Wednesday, March 31, 2010

3/31: My Trip to Martinsville - Rain & Hotdogs

I consider a trip to a NASCAR race a quasi-religious pilgrimage that replaces communion wine with beer in a can, bread with greasy concession food, and the good book with a publication of scanner frequencies.

I've been to Talladega (Cup in 2005), Darlington (Cup in 2006), Charlotte (Cup in 2008 & 2009), Daytona (Nationwide in twice in 2009), Atlanta (Cup in 2009), and now I've added Martinsville as of Sunday... sort of.


5:30PM - I've been working for entirely too long, but at long last it's time to head to the house and to load up the truck for my ride.

6:10PM - I left the house at last after getting packed.

6:12PM - I left the house for real this time after going back for my Carolina UA jacket which I thought I wouldn't need. *foreshadowing*

7:05PM - I tuned in to the Twins-Orioles game on the radio. Need to find out if Brian Roberts is gonna be healthy. I took him in the fourth round of my fantasy league. I did this for a number of reasons, none of them smart. I didn't know he was banged up, didn't realize his steals were falling off already, and was ultimately driven by the auto-draft order into thinking it was a smart call. B-Rob has done some nice things for me in recent years, so I honestly know it's possible he will exceed expectations.

7:13PM - I changed the channel once I realized that listening to spring training on the radio is simply something I can't do. It became clear to me that this wasn't going to last when I couldn't remember if Roberts batted in the first inning or not, despite that being the only reason I was tuning in. I love baseball on the radio, but spring training on the radio is just intolerable. Not sure how to describe this, but I simply cannot do it.

9:25PM - Met up with my friend Kenneth for dinner in Jacksonville. We ate while watching the beginning of Michigan St vs Northern Iowa, which sadly did not end with a UNI win. We enjoyed Tennessee having just moments earlier put the second SEC team in the Sweet 16 while the Big East had less to show for their vaunted conference. You can always have a good talk with Kenneth because he will say just about anything, including many things that would offend far too many people if I actually wrote about it. *I understand no one will actually read this, but I would like to leave that last sentence where it is.

10:45PM - Finally getting going again on my trip. I now know it will be a late night.

12:15AM - There's a stretch of I-95 in Georgia that has been under construction for as long as I've made this trip, going back to my first trip to Carolina as a freshman in the Fall of 2003. So in other words I got a BA in 3 years, but in 7 years the road is still under construction. What's even more dumbfounding is that I've never seen anyone working on this stretch and I've never even noticed any progress on my many trips (I've made over 40 trips along this stretch of road in the past 7 years).


1:30AM - I finally made it to South Carolina, and stopped at the Welcome Center. I stopped there because I always do, and bad things happen when you don't stop at the Welcome Center. It's cold, something tells me this trip is gonna have bad weather. *foreshadowing*

3:30AM - Pulled into parking lot at my friend Christian's apartment. Had to wake him up with a phone call, but got in and was asleep within an hour.

9:30AM - Christian wakes me up as he is rustling around, which makes sense for him since he was a sleep before I even got there, but for me it's just terrible.

12:30PM - Met up with my friend Nick for lunch at Pawley's Front Porch in Five Points. I ordered The Beaufort. Really how can I turn down a burger with a fried egg, ham, cheese, onion ring, and hot sauce? Top it off with some sweet potato fries and a couple bottles of Coors Light for a great lunch. Nick is engaged and has a wedding in May. Really, my fraternal little brother is getting married in less than two months and I couldn't be happier for him.

2:30PM - After getting back to Christian's apartment we are now packed. The third member of our group, Bobby, has arrived and has his stuff packed as well. We are ready to roll.

4:30PM - We're on the road, I know that K-State vs Butler is starting, and I'm wondering how much of the wondrous Gus Johnson I will get to see today. That's about all there is to think about because other than Charlotte there's nothing on this route.

5:25PM - We stop at some Shell station on I-40 in North Carolina, I have no idea where this is or if I will ever find this place again, but it holds a great national treasure. It was here that I found NEHI, and of course I had to buy some. I bought an Orange Nehi, a Peach Nehi, and a Grape Nehi. For all I knew Nehi was discontinued during the Korean War after Radar left the Korean Peninsula. Souvenir #1 on my trip: Empty Grape Nehi bottle, because I had to drink it.

