From early morning to late night, Daytona takes me for wild ride

The sports writing business is like the auto racing business or the insurance business or the tailoring business, particularly if one’s client at the haberdashery is Charles Barkley, who, at last count, had lost 27 pounds on Weight Watchers.

Sometimes, one must make adjustments.

This is especially true when the track catches fire in Turn 3.

Originally, I intended to write about the three-team battle for the Mountain West Conference basketball championship that suddenly includes UNLV again, figuring Colorado State coach Tim Miles would have something witty to say during the weekly conference call, because Miles has something witty to say about most everything.

But before the fire at the Daytona 500, there was rain, and then there was a nod or two or three to James Taylor.

Adjustments were called for.

As pole-sitter Carl Edwards noted, this was the first time in the 54-year history of the Great American Race that it got black-flagged by Al Roker. So NASCAR must be living right, or was living right, right up until something broke on Juan Pablo Montoya’s car and it slammed into a track dryer carrying 200 gallons of jet fuel with 40 laps to go Monday night.

The race had been rescheduled for 9 a.m. Monday Las Vegas time, and even if you don’t think much of sports where the primary objective is to turn left while giving the gas pedal a proper thrashing, the Daytona 500 thus became the biggest thing in sports on a slow day for them. Unless, of course, you had money on Kansas vs. Oklahoma State.

So I phoned Jeff Motley, who holds the dual roles of publicity chief and principal Frank Beamer enthusiast at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Did he know of a local watering hole, preferably a divey kind of place, where hardcore NASCAR fans might gather at the strange hour of 9 a.m. to watch their sport’s Super Bowl, like guys from England do whenever Manchester United or Tottenham Hotspur play English football at a rude hour?

Preferably, Motley was told, these hardcore NASCAR types should be from Alabama, and they should have names like Red or Junior, because those are the kind of guys who have been keen on the Daytona 500 since the days of Red Farmer and the Allisons and Neil Bonnett and Hut Stricklin, if Hut Stricklin ever had a day. And Jimmy Means, whose nickname was “Smut.”

Collectively, the aforementioned were known as the “Alabama Gang” from Hueytown near Birmingham.

I figured if I could find a guy from Hueytown near Birmingham, and he was drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon out of a can at 9 a.m., he’d probably have something interesting to say about Danica Patrick and the sad state of affairs in NASCAR, now that there are drivers from Tasmania and Colombia — the one in South America, not the one in South Carolina — but none from Hueytown near Birmingham.

Or maybe we’d just talk about how Nick Saban still can’t carry Bear Bryant’s houndstooth fedora. Roll Tide.

Though Motley hails from Martinsville, Va., which has been holding NASCAR races at its little paved oval since 1948, he didn’t know of a bar in Las Vegas or a grill in Henderson where guys from Alabama might call in sick to watch the Daytona 500.

Like one of those IndyCar interlopers seeking a drafting partner, I was on my own.

Google turned up this place on Boulder Highway called the Dew Drop Inn (honest) that advertises NASCAR specials. Supposedly, this is a place where construction and iron workers and former bass players with Molly Hatchet hang out.

And then I thought it was I who was living right, because the chance of meeting somebody who had seen ol’ Red Farmer wheel a Ford Fairlane around magnolia trees seemed much greater in a place like that.

But when I woke Monday, it was still raining at Daytona.

The race finally started, some 29½ hours behind schedule. Danica Patrick crashed after one lap. During the next 159 laps, a lot of fossil fuel was burned. Then a lot of jet fuel burned when Montoya hit that track dryer. Three crashes later, a guy from Wisconsin won the 36 Hours of Daytona.

As for the Mountain West conference call, Tim Miles said this was a “monumental week” at Colorado State, because not only were the Rammies hosting No. 17 UNLV on Wednesday, they still had a chance to play their way into the NCAA Tournament. And that on Sunday, he would be taking his kids to see “The Lorax.”

When the media did not acknowledge the homage to Dr. Seuss, Miles feigned hurt feelings and said he would boycott next week’s conference call.

This is why you can count on Tim Miles during fire and rain, and even on sunny days you think will never end.     

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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