My Random Thoughts

The Tony Stewart farewell

  So, it appears as though it is time for Tony Stewart final race of Cup career.  Or so we think.

Of course, Jeff Gordon came back to run a few races this year subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr so

anything could happen.  And after having to miss what was going to be his final Daytona 500 it

would be something to see Smoke run that race once more.  But Stewart seems bent of making

an exit stage right out of NASCAR competition as a driver.

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Of course Stewart owns 50% of Stewart Haas racing and Stewart has said that he will still be

extremely involved in the team.  We saw a preview of this when he broke his back.  He was in

the garage with all of his drivers, watching, debriefing, and coaching to his drivers delight.  His

goal is to be like Roger Penske and Richard Childress (former drivers) and be a hands on owner.

 

But Stewart wants to go back to racing dirt.  That is of course his true passion.  Ever since his

2013 injury where he broke his leg Stewart’s NASCAR career has taken a considerable dip.

This is also due to NASCAR constantly changing the rules package and it appears at times that

either Smoke fell behind or just doesn’t have the confidence that he use to have.

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However, in the summer Stewart definitely had hid confidence.  He had that nice summer

stretch of races that included what might be his last win at Sonoma.  Stewart was able to finish in

the top five just like his normal self.  But after a few rough pre chase races the 14 team just

stopped performing.  In the last nine races Stewart only has one top ten and three top 15s with

the third coming last week at Phoenix with a 15th place finish.

 

It was Stewart’s goal to retire in a similar style as Jeff Gordon.  Stewart will at least have one

win in his final season like Gordon.  But Gordon was able to go all the way to Homestead (even

though early on in the race it was clear that he was not going to win the championship.  Smoke

was knocked out in the first round.

 

This was a great disappointment.  Fans wanted to see if Stewart could replicate his amazing

2011 chase run where he won half the races, including the last race and the championship.  But

he didn’t even come close to doing this.

 

But still, Stewart has had a racing career that puts him in the same league as his hero A.J Foyt

and Mario Andretti as a driver that super diverse.  He’s won in everything he’s raced in from

USAC Silver Crown cars, Midgets, Sprint cars in both USAC and World of Outlaws, dirt late

models, dirt modifieds, go karts, Indycars, ARCA, and all three of NASCAR’s top divisions.  He

got a podium in the 24 hours of Daytona.  Was leading with 20 minutes to go with Dale

Earnhardt Jr as one of his co drivers as the tire came apart on the car.

 

11 championships in total with three of them in Cup.  If he had only won those three Cup

championships alone he would be considered a legend.  The fact that he is the only driver to win

an Indycar championship as well and won a championship in any series that he has raced in puts

him in another level.

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When you look back at his career you see that he really didn’t stay in one series too long except

for NASCAR.  Smoke turned down a ride from his hero A.J Foyt because Foyt wouldn’t allow

him to race in NASCAR (despite the fact that Foyt would run NASCAR races while running in

Indycar) and went on to get signed by Joe Gibbs racing.  Perhaps it was the opportunity to race in

a series that ran 36 races.  Maybe it was the money that he could take back to his true passion dirt

racing.  But Stewart became a full fledged NASCAR driver.  This will be his legacy.

 

Stewart arrival became very big very quick.  But his rookie season it had been years since a

rookie won a race and finished in the top ten in points.  Jeff Gordon finished 14th in points in his

rookie year with no wins.  Stewart was able to win three races and finish 4th in points.  His first

start was the 1999 Daytona and he started on the outside pole alongside fellow USAC alum Jeff

Gordon.  It became abundantly clear that Stewart was destined for NASCAR greatness.

 

And did Stewart ever achieve greatness.  49 wins, 187 top tens, 308 top tens (if he finishes in

the top ten at Homestead that would mean that Stewart finished in the top ten), 15 poles, an

average finish of 14.11, 12,787, he’s completed 96.78% of the laps, and of course three

championships.  This is a career that most could only dream off.  Stewart got it. To think that he

had outstanding success before his NASCAR career and just picked up from where he left off.

 

When Smoke came into the sport Gordon was the hottest star of course coming off a season

where he won 13 races and the championships.  But Stewart was able to take the attention from

Gordon.  From 1999 to 2014 Gordon only won one championship and 51 races to Stewart’s three

championships and 48 races and both are about even on the amount of times they finished ahead

of each other in points.

 

While Jimmie Johnson came in and really stole the thunder from both, it was through Stewart

that he learned some valuable lesson.  Two of Stewart’s championships came before Johnson

won one.  Both were years that Johnson was fast enough to win the title.  But he and his Chad

Knaus team couldn’t put it together.  2005 was the most telling as Knaus tried to spook Stewart

and do a bit of trash talking.  This backfired on him as Stewart went out and beat them handily

while Johnson slid back to fifth in point after crashing in the last race.  After that race Johnson

and Knaus almost disbanded.  But after the infamous milk and cookies meeting, they stuck it out

and now they are going for a seventh championship.

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Even with Carl Edwards who made the final round.  In 2011 Edwards was by and large the

most consistent driver.  Despite only winning one race the whole year, Edwards appeared

unstoppable.  That is, if not for Stewart.  Stewart went winless in the regular season and then

went on to win half of the chase races (a feat that only he alone has done) including the last race

and won the championship in a tiebreaker.  Edwards didn’t lose that amazing championship

battle.  Stewart took it away from him.

A part of Stewart’s legacy will have some controversy.  The famous fights that he’s had in his

career were one of the reasons why he became such an iconic figure in the world of racing and in

general.  Stewart was willing to punch a driver that pissed him off, a photographer, say

something about NASCAR that most were to scared for, and stand up for what he believed in.

All in an interesting way.

 

That of course is only one side of the coin.  Charity has been apart of Smoke’s life for years.

From his foundation that helps kids, animals, and injured race car drivers, the prelude to the

dream raising millions of dollars for the victory junction gang camp, to allowing Justin Wilson’s

family to use his jet to see their dying son and brother, allowing Matt Kenseth to use his jet when

he was in need, paying for Kenseth’s son racing career early on, paying for the hospital bill for

injured drivers, and more Stewart is a tough guy with a heart of gold.

 

Alas, everything wasn’t all fun, exciting, nice, or cool with Stewart’s career.  In 2013 Stewart

broke his leg in an awful sprint car crash.  In 2014 Kevin Ward Jr walked across the track,

grabbing onto Stewart’s car, causing his death and putting Stewart into emotional turmoil.  And

in 2016 right before the start of the season Stewart broke his back while driving buggies in the

desert.

 

For most people one of these things would be enough to fold.  And Stewart never fully bounced

back from this.  But in 2016 he got some redemption.

 

I remember going into the Sonoma race just hoping that Stewart could win.  After moving up

from 10th to 5th things were looking good.  But then a caution came out, Stewart pitted, the pit

crew faltered, people stayed out, Stewart was back to 16th.

 

Once he tried to make a three wide pass and failed I figured that the best hope was for a top ten.

But finally, something went Stewart’s way.  Stewart was brought into pit and then a caution

came out.  Stewart cycled through as the leader and was able to lead from there on out.  And

after Hamlin got by him, Stewart was able to throw a mini Hail Mary and win his first race in

three years.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350

When I was watching this I was in an interesting point in my life.  I had gone through a rough

spot and felt that the good fight was just getting to hard.  But seeing how Tony was able to come

back from those rough years was amazing.  It made me want to keep on going.

 

This caused a nice string of races which included more top fives and top tens. Smoke was able

to run respectable again and make the chase.  It looked like perhaps he could repeat his 2011

championship run.  I was eager for the chase to start and see what he could do.

 

Unfortunately, Stewart and the 14 team weren’t able to do much.  They were knocked out in the

first round and have only gotten one top ten and three top 15s.  Stewart is 15th in points.  He can’t

move down, but moving up to as high as ninth in points is not out of the question.  But also

unlikely.  Stewart starts 11th.

 

A lot of fans felt a bit let down by this.  Why didn’t SHR make sure that Stewart had a

successful chase?  Why didn’t the 14 team make sure the cars were good?  Did Stewart not step

it up?

 

Who knows?  Either way things didn’t work out and Stewart won’t get that Cinderella ending.

He never won the Indy 500, though he did win two Brickyard 400s.  Despite having over 18 wins

at Daytona across points races, non points races, and three series, Stewart never won a Daytona

  1. Stewart never won Southern 500 as well.

 

But that’s all good.  No one is going to think anymore of him if he were to come back next year

and win those races.  He seems at piece with not having those wins too.  Perhaps those

championships help him stay warm at night.

 

 

Stewart is ready to start the next chapter of his career.  He will still be at the track as an owner.

But now that he has a flexible schedule maybe one weekend he’ll be there all three days and the

next he’ll be there only on raceday.  Stewart’s already won two championships and 32 races as a

car owner so he has plenty of more race wins and championships to come.

 

What Smoke is looking forward to most is getting back at it with dirt racing.  He doesn’t have a

set schedule yet.  But he’ll be racing anything from asphalt late models, dirt late models, buggies,

modifieds, and of course sprint cars.  He will get back at doing what he loves.

 

So, this isn’t really retirement.  This is more or less a transition.  Stewart is ready to move on to

the second half of his life.  And I for one am very happy for him.

 

Tony Stewart has given so much to racing on and off the track.  Stewart is in the same ranks as

A.J Foyt and Mario Andretti as a driver who hoped into several different types of cars and won.

Stewart was and is entertaining.  Stewart is someone who cares about his fellow men and

women.  Stewart is like no other driver.

 

Thank you Tony.

NASCAR: Toyota - Save Mart 350

 

Anime: Perhaps the most underrated art form
We all watched Anime as kids. Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, Pokémon, Digimon, Robotech, Speed Racer, and etc.

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I watched all kinds of shows animated and live action as a kid. But anime always held a special place in my heart. Tuning into Toonami everyday after school. It was the best way to go from a different world. One day I was living my mundane life. Then I am in Japan! I am in the midst of a culture that is completely different from my own.

As the years went on I stopped watching anime. I knew that there was adult anime (not Hentai, but mature shows) on adult swim. But, for whatever reason this just did not appeal to me. As the years went on I watched less and less cartoons in general outside of South Park, The Simpsons, Futrama, and Family Guy.

But once I moved to Los Angeles in 2014 (Santa Monica to be precise) things changed.
Two of my roommates were big anime fans. Randomly one night one of my roommates decided to put on Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood.

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I had no idea what this show was. I had no idea what to expect. But I become extremely interested in this show from the first episode. The premise, the characters, the action (every character in this anime is badass), the emotions. It was just amazing.
We binged the first four seasons thinking that it only had those four seasons. But we realized that Netflix jipped us and didn’t include the final season. It wasn’t for another two years until I watched that final season (amazing of course).

Along the way I also began to watch Death Note. Death Note is a more cerebral anime with a hell of an anti hero as a protagonist. And it is nothing short of amazing.
The thing about all of this is that anime then provided me with the missing link. What perhaps I was looking for as an actor and storyteller. Up until that point I had a good idea of what I wanted to do as an actor and filmmaker. But it felt as though something was missing.

Once I began to watch anime again, things began to change. I was suddenly reintroduced to Eastern storytelling. And Eastern storytelling is one of the most refreshing types of storytelling. When you look at a film like The Matrix, you see the clear Anime inspiration that flowed through the first film (which is why the first is far superior than the two sequels).

Don’t get me wrong, I love Western films and t.v shows. Hollywood still makes the best films and t.v shows. With recent shows like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Veep, Silicon Valley, and movies like The Revenant, Birdman, and Gravity, clearly we have something going on.

But Eastern storytelling manages to have mythology, darkness, drama, comedy, and an overall lightness to it. Anime also makes it okay for animation to be adult without it be a straight up comedy all the time.

Most animation on t.v outside of the obvious shows are aimed at kids. Animated feature films are more aimed towards families. Sausage Party is the first non independent adult animated film out there. There usually isn’t a market for that.

But anime doesn’t care. There will create a show like Psycho Pass (my favorite show of all time). Psycho Pass being the Minority Report, but much darker and with much more violence. There will create a serial crime drama like Monster (I urge you to check this out).
Even a show like Sword Art Online, one of the most popular anime shows of all time creates and fills a need. A show about MMO Virtual Reality and being trapped in a game where if you die in the game, you die in real life. psychopass_947_1680

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There’s Hellsing, perhaps the only show out there that makes watching Vampires a cool and not blue ball experience.

Or One Punch Man, one of the most exciting new anime shows out there. Blending the superhero genre with comedy better than kick ass or any Marvel film.
What Anime is willing to do is take risks. They will combine different types of storytelling and make something that is unique. Not everything is a hit. There are bad anime shows. But anime shows always go for being original.

This is a stark contrast to Hollywood. Hollywood is becoming less and less original (at least with films). This is due to the fact that their business model is changing. People will still go to the movies. But they want to see a spectacle. That’s why there are so many super hero films, animated films (family animated films), action films, and science fiction films. The only films that tend to make big returns outside of those types of films are studio comedies with big stars, films by name directors (Spielberg, Fincher, Burton, Scorsese, The Coen Brothers, Tarantino and even Spielberg, Burton, and Scorsese and failed at the box office on a few occasions). Or an academy award film ( just compare what Room was making at the box office before the Oscar nominations and you will see what I mean).
The anime industry is of course after money. It is a business at the end of the day. They just don’t make these great stories out of the goodness of their hearts. They are out there to make money.

But, I believe that with anime the goal is to make a great product first and then make money off of it. With Hollywood it’s about having a sure fire box office hit and then try to make it good. Make something for mass consumption.

Hollywood is clearly done fine with their business plan. But at what cost? Imagine if Hollywood still made studio dramas that have been relegated to indie films (though t.v and Netflix have started making shows from this genre and take things to a new level)? Hollywood films could have more critical hits and than misses. There is a lot of talent in Hollywood. But if the suits don’t oblige then their ideas will die.

I’m now voicing a villain on a new anime. His name is Jun and the show is called Hardships of the Heart. The first 20 episodes will come out next year. The story is something new and exciting, as any good anime should be.

Anime is ingrained in American cultural. You walk around and you will see a girl with an anime character sticker on her notebook. If you go on the bus, you will see someone watching Durarara. And if you are in the park you’ll see someone reading a Manga.
Anime conventions are big thing now. Fans get to get together in a love fest over these shows and enjoy the anime dubbing actors (I myself watch subbed anime outside of the shows that Crispin Freeman works on).

With Netflix’s large collection of anime and their growing collection of original anime, it appears as though the anime industry now has a stable source of income. With CrunchyRoll in the mix as well we can expect more exciting shows.
And this of course is awesome.

  How we use our time 

    How valuable is a second?  What does a moment mean?  We could get two minutes that could change a life.

  We never think like this.  We just go about our day doing whatever we want/need to in the moment.  We wake up, do our morning routine, go work or school, eat, hang out with friends, drink, smoke weed, eat lunch, watch a sport, exercise, watch t.v, play video games, have sex, masturbate, eat dinner, watch a movie, masturbate, and then go to bed.

