Monday, June 3, 2013

FedEx 400

I used to love NASCAR. I mean, I was enthralled by it. I went to my first race, on a whim, at Pocono Raceway in 1989, and instantly became a fan.

But over the years, and a few years after the death of the iconic and legendary driver Dale Earnhardt at the Daytona 500 in February 2001, I began to lose interest. In a sport that is known for its commercialism, the telecasts were becoming over-commercialized, if that is even possible. It was impossible to get tickets to the races, and when the opportunity did arise, the tickets were costing in excess of $100 a seat.

But an interesting phenomenon occurred - my 7 year-old son is as much in love with NASCAR now as I was at age 25. He can equate drivers' names with their car numbers and sponsors, by memory. He recreates races in his bedroom with the 15 or so die-cast cars I've passed on down to him. He even is learning his math through NASCAR (An example: the assignment was to create math word problems. He came up with: 10 cars were on the track. 2 got caught up in a wreck. How many cars are left in the race?).

So a few weeks ago, I thought it was time. I asked my son if he'd be interested in seeing a NASCAR race in person. Of course, the answer came back in the affirmative. I warned him that it wasn't like watching a race on TV - it would be hot, it would be loud, and it would be long. He assured me that he didn't mind, and I contacted a friend of mine who I used to attend races with back in the day. His 6 year-old son has the same passion for NASCAR as my son, so it would be a great match.

We got tickets for the FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway in Delaware, and yesterday was race day. Our plan was to get to the track on Saturday afternoon, camp out overnight, hit the race at 1 PM, and hopefully be home by bedtime. It went all according to plan, until Sunday morning came.

At NASCAR races, many of the race teams bring souvenir trucks to sell their wares to their fans. I knew this going in, and pitched this to my son. I told him, that as a treat to him, I'd be willing to spend $50 for any souvenirs he wanted. Sunday morning we toured the trailers, and he was wide-eyed at everything being sold there. And then we ventured in to the Family Fun Zone, an area outside the track that had attractions set up by sponsors to keep people busy before the race. The boys had an absolute blast! So many things to do there, we couldn't even see it all.

Back when I was attending races in the '90s, this wasn't around. The trailers were, but you didn't see many kids, because there just wasn't much for them to do. But I am amazed at how family (and kid) friendly NASCAR has become (or maybe it's just Dover). But something happened yesterday: because of this pre-race experience, I started becoming interested in NASCAR again. I admit, it wasn't the same - the grandstands, which when I was attending races were overflowing, were about 60% full yesterday. The drivers don't have the same personalities as they used to, and I didn't drin knearly as much beer as I used to at races. Simply put, there are more kids around, and that's OK.

My brother-in-law gave me a scanner so we could listen to the drivers communicating with their pit crews, and we had great seats above Turn 4 right at the entrance to pit road. It also helped that my son's favorite driver, Jimmie Johnson, had his pit stall right in front of us. When they gave the command to "start your engines", the smile on my son's face was priceless. And when Johnson took the lead around lap 200, his excitement at seeing that was phenomenal.

We didn't make it through the entire race, though. the sun was beating on us all day, and after an almost-sleepless night in the tent, the boys were simply beat. So we headed home around lap 300 and made it home from Dover by 6:30 PM, beating the storms in the process.

But my son can't stop talking about the weekend - so much so that he wants to go to the NASCAR race in Richmond in September. This one is a night race, though, ending around 11 PM, so we need to talk about that one.

I've coached my son for 4 season of baseball and one season of basketball. I'm with every day after school, but I can't help but think that this bonding experience was even more special. I see in him the same passion that I had in me some 20+ years ago. It's something we can talk about and have fun with. And although I'd be overjoyed if he'd show this same passion for baseball, I have no problem with him enjoying what I now see as a sport that knows who their target market is to continue to thrive - the kids.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Buried Deep

It's interesting what one can find buried deep in a political story.

This story from The Houston Chronicle profiling just-reelected Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas focuses on what the GOP needs to do to stay viable as a party, namely, appealing to Latino voters. Not doing so, he could see Texas becoming a "blue" state, and dooming the Republican party to irrelevance.

One of the things Sen. Cruz said was that he was considering a run for President in 2016. While that isn't all that earth-shattering, with it being 4 years away, this is what was more interesting to read: Sen. Cruz is apparently a Tea Party favorite.

Again, not earth-shattering, until one realizes that Sen. Cruz was not born in the United States.

