed in our Citizen’s Corp training, we were fed more Kool-Aid and forced to perform feats of strength (like wading through groups of screaming female fans, ignoring their unfettered playful piglets as they leapt to get to Jeff Gordon, and ask inane questions about his back pain). At sunset, we were paraded before a giant bronze image of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and taught to bow down in worship and to never, ever, ever have the audacity to ask the Chosen One why he basically sucked this season. Finally, Brian France, all on his own, launched into a press conference. We were all told to translate his gibberish into something that seemed like it was said in the English language, rather than the rants and raves of a Holy Roller speaking in tongues and handling snakes on the Fourth of July.
It was too tough a test for me to swallow. Bobby Dylan once said that to live outside the law, you have to be honest; and as a longtime outlaw, my column on the press conference contained the phrases “silly bastard” and “pompous ignoramus” too many times to skirt it past the editors. I was told, in stern terms, I was a hardcore case and, as such, I should report to the day room to await a frontal lobotomy. Well, I’ve always preferred a bottle in front of me to a frontal lobotomy. But when all seemed lost, that’s when a guy we all called “the Injun” tossed a water cooler through the French doors of the day room, allowing us hardcore types to make our escape. I ran towards the rose-covered “Wall of Veritas,” confident a lifetime of scars would allow me to overcome the thorns when a guard dog named Ramsey grabbed hold of me by my ample buttock. Armed security forces were closing in on us as I wailed in pain.
“Son, I was told, “There ain’t no crying in the Citizens Journalist Media Corps.”
Desperately, I clicked my ruby red Tony Llama bootheels together chanting, “There’s no place like home…”
I awoke in my lawn chair beside the still-cooling Harley, bathed in sweat and a spilled Coors Light. A thorough check of my pockets revealed no Grateful Dead ticket stubs, and I decided it had all been a dream bought on by the late-setting July sun. Or had it been? I was greeted by a well-kicked silver Labrador Retriever who seemed confused as to who I was, and I’ve now got two small scars on my graying temples that I didn’t earning racing motocross. When I sat down to write this column, I was suddenly paralyzed and found myself chanting, “I don’t really miss the Southern 500 that much. It was just a silly race…”
Obviously, none of the above happened. It is just a product of my fertile imagination, and any farmer can tell you what fertilizer is made of.
But it is true, and perhaps no less bizarre, that without forewarning or counsel, I did in fact find myself Friday a newly minted member of the internet Citizen Journalist Media Corps. Like I said, I never got the memo; readers had to tell me that was the case before news spread to everyone on our site. So, let’s see … I am a citizen, and a proud one, of the greatest country in the world. To some extent, I am a journalist, and that makes me a part of the media. But you add that fourth word “Corps” and the whole term becomes positively Orwellian to the point it makes testes draw up.
Some of you have wrote me on this issue, and the most repeated question has been “Matt, how the f*@k did this happen?” Others wanted to know if I volunteered for this honor, whether I was going to have to change the content of my columns, or if I was about to get fired again. No, no, no, and no.
I’m not sure how I got signed up for the Corps. If there’s a brown shirt I am supposed to wear, I haven’t received mine yet. But then again, I am so far out here in the country that the UPS man craps kittens when he has to deliver the occasional old car part I bought on eBay. Even the local Amish mock me for being a hillbilly.
Here’s what I’ve been told by site management… it’s business as usual. I trust Tom (who owns the site) and the various editors too numerous to shake a stick at even if I was a stick-shaking sort. They tell me I can continue to be my nasty, old, cynical self, though my guess is this column will cause them enough hand-wringing to make Pontius Pilate look like he whistled and spit on his palms before rubbing them dry on his jeans. If, in fact, anyone from NASCAR or the ISC ever tries to get me to back it down a few notches, I will leave you, gentle readers, with the Mother of All Columns — a love letter written in your names before facing the storm to come. (‘Cause it surely looks like rain?) I may not always be right, but I’ve always been honest with you on how I feel. Honesty is like virginity. You’re only cherry once.
So as a newly, unwitting member of the NASCAR Citizen’s Journalist Media Corps, I promise you all it’s business as usual. When NASCAR makes the right call, I will say so. When they screw up, I will say so; usually in colorful, profane, and blunt terms. For this old jackass has felt the stick too many times not to be wary of accepting a suddenly-offered carrot.
Editor’s Note: Before you take off, Frontstretch just wants to add our own little addendum to the Corps. Yes, we have been contacted by NASCAR and have agreed to become part of the CJMC. To answer some basic questions: No, NASCAR does not own us now. They don’t own even a tenth of one percent of the site. No, our content, our writer lineup, nothing will change as a result of our membership.
And yes, to clear up any and all confusion we had almost all of the credential and media benefits already. So, why join? The answer, my friends, is the exposure offered, as well as the chance to both interact and grow together with some other outstanding independent sites finding their way in this ever-changing 21st-Century World. Independent journalism can only effect positive change through mass exposure, and we’ve been offered the opportunity to join in a process that’s pledged to increase our readership and support for the sport we not only cover, but love. When you’re offered an olive branch like that … there’s no reason to say no. And rest assured, if a reason ever pops up you will no longer see us as part of the program; it’s as simple as that.
Most importantly, thanks for being a part of this site for the many days, months, or years you’ve been a fan of the sport. We couldn’t do this without you, and look forward to bringing you along for the ride as we only get bigger and better in the years to come. You are the true citizens that drive our passion for telling racing stories, and we pledge to continue providing truthful, provocative, insightful, and — most importantly — unfiltered content each and every day. That’s what we’re known for … and that’s who we’ll continue to be.
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