  All in that order of course.  The more and more we go out life we get into these cycles.  Routines build and we just keep on going like the energizer bunny.  More and more as we make the rounds in our everyday life we get sucked into this inertia that we have built up for ourselves.    If we ever stopped to asked ourselves if we were actually maximizing out time we would simply disappoint ourselves.   Often we spend time hanging around people that we do like not.  Not that we detists them.  But they are not people that we particularly like.

   When I was living in Santa Monica I was in this situation.    After living with roommates that I got along with rather well I had to move.  The housing company decided to sell the house that we occupied and that was that.  The location that I moved to was much more prime.  Only seven blocks away from the Santa Monica pier.  It was in a very rich neighborhood.  It was a bit further away from the school (I went from living right in front of Santa Monica College to have to take a bus to get there).  But it was a nice place.   So I ended up living with a bunch of new people.  It became more of a revolving door if anything.  I had one particular roommate there that I got along with.  He helped me greatly with making my first short film as an adult, a stop motion short called I’m A Vampire.  We even went to Las Vegas with each other.   But most of my roommates were just milk toast.  Nice enough people.  But not really my friends.  For the first time I felt more alone around people than I did when I was actually alone.  That was rather disturbing.

   I ended up moving downstairs for the remainder of my stay with that housing company.  One of my roommates from the house stayed there.  We got along enough.  He was a writer/director who over valued himself.  But it was fun to talk about film with him.  Just not a real friend.  Our conversations more or less consisted of him talking a lot about what was going on his life, what he wanted, stuff like that.   Whenever I decide to look back at those times it feels so pointless.  I was with people that I just really didn’t care for.  I am pretty sure that they didn’t really care for me beyond a superficial level.  But a lot of people do this.  Hang around people that we just don’t care for.   What could I have done in that case?  I suppose spend more time in the library or something.   What about watching sports.  I love racing.  I also love the NFL.  They are so entertaining me on a surface level.

  On a deeper level they are real testaments to the human spirit to me.  But alas, is it really the best way to spend a Sunday?   I could be a missionary, volunteering at an animal shelter, reading, fill in the blank with whatever sounds productive to you.      Sports are such a great distraction from life.  We can spend at least three hours (if you watch a whole day of NFL that’s around nine hours) watching them and telling ourselves that this was time spent.  We hang out with other people, eat nachos, drink and get high.  And when it’s over we talk about the game.  Maybe watch a movie and go to bed.

    For millions of Americans that is a very typical Sunday.   Everything that we interact with has a potential to become a distraction.  Even things that are meant to turn our brains off like a Michael Bay movie can become a big distraction.  All these things come our way and then all of a sudden we go “man I need more time!”   If only more of us was good at time management.  That would be a great strength.   I love art.  Films and music are my favorite thing.  I’ve devoted my life to art.  Some say that art is the meaning of life.  But I say that it is another great distraction.  Probably the best distraction.   A great film is a like a dream.  Great music is like our emotions speaking to us.  Great art can be so popular.  We see a character in a film and we see someone that we should aspire to be like or avoid becoming anything like that person at all cost.  In music it’s like when we turn on a song all of a sudden we can transmute how we feel into the airwaves.  It’s a unique form of release.

   But there are these big blockbuster movies that you just don’t get anything from.  They are meant to distract you from your life.  And it works.  You get to see robots smashing each other for two hours on a huge screen.  No one can deny that this does sound at least a little titillating.   Steven Soderbergh once said that films have become even more of a form of escapism since 9/11.  It does make sense.  For the generations of adults that was a huge deal.  It’s put a hole in the United States that really will never be filled  Seeing Batman v.s Superman can at least help us shut our minds off for two hours.   But I believe that the biggest waste of time out there is the internet.    It can be great for many things.  No where else can you gain knowledge like you can on the internet.  Youtube has just about everything.  Wikipedia is better than what most people give it credit for.  There are so many different free sites that offer tons of information.  And there is so much content out there that it’s amazing.  Though I have spent many hours looking at videos on Youtube.  “Just one more”.   But it’s destructive too.  Internet forums have become a mecca for cowards to make themselves out to be better than who they truly are.  Everyday people become trolls, haters, and internet tough guys.   The overload of content is an issue.

   Wasting time watching cool videos on Youtube has never been easier.  But even with that the trolls, haters, and internet tough guys seep in.   I was watching an interview with Julianne Moore once.  I enjoyed the interview and think she’s great.  Most of the comments agreed.  But one caught my eye.  Just such a negative comment.  Saying that he or she hates Moore, hates her choices in film and wishes that she would just die.   After I came back from the shock I realized that no one was safe.  If people felt that way about someone with as much good will as Julianne Moore then I had no hope in that regard.  And also that the internet has ruined human communication in some respects.   In real everyday life we don’t just say things like that to the people that it’s about to their face.

   We may say that to a friend.  But it’s not out there for the whole world to see.  The simple fact that I do not know the user’s gender says it all.  The anonymous ways of the internet allows people to be dicks to each other without any consequences.    Flame wars begin.  People start saying whatever they want to about the person.  Courtesy has been thrown out of the window.    Twitter and Facebook have now become vehicles for hate.  And that isn’t even anonymous.  Just being behind a pc is good good enough.  All that person can do is type back.  And then everyone is sucked into the vortex.   This could just be how we can see the true nature of a person.  How they will act if there were no consequences.  It appears that much people would decide to to treat others like shit if they could help it.  It’s hard to argue against this.    Internet forums at it’s best are just nice fluffy places to visit.

  Still a waste a time.  But innocent.  At it’s worst it’s a bunch of negative energy being tossed between people who are not happy with their lives.   I recall being on this forum and I got into it with another member.  The member said “you’ve had two of the most respected members on this site give you advice”.  What does that even mean?  Is it just a medal of honor to be a respected member of an internet forum?   Never mind internet porn.  That’s a whole new kind of rabbit hole.   All of this enters our consciousness.  And this is what disrupts us.  We start worrying about things that really do not matter.  “My team is doing bad”.  “My driver is doing bad”.  “That movie sucked!”.  “GROCKET88 is a jerk!”

    This seeps into everything.  It becomes harder to focus.  When you get insomnia you can blame it on all of the distractions that you have brought into your life.  I always was curious as to why Christopher Nolan doesn’t own a cell phone.  I am pretty sure it’s that he realizes that everything that he interacts with can only be a distraction to his brain.  And as he’s said he rather make films.   With that said, do we become monks?  Do we become reclusive?  I don’t believe that this is the answer.  But a good bit of alone time is good for any human being to have to be able to grow.    It is up to us to decide what we want to spend our time on.  Sometimes we want to watch House of Cards.  At night before going to bed maybe we do want to watch a movie high.  Sports are fun to watch.    Part of me will always want to engage in all of this.  Simply because it does ease the mind.  But if we could do we is important to us first.  Pursue our passions, work on our skills, hang out with people that we actually like, care about, and know that they feel the same way.  Quit going on sites wasting hours at a time.

  In my opinion, the most successful people in the world are not spending their day on the internet writing on forums and watching Youtube videos all day.  They are out there doing something that improves their lives.   How do we improve our lives?  Now that’s the million dollar question.

Are Voice Actors taken for granted?

I recently watched John DiMaggio’s documentary “I Know that Voice”. As someone who’s just started doing more and more voice over work and has been a voice over fan for years this was cool.

Before we begin, a lot of people think that perhaps the people who make it in voice acting just didn’t have the “looks” for on camera.  Well…

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I don’t know.  They look pretty good to me.

This was just about the who’s who’s of voice over. There were people that you’d know like Mark Hamill, Ed Asner, Hank Azaria, Pamela Adlon, Stephen Root, Seth Green, Kevin Michael Richardson, Phill Lamar, Diedrich Bader, and Breckin Myers. But you know them more for their live action work probably. Bet you didn’t realize that they are prolific voice actors. Hamill is probably the best Joker ever on camera or cartoon. Other live action actors who do voice over are Tim Curry Mae Whitman, Thomas Middleditch, T.J Miller, Patrick Warburton, Brad Garrett, Lacey Chabert, and Sean Astin.

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And then there were greats like Tara Strong (Timmy Turner, Bubbles, Raven from Teen Titans), Rob Paulsen (Yakko, Pinky, Raphael and now Donatello, Carl Wheezer), Jess Harnell (Wakko, Brer Rabbit), Grey Deslise (Daphne, Mandy, Lora from Weekenders), Billy West (Stimpson J Cat, Ren, Phillip J, Fry, the professor, Zoidberg, the first Doug, Bugs Bunny sometimes), Bob Bergan (Porky Pig), Jeff Bennett (Johnny Bravo), Kevin Conroy (Batman), Jim Cummings (Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Darkwing Duck), Corey Burton (Captain Hook, Dale from Chip N’ Dale), Tom Kenny (SpongeBob). And, about to turn 99, June Foray (Granny in Looney Tunes, Rocky J Squirrel).

I remember when I first became aware of voice actors. I was just a kid and I got this huge book on Looney Tunes. And then there was this chapter on Mel Blanc. I couldn’t believe that the same guy who voiced Bugs Bunny was Daffy, Tweety, Sylvester, Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, and Barney Rubble. I remember watch a Bug Bunny cartoon where Bugs was pretending to be Daffy and Daffy was pretending to be Bugs. Do you have any idea how hard that is? He was just as good an actor as Marlon Brando easily.

And then I found about Don Messick (he was Scooby Doo and Papa Smurf) and Daws Butler (Yogi Bear and a bunch of the Hanna Barbara characters). And Frank Welker (Been on Scooby Doo since 1969, Abu in Aladdin among over 1000 roles). Legends.

I’ve always known that voice actors are great actors. It’s not just about doing a funny voice. Anyone can say “what’s up doc?” It’s about giving life to that character. I suppose this is why for space jam they made all of the vice actors audition doing Shakespeare as their characters.

But why do people not appreciate these great actors? That’s the beauty of animation. The unison between the actors and the animators. Without each other, it wouldn’t be. I believe that voice acting animation show how reality can really be an illusion creating a new reality.

I wonder if they didn’t have celebrities doing voices in films, maybe these voice actors would be recognized more (though how many people really pay attention to that). Most celebrities who do voice over roles aren’t even that good. Only Robin Williams (the Genie was his best performance), James Wood, David Spade (Kuzco was his best performance), Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Johnny Depp, Martin Short, Nathan Lane, Kevin Spacey, John Leguizamo, and Mandy Moore have made sense to me as far as celebrity casting. They could have gotten a voice actress to be Fiona in Sherk over Cameron Diaz (who added nothing to the role).

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But these guys are great. And there seems to be less of an ego involved. And unless you are famous, it’s all merit based. Maybe them not being famous is why ego isn’t involved.

I think people are slowing realize how badass voice acting is. Frank Welker’s name was on the poster of Curious George alongside Will Ferrell. But when will these actors be put alongside their live action counterparts?

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The Brickyard 400: End of Tour for two (maybe)

Tony Stewart is making what will perhaps be his final Brickyard 400.  I say perhaps because I thought that last year Jeff Gordon ran his final Brickyard 400.  But with Dale Earnhardt Jr being sidelined due to concussions, Knick knack Jeff Gordon is back.

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Now NBC, Indy and Pocono are upping their marketing to include Jeff Gordon in it.  Fair  weather fans who left when Gordon did are coming back for the next two weeks.  With Jr being out for only two races his fans should be able to hang in there and watch.

This steals a little thunder from Tony Stewart.  But Stewart seems to be okay with this as he wants to focus more on his car.  After getting a dirt track for Indy, a piece of the fence, being inducted into the USAC hall of fame, and having four nice letters written to him from some of his closest associates nearly bringing him to tears, he might welcome it.

In the last five races Smoke has one win, three top fives, and four top tens.  He went from being out of the top 30 in points due to missing right  races.  Smoke qualified third for today’s race while Gordon will start 21st. so it looks like Gordon might be able to steal the thunder back the only way he’s want to, on the track.

This seems to be marking a real end to an era.  If Stewart and Gordon are truly making their last starts at Indy in the same race that’s the end for two of the sports biggest stars.  After Jr comes back, that may be completely it for Gordon save another Hendrick driver needing a sub.

NASCAR is of course in a pickle.  Jr is the biggest star in NASCAR and has not discussed retirement more than a few times.  But when his concussion he might be thinking about it more and more.  So with Stewart leaving at the end of the season and Gordon after Pocono not racing until further notice (Stewart has said that he’d sub if need be) then NASCAR is hoping to  get a lot of this weekend.

Maybe the Gordon fans that tune in will enjoy the racing so much that they will stay again.  It’s hard to imagine being that it’s Indy and Pocono.  But you never know.  Maybe the nostalgia will really click in.  Making them remember why they became NASCAR fans in the first place.

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As a Stewart fan, I don’t know what I am going to do next year to be honest.  I still plan on watching, but it is possible that I may not watch with the same vigor.  I may not watch each and every week for that matter.  It’s a tough deal.  When you have cheered for a guy for so long, it’s hard to choose who you will cheer for now.  Clint Bowyer is replacing Stewart so there’s a possibility there.  Maybe Ryan Blaney.  If Darrell Wallace Jr gets the call to Cup there’s an opportunity there.  And Kevin Harvick might work as well

But that’s all in the future.  Today is all about Indy.  Not exactly the greatest track for stock cars.  But a track that is rich in history.  It’s probably fair to say that half of the drivers in the garage rather win the Brickyard 400 over the Daytona 500.

Getting to kiss the bricks is an honor that few get to do.  It’s the best grittiest kiss that one could ever get.  Kyle Busch laid some skittles down on it last year when he won his first Brickyard 400, so that had to be sweet (pun intended).

This is  a race where dreams come true.  Every one of these drivers watched the Indy 500 growing up.  And to be able to race at the track is a privilege that they do not take for granted.

But Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon are the stars today.  We will keep up with them the most.  Wondering how they will fair.  Smoke has a great shot at the end.  Gordon has some work to do.  Both will be equally as engaging to watch.

Concussion

  Yes, there was a film called Concussion.  Will Smith in a performance that was snubbed by the Academy.  But this isn’t what this blog post is about.  Nah.

  Dale Earnhardt Jr, NASCAR’s most popular driver has been sidelined due to concussion like symptoms.  He’s been in two crashes in the last four races.  He also missed two races in 2012 after having a concussion.

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  Aside from the hoopla that this has created with Jeff Gordon getting into the car at Indy if Dale Jr isn’t able to race, this is a hue deal in the saga of concussions with professional athletes and the long term effects.

  Dale Jr deciding to step out of the car once again caught everyone off guard.  Not just racers and race fans.  But the medical world in general.  Gone are the days where athletes would just play or race with a concussion.  Gone are the days where they would worry about that in the off season.  With the overwhelming proof that these injuries have caused a great deal of turmoil after one’s career is over it’s hard for an athlete to turn a blind eye to this.