Has this not been the primary complaint of the Birther-Tea Party movement for the past 4+ years against President Obama? Their completely debunked claim that "he wasn't born here"?

Senator Cruz deftly dodges that by saying this:
 “The Constitution requires that one be a natural-born citizen, and my mother was a U.S. citizen when I was born,”
Just like President Obama.

So if that's the case, it makes you wonder why they were really against the President...

Friday, November 9, 2012

Ending My Siesta

Nothing like a good ol' butt-whipping in a national election to get the juices flowing again.

It's been almost a year since I've posted here, but now that I'm settled in Reston, Fairfax County, Virginia, and I've availed myself of the political controversies that I witnessed in Loudoun County the past few years, I'm able to say I miss political blogging, and want to fire up the old blog again.

First, it was nice to see my old pals in the Loudoun County Democratic Committee put in a great show this past Tuesday, and delivered the county for President Obama. There have been a lot of wounds to be licked since 2009, and this has got to be a nice confidence-builder for those good people. Congrats to my former LCDC colleague/blogger Evan Macbeth for leading the charge.

Second, I'm extremely pleased with what transpired on Tuesday. It was very heartening to see people turning out as they did in 2008 to re-elect our President and combat all of the negativity, outright lies, bigotry, and voter suppression efforts put forth by the Republicans. There was a lot of Democratic apathy after the 2010 mid-term elections, and it was apparent that people had had enough. Bravo!

And third, the announcement was made yesterday that Terry McAuliffe is throwing his hat into the ring for the Virginia governor's race in 2013. Let me say this: I've met Terry; I like the guy, he's very charismatic, has a lot of great ideas, and has done a lot for the commonwealth. I'm just not sure that he's going to be able to sell this to the average Virginian. I hope I'm wrong. If he's the nominee, I will be behind him 100%, but I'd like to see what other nominees come forward, if any.

I'll say right now that I was hoping that Sen. Mark Warner was going to try for the governor's mansion again. I believe that it would have been a cakewalk for him, had he said yes.  But I understand when Sen.-elect Kaine said in his victory speech that we need Mark Warner in the U.S. Senate, and I agree. But I'd love to find a way to clone Sen. Warner, and put him back in Richmond again.

OK, just some quick hits - I'm going to try and stay with this more frequently. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter in the box above for more political stuff if you'd like.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Without Supervision

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank outgoing Loudoun County Supervisor Stevens Miller for the contributions he made to the Loudoun blogosphere this past year or so on his blog, "Without Supervision". Stevens ended the blog suddenly and without warning on Tuesday, and I, for one, will miss it.
His opinions have been a lightning rod the past few months, drawing both criticism and praise from both sides of the aisle. While I haven't always agreed with him 100%, I very much appreciated his sharing of his views, because he always strongly backed those opinions, and stood by them. And in the instance he was proved wrong, he stood up and admitted it.
Stevens and I were friendly acquaintances, mostly through our blogging and overlapping service on the LCDC, and on the rare times I have asked him for advice, I have very much valued it. I hold no grudge with him the way his tenure on the LCDC ended, and in fact, I really respect him for taking an unpopular stand. It takes guts for an elected official to do something like that.
So Stevens, best of luck wherever the future takes you. Thanks for your service to the county the past 4 years, and I hope to see you around sometime.