6:00PM - We arrived at our hotel in Winston-Salem with enough time to watch the final 8 minutes or so of Butler's victory over Kansas State. I was somehow alive in some weird pick 'em and needed K-State to win, but really didn't care. It was just too special for this victory. I can't help thinking of this team as the team from Hoosiers, even though I know they are good and not some small town miracle.

7:00PM - We head out for dinner with the idea of watching the late Elite Eight game.

7:15PM - We finally manage to get to Texas Roadhouse, but the line out the door is a turn-off.

7:20PM - O'Charley's looks promising, but there appear to be no TV's, so we're off to keeping looking.

7:25PM - TGI Friday's is our eventual landing spot. We get to our seats, which have no view of the TV's. So we spend the meal observing people and trying to figure out just how freaky our waitress probably is with her men. Really, she appears to be the absolute definition of a closet freak, with the doors wide open.

Rest of evening not very interesting, but we did load up the hotel fridge...


5:29AM - I'm up, and it's way too damn early.

6:00AM - We're the first ones in line for the complimentary hotel breakfast. There were others up early, and all clearly had their respective NASCAR apparel on as well. There's nothing more unappealing than the options at a hotel breakfast, but that's because I never can talk myself into waiting and working to make a waffle.

7:30AM - After searching for a while for a Sunoco (I have a card where I had budgeted for this trip) we settle on going to a Sheetz. I have no idea what that chain is, but it had to be visited. As we turn I declared there would be a Sunoco "on the other side of that hill" because that happens to be my luck most of the time.

7:35AM - There was a Sunoco on the other side of that hill. Not kidding.

8:00AM - We pulled into our parking spot with five hours left until the scheduled green flag.

8:20AM - We visit the merchandise haulers. I got a sweater which I need because it's really cold. I also got a new BB&T hat, which is Clint Bowyer's alternate sponsor and primary sponsor for this race. The track looks awesome from here.

8:35AM - We met our friend Robbie outside the track. Robbie works on the company that broadcasts the SprintVision stuff at NASCAR races. I've always laughed at how corny much of it is, but I know it is good stuff.

9:00AM - It is cold and overcast, I start getting a really bad feeling this race won't get in. Robbie told us we need to get to 251 laps for it to be official, but first we'd need to get to 1 lap.

9:20AM - We get in line at the only port-a-johns we can find, which are in the official merchandise hauler area. Long lines already.

9:40AM - First beer opened, drinking ensues.



10:00AM - Bobby goes to the port-a-johns, but Christian and I know it's not worth it and we just use the car doors to provide cover.

11:30AM - Bobby has long since given in.

11:45AM - We're heading to the track, weather still has not improved.

12:25PM - In line for the hotdogs, the "World Famous Martinsville Hotdogs"

12:55PM - So good. Hot dog, chili, slaw, and mustard for just $2. I had three.

2:30PM - Sure enough the race is postponed until Monday at noon, without a green flag lap. This was as close as we could get to seeing car on the track...

4:51PM - We leave the track, knowing that coming back tomorrow is not going to happen.

The rest of the story...

We watched the last Elite Eight game in the small window of the TV not dedicated to storm coverage. Tornadoes hit the area where we were, but not really all that close to where we actually were.

We watched the race at Christian's apartment. Sure enough, Denny Hamlin won, who is Bobby's favorite driver.

So many dollars later I still haven't seen a race at Martinsville, but we'll be back next year. Maybe we'll actually see a green flag lap next time.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

3/24: Do You Know Your Sweet 16? Part 4 - MIDWEST REGION

This was supposed to be the easy lock bracket, every analyst had Kansas emerging from this bracket, and that just made sense to all of us. However, Kansas is not one of the four left standing in this bracket. Instead we have:

- A team led by the likely National Player of the Year
- A team playing in their third consecutive Sweet 16, one of only two teams currently, and coming off a National Title game appearance
- A team led by a coach who wears unusual attire, and has painted his chest for other university events
- A team that knocked the overwhelming national title favorite to get here


Ohio State Buckeyes


Pre-tournament: 27-7 (17-4 Big Ten) Big Ten Tournament Champions
2010 Tournament Wins: 68-51 vs UC-Santa Barbara, 75-66 vs Georgia Tech
NCAA Tournament History: 26th appearance, 45-24 record, 10 Final Fours, 1 title
Deepest Tournament Run: National Champions - 1960
University History: Founded in 1870 as Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College
Notable Alumni: comedian Richard Lewis, Olympian Jesse Owens, General Curtis "Bombs Away" LeMay, coaching legend Bob Knight
Basketball Venue: Value City Arena at The Jerome Schottenstein Center, opened 1998, capacity 19,200, The Daily Show taped in arena (only college to have show taped on campus)

Their Story: They are led by the best player left in the tournament, since Kentucky's John Wall is a freshman I really can't give him that title, in Evan Turner. If this were purely given to the best team with the best player then this region would go to the Buckeyes, but it isn't.