  But, it’s still weird when an athlete, especially one of Dale Jr’s stature, decides to step to the side.  That’s not apart of our narrative of athletes.  Part of us still see athletes as these courageous gladiators that do battle.

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  That’s not no longer the case.  Athlete must take care of themselves now so that they can have an enjoyable retirement.  Tony Stewart made sure that he was okay before coming back into the car after his back injury.  He had to make sure that if he got into a crash that it wouldn’t have a long lasting effect on him.  Jr is trying to do the same.

  Past generations used to see concussions as just serious headaches and kept on marching.  And then we wondered what the deal was with them as they went crazy in retirement.  Some would kill themselves.  Others worse.

  Keeping your brain safe should be obvious.  But many of us seem to take this for granted.  We just think that it’ll get better.  That things will be fine.  If only if that were the case.

  Haven’t seen too many other drivers take a race off due too to concussions.  Jon Wes Townley in Trucks has been out due to concussion like symptoms as well (he’s missed one race).  But I wonder if anyone else is going through this, but hiding.

  Of course no one wants to miss a race or a game.  This is their lively hood.  They want to continue on no matter what.  Continue on at all costs.

  But what Jr is  saying here that it’s okay.  If you don’t feel good, don’t risk it.  If you are in pain, just sit out.  This is a high level of conscious thinking that deserves respect.  He isn’t trapped in the present moment.  He is thinking, five, ten, 15 years from now.  He isn’t going to let his emotions get to him.

 Coming into Sunday Jr 32 points inside the chase.  After this race he’ll drop to 17th in points, two positions out.  And if he does miss Indy, he’ll drop even further.  For a driver with only two top tens in the last 11 races, making the chase will become an extreme uphill battle.

  That’s why this is something admirable.  He went to a doctor and told him that he didn’t feel good.  He put himself out there.  And then the doctor took him out of the car in a critical point in his season.  He thought he had some sort of sinus issues.  He could have just not gone to the doctor and be racing this weekend.  But he put his health before his career.  He was able to separate himself from his career.  Many people still don’t realize this, you are not your career.  Jr has appeared to be able to see this.

  So… What now?

  What does this mean?  All sports have taken a serious stance on concussions.  This is another feather in that cap.  That’s it is okay to be more concerned about your health than it is your career.  No one is going to look at you as being less of athlete.

  If anything, they will respect you more.

\Animaniacs: Something new and old at the same time.

  I remember when I used to watch the Animaiacs as a kid.  I would watch new episodes on the WB and later reruns on Nickelodeon.  Like a lot of people, this was a cartoon that I would get excited for when it came on t.v.  For thirty minutes I would join the Warner Brothers and their Warner sister Dot on some goofy adventure.  There would be one short with them, a short with Pink and the Brain (which spun off into their own series), Slappy Squirrel, Goodfeathers (I wonder what the name was in reference to?), Rita and Runt, and Buttons and Minday.  And if there was enough time the episode would end with another Warner brothers and sister short, a spin on the wheel of morality, or even a song.

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  A lot of cartoons have come and gone.  But this cartoon stands as one of the few that retains a certain level of staying power.  Adults like me will watch this show to this day.  In fact, the reason that it was cancelled after five seasons why that despite having strong ratings, the ratings were from adults.  People 18 to 25 were the people that were watching Animaniacs.  That’s the crowd that you’d expect to move to the Simpsons, South Park, and Beavis and Butthead at the time.

  What made this show such an appeal to adults?  And why did kids still find it funny?  If you watch some episodes now you can see what the deal was pretty clearly actually.

  This show was basically a sketch show.  With Steven Spielberg at the wheel, Animaniacs was meant to be thirty minutes of sheer comedy.  There would be some songs that actually held educational value.  But continuity was not the point of the show.  In one episode they are around classic Hollywood stars.  The next they are around Sharon Stone.  Tom Ruegger, the creator of the show said that the writers approached it as a sketch show and were given free reign.  If they wanted to go in certain time period, they did.  If they wanted to make songs, they did.

  Speaking of songs, the show’s music was amazing.  Spielberg wanted each episode to have different music.  If you go back, you’ll notice that this was accomplished.  Lead by Richard Stone, a full orchestra performed some of the best cartoon scores ever heard.  It was a throw back to the classic days of the Looney Tune cartoons (which was Spielberg’s intentions).  And the musical numbers were interesting.  A lot of time they were actually pretty educational.  But they were still very good songs.  Very catchy.  Rob Paulsen (Yakko, Pinky, and Otto), Jess Harnell (Wakko), and Tress MacNeille (Dot) were all very talented singers.  Makes sense as Paulsen originally started out as a singer, and Harnell is the lead singer in a band.

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  The show was also very satirical in nature.  There are some make jokes and references in some episodes that they will fly over a kid’s head.  But if you are old enough to have seen the movies, t.v shows, or read the books that they refer to, you will get a big laugh.  There hasn’t been a cartoon show before or after that has so many references that are thrown at you as quickly as possible.  I remember in one episode there were parodies of Sling Blade, Fargo, Jerry Maguire, and The English patient.  As a kid, I hadn’t seen any of those films.  I just thought it was funny.  As an adult I can really appreciate what they did.

  This show harken back the golden era of cartoons.  Kinda like Roger Rabbit (another Steven Spielberg property), this could have been right at home in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.  It has that classic style to it.  The humor and cartoon violence was just right.  They were as looney as any Looney Tune out there.

  And that goes into the overall appeal of the show.  Adults could sit down and watch some that was intelligent, well crafted, and funny.  Sure, things would fly over a kid’s head.  But because they didn’t pander to kids, it was super easy to like.  Shows like this, Tiny Toons, SpongeBob, Rocko’s modern life, Ren and Stimpy, Talespin, Ducktales, Darkwing Duck, Garfield and friends, Bonkers, Angry Beavers, Dexter’s Laboratory, Power Puff Girls, and Invader Zim all were extremely popular because they didn’t pander to kids.  They were out there to make something that parents could watch with their children.  Each could take value from the show.

  Are there shows like that today?  On some level yes.  But not as smart.  Not as politically incorrect.  Not as satirical.  They have been more dumbed down for kids.  Even shows like SpongeBob and Farily Oddparents that have been on air for well over a decade have been dumbed down for kids (the latter to a lesser extent).  These shows now pander to kids thinking that this is the way to success.

  And perhaps it is.  Like I mentioned, Animaniacs was cancelled despite high ratings because more adults were watching than kids.  But, if people are watching does it really matter who is watching?  I suppose for merchandise reasons it does.  But kids are going to be more attracted to shows that appear to have more of an edge to them.  And that is lost in most of today’s shows.

  There’s the Regular Show and Adventure time.  I heard that Gravity Falls was pretty good.  But it isn’t what is used to be.  One can say that it’s good for the kids who are growing up now because they don’t know anything else.  But I’ve seen the glory days.  And today is a major let down in comparison.

  Animaniacs is streaming on Netflix and it has been fun to go an watch some episodes here and there.  I laugh pretty hard every single time I sit down and watch.  I get this major hit of childhood nostalgia with each and every watch.  I’d love for more shows like this to be made and less teen titans go.

NBC= Nothing but commercials

  A  lot of fans were looking forward to NBC covering the second half of the season.  Despite the good job that Fox did during the first half.  Most fans felt that NBC would do a better job.

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  Now, Rick Allen, the lead announcer for NBC can’t compete with Fox’s veteran Mike Joy.  But I do prefer Jeff Burton and Steve LeTarte over Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip.  Once Waltrip retires they should get a freshly retired crew chief to get into the booth and they will do even better.

  But as soon as the green flag flew, there was a problem.  Commercials.  A lot of them.  Most fans thought that it would get better as the race went on.  That perhaps NBC was airing a lot of commercials now so that they wouldn’t have to do that later.

  No luck.  As the race went on it became clear that this wasn’t the case.  NBC would go to commercial, come back for a few laps and go back to commercial.  Even late in the race they just did NASCAR non stop (where they air the commercial side by side with the race coverage).

  33% of the race was not shown.  Last year it was 20% of the race that wasn’t shown.  What happened?  What made the difference?  Why did NBC decide to do this to us?

  The thing is, I really don’t know.  Most people don’t.  NBC has a lot of bill to pay.  So they get a lot of partners and stacked the race with commercial.  Maybe this is why NASCAR doesn’t get worry if the ratings slip.  Because they network is making their money off of the commercials.

  Fans became more and more annoyed as the race went on.  If you go on Twitter and search NBC you will see nothing but people bashing the NBC for throwing a crap ton of commercials at us.

  There’s a bigger issue with this.  All these commercials were just an even bigger reminder with just how commercialized NASCAR has become.  The Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca Cola (no shit).  Tons of Coca Cola commercials, KFC, Viagra (Get a four hour boner then go and get some chicken!), and tons of other companies trying to sell us their products were banged over our heads repeatedly.

  I think that subconsciously fans recognized this and didn’t like this.  Yes these cars are decorated with different businesses.  But it’s at least artistic.  To the point where you don’t really think about it.  And we watch because of the action on track.  Not because of the Subway car (though I love me some subs).

  Talladega Nights was all about the over commercialization of NASCAR.  When Ricky Robby prayed at his home and mentioned his sponsors it was obvious.  Then when Ricky Bobby has the fig newton logo on his windshield that really brought that point home.

  Either way, this was not a good welcome back for NBC.  Their next Cup race is next Saturday.  It will be on NBCSN.  Hopefully they do something about it.  Because it will just become harder and harder to watch.

Where’s my super hero movie?

  I have been catching up on my super hero movies.  Marvel to be precise (I’m just no a big D.C Comics fan, sorry).  I have finally watched Age of Ultron, Ant Man, and Captain America: Civil War.

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  I have to say that they were all good films.  Age of Ultron was better than the previous Avengers film IMO (even though rotten tomatoes would disagree).  Ant Man was a fun movie.  And Civil War was by far the best Captain America movie (thanks Tony Stark).  I’ll be watching the newest X-Men movie soon enough.

  There are so many super hero films on the market.  Just this year there was Batman v.s Superman, Civil War, and the new X-Men movie thus far.  And there will be two more Avengers films, another Iron Man film, another X-Men film, another Batman film (Ben Affleck is not only going to be Batman again, but he is directing!), another Guardians of the galaxy movie, two Justice League films, a black panther film, a new Thor film, and an Aqua man film.

  I am sure that I am missing a few.  But that’s the gist of it.

  Super hero films have become the new westerns.  There is an abundance of them out there.  They are sure fire money makers.  If you are an actor they are also sure fire star makers.  Tobey Maguire, Hugh Jackman, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemesworth, Chris Evans, and Chris Pratt (see a common denominator?) all became stars from starring in their Marvel films.  Robert Downey Jr and Christian Bale had already been famous.  But starring in Iron Man and The Dark Knight upped their value.

  As an actor, you get a super hero movie your career is made.  Robert Downey Jr doesn’t even act outside of these Marvel films for the most part (which is a real shame because he is a terrific actor).  He’s even said that he will never do another indie film again (that Marvel money has to be too good for that).  Chris Pratt went from supporting character on a beloved, yet underseen t.v show to an A list star with Guardians of the Galaxy.  No one knew who Chris Hemesworth was until he came swinging as Thor.

  Hell, Jennifer Lawrence has it all.  She’s in a super hero franchise, she just finished up a franchise based on books, and she stars in Academy award films.  Only Mark Ruffalo is doing anything close.  But she’s only 26 years old.  Now THAT’S the dream.

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  Hollywood studios more and more are becoming less original.  Originality exists pretty much in the independent world.  Hollywood is only concerned about the bottom dollar.  Notice that movies that are greenlit are either super low budget ($1 million to $20 million) or super high budget ($100 to $200 million).

  Why is that?

  When you have a super low budget film, making your money back isn’t such a big deal.  If your film cost $10 million, chances are that you will see a profit.  And if you are dealing with a budget that is nine figures, then you are dealing with a property that is going to be making a hell of a lot of money.  Perhaps billions.

  I remember when it would be a big deal when a film made $1 billion dollars.  Just this year Zootopia and Civil War made over $1 billion.  Now 26 films have made $1 billion.  And studios are loving it.

  What studios want to do is make Big Macs.  Or at least happy meals.  They want to have films that they know that they will see a huge return.  That’s why Disney bought Marvel.  They saw the potential with all the characters that they have and knew that they could milk the hell out of them.  Hell, Disney used Big Hero 6 to make a rather badass animated film.

  So they get these characters, and exploit them.  They just do it so well that is kind of g0es over our heads.  But when it doesn’t work, we can sense the bullshit behind it (Batman v.s Superman).  We can sense that something was created to just take money out of our pockets.  And no one likes that feeling of being duped.

  The tragic thing about all of this is that the studios have turned their back on cool drama, dark comedies, high brow comedies, comedy dramas, and traditional animation (stop motion as well).  The studios turn their back on anything that doesn’t make money.

  So, with this we just get more and more.  And when the movies that Marvel puts out are so entertaining (good actors, good directing, solid writing, amazing visuals), we will just keep on going.  That goes for Transformers as well.

  Of course, Westerns died on.  The last Western of any kind was The Revenant, which was a great success, but not a classic Western.  Even after Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood saw the writing on the wall and stopped making Westerns.

  I believe that it was Steven Spielberg that said that this would happen.  That super hero films would die out the same way that Westerns did.  He could be correct.  Trends don’t last forever.  Super hero films have been a trend since 2002 when Spiderman became a huge box office success.

  How many super heroes are there?  Eventually they will run out of characters and there will be no more.  Then Hollywood will be forced to actually be original again.  Wouldn’t that be the day!

  It’s all about that bottom dollar, about bottom dollar, about the bottom dollar.  Until Room got nominated for Oscars, it hardly made any money, so you can understand why a studio wouldn’t want to make a film like that.  Nowadays, studios will buy a film like that after it’s made a distribute it.  But they need those sure fire hits.  That’s what keeps the Hollywood economy going.  They got shareholders to answer to.  I suppose an arthouse film is a hard sell to those guys.

 It’s called, show business after all.

  How Danica Patrick broke my heart

It was 2005.  Danica Patrick took Indycar by storm.  At only 23 years old she came into and became the face of Indycar.  I remember walking in Time Square in 2006 and I saw her face on a billboard.  She was an A list star already.

She became the first woman to lead the Indy 500.  This she did as a rookie in 2005.  It looked like she was going to be able to win.  She ended up finish fourth.  It looked like a win would be just around the corner.  And that she would be able to win many races.

But alas, it took her a few years to win a race.  She ended up winning a fuel mileage race at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan.   That was her only Indycar win.  But in seven seasons her worst points finish was 12th and all her other point finishes were in the top ten.  She only had one finish outside the top ten in the Indy 500.  So she showed that she had some level of skill.

She then decided to go to NASCAR.  Why?  Money, more fame, more races.  There are a boatload of reasons why.  But NASCAR is the premiere racing series in North America.  Maybe the world (Formula One might have something to say about that).  But it’s a major jump from Indycar.  As the great late Dan Wheldon put it, it’s the Indy 500 every week in NASCAR.  The stands are usually packed.