Friday, November 11, 2011

I Feel Betrayed

"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke
By now, I'm sure you've heard countless reports of the Penn State sex scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. I won't repeat the gory details here, but I have to use this blog to vent.
I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia as a huge Penn State fan. I lived from 1971 to 1977 in Upper Darby, PA, which happened to be the hometown of the 1973 Heisman Trophy winner, John Cappelletti. He went to my grade school. He played in the same youth baseball program as I did. He went to the high school I would naturally attend had I stayed there. He was a local hero, and being such, I was drawn to Penn State football. So what I write here isn't coming from someone who is glad to see this turn of events.
What really is irking me is how Coach Joe Paterno handled the situation. I'm going to ask a lot of open-ended questions here, just to get it out there.
If Sandusky was being investigated about child sexual abuse as early as 1998, is it not fair to assume that the authorities doing the investigating would talk to Coach Paterno? And with Sandusky suddenly retiring after the 1999 season (one in which he was named NCAA Assistant Coach of the Year) because he wasn't going to get Paterno's job, one has to wonder if the reasoning was due to Paterno's knowledge of the nature of the investigation.
But if Paterno didn't know, why didn't Sandusky get any serious consideration for vacant NCAA head coaching positions? He was a well-respected assistant, one of Paterno's trusted aides; you would have to think that someone, anyone, with a football team in need of direction would have called Paterno asking if Sandusky was available. Could it be that Paterno was protecting another school from hiring someone he knew was a sexual deviant, much less a desipcable human being?
Then the incident in 2002, where graduate assistant Mike McQueary caught Sandusky in the shower in the Penn State locker room assaulting a young boy. Forget for a moment that McQueary looked both the victim and Sandusky in the face before running away. He later told Paterno about the incident. If, as I infer, Paterno knew about Sandusky from the investigation back in 1998, he should have acted immediately. Yes, maybe 4 years earlier he could have dismissed it as an isolated incident. Now it happens again, and he doesn't go to the police. That is sad. Or...if this was indeed the first time Paterno heard about it, do you not think Paterno would have asked McQueary for more details? You're reporting someone, who worked by his side for 30-some years, taking liberties with a child in a shower, and Paterno doesn't ask what exactly he saw? To ensure that everything was clear? Instead, he just reports it to the athletic director and wipes his hands? I did what I was supposed to do? He didn't call the police.
The result of Paterno "going up the chain of command"? They took Sandusky's keys to the locker room away. Took his keys away.
Joe Paterno was fired this week, and he contends that he was shocked to hear of the allegations against Sandusky.
Paterno knows more. He has to. He's the highest profile figure, not only on the campus of the Pennsylvania State University, but in State College, PA, and probably one of the highest profile figures in the state. There cannot be an investigation of someone who stood by his side for over 30 years, and he doesn't either get questioned or informed about it. He protected Sandusky. He hid the heinous nature of the crimes Sandusky committed to preserve some sense of stature for himself and the school. And now it's come back to bite him.
For years, Joe Paterno and his program was the model of decency, in an NCAA rife with violations and criminal action. He did so much for the university; was so highly regarded; was admired, no, deified by everyone who followed college football. But because of his inaction, or turning a blind eye to disgusting activity by a friend of his, it's very possible that that inaction allowed Sandusky to prey on more victims.
I hope it comes out in the end that Paterno really was in the dark on this, but I fail to see how. It just doesn't add up. I feel betrayed by someone who I thought was the embodiment of good.
It turns out he's just like everyone else,

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Bittersweet Day

Waiting for election results after the polls close is always an exciting time for me. Since I've been involved in the political process behind-the-scenes to an extent, I have some personal relationships with some of the candidates, and it makes it that much more interesting. Last night, despite what happened, was no exception.
It was extremely disappointing to see the complete Republican whitewash that took place in Loudoun County yesterday. I didn't expect all of my favored candidates to win, but I didn't think it would be this bad. Some good people, with great ideas, lost by some wide margins. People like Valdis Ronis (candidate for Ashburn District Supervisor), Bob Ohneiser (candidate for At-Large School Board), and Al Nevarez (rcandidate for Sterling District Supervisor) all got trounced. Jennifer Wexton, who was running for Commonwealth's Attorney, put up a valiant effort, pulling in 48% of the vote in here first try for elective office. She'll be back.
I am at a loss to understand why the others got beaten so badly, though. I can kind of understand if they lost by close margins, but these races weren't even close, and that concerns me about what the people in those districts and the county as a whole are thinking. The county has gone solidly back to Red, and the thought of possibly slipping back to how it was 8 years ago in that county is worrisome.
My friend Mike Kondratick, as I write this, trails his challenger by 50 votes in the race for the 87th House of Delegates district. I am unsure as to the rule for recounts, but I would think that a vote this close would have to trigger an automatic recount. Here's wishing Mike the best - he's a great guy who would be a great asset to the House of Delegates. And the best legislator in Northern Virginia, Senator Mark Herring, easily won re-election for the second time.
Meanwhile, in my new home of Reston, Fairfax County, I can proudly say that every one of the candidates for whom I cast a vote yesterday won. I don't think that's ever happened for me in any off-year election like this.
So like I said, bittersweet. I salute Valdis, Bob O, Al, Jennifer, and Mike for running positive, issue-based campaigns. You have every reason to be proud. And hang in there, Loudoun - fight the good fight.

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Basic Primer For Mrs. Phillips

I saw this first today on the Too Conservative blog, and my friend Paradox13 expounded on it on Loudoun Progress, so I wanted to let Patricia Phillips know what a United States Navy sailor looks like:

That's me, in October 1984, at U.S. Navy Recruit Training Command, Orlando, Florida.

And no, you don't have my permission to use the photo.