Up Next: vs Tennessee - Friday at 7:07 PM

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Michigan State Spartans


Pre-tournament: 24-8 (14-5 Big Ten)
2010 Tournament Wins: 70-67 vs New Mexico St, 85-83 vs Maryland
NCAA Tournament History: 24th appearance, 7 Final Fours, 2 titles
Deepest Tournament Run: National Champions - 1979, 2000
University History: Founded as the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan in 1855
Notable Alumni: actor James Caan, actress Carol Duvall, NFL OL & "Human Penalty Flag" Flozell Adams
Basketball Venue: Jack Breslin Student Events Center, opened 1989, capacity 15,085, floor is floor on which Spartans won 2000 title (had shipped in and installed)

Their Story: Michigan St started the season with a fair amount of expectations and coming off a less in the 2009 national title game vs UNC. Down the stretch it appeared Michigan St was heading straight off the map with injuries and inconsistent play, but here they are. Tom Izzo is one of the most consistent tournament coaches in the game today, so expect his team to be ready to play. Don't count out another Final Four for Izzo.
Up Next: vs Northern Iowa - Friday 9:37 PM

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Tennessee Volunteers


Pre-tournament: 25-8 (13-6 SEC)
2010 Tournament Wins: 62-59 vs San Diego St, 83-68 vs Ohio
NCAA Tournament History: 18th appearance, 15-18 record, 0 Final Fours, 0 titles
Deepest Tournament Run: Sweet 16 - 1967, 1981, 2000, 2007, 2008, 2010
University History: Originally Blount College in 1794
Notable Alumni: author Alex Haley, former MLB manager Phil Garner, radio personality Paul Feinbaum, NFL QB Peyton Manning, former football coach Phillip Fulmer
Basketball Venue: Thompson-Boling Arena, opened 1987, capacity 21,000, court named "The Summit" for legendary Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summit

Their Story: Tennessee had some expectations heading into the season, some expected Kentucky to not be this good and for the Vols to win the SEC. Then Tennessee had to kick their best player off the team following off the court ugliness. They followed up that with a win over top-ranked Kansas. Tennessee seems the team that can beat anybody in the country when on their game, but it's sometimes hard to tell if they'll be on their game.
Up Next: vs Ohio St - Friday 7:07 PM

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Northern Iowa Panthers


Pre-tournament: 28-4 (18-3 MVC) Regular Season and Tournament Missouri Valley Conference Champions
2010 Tournament Wins: 69-66 vs UNLV, 69-67 vs Kansas
NCAA Tournament History: 6th appearance, 3-5 record, 0 Final Fours, 0 titles
Deepest Tournament Run: Sweet 16 - 2010
University History: Originated as Iowa State Normal School in 1876
Notable Alumni: NFL QB Kurt Warner, NFL C Brad Meester, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley
Basketball Venue: McLeod Center, opened 2006, capacity 7,018, replaced UNI-Dome as home of UNI Basketball

Their Story: It should be noted that Northern Iowa has been on the radar a little in recent years. They have been int he tournament and they've played some ESPN Bracket Buster games. So it's not as if you've never had a chance to watch the school most famous as the alma mater of Kurt Warner. Then it happened... Northern Iowa defeated the pre-eminent favorite to win it all as they beat Kansas. Now all eyes will be on them, because they are a team to be reckoned with from here on out.
Up Next: vs Michigan St - Friday 9:37 PM

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

3/23: Do You Know Your Sweet 16? Part 3 - SOUTH REGION

The South Region was said by many to be tailor-made for the top seed to advance all the way though Houston and on to the Final Four in Indianapolis. That's because the top seed is one of the teams in college basketball that drives ratings just be their name. It would be foolish to assume they're just gonna waltz through a bracket of teams that have their sights set on them. The real shame in all the complaining about the perceived weakness of this bracket is that it demeans the rest of the field, the other three teams in this bracket include:

- An team led by a coach with the most memorable last name in the history of upsets
- A team written off by most to even beat a 13-seed in the 1st round due to an injury, but still fighting and winning
- A team who only won one other tournament game, in 1959, vs Idaho St