So because of her name she got great opportunities.  She came in and raced in the Xfinity series.  Who did she race for?  None other than Dale Earnhardt Jr, NASCAR’s biggest star.  She ran two part time seasons her first time out.  The first part time season she was just awful.  Just awful.  The second, she improved.  She got a top five and three top tens in her 12 starts that year.  It looked as though she was poised for a great fulltime season in 2012

Not so much.  While she did finish ninth in points, she had zero top fives, and only four top tens.  Jr Motorsports wasn’t as strong as they are now.  But they were much better than that.    To her credit she came close to winning a few times on the road courses.  There was Road America, where she took the lead.  She was fourth on the last lap until Jacques Villeneuve took her out.  She went out and took the lead at another road course in Montreal, circuit Giles Villeneuve.  But I guess that a fan did not like this, as they threw a shoe at her.  This gave her damage, ending her day.  Tragic, tragic.

It didn’t matter though, Danica still had a Cup ride ready for her.  Go Daddy was her sponsor at the time, and they were ready to go to Cup from the start.  They knew it wouldn’t be smart to just throw her to the wolves.  So they waited until 2013.  And who did they get her with?  Stewart Haas racing.  So she got the opportunity to race for Tony Stewart, a racing legend.

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Her Cup career started off with a bang.  She won the pole for the Daytona 500 as a rookie.  She became the first woman to lead laps in the Daytona 500.  She joined a small list of drivers to lead the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500.  She was running third on the last lap until fading to eighth.  Things were looking up for her.  Who knew what she could do.

Unfortunately, she hasn’t done much since then.  She’s had zero top fives, and five top tens since then.  Her points finishes have been 27th, 28th, and 24th.  She’s currently 26th in points.  All the while racing for a team that won a championship two seasons before she came on, and won a championship in her second season there.

Granted, just because you are on a top team doesn’t mean that all four cars will race the same.  You build them all the same, but they certainly don’t race the same.  But one would have expected her to have lucked into a top five by now  But no such luck there.

One could ask what did I, or anyone expect out of her?  To make the chase?  Maybe by her third season.  And early on in her third season she was in chase contention early in the season.  She was as high as 13th in points (16 get in).  But she dropped to 24th.  She realistically has no shot at making the chase.  She only had two top tens that year.

So what did I expect from her?  Just to be more competitive.  Just to be up front more.  Not to be nearly half way into her fourth season and have no top tens yet.  That a top 20 isn’t the best that she can do.  Just better.

NASCAR is a tough sport.  It’s tough to go from Indycar’s light cars to the huge taxi cabs that are NASCAR cars are.  That is a brutal transition.  Tony Stewart is the only driver to be truly successful going from Indycars to NASCAR.  But he’s special.  Juan Pablo Montoya did decent.  But didn’t last.  Sam Hornish Jr got it done in Xfinity.  But never did anything in Cup.  And Dario Franchitti bombed.  She’s doing better than Hornish and Franchitti thus so, there’s that.

But I just expected more.  A lot more.  And a lot of people did too.  And this makes her an easy target for hate.  The fact that she hasn’t been able to produce results.  It just exposes her for what she has become, a marketing machine.

At the end of the day, Danica means more than that.  To millions of young girls she is a role model.  I would have never thought that I’d ever see a woman race in the Cup series fulltime..  But she is doing it.  So in a sense she is a pioneer.  And that cannot be ignored.

But, damn.  I wish she was doing better.

It was 2005.  Danica Patrick took Indycar by storm.  At only 23 years old she came into and became the face of Indycar.  I remember walking in Time Square in 2006 and I saw her face on a billboard.  She was an A list star already.

She became the first woman to lead the Indy 500.  This she did as a rookie in 2005.  It looked like she was going to be able to win.  She ended up finish fourth.  It looked like a win would be just around the corner.  And that she would be able to win many races.

But alas, it took her a few years to win a race.  She ended up winning a fuel mileage race at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan.   That was her only Indycar win.  But in seven seasons her worst points finish was 12th and all her other point finishes were in the top ten.  She only had one finish outside the top ten in the Indy 500.  So she showed that she had some level of skill.

She then decided to go to NASCAR.  Why?  Money, more fame, more races.  There are a boatload of reasons why.  But NASCAR is the premiere racing series in North America.  Maybe the world (Formula One might have something to say about that).  But it’s a major jump from Indycar.  As the great late Dan Wheldon put it, it’s the Indy 500 every week in NASCAR.  The stands are usually packed.

So because of her name she got great opportunities.  She came in and raced in the Xfinity series.  Who did she race for?  None other than Dale Earnhardt Jr, NASCAR’s biggest star.  She ran two part time seasons her first time out.  The first part time season she was just awful.  Just awful.  The second, she improved.  She got a top five and three top tens in her 12 starts that year.  It looked as though she was poised for a great fulltime season in 2012

Not so much.  While she did finish ninth in points, she had zero top fives, and only four top tens.  Jr Motorsports wasn’t as strong as they are now.  But they were much better than that.    To her credit she came close to winning a few times on the road courses.  There was Road America, where she took the lead.  She was fourth on the last lap until Jacques Villeneuve took her out.  She went out and took the lead at another road course in Montreal, circuit Giles Villeneuve.  But I guess that a fan did not like this, as they threw a shoe at her.  This gave her damage, ending her day.  Tragic, tragic.

It didn’t matter though, Danica still had a Cup ride ready for her.  Go Daddy was her sponsor at the time, and they were ready to go to Cup from the start.  They knew it wouldn’t be smart to just throw her to the wolves.  So they waited until 2013.  And who did they get her with?  Stewart Haas racing.  So she got the opportunity to race for Tony Stewart, a racing legend.

Her Cup career started off with a bang.  She won the pole for the Daytona 500 as a rookie.  She became the first woman to lead laps in the Daytona 500.  She joined a small list of drivers to lead the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500.  She was running third on the last lap until fading to eighth.  Things were looking up for her.  Who knew what she could do.

Unfortunately, she hasn’t done much since then.  She’s had zero top fives, and five top tens since then.  Her points finishes have been 27th, 28th, and 24th.  She’s currently 26th in points.  All the while racing for a team that won a championship two seasons before she came on, and won a championship in her second season there.

Granted, just because you are on a top team doesn’t mean that all four cars will race the same.  You build them all the same, but they certainly don’t race the same.  But one would have expected her to have lucked into a top five by now  But no such luck there.

One could ask what did I, or anyone expect out of her?  To make the chase?  Maybe by her third season.  And early on in her third season she was in chase contention early in the season.  She was as high as 13th in points (16 get in).  But she dropped to 24th.  She realistically has no shot at making the chase.  She only had two top tens that year.

So what did I expect from her?  Just to be more competitive.  Just to be up front more.  Not to be nearly half way into her fourth season and have no top tens yet.  That a top 20 isn’t the best that she can do.  Just better.

NASCAR is a tough sport.  It’s tough to go from Indycar’s light cars to the huge taxi cabs that are NASCAR cars are.  That is a brutal transition.  Tony Stewart is the only driver to be truly successful going from Indycars to NASCAR.  But he’s special.  Juan Pablo Montoya did decent.  But didn’t last.  Sam Hornish Jr got it done in Xfinity.  But never did anything in Cup.  And Dario Franchitti bombed.  She’s doing better than Hornish and Franchitti thus so, there’s that.

But I just expected more.  A lot more.  And a lot of people did too.  And this makes her an easy target for hate.  The fact that she hasn’t been able to produce results.  It just exposes her for what she has become, a marketing machine.  I try and continue to stand by her.  But there is only so much you can do.  People bring stats out to show how much she has missed the mark.  And while I don’t put everything into stats, the stats aren’t too far from the reality of the situation.

At the end of the day, Danica means more than that.  To millions of young girls she is a role model.  I would have never thought that I’d ever see a woman race in the Cup series fulltime..  But she is doing it.  So in a sense she is a pioneer.  And that cannot be ignored.

But, damn.  I wish she was doing better.

Promoting: Why it’s important

  I remember a years ago listening to Howard Stern.  He was talking about Amanda Peet.  Amanda Peet is a beautiful and talented actress who has been in many good films.  The reason why he was speaking about Peet was because of her recent appearance on David Letterman.  She was supposed to be promoting what her new film at the time, Please Give.  Please Give was an indie film directed by Nicole Holofecener with Peet starring alongside Catherine Keener, Rebecca Hall, Oliver Platt and Sarah Steele.

So what was Howard’s issue with her?  One was how uninteresting and pretentious she was she.  How she couldn’t speak about anything.  But what really pissed off Howard was the fact that she was not willing to promote her film.  Stern made some great points.  Indie movies are these tiny movies.  Please Give’s budget was only three million dollars.  They need all of the publicity that they can get.  So to go on Letterman and not care about your film is a slap in the face to everyone else involved.

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Seeing how the film made just a little over four million dollars it needed all of the help it could get.

It’s interesting.  I understand this from experience.  After getting into some film festivals I decided to launch my last short, Elsewhere online.  It’s currently on YouTube and now available on Amazon Prime.

I needed help to promote of course.  It was a tiny short with not a big cast.  I asked the four other actors/actresses attached.  One actress never responded to my request.  But she was in only one scene so I didn’t mind.  One actor didn’t respond to it either.  But for some reason I didn’t mind that either.  Another actress helped me a great deal in more ways than I thought.  It makes sense as to way she has the most credits out of all of us.

What was really disappointed was the fact that the lead actress, Dianna Cruz, decided not to promote.  She got the role by sheer chance.  I had hired the biggest trainwreck for a lead actress and needed a replacement.  She got the job.  She was attractive and certainly talented.  Probably more so than the original actress.  But she had an attitude problem.  Unlike Peet, she hadn’t made it yet so I didn’t understand what the deal was (I do now).

When she wouldn’t promote I realize just how entitled and selfish some of these actresses can be.  They do a project solely for themselves.  Acting is a weird profession where you only focus on your character and their plight in the film.  But when you are in a film it’s good to realize how the project is a lot bigger than you are.  That a lot of blood, sweat, and tears go into making any kind of film.

From what I knew about Dianna is that she lived with her father in Santa Monica.  I lived in Santa Monica.  It’s a super expensive area.  Her father probably paid for her acting classes and things like that.  She had a pretty good, yet easy job as well.  So she probably hasn’t had to work an extreme amount in her young life thus far (she had just turned 21).  One could argue that she could work a lot harder to further her career judging by her number of credits on IMDB.  Her on set etiquette left a lot to be desired.  But I wrote an article about that for a film site already.

Now, I am not into moralizing.  I don’t believe that anyone should do anything.  She shouldn’t promote at the end of the day.  That was totally up to her.  That’s her choice.  But of course her choice affected the film that I put a great deal of money and time in.  And she was the female lead in a role that got her good reviews.

Getting any kind of acting work isn’t easy.  Whenever I get hired for an acting job I am pretty grateful for it.  And unless my experience was just awful (she claims that she had a great time), I will do whatever it takes for the film.  They gave me something, so I will give it back.

What she basically did here was show just how selfish and entitled that she was.  That she felt that she deserved what she got.  No one deserves anything.  She didn’t deserve the role.  She got it by sheer chance.

The real successful actresses of today like Jennifer Lawrence, Brie Larson, etc all do one thing right.  They promote.  Not in a boring way either.  They show their personalities off in an engaging way.  Jennifer Lawrence is so fun when she is on a talk show and excited when she talks about her film.  Brie Larson is so cool, yet quirky and speaks about her film with reverence.  The way that she spoke about Room all throughout awards season is an example on how it’s done.

When you are working with no real marketing budget, the actors and actresses involved have to do more to get the project out there.  Now I am not say they should do this.  But if someone does this or not shows their character or lack thereof.

So many people work on a project.  Even on a small project there are still crew people who want the film to do well.  And to somehow block that out seems crazy.  But it happens.  I am sure that Amanda Peet and Dianna Cruz aren’t the first and last actresses to do things like this.

When a film fails to produce the kind of effect in regards to financial/getting eyeballs to watch there are a lot of reasons why.  One of which is that the talent involved did not promote.  And to be fair to Dianna, there was at least one more actor involved that could have promote.  But his career reflects his attitude.

The actors and actresses that will do serious promotion are the ones that last.  I am not talking about whoring yourself out.  But doing it because you want the film to succeed.  Tom Cruise made an art of this.  He made the modern day press tour.  Traveling to different countries everyday to promote his films.  Robert Downey Jr has become good at this as well.  They don’t just go on and talk.  They are interesting, they are engaging, and they care about their project.  Will Smith is the same way.  It’s no wonder that they male the films that make the most money.

I think more and more actors and actresses are being hired on what they can do for a project outside of just acting in it.  It’s not enough to just be a talented person.  You have to be willing to promote the project as if you originated it.  And if you are not willing to do this, you will find getting work hard.

I feel as though on my current project, The Solar Eclipse, that when need be I can count on my actors and actresses to promote.  One who a bit of a social media wizard is already doing just that even if she doesn’t even know it.

It’s funny to look at other films that Nicole Holofcener wrote and directed.  Friends with Money made $18 million on a budget of $6.5 million.  She made that before Please Give.  The last film that she made that came out was Enough Said.  That grossed $25 million on an eight million dollar budget.

I wonder what the difference was, oh promotion.

The best day in racing

Let’s see, Grand Prix at Monaco, The 100th Indianapolis 500, and the Coca Cola 600.

  This is the Christmas day of racing.  No doubt.  Formula One, Indycar, and NASCAR= couch lock for any true race fan.

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  The racing gods knew what they were doing when the scheduled these three crown jewels in one day.  Race fans around the world rejoice.  Even the open wheel fans that don’t watch NASCAR and NASCAR fans that don’t watch open wheel will crossover and enjoy the other series.

  Why?

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  Because it’s special.  Yes there are days where there is an Indycar race, a NASCAR race, and even a Formula One race on the same day.  But three crown jewel races in one day?  For Indycar it’s obviously it’s biggest day and the same for Formula One.  And while this isn’t NASCAR’s biggest race, it’s the only race that’s 600 miles.

  We get to see three different drivers have their dreams come true in one day.  Everything is more heightened on this day.  And it’s pretty much back to back to back.  And three different types of cars on three different types of tracks.

  We get watch to watch the futuristic Formula One cars race on the streets of Monaco while Bono takes a sip of his mimosa.  This is perhaps the tightest track on the certain and one mistake will find the driver hitting the wall hard.  The winner drinks a nice bottle of champagne.

  In regards with Indycar, we watch these super light cars with high down force race on this huge 2 mile flat track going wide open at 225 mph across a brickyard.  One mistake there also involves the driver hitting the wall hard.  The winner also drinks a nice cool bottle of milk.

  With the Coca Cola 600, we watch these huge ass cars with little down force and too much horsepower go at it entering the corner at 200 mph at a 1.5 mile track with high banking.  And yeah, one mistake there finds the driver hitting the wall hard.  There winner here can drink champagne, but if they are a Coke driver, they drink a coke.

  Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Robby Gordon, and John Andretti have all done what is called the double.  Running the Indy 500 and the Coca Cola 600 in the same day.  When Stewart finished sixth in the 500 and third in the 600 in 2001 he became the first and only driver to run all 1,100 laps (in 1999 he finished ninth and fourth in both races, but was four laps down in the 500).

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  This is a day that legends are made.  Every driver that wins on this day earns it in their own way.  Each race is a true marathon, a true test of man v.s machine.  The winners executed to perfection.

  This is a holy day for race fans and gear heads.  We get to enjoy and appreciate all the hard work that has been put into for this race for months.  We get to see just how much these drivers will lay it on the line to bring home the glory to their team and family.

  On no other day is it more evident what it means to be a racer.  The hard work, glory, and heart break.

  This is my favorite day of racing and one of my favorite days of the year.  I expect some great racing.  Join us.  You won’t be disappointed.

Is Danica Patrick the Kristen Stewart of NASCAR

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     That’s interesting to think about.  Danica Patrick is 34 and Kristen Stewart is 26 are eight years apart and are in completely different worlds.  Danica is not only one of the most famous race car drivers out there, but certainly the most famous and successful female driver out there.  Kristen Stewart is also very famous in her field.

  Both are very accomplished in their fields.  Though Danica is still struggling with her transition to the NASCAR Sprint Cup series (0 top fives and six top tens since going fulltime in 2013).  She is still in territory that no woman has gone to before.  She has gone from a bit of a joke to someone that can run top 20, so progress is there.  She is one of the few drivers in history to lead in the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500.

Kristen Stewart’s career is blossoming as of late.  After taking a well deserved two year break after Twilight, Kristen Stewart has been turning in solid performances in some very good movies.  From a military guard in Camp X-Ray, a memorable supporting role in Still Alice, an amazing supporting performance in Clouds of Sils Maria (which resulted in her becoming the first American to win a Cesar Award).  Stewart now has two films coming out by the best directors out there, Café Society (Woody Allen), and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Ang Lee).  Perhaps that academy award nomination is coming.

So where are the similarities?  How is Danica Patrick the Kristen Stewart of NASCAR?

Simple, they both have huge amounts of hate directed towards them.

Danica has been a celebrity since 2005 when she became an Indycar driver.  She only won once.  But was a solid top ten driver.  She became the first woman to lead laps in the Indy 500 in her rookie year.  She only had one top ten in her eight Indy 500 starts due to a crash.  She only finished outside top ten in points once, and that was 12th.  Granted she gets more hate now than ever due to her struggles, even back then she was getting negative press.  People only saw her as the woman that used her sexuality to get ahead to modeling for commercials, and sports illustrated swim suits magazines twice.

Kristen Stewart became a celebrity in 2008, but she was only 18.  Before this she had been in some big films like Panic Room and Zathura and Jumper.  But Twilight put her into a whole new stratosphere.  The sad thing is that people started to only know her for Twilight.  No one would remember her from indie films like Adventureland, Into The Wild, Undertow, The Runaways, The Yellow Handkerchief, Welcome to the Rileys ( still one of her best performances), and what’s she’s going on now.  Her acting style has also been heavily criticized.

As a fan of both it’s interesting to watch see the similarities.  Both are as famous as anyone, both are succeeding in their fields (though Kristen Stewart at the age that Danica got into Indycar seems to be in a better place).  But people seem to still give them shit.

But why?

It’s simple.  It’s fun and easy to hate someone.  They have become fun and easy to hate.

It’s easy to hate on Danica.  It’s easy to just call her an average driver who is there on her sex appeal and money alone.  It’s easy to hate on Kristen.  It’s easy to say that she is an emotionless actress who plays herself in every movie (she had an interesting explanation about this in an interview that made me respect her more).

It’s fun too because so many others do this.  And now you have a community, filled with hate of course.  It could have something to do with them both mastering the face of a woman who is pissed.  But I think that there’s more to it than that.

That’s apart of today’s society.  With the internet and things like Twitter and Facebook and etc all of these places have become vehicles for hate.  It’s very rare to go to any site online where it’s just positivity all the time.  Even the good sites have their major faults.

So now it becomes easier to hate on people like them because there is a community out there for it.  They are of course not the only celebrities in the world that get hate.  But definitely the biggest at the moment.

Both are achieving high levels of success.  I think people are inherently jealous of this.  That’s where being a hater starts.  Being jealous that someone is doing something that you are not doing.  I am not say that not liking someone makes you a hater.  But just dissing someone constantly usually comes from a nasty place.

How do they do it?  How do they handle it?

Well, it appears that both Danica and Kristen have become masters at ignoring the hate.  They must be so used to it at this point that they expect it.  I thought since her Cesar award that Kristen’s hate would decrease.  But just google if she is a good actress and you will see that this is not the case.

They both are able to shut out the hate and function.  They won’t allow it to stop them from doing what they need to do to create fulfillment in their lives.  I suppose after getting so much hate you just can’t care anymore.  And in reality it hasn’t hindered their careers.  And most of it is on the internet.  Which is easily forgotten.

We could all learn something from them.  But most are too busying hating to do so.

Danger, that’s what racing is all about.

  Last week at Talladega there were some wicked wrecks.  Four big wrecks, six in total.  Two cars flipped on one got on it’s side.  It was great race not only because of the wrecks.  Talladega produces great side by side racing because of the use of restrictor plates.  But the wrecks, like or not, are something else to watch.

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So writers everywhere began to write about if we should continue racing at Talladega anymore.  Despite drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr who wrecked twice saying that people shouldn’t over blow this.  Notice no one mentioned not racing at Daytona.

Yeah, Talladega was crazy.  Yeah, Daytona and Talladega are extra dangerous compared to other tracks.  Yes crashes do happen more at these tracks.

But ya know what?  Crashes happen everywhere.  Big ones can happen anywhere.  There wasn’t even a big one in the Daytona 500 this year.  There was a 13 car wreck at Texas though.  There was a four car wreck last night at Kansas where Joey Logano hit Denny Hamlin driver side.

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Crashes happen.  That’s apart of racing.  That’s apart of what is attractive about racing.  This element of danger.

Racing is going up to death and kissing it on the nose.  Perhaps Restrictor plate racing is more like making out with death and pulling away before anything really happens.  Either way it’s a dance with death that a lot of would want to do that draws us in.

Now I do not want to see another death.  In NASCAR, we haven’t seen a death since 2001 when the late and great Dale Earnhardt Sr died on the last lap of the Daytona 500.  But Indycar has had a few deaths over the last few seasons. An F1 driver died after being in a coma for a year after a crash.  No one wants that.

But that’s what makes racing special and engaging.  How crazy it is.  Going over 200 mph with other people around you.  Right on the edge every lap.  And no fear at the same time.  Take a certain kind of individual to be a racer.

I’ve to the conclusion that to be a successful race car driver you have to not care about dying.  Not that you should just be careless and reckless on the track.  But if the danger aspect is on your mind you will put yourself and others at risk.  You have to throw that idea away and go for it.

That’s what makes drivers like Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon.  No fear.

Lewis Hamilton was actually against a safety measure in F1 because he feels that danger should be apart of the sport.  I don’t know about being against making the sport safer as long as it doesn’t hurt the racing.  But I appreciate that he understands that danger is a big part of what makes racing attractive.

Yes, competition is a big thing.  But without this huge looming danger element, what would it be?  That’s part of what makes the NFL so huge.  It might be the most competitive sport in the world.  Major plays all the time.  And the NFL might also be the most dangerous sport out there right now.  And you better believe that this has a lot to do with the NFL’s success.

But are we just watching modern day gladiators?  Particularly at Daytona and Talladega.  Gladiators were accepted once.  But then they realized how unfair and dangerous they were.  Daytona and Talladega are not like that in the sense that it isn’t to the death.  But it’s super dangerous and it is around only because it is so entertaining.

But the drivers know the risk.  They know what they are getting into.  And they get paid millions of dollars for it.  So perhaps the ones that do complain about this style should either stop complaining, or just hand over their cars when we go to Daytona and Talladega to people who would love the opportunity to be out there.

Crashing isn’t racing.  But it’s apart of racing’s genetic makeup.  There isn’t anything that we can do to change that.  We can make it safer though.  Drivers deserve to be in an environment that promotes safety.  And all major racing sanctioning bodies have made some major innovations to make sure racing is safer.  From the Hans device to the safer barriers.  Major motorsports legacy might just be safety.

Just so as long as that element we so long for remains.

2016 NASCAR Talladega

29 April-1 May, 2016, Talladega, Alabama USA Kevin Harvick (4) wrecks with Ricky Stenhouse Jr (17) and AJ Allmendinger (47) on the last lap. ©2016, John Harrelson / NKP

What about plots?

  Plots in stories have been around for years.  From books, movies, and t.v shows.  A good plot can attract us to a story because we see something that we wish that we were apart of.  Something that we could only visit in our dreams.

There have been some great plot driven films.  The only issue is that most people (including myself) do not remember these plots.  They seem to get lost in the shuffle.

Why is this?  What is it about plots that makes us forget them?  A movie like never let me go (great movie) had a plot that I remember really attracted a former roommate and I to that film.  So much so that he would stop the movie thinking that he was explaining something super complicated and I just humored him in the process.  But alas, I do not remember all the details of that plot.  I remember the characters that were portrayed by Andrew Garfield, Keria Knightley, and Carey Mulligan.

And that is exactly what we hang on to when we watch movies: characters.  Some film snobs seem to look down on movies that are really driven by a character and a great performance.  Thinking that it’s more because of the actor than the director.  While the actor has a good deal to do with this, this is in fact unfair to the director.  A smart director knows when to be direct and indirect.  And smart director knows that characters and the actors that are playing them are how we connect to a film.  So a smart director will not stand in the way of a good character being performed brilliantly by a good actor.

Take these three films, Being John Malkovich, Magnolia, and Leaving Las Vegas.  All three are in my top 100 favorite films of all time.  Why?  None of them have a real plot.  Being John Malkovich has a plot in there somewhere.  And it’s very interesting when you think about it.  But that doesn’t matter as much.  It’s the four main characters played by John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, and John Malkovich himself that light up the screen.   And they are not even likeable characters.  Just relatable spirits that we can latch on to.  The plot here is just an excuse to explore some themes.

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Magnolia really has no plot.  It’s a heavy film about broken people.  Clocking in at hour three hours it’s an amazing exploration of all these types of people.  Tom Cruise gives a great performance as a man with major father issues.  Leaving Las Vegas has no plot either.  But the two main characters are so interesting to watch in regards to how they deal with their lives.

These three films have a few things in common.  The obvious are great scripts, great directors, great actors, and broken characters to varying degrees.  But It’s the fact that we get to have a look into how different kinds of people live is what makes these films so great and memorable years later (these are all 90s films, Being John Malkovich and Magnolia came out in that glorious year for film that was 1999 that also included Fight Club, American Beauty, and The Matrix).

We get to watch these characters without judgement.  They are allowed to be on screen.  So with that we can begin to understand what these characters thought processes might be  And that leaves room for empathy.

Films that are heavy in plot and light on characters tend to be forgotten.  This is because a plot will draw us to a film, but we won’t be talking about that after the film is over.  Because plots are more less just surface level things.  We will be talking about what these characters did or said.  What happened to them.  Why they acted in that way.  And what fascinated us about them.

A lot of young filmmakers are so hell bent on plot that they end up having one dimensional characters.  Rather than building rich characters with great themes they want to make the next Taxi Driver.  The thing about Taxi Driver was that while there is a plot there, that isn’t what makes the film great.  The characterization of Travis Bickle by Robert DeNiro and a 13 year old Jodie Foster’s performance are what sticks out to everyone.  That’s the glue.

When someone says that a film is character driven all that means is that it was a great story.  With great characters you have a great story.  Like Pulp Fiction.  The film is completely constructed around it’s characters.  The dialogue isn’t meant to move the plot, but it is meant to reveal things about the characters.  This works on so many levels.  Every action is so meaningful because it is so well connected to the characters.  We understand these people on deeper level too and not just from their actions.

Too many films use dialogue to move the plot.  Hunger Games Mocking Jay part is a good example of this.  Part of this has to do with stretching one book into two films.  But every scene was just meant to get you from point A to point B.  The actors did their best.  But there was very little to hang on to in the film.

Richard Linklater once said that he isn’t concerned with plot.  He is more concerned with time.  Boyhood is the obvious example of this.  But look at the Before movies, even his first two films: Slacker and Dazed and Confused.  All deal with time in different ways.  He fills his films with rich characters and explores what time can do to us all.  I am not sure that his somewhat innovative filmmaking gets the credit it deserves.

When I write I think to think about how I can reveal something about the character in a clever way.  What can I do to not write dialogue that is only there to move the story along, but also move the story along.  It’s a bit of a process.  But when you hit it on, you see the difference.  You see a story with characters that are coming alive.  When you just focus on a plot, you get a story and characters are a bit silted.

I am looking forward to Snowden.  Directed by Oliver Stone and starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, Snowden has a great true story plot.  But Stone knows that is about character.  Stone’s best films have had great plots.  But have all been character driven from Platoon, Wall street, Natural Born Killers, and JFK.  Snowden will be no exception.

So what do we do with plot?  Plots should be treated like condoms.  Bringing them is a good idea.  But when you use them, you better know how to use them.  Using two just is stupid because it just causes friction.  And if it breaks then it’s a long road ahead.

Tony Stewart’s road to a successful last season

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    Fans, drivers, crew members, and etc, rejoiced on Thursday when Tony Stewart announced that he would be able to run to Sprint Cup Competition at Richmond this weekend.  After an off road racing accident, Stewart has been granted a waiver and is ready to rock and roll this weekend.

So far, it’s been a solid weekend for Smoke, he starts 18th based on the first practice speeds.  He has been running a good amount of laps in practice, and says he has no soreness.

Stewart has gone through a lot in the last three seasons.  From shattering his leg in a Sprint car in 2013, to the tragedy in New York in 2014, and then breaking his back this year.  He’s missed a total of 26 races in the process.  All the while his results have been lackluster.  Since his injury he has only earned three top fives and ten top tens.  He earned no top fives in 2015 for the first time in his career.

Now, Stewart in his last season is looking to put behind those embarrassing results and turn it around.  Lest we forget this is a three time champion who is considered one of the greatest drivers to ever strap into a race car.  He is the only driver to win NASCAR championships, an Indycar championship, an IROC championship, and USAC championships.  He is the modern day A.J Foyt.

Stewart also showed how he will be when he is only an owner next year.  Stewart for years has gone with the practice of being an owner on the weekdays and a driver on weekends.  But this year as he’s been out he got a bit of a practice run.  And his drivers seemed to have loved it.  He hopes to be like Roger Penske and Richard Childress: former drivers who become hands on owner.