Duke Blue Devils


Pre-tournament: 29-5 (16-3 ACC) ACC Regular Season and Tournament Champions
2010 Tournament Wins: 73-44 vs Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 68-53 vs California
NCAA Tournament History: 34th appearance, 90-30 record, 14 Final Fours, 3 titles
Deepest Tournament Run: National Champions - 1991, 1992, 2001
University History: Originated as Brown's Schoolhouse in 1837
Notable Alumni: journalist Charlie Rose, sportswriter John Feinstein, Hall of Fame NFL QB Sonny Jurgensen
Basketball Venue: Cameron Indoor Stadium, opened 1940, capacity 9,314, when opened was largest arena south of the Palestra in Philadelphia

Their Story: Duke has the history, the prestige, the legendary coach, and gets the ratings. The Blue Devils also have a recent history of not performing well the the tournament. The reason is that Duke has not performed is because their recruiting is limited to those who academically qualify under the high standards of Duke University and want to play for the full four years. The result is they are well coached, rely on three pointers, and are out-talented by programs who do can recruit one year players with far lesser academic qualifications. They did have better statistics for offensive rebounding, but it is unclear if that is a product of their improvement or their conference being slightly below average this season.

Up Next: vs Purdue - Friday 9:57 PM

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Baylor Bears


Pre-tournament: 25-7 (12-6 Big XII)
2010 Tournament Wins: 68-59 vs Sam Houston St, 76-68 vs Old Dominion
NCAA Tournament History: 6th appearance, 5-7 record, 2 Final Fours, 0 titles
Deepest Tournament Run: National Runner-up - 1948
University History: Founded in 1845
Notable Alumni: comedian Jeff Dunham, 49ers coach and NFL Hall of Famer Mike Singletary, sportscaster Trey Wingo
Basketball Venue: The Ferrell Center, opened 1988, capacity 10,347, gold plated dome roof weighs 175 tons

Their Story: In 2003 Baylor was rocked by the murder of a player at the hands of a former player. Dave Bliss, then head coach, was forced to resign after improper financial allegations and plans to blame it on the slain player. Into the situation stepped Scott Drew, son of Homer and brother of Bryce. You may remember the Drew family from the memorable Valparaiso NCAA tournament upset (see video below). Since then Drew has done an amazing turn-around. Now Baylor will play in the Houston regional, just a short drive from their campus in Waco.
Up Next: vs Saint Mary's - Friday 7:27 PM

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Purdue Boilermakers


Pre-tournament: 27-5 (15-5 Big Ten)
2010 Tournament Wins: 72-64 vs Siena, 63-61 vs Texas A&M
NCAA Tournament History: 24th appearance, 33-23 record, 2 Final Fours, 0 titles
Deepest Tournament Run: National Runner-Up - 1969
University History: Founded in 1869
Notable Alumni: astronaut Neil Armstrong, Hall of Fame NFL QB Bob Griese, NFL QB Drew Brees
Basketball Venue: Mackey Arena, opened 1967, capacity 14,123, Keady Court is only court in the country named after a comb-over

Their Story: Purdue wasn't supposed to be here. They weren't supposed to score 11 points in the first half of the Big Ten semi-final vs Minnesota, but they did. They weren't supposed to get a 4-seed, but they did. They weren't supposed to beat Siena, but they did. Their season was supposed to be over when Robbie Hummel went down, but it wasn't.
Up Next: vs Duke - Friday 9:57 PM

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Saint Mary's Gaels


Pre-tournament: 26-5 (13-3) West Coast Conference Tournament Champions
2010 Tournament Wins: 80-71 vs Richmond, 75-68 vs Villanova
NCAA Tournament History: 6th appearance, 3-5 record, 0 Final Fours, 0 titles
Deepest Tournament Run: Sweet Sixteen - 2010
University History: Founded in 1863
Notable Alumni: MLB 3rd baseman Mark Teahan, Sr VP & GM of K.C. Estenson, Poet Laureate of the U.S. Robert Haas (1995-97)
Basketball Venue: McKeon Pavilion, opened 1978, capacity 3,500, only student section with lots of Australian flags waving

Their Story: Saint Mary's has been a good team for a while now, but when they beat Gonzaga this year to win the WCC they earned a spot in the tournament. They are making their deepest run in the tournament, and easily the most lovable Cinderella of the tournament, because they play in such a small gym and have so many players to like. Omar Samhan, seriously, that's all you need.
Up Next: vs 

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