So what does Stewart have to do to make this last season a successful one?  If he could win two races that would make his career total 50 race wins and that would get him into the chase so that would work.

But how does he do this?  Smoke must get into the top 30 in points.  And after doing the math this is not as big of a hurdle as one might think.  Matt Dibenedetto is 30th in points with a 112 point advantage on Stewart.  If Stewart can gain just seven points a race on Dibenedetto each race he would have gained 119 points by the end of Richmond.  And while Dibenedetto did finish sixth at Bristol, those kinds of runs are not to be expected weekly from him and his team.

Okay, so Stewart gets into the top 30, now what?  Gotta win.  Stewart has not won a race since the spring race at Dover in 2013.  He hasn’t been in true contention for a win since 2014.

But I do believe that this year will be different.

Stewart has a new crew chief, Mike Bugarewicz.  Bugaerewicz was Kevin Harvick’s lead engineer last year.  And he has done a great job handling two different drivers as Stewart has been on the mend.  He got a top ten with Brian Vickers along with a 13th place finish.  He also got a top 15 with Ty Dillon.  There were other occasions where they could have had good finishes like Texas and Bristol, but things happened that prevented that.

So with that in mind, the 14 is on an upswing.  The cars seem to be better.  If they can get their cars to be fast then the sky’s the limit on where they can win.  Kentucky and Darlington are the only two tracks that Stewart has not won at and has the opportunity to cross both off of his list.

Even if they still lack a little something, Stewart could grab a win at Sonoma, Watkins Glen, Indy, Pocono, and Bristol.  All those tracks are places where Stewart has still been able to perform despite his issues.

And if he can just grab win and get into the top 30 then BOOM, he is in the chase and is competing for a championship in his swan song season.

As a Stewart fan I would for this to happen.  And I do believe that this could happen.  I believe that we are going to see a very determined Stewart.  Stewart said that he was miserable last season.  This is a driver that is used to so much success.  Up until 2014 he has had nothing but success.  So he’s been in a bit of a twilight zone.   He says that he wants to have fun this year.  And what’s fun for Stewart?

Winning, of course.

CLASSIC MOVIE REVIEWS: FIGHT CLUB (1999)

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  David Fincher’s Fight Club is my favorite film of all time and it’s a must watch for me every year.  I remember the first time I watched it in High School.  I had no idea about the book and no idea about the subject matter.  I knew that Edward Norton and Brad Pitt were in it and fighting was apart of the subject matter.  So I was excited.

But of course, it is about so much more.  And the depth of it continues to resonate today.  That explains why it still remains a high level of popularity.

The film starts off with the unnamed narrator (Edward Norton) trapped in a chair.  Then we go to his everyday life.  He is a traveling automobile recall specialist that has a bad case of insomnia.  He lives his live in an average way.  Orders furniture from Ikea for his decent condo.  His boss tries to be nice, but really doesn’t want to be involved.  This guy has become a cog in the machine that is everyday life.

He decides to visit a testicular cancer meeting where they believe that he too is a victim.  In a twisted way this fixes his insomnia.  He then begins to visit several different groups that all assume that he is a fellow suffer of whatever disease that the group is about.  He meets Robert Paulson (Meat Loaf), a man whose balls are gone and has saggy tits.  Then Marla Singer (Helen Bonham Carter) comes in.  She is more than obviously doing exactly what he is doing.  And that bugs him.  He is also clearly attracted to her in again, a twisted way.

He bargains with Marla to make sure that they can go to different meetings and not see each other.  He seems to hell bent on not seeing her.  She gives him her number in case they want to switch.

While on a flight our narrator meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt).  Tyler makes and sells soap for a living.  His fashion sense is just a little whack.  But whack in a way that makes him cool and irresistible.

Things start to go wrong for our narrator.  He loses his luggage and his condo explodes.  He then calls up Tyler asking to stay with him.  After hanging out at a bar Tyler asks our narrator to hit him.  He claims that he has never been in a fight before.  So our narrator hits him. And this slowly begins the invention of Fight Club.

When you first watch this you think that this is a guy that is finally getting to really express himself.  That he meets a guy that will brings out a different side of him.  They start this fight club to help other men express themselves.  When you see Tyler and Marla begin to have sex you feel bad for our narrator.  When you see Marla constantly talk to our narrator and starts to bug him you think that she is just some desperate hoe.

But obviously if you have watched the film you know that this is not the case.  The narrator has imagined Tyler Durden.  He is the one that has been having sex with Marla.  Marla goes from a desperate hoe in our eyes to someone who is just trying to make it work with a crazy guy.  You realize that everything is just a manifestation of his deteriorating mental state.

Fight Club has so many subjects that are handled with such great care, yet presented in a very cinematic cool way.  Think of the scene where the narrator is addressing his wounds and Tyler is in the bath tub that is filled with dirty water.  They talk about how we are a culture of a bunch of men that have been raised by women.  I can relate to this as a lot of guys can.

Or how the narrator is just tired of his life.  It’s never revealed what this guy’s real hopes and dreams are.  But it’s safe to assume that he isn’t living it.  He is living a quiet life of desperation and wants to break free of it.  As most men do.

But we live in a society where mediocrity is the norm.  So in a way he is doing what he is supposed to do.  But he doesn’t want to do this.  He wants to break free of these chains.  Which starts the harsh rebellious streak.

Even the romantic nature of the film deserves a look.  The narrator wants intimacy, yet when Marla comes to him he avoids her at all costs.  He wants nothing to do with her.  Even thought Marla is seductive, he instead buys into the novelty of Tyler Durden.  While he is comfortable with being connected to Tyler, once Tyler tells him that their friendship is secondary to the philosophy that he holds and that he needs to do something about Marla.  It’s only then that he realizes that he should focused his desires on Marla instead of Tyler and the movement to begin with.

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What this film says about advertising is subtle, yet strong.  It shows the value system that advertising has built up.  And in return we have built about these walls that we surround ourselves.  We buy things that we think that we need to impress people that we do not like.  Fight Club is about breaking down these walls.

Of course, there is the issue of violence in Fight Club.  There is a lot of it.  A few scenes stand out to me.  One where Tyler gets beaten up by Lou, the owner of the building that Fight Club is held in, and when the narrator beats up Angel Face (Jared Leto) to a very bloody pulp, effectively destroying his face.  I believe that these scenes show slowly how Fight Club begins to get out of hand.  And once they become terrorists it is clear how Fight Club is not the answer.

The performances in Fight Club make us relate to these characters.  Edwards Norton makes us feel the lack of enthusiasm for life that he has.  Brad Pitt makes us see how exciting life can be  when you think of things differently.  Helen Bonham Carter is sexy as ever as a woman who is caught up in all the madness.

David Fincher is today’s Stanley Kubrick.  He is the master of making films about the darkness of humanity.  You look at his films like this one, Seven, The Game, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, and even The Social Network.  You see a man that is willing to go to  the depths of humanity and show that it isn’t all rose.  Only Kubrick seemed to be interested to dive into this time after time.

Some people felt that Fight Club just promoted violence and anarchy.  But I said it actually point out that these things are not the answer.  But that all of that is a result of the built up frustration that men have faced.  Now you see groups like MGTOW (Men going their own way) and you see that things are taken a less violent stance.  But men are still frustrated with society and the raw deal that we have gotten.

His visual sense was at it’s grungiest with Fight Club.  He didn’t want the film to be beautiful.  But alas it was in a fucked up way.  Each frame feels fight.  The scenery becomes another character informing us on what is really going on.

This is a film that each time you watch it you can get something different out of it.  It explores so many different themes in such a beautiful way.  At the end it’s a one huge meditation on  society.  And it’s amazing how 17 years later not much if anything has changed.

Fight Club is a film where men can watch and really think about their lives.  “Is my life what I want it to be?”  More than likely not.  “What do I do about it?”  That is something for everyone else to decide on their own.

Kyle Busch: The new face of NASCAR

  Kyle Busch is fresh off of winning the Duck Commander 500.  This is his second Cup win of the season and it was back to back wins.  Even more, this was the second week in a row that he sweep the weekend.  He won the Trucks race and Cup race last week, and the Xfinity race and the Cup race this week.

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Simply put, Kyle Busch currently owns NASCAR right now.

And the funny thing is that outside of the lower division wins, he seems to be getting support from the fans more than ever.  I don’t even buy him saying stuff about the haters.  Right now he really doesn’t have any.

It is hard to be a hater of Kyle Busch at this point.  When someone achieve such greatness as he has since he came back from his injury.

Kyles injury was one of two racing injuries that inspired my short film, Elsewhere.  What he did upon return I couldn’t respect.  Coming back and winning five races, including three in a row, including the Brickyard 400, and winning the championship.

That has to be the most amazing comeback of all time.  He didn’t even race until May.  And he hasn’t let up since.

What that injury did was put Kyle into the underdog role.  Before that he had never really struggled in his career.  He had his ups and down.  He had missed the chase three times.  But he always won a race. Even when he got fired from Hendrick Motorsports in 2007 he had his pick of rides.  He very wisely when with Joe Gibbs racing.

But, that injury put him back.  His back was now more against the wall than ever.  And in the past he had not shown that when his back was against the wall that he could rise above it.  That he could do great things.  He had shown to be more of a choke artist if anything.  He ended up doing the complete opposite of this.

Perhaps it was watching the sport on t.v that did the trick.  Maybe he was able to appreciate the sport and being a driver more.  It is possible that this made him become more patient, more mature behind the wheel.

Whatever it was, he has been in a flow state for nearly a year now.  And it’s quite amazing to watch.  You cannot boo a man for doing what he has done with so much built up against him.

Now, Kyle Busch must take advantage of this.  Jeff Gordon has retired.  Tony Stewart is out due to an injury and will be retiring after this year.  NASCAR needs a new star.  Dale Earnhardt Jr is still the most popular driver.  Jimmie Johnson is still out there.  And Danica Patrick despite her lack of results is still a star.  But now is the time for Kyle Busch to become one of the titans of NASCAR.

NASCAR needs a new star that can win races, championships, and has personality.  Brad Keselowski has perhaps asserted himself to that role.  But he lacks the good will that Kyle Busch has now built up for himself.  Now Kyle Busch wears the white hat while Keselowski’s teammate Logano now wears the black hat.

Kyle needs to start appearing on more t.v programs.  He’s already does this being on Fallon, Letterman, Monday night WWE, Live with Kelly and Michael, and etc.  But I’d like for him to start doing more  cameos in films and t.v shows.  That’s how Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart really became A list stars in the sport.

Above all, Kyle needs to be allowed to be himself.  Perhaps he should not ditch interviews like he did at Auto Club.  There is still room for improvement there.  But I think this guy has been put down so much because of his personality.  No one is perfect and he is far from it.  But when he is allowed to be himself he does the best.  That’s why the move to Gibbs in the first place was great and then making Adam Stevens his crew chief.  He can do his thing and be more comfortable in his own skin.  And he’s become more magnetic that way.

Kyle Busch will win plenty of more races and more than likely several more championships.  He will go down as one of the greatest drivers of all time.  I cannot say that he is going to become my favorite driver.  But I am okay with him winning.  And that’s good.  Because he won’t be stopping anytime soon.

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during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 9, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Is film criticism now a dead art form?

   I was kind of excited for Superman v.s Batman.  I am not the biggest Superman fan.  But I do love Batman (only Spiderman beats him out for me).  I am a fan of Ben Affleck’s Jesse Eisenberg’s and  I think Zack Snyder is a very uniquely talented director.

  Then I went to Rotten Tomatoes and at the time the score was a 30% (has gone down to a 29%).  The critical consensus read this:

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice smothers a potentially powerful story — and some of America’s most iconic superheroes — in a grim whirlwind of effects-driven action.

Damn.  I heard one review from NPR and the dude just totally trashed it.  It made me want to see the movie less.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I still want to see this film.  I sent a few friends that critical consensus and while they were like “damn” one friend asked “when are you guys to see it?”  And judging by the box office results for the film the score did not hurt the film.

So with that said, what is the real point of film criticism?

Rotten Tomatoes has made film criticism look pretty cool.  With it’s scores and consensus  it certainly makes choosing a movie to watch that night easier.  I remember when I would want to put a movie on for my roommates I would go to rotten tomatoes and show them at the score was good.

But there are films with high scores on Rotten Tomatoes that made no money.  There are films  with very low scores that made a great deal of money.  It obviously doesn’t affect people that much.

I personally do not read any one particular film critics reviews.  There was one person’s that I did.  And that was Roger Ebert.

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No one wrote like Ebert.  He was just such an eloquent writer.  One of the first reviews that I ever read from him was for field of dreams.  This was just when I was getting back into acting.  I mean just look at the end of this review.

“Field of Dreams” will not appeal to grinches and grouches and realists. It is a delicate movie, a fragile construction of one goofy fantasy after another. But it has the courage to be about exactly what it promises. “If you build it, he will come.” And he does. In a baseball movie named “The Natural,” the hero seemed almost messianic.

“Field of Dreams” has a more modest aim. The ghost of Shoeless Joe does not come back to save the world. He simply wants to answer that wounded cry that has become a baseball legend: “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” And the answer is, it ain’t.

What a beautiful way to write.  The thing about Ebert is that he loved films. He was like a scientist who entered a whole knew world when he watched films.  The way that he would break down a film was so beautiful.

If he liked a movie he would say some of the most beautiful things about it.  Getting a great review from him meant something as you know that he really appreciate good work.

If he wrote a bad review it was even more entertaining.  Just look at this review of Street Kings (a film that I actually liked).

So is the screenplay, which reads like a Bartlett’s of general-purpose action-movie lines:

“You were toe to toe with evil, and you won!”

“Why can’t you have a normal life like everybody else?”

“Everything I touch dies.”

“Who are you to judge me?”

That doesn’t even scratch the surface of the movie’s banality, but every once in a while there’s a real doozy like: “He’s got a Ph.D. in catching cops slipping up!” Or a text message from one crooked cop to another: “He’s here. Kill him.” And then the dude signs his nickname.

But come on, don’t give Keanu Reeves — or anybody for that matter — a line like this, about Tom’s ex-partner: “We were black and white in black and white, back when it meant something.” Are these people trying to make the “Showgirls” of retro-1990s cop movies?

Sophomore director Ayer (“Harsh Times”) is maybe not so sure. He seems invested in the chases and shootouts, but sometimes his spatial relationships break down, and you can’t tell who is where. In one gunfight, an entire harvest gold-colored refrigerator materializes out of nowhere. Meanwhile, Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker doesn’t seem to know what movie this should be, while “House” star Hugh Laurie — giving exactly the same performance he does on TV — may be in on the joke, even if nobody else is.

I mean how could you not laugh at that?  And you could tell that he wasn’t just trying to be a dick.  He more than likely wanted the film to be good.  He paid attention to every detail of the film and just didn’t like it.  How my reviewers include dialogue from the film in their reviews?  This is why a bad review from Ebert stung the hardest (just ask Vincent Gallo).  You knew that he gave every film an equal shot, hoping that he would like it.  And if he didn’t like it, then you did something wrong.

Now I didn’t agree with every one of Ebert reviews, he could be wrong (he gave films like Fight Club, Edward Scissorhands, Frances Ha!, Spiderman, Rushmore, Big Fish, Raising Arizona, Blue Velvet, among other films that I’ve enjoyed bad reviews).  But it was simply just his taste.

I watched Ebert’s documentary and he was just a great person.  He was super strong.  He seemed to have really loved life.  Even on his death bed he had a smile on his face.

I’ve tried reading Ebert’s partner, Richard Roeper’s reviews.  I’ve tried reading Peter Travers reviews.  They just did nothing for me.  Nothing special.  They just don’t have the way with words like Ebert did.  They don’t show their love of films like Ebert did.

With Ebert’s death I just have the wonder what the point of film criticism is.  It really doesn’t move the needle.  Even where awards are concerned.  The Revenant won best actor, best director, best cinematography, and was nominated for a great deal of other awards including best supporting actor for Tom Hardy, and best picture.  Yet was the lowest rated film on Rotten Tomatoes to be nominated best picture at an 83%.  You would think that only the films in the 90s would get the Oscar nominations.  But there is more to it than that.

Film critics just don’t have anything to special to say anymore.  They are ultra privileged.  They get paid to see movies.  They get paid to go around the world to the greatest film festivals.  They are treated as if they are the Gods of film.  They final say.

It kind of true that good criticism of a film can make a film last in history.  But Stanley Kubrick’s early films were not well received at the time.  Now they are considered masterpieces.  Scarface was not well received early on.  Considered a masterpiece.  Harmony Korine is a director that I consider great.  Only one of his films has a fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes.  And that is at a 67%.

Do film critics actually say something that is useful?  Most just basically say “this is a good movie watch it”.  Or “this is a shitty movie, avoid it like the plague”.

I’ll leave you with the final part of the final review that Roger Ebert wrote up for a film.  It was for Terrance Malick’s To The Wonder.

A more conventional film would have assigned a plot to these characters and made their motivations more clear. Malick, who is surely one of the most romantic and spiritual of filmmakers, appears almost naked here before his audience, a man not able to conceal the depth of his vision.

“Well,” I asked myself, “why not?” Why must a film explain everything? Why must every motivation be spelled out? Aren’t many films fundamentally the same film, with only the specifics changed? Aren’t many of them telling the same story? Seeking perfection, we see what our dreams and hopes might look like. We realize they come as a gift through no power of our own, and if we lose them, isn’t that almost worse than never having had them in the first place?

There will be many who find “To the Wonder” elusive and too effervescent. They’ll be dissatisfied by a film that would rather evoke than supply. I understand that, and I think Terrence Malick does, too. But here he has attempted to reach more deeply than that: to reach beneath the surface, and find the soul in need.

R.I.P Roger Ebert.

Failure means nothing, yet success is meaningless

“Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.”

— Francis Chan

Denny Hamlin won the Daytona 500 by the closest margin in Daytona 500 history.  0.010 puts that finish

in the top ten of all time.  Effectively taking the glory from Martin Truex Jr Hamlin became a Daytona 500 champion.  He partied hard, went on t.v, traveled around.  Good times.

But for the next two weeks Hamlin failed to finish in the top 15.  It wasn’t until Phoenix that he was able to get back into the top ten, top five actually with a third place finish.

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But instantly after that finish at Atlanta that Daytona 500 bliss was over.  And he struggled for two weeks.  But instantly after that third place finish at Phoenix he is back in it.

That shows that failure truly means nothing, yet success is meaningless as well.

Hamlin’s failure for two weeks meant nothing surface level wise for sure.  Fans will point out that he had already won so he was in the chase.  That perhaps he was trying some things.  It’s early in the season so he has time.  All true on a surface level.

But why it really meant nothing was that the sun was still going rise and set.  He was still going to be able to come to the race track and race.  The fact that he didn’t run well meant nothing.

With his win at Daytona 500 as good as it felt it really didn’t mean anything either.  Fans will point to surface level things like the race being a plate race and not an accurate way to judge someone’s speed for the season.

It’s meaningless  mainly because success is fleeting.  He got that instantly when he was put a lap down at Atlanta.  The best of the best know this, which is why they work so hard to stay on top.

You look at Kevin Harvick and that 4 team.  Despite the fact for the last two seasons they have been by far the best car on track Harvick never truly revels in their success.  Because he understands that ultimately it’s meaningless.  It’s fun, but meaningless.  So him and Childers have always kept their head down and looked to the next race.  And even when they won the championship I am sure that they weren’t celebrating too long.

Harvick won last week in another amazing finish (same margin as Hamlin’s win 0.010).  Door slamming Edwards to a victory, Harvick was thrilled.  But now they are in California.  The sun has risen on a new race day.  And that race doesn’t care about last week.

Chevy's Harvick Wins at Phoenix International Raceway

Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, takes the checkered flag for his eighth Phoenix win Sunday, March 13, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona. He won by a hundredth of a second, closest finish in NASCAR Sprint Cup History. This was Harvick’s 500th consecutive series start, a feat accomplished only by 14 others throughout the history of NASCAR. (Photo by Andrew Coppley for Chevy Racing)

But if Harvick were to struggle this week it wouldn’t matter either.

We judge our lives on failure and success.  But perhaps that is a mistake.  Failure stings.  Success feels so good. But neither really means nothing in the grand scheme of things.

When you fail, it’s not defeat unless you allow it to be.  Failure for most people is a temporary state.  Success is the same thing.  When you succeed at something no matter how good it is it’s a temporary state.

What failure does is show you where you might have gone wrong, where something went wrong, where bad luck may have set in, and how you can improve.  What success does is give you a boost.  It gives you knowledge that you are on the right path.  Both give you experience.  But you can’t get buried in either.

Failure can be a catalyst for success.  While this wasn’t really a “failure” except on the part of NASCAR, Kyle Busch broke a leg and a foot by hitting an unprotected wall in an Xfinity race in 2015 at Daytona.  He didn’t run a Cup race until May.  After that he ended up winning five races (three in a row in the summer) and went on to win his first championship.  That is using failure to become a success.  Busch took his setback in the right manner and was able to achieve greatness.  I still don’t think he gets enough credit for that.  Tony Stewart will be trying to do the same thing.

But it’s funny, success can also be a catalyst for failure.  People can get complacent.  They get a little success and think that they are “good”.  That their work is done.  And then their work starts to pay the price.

But at the end of the day what does all of this really mean?  What does failing and succeeding as a race car driver, an actor, a singer, a football player, a painter, a writer, a producer of fine wine, running In and out burger, and running wal mart really do for society?  I actually believe that all of these things in their own way are important and do add to society.  But compared to doctors, firefighters, good police officers, missionaries, and other people truly working in the humanities, it ranks really low on the what matters scale.

So what do we do?  Our lives meaningless?  In a word, yes.  But that’s the beauty of life.  It’s just meant to live.  And you should live it to the fullest.  Live it doing something that you love.  Live it being true to yourself.  Being in the present moment.

And the end of the day no one will really care who won what race or who was in what movie save for the truly special ones that seem to transcend time.  But that doesn’t matter either.  What matters is what you do to get away from all the existential talk.  And we all have our ways.

What about the visuals?

  Every year hundreds to thousands of films get made.  Some good, some bad, some great.  The great ones are usually recognized during awards season and the ultimate culmination is the academy awards.  The major categories are best picture, best director, best actor, and best actress.

But what about cinematography?

It appears as if cinematography is taken for granted when it comes to film criticism.  But I am not sure why.

I watched The Martian when it came out.  I understood why it got the critical acclaim that it did.  The script was cool, fun, funny, interesting, enlightening, scientific, and adventurous.  Matt Damon’s performance was wonderful as was Ridley Scott’s direction.

But what about the visuals?

Sir Ridley Scott is perhaps one of the greatest visual directors of all time.  The work that he was able to do with his cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski was astounding.  The sound design on the film was also something to behold.  But every shot, every time the camera moved, it all felt right.

It added to the story.  Even when there were times that the story dragged on, the camera work bailed that out.

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But in the reviews you seldom read about that.  The great late film critic Roger Ebert was truly the only film critic that would mention great camera work, great film art.  That is one of the reasons why Ebert was so special, he understood all the pieces of film.

When I directed my last short film, Elsewhere I knew going in that how I used the camera was going to be important.  The short only had two locations, so how I moved the camera would add a cinematic effect to the story.  While making the shot list I thought of what I could do.  I wrote in Steadicam shots, tracking/hand held shots whenever I could.  I had the characters move in the script to allow for more camera movement.

On set I tried different things.  Some things worked, some didn’t.  But the cinematographer and I had artistic chemistry and were able to collaborate well enough that I got what I wanted.  I was able to tell an intimate, simple story (a sprint car driver that broke both of his legs in a sprint car racing accident and three months later is nearing recovery.  His girlfriend has a BBQ with him, his teammate and his girlfriend hoping to cheer him up.  But he is left contemplating his lifeand his career).  Yet at the same time I was able to tell it with fluid camera movement and style.

It was my third short film and I look forward to expanding on that style when I direct feature films.

But when I showed it around to friends as I submitted it to film festivals when people spoke about it they spoke about how they enjoyed the story and the acting.  But only one person spoke about the cinematography.

Maybe that is a good thing.  As directors and cinematographers the goal is to make the camera invisible.  Documentaries do this very well.  Perhaps James Waan said it best “it’s more important that the audience feels it” (camera movement).

But without good cinematography how would most films be?  There are some more performance driven films that do not have a lot of camera movement and those do fine.  Could you imagine a Steven Spielberg film where he did do his famous oner?  A Wes Anderson film where he didn’t have those long tracking shots?  A David Fincher film that didn’t have those crazy camera movements?  How would those films look and feel like?

Perhaps they would still be considered good films due to the actors and the writing.  But something wouldn’t feel right.  Something would be off.  The film would not be considered great.

The films that are timeless are where the directors are 50% performance driven and 50% visually driven.  Meaning that you can tell that this director cares about his or her actors.  He or she has a huge hand in what the performances are going to look like and knows what kind of acting that they want in their film.

And at the same time they know how they want to visually tell the story.  Not in a micro-managing way.  But they created a shot list that is diverse, they had an idea of what the film will look like, they know how they want the composition to be like, and know that a film should be experience not just through the actors, but with the camera work as well.

Directors like Stanley Kubrick, David Fincher, Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, Martin

Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Terrence Malick, and Paul Thomas Anderson are among some of

the greatest directors out there.  Reason is because they are able to create performance driven

films with a strong visual sense.

When you watch Boogie Nights you see some exciting camera work.  Almost show offy camera

work.  But at the same time it was balanced with great performances from an eclectic cast that

nothing seemed out of place.  Nearly twenty years later that film is considered a classics.  P.T

Anderson has other classics as well.

But only hardcore film buffs talk about this.  Otherwise it is pushed to the side.  The majority of

the world probably couldn’t name five great cinematographers off of the top of their head.

So how can this change?  We can we do?

It starts with film critics.  Start recognizing great visual work in film.  You like at a film like

Amelie and you know that without the great cinematography in that film that it would have been

a lesser film (though the central perhaps was nearly as good as the camera work).

Yes there are bad films with great cinematography (Michael Bay anyone?).  At the end of the

day it is all about the drama that comes across the screen.  That is what ultimately allows the

audience to connect with film.

One thing to really think about though is that great directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and

David Fincher tend to use less camera work as they have evolved.  When you look at P.T’s There

will be blood, The Master, and Fincher’s Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and The Social

Network you will notice that the camera movement in these films while stylish when they come

are minimal.  These films also happen to be the ones that the Academy has chosen to recognize

the most.

Camera movement is like a card that you can play.  You have to be very strategic with it.  Using

it at the right times can only enhance your films.  Using it when the audience rather just focus on

an actor will hurt the film.

But imagine if there was an end to all the wonderful visual work that is put into a film?

Imagine how unimaginative they would feel.

Every year hundreds to thousands of films get made.  Some good, some bad, some great.  The

great ones are usually recognized during awards season and the ultimate culmination is the

academy awards.  The major categories are best picture, best director, best actor, and best

actress.

But what about cinematography?

It appears as if cinematography is taken for granted when it comes to film criticism.  But I am

not sure why.

I watched The Martian when it came out.  I understood why it got the critical acclaim that it

did.  The script was cool, fun, funny, interesting, enlightening, scientific, and adventurous.  Matt

Damon’s performance was wonderful as was Ridley Scott’s direction.

But what about the visuals?

Sir Ridley Scott is perhaps one of the greatest visual directors of all time.  The work that he was

able to do with his cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski was astounding.  The sound design on the

film was also something to behold.  But every shot, every time the camera moved, it all felt right.

It added to the story.  Even when there were times that the story dragged on, the camera work

bailed that out.

But in the reviews you seldom read about that.  The great late film critic Roger Ebert was truly

the only film critic that would mention great camera work, great film art.  That is one of the

reasons why Ebert was so special, he understood all the pieces of film.

When I directed my last short film, Elsewhere I knew going in that how I used the camera was

going to be important.  The short only had two locations, so how I moved the camera would add

a cinematic effect to the story.  While making the shot list I thought of what I could do.  I wrote

in Steadicam shots, tracking/hand held shots whenever I could.  I had the characters move in the

script to allow for more camera movement.

On set I tried different things.  Some things worked, some didn’t.  But the cinematographer and

I had good artistic chemistry and were able to collaborate well enough that I got what I wanted.  I

was able to tell an intimate, simple story (a sprint car driver that broke both of his legs in a sprint

car racing accident and three months later is nearing recovery.  His girlfriend has a BBQ with

him, his teammate and his girlfriend hoping to cheer him up.  But he is left contemplating his life

and his career).  Yet at the same time I was able to tell it with fluid camera movement and style.

It was my third short film and I look forward to expanding on that style when I direct feature

films.

But when I showed it around to friends as I submitted it to film festivals when people spoke

about it they spoke about how they enjoyed the story and the acting.  But only one person spoke

about the cinematography.

Maybe that is a good thing.  As directors and cinematographers the goal is to make the camera

invisible.  Documentaries do this very well.  Perhaps James Waan said it best “it’s more

important that the audience feels it” (camera movement).

But without good cinematography how would most films be?  There are some more

performance driven films that do not have a lot of camera movement and those do fine.  Could

you imagine a Steven Spielberg film where he did do his famous oner?  A Wes Anderson film

where he didn’t have those long tracking shots?  A David Fincher film that didn’t have those

crazy camera movements?  How would those films look and feel like?

Perhaps they would still be considered good films due to the actors and the writing.  But

something wouldn’t feel right.  Something would be off.  The film would not be considered

great.

The films that are timeless are where the directors are 50% performance driven and 50%

visually driven.  Meaning that you can tell that this director cares about his or her actors.  He or

she has a huge hand in what the performances are going to look like and knows what kind of

acting that they want in their film.

And at the same time they know how they want to visually tell the story.  Not in a micro-

managing way.  But they created a shot list that is diverse, they had an idea of what the film will

look like, they know how they want the composition to be like, and know that a film should be

experience not just through the actors, but with the camera work as well.

Directors like Stanley Kubrick, David Fincher, Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, Martin

Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Terrence Malick, and Paul Thomas Anderson are among some of

the greatest directors out there.  Reason is because they are able to create performance driven

films with a strong visual sense.

When you watch Boogie Nights you see some exciting camera work.  Almost show offy camera

work.  But at the same time it was balanced with great performances from an eclectic cast that

nothing seemed out of place.  Nearly twenty years later that film is considered a classics.  P.T

Anderson has other classics as well.

But only hardcore film buffs talk about this.  Otherwise it is pushed to the side.  The majority of

the world probably couldn’t name five great cinematographers off of the top of their head.

So how can this change?  We can we do?

It starts with film critics.  Start recognizing great visual work in film.  You like at a film like

Amelie and you know that without the great cinematography in that film that it would have been

a lesser film (though the central perhaps was nearly as good as the camera work).

Yes there are bad films with great cinematography (Michael Bay anyone?).  At the end of the

day it is all about the drama that comes across the screen.  That is what ultimately allows the

audience to connect with film.

One thing to really think about though is that great directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and

David Fincher tend to use less camera work as they have evolved.  When you look at P.T’s There

will be blood, The Master, and Fincher’s Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and The Social

Network you will notice that the camera movement in these films while stylish when they come

are minimal.  These films also happen to be the ones that the Academy has chosen to recognize

the most.

Camera movement is like a card that you can play.  You have to be very strategic with it.  Using

it at the right times can only enhance your films.  Using it when the audience rather just focus on

an actor will hurt the film.

But imagine if there was an end to all the wonderful visual work that is put into a film?

Imagine how unimaginative they would feel.

Why is Jimmie Johnson so unlikeable?

Jimmie Johnson won his 76th Cup race last Sunday.  He tied Dale Earnhardt number of wins.  With 208 top fives, 315 top tens, and six championships, Johnson is clearly a legend.  I believe that he will go down as the best NASCAR driver ever.

But I don’t like him.

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That’s right.  I do not like Jimmie Johnson.  Quite frankly a lot of fans do not.  When Johnson won five championships in a row that was when ratings started to dip.  At that point I hated Johnson.  Now today I can appreciate his success more.  But I can’t bring myself to like him.

But why do people not like him?  What is it about him that makes him so unlikeable?  Not to say that he doesn’t have any fans.  He certainly does.  Go to a race and you will see tons of fans with 48 gear on.  But just about anyone who doesn’t wear that gear seems to root against him.

Part of it is due to his dominance.  When you win five championships in a row not everyone is going to like that.  But I think that it too easy of a cop out.

If Dale Earnhardt Jr or even Tony Stewart won five championships in a row I think we would see a different reaction from the fans.

I believe it has to do with a few different things.

One Johnson’s personality.  I am sure he has one.  But I’ve never seen it.  He appears to be a nice guy that drivers like.  But in an interview he comes across as very boring.  Someone who is really involved in himself.  He does appear to be a nice person.  But that isn’t exciting.

He seems too perfect.  And people who are perfect are not exciting.  We like people not because of their positive traits.  But because of their negative ones as well.  While Johnson is a human being with his faults and complexities, he just doesn’t show it.

There are drivers that I believe would be great guests on Howard Stern.  Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, and Kevin Harvick.  Johnson is no where near the top ten.

Despite how he conceals his personality, he doesn’t feel larger than life.  Someone like Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon have this aura around them.  Jr too for that matter.  Johnson just feels like a regular guy.  This isn’t a bad thing per say.  But for someone who comes across as perfect it is odd.

Another reason would be how Johnson acts after an incident.  Notice that he very rarely takes the blame.  Like Chicagoland.  After taking out Kevin Harvick during an accident on the restart he was very quick to blame Joey Logano.  Logano of course was not the one that door slammed Harvick.  Harvick didn’t buy Johnson’s claims.  When Johnson has spun out in the past he seems to blame it on just about everything but himself.

For someone who has a good guy image he seems to have issue with accountability.

Another reason would be because how easy Johnson has had it in his Cup career.  Granted the road he took was rough. He grew up in a trailer park, wasn’t very successful in what is now the xfinity series. But ever since he started racing the 48 car it’s been smooth sailing.

A lot of this has to do with Chad Knaus, the genius behind the 48 car.  Knaus not only knows how to build fast cars, but he can call a race like no one’s business.  Case in point his last win.  Johnson started 19th.  But as soon as the green flag dropped he raced to the front. He didn’t have the best car.  But Knaus short pitted Johnson, got him the lead and he never gave it up.

Johnson is also in a good spot because Hendrick hasn’t had an off season in over two decades.  The equipment has always been capable.  That’s why Hendrick will fire a driver who isn’t performing and why we are all puzzled with Kasey Kahne’s lack of performance.

This is how I rank the top 16 drivers on talent alone (not results).

Tony Stewart

Kevin Harvick

Matt Kenseth

Kyle Busch

Kurt Busch

Jimmie Johnson

Carl Edwards

Dale Earnhardt Jr

Denny Hamlin

Brad Keselowski

Joey Logano

Ryan Newman

Jamie McMurray

Martin Truex Jr

Clint Bowyer

Greg Biffle

Kasey Kahne

So I do believe that Johnson is among the best on just a scale of talent.  But let’s take someone like Kevin Harvick.  Before entering the 4 car Harvick was in the 29 at Richard Childress racing.  There were a lot of ups and downs there.  In 13 seasons Harvick had one points finish outside the top 20 and four outside of the top ten.  He also recorded three winless seasons.  He came close, but not close enough to winning championship.  In short the equipment that he was in was inconsistent.

Now in the 4 car at Stewart Hass with Rodney Childers Harvick is so strong.  In two seasons he has a championship and a runner up points finish.  He has won eight races already with tons of seconds and thirds to boot.

What made the difference?  He got into equipment that was reliable and got a crew chief that could really guide him and provide him with that he needs.

If Harvick was in the 48 car and Johnson in the 29 it is not unrealistic to believe that Harvick would have the results that Johnson has and Johnson would have the results that Harvick has.  It’s actually quite impressive that Harvick had the career that he had before going into the 4 considering that his teammates at RCR only won 13 races while he was three (Clint Bowyer with five, Jeff Burton with four, Robby Gordon with three, and Paul Menard with one).  RCR has in fact not won a Cup race since Harvick’s departure.

So with all this in mind it really makes sense why some fans seem to not be able to like Jimmie Johnson.  Aside from his success there is not much about him to like.

BLACK OUT

The 88th Academy Awards are today.  Great actors and great filmmakers have been nominated of course.  It appears that a more than deserving Leonardo DiCaprio will win his first Academy award for an amazing performance in The Revenant.

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But has everyone knows by now, no black actors have been nominated.  Will Smith and Idris Elba despite giving great performances were not nominated for any Oscars.  Straight Outta Compton, a film that received great critical acclaim was not nominated for best picture.  It only got a best screenplay nomination for two of it’s white writers.

This has prompted major black lash.  Protests and boycotts against the Oscars will go on today as what Ellen DeGeneres coined “the whitest Oscars.” (also she said right before what a great way to end black history month).

As a black actor and filmmaker I found the lack of nominations very disappointing.  I also found it eye opening at the same time.

It had  appeared a few years ago that things were all good.  12 years a slave was nominated for nine Academy Awards winning best picture, best supporting actress for Lupita Nyong’o, best adapted screenplay for John Ridley, Steve Mcqueen was also nomimated for best director, and Chiwetel Ejiofor was nominated for best actor.

But it all started with Selma.  Ava Duvernay was not nominated for best director and David Oyelowo was not nominated for best actor despite Golden Globe nominations.  However the film was nominated for best picture and won best original song with John Legend and Common.  So the sting was not as bad.

But this year’s lack of black nominees makes no sense.  There isn’t a complete lack of diversity as it appears that Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu will once again will best director and best picture, and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki will win best cinematography for the third year in a row (he is like Jimmie Johnson).

So that is there.  However after watching Will Smith’s performance in Concussion I didn’t understand why he wasn’t nominated.  He was absolutely brilliant in the role.  Giving the film it’s legs to succeed.  It was no different than Jennifer Lawrence in Joy.  Both films without their stars would have failed due to disjointed narratives.  But both gave performances that saved their films.  Only Lawrence was recognized by the Academy though.

Many people more successful than me have weighed in on this.  Votes are being taken away from older Academy members.  But I am going have to say that the Academy isn’t the only one to blame.  It’s the writers, the directors, and the casting directors.

I have seen many audition profiles that read “Caucasian male only.”  I think that unless it’s based on a true story that this needs to stop.  Casting needs to become more colorblind.  That way we will have more diversity in roles and the Academy will be forced to recognize other races.

It’s a shame that in 2016 things seem to just be getting worse.  You can feel the hints of racism now more than ever.  But I believe in a  lot of ways this is a good thing.  Perhaps this will open more doors for myself and others.  Perhaps people will realize that we matter.

All I know for sure is that I can’t wait for Chris Rock to tear a new one and then some tonight.

The Daytona 500

Today is the great.  The great American race.  The 58th annual Daytona 500 will be starting in just over one hour.

  No Jeff Gordon, no Tony Stewart (due to his off season off road crash) leaves a bit of a sour taste.  I myself am a Tony Stewart fan and was looking forward to seeing him have one more chance at winning the 500.  I am praying that he will come back and run this race in 2017.  Would be a great way to end his career regardless of the result.

  But there are 40 drivers who are looking to have their dreams come true.  Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jimmie Johnson, and Matt Kenseth have two wins in this race.  Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Trevor Bayne, and Joey Logano both have one win a piece.

  Drivers like Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Marti Truex Jr, Greg Biffle, and Brad Keselowski have never won the Daytona 500.  More than capable they will be looking to cross this race off of their list.

  Dale Jr has been showing why he is always the favorite when we come to a restrictor plate race.  With a strong Cam Am duel win already under his belt he looks like he has the speed to get it done.

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  Jr has yet to win a championship in his career.  But the Daytona 500 has been perhaps where we’ve seen the best of Dale Earnhardt Jr.  He always seems to have something.  In five of the last six Daytona 500s he has finished in the top three.

  His third Daytona 500 would put him back into the chase and aide him on that quest to win a championship.  But he’s got plenty of competition in the way.

  You got the obvious guys that can beat Jr.  Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano, and Kyle Busch will be the biggest threats.

  But what about Chase Elliott?

  Yeah!  Bill Elliott’s son!  He is starting first.  And he won the Xfinity race yesterday.  Trevor Bayne showed in 2011 that being a rookie doesn’t mean that you can’t win the Great American race.  In fact it may be an advantage.

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Chase Elliott

Chase Elliott celebrates his win during the NASCAR Xfinity Series auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

  Don’t count Ryan Blaney out either.  He finished fourth at Talladega in the spring last year and was third in his duel. Driving the car that Bayne went to victory lane with doesn’t hurt either.

  And hell don’t count out Bayne either, you never know.

 This is why this is my favorite race.   Guys like Austin and Ty Dillon, Casey Mears, and David Ragan have a shot to win and have a great season.  Hell if Michael Waltrip has won it twice why can’t those guys win it once?

   Today will be an exciting day.  Three some time four wide, crashes.  And someone will get to live their childhood dreams.  That’s what today is all about.  Living your childhood dreams.

Jeff Gordon has been racing in the Sprint Cup series since I have been on this planent.

Well, just about.  He made his first start at Atlanta, November 1992.  I was born in September

  1. I obviously don’t remember that without aide of video. But here is the thing, I don’t

remember finding out about Jeff Gordon, I just knew who he was.

Gordon was different than most NASCAR drivers at the time.  A sport that was predominantly

southern at the time of his entry only the Bodines from New York were the real non southerners

in the sport.  But when Gordon, born in California and then raised in Indiana came in, it changed

the game.

It wasn’t so much that he just came in and raced.  He came in and took the sport away from

Dale Earnhardt in a sense.  Earnhardt was on a role, winning championship, after championship.

Yet he only won one when Gordon entered the sport.  Gordon came in and was the answer to

who was going to be able to beat the man in black.

And beat him he did.  With seasons like 1998 where he won 13 races (something that still has

not be repeated).  He won the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400, Coca Cola 600, the Southern 500,

and the All star race many times over.  Even in seasons that he “struggled” he still ran up front.

Gordon gave way to people who took the same open wheel route like he did.  Drivers like Tony

Stewart, Ryan Newman, and Kasey Kahne all of a sudden were more viable.  Gordon showed

that you don’t have to be from the south to race in NASCAR.  Now there are only five drivers in

Cup are actually from the south.  The majority of drivers are actually from the west coast.

His driving style of using patience to his advantage was the key to his success.  The cars back in

the nineties were more susceptible to wear and tear.  When everyone used their stuff up, Gordon

was there.  He could still dominate a race and his car would be in tact.  And if he needed to bump

you out of the way for a win, he would.

His dominance started to wear off when Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson entered the sport.

For most drivers 2002 to the present would be more than enough.  Since then he has won 36

times.  But no championships.  You get the feeling that this hasn’t been enough for Gordon.

That he wants to have that fifth championship.  He wants a Sprint Cup championship.

Gordon is such an icon is so many ways.  I remember when I was young seeing him in

commercials, billboards, and in the mall.  Still do to this day.  He has guest hosted what is now

live with Kelly and Michael.  He has guest hosted Saturday night live.  He has appeared in

feature films.

Not many athletes get that kind of exposure.  Very find NASCAR drivers get that (only Dale

Earnhardt Jr and Danica Patrick surpass Gordon in fame.  Stewart and Johnson come close).

That is how you know that his career has been special.  It’s been worth celebrating.

I’ve never called myself a Gordon fan.  In fact as a kid I really didn’t like him.  But as I’ve

grown older my respect for him as grown.  I still have never truly cheered for him.  But I can’t

help but to be in awe of him and his accomplishments.  He has this aura around him like no

other.

I remember the first time that I got to see him on track.  It was Sprint Cup series practice at

Dover in the spring of 2006.  I had gone to the race as a guest of a family friend that owned an

Xfinity team.  Seeing the 24 zip pass me on track was amazing.

I got to see Gordon actually run a race in 2007 at Martinsville in the fall.  I will never forget

seeing him and Jimmie Johnson battle for the win there.  That is something that I will be telling

my kids.  I remember seeing him start on the pole at Dover in the fall of 2008.  Seeing him race

for something else.  He had a style like no other.

It will be very hard to imagine the sport without him.  He’s been there forever.  I’ve never

turned a NASCAR Cup race on and he wasn’t in the field.  But that will happen next year.

Have fun today Jeff.  Won’t be the same without you.

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