The Two Tony Stewarts

Here’s an op-ed I wrote for the New York Post:

Regardless of whatever’s decided in a courtroom in Ontario County or the court of public opinion, any verdict on the Tony Stewart incident will be a mixed one. And that’s because of Stewart himself.

He’s one of racing’s most mercurial drivers. Like his longtime idol, A.J. Foyt, who once punched an Indy 500 security guard for simply asking to see his credentials, Stewart has been known to be a bit of a hothead.

His fans love to tune to his radio frequency during races to hear his four-worded tirades against his crew when they don’t get the car just right.

The Angry Tony Stewart.

The Angry Tony Stewart.

Ironically, Stewart is not only famous for his angry outbursts, he’s also guilty of getting out of his car in the middle of a race and letting a fellow drive know exactly how he feels, just as young Upstate New York driver Kevin Ward did on that fateful Saturday night. Stewart’s been known to throw both his helmet and his fists in anger.

Still, much of this behavior occurred when he was much younger. People close to him say anger-management counseling has made a huge difference.

These days, according to his inner circle, you’re more likely to encounter a magnanimous Tony Stewart than the monster Tony Stewart.

Indeed, many people know him to be one of the kindest, most generous people on the planet. For instance, when he won the Nascar Sprint Cup Championship in 2011, Stewart made good on a promise to take his entire 160-member race team — everyone from mechanics to fan club envelope-stuffers — to Las Vegas for the awards banquet.

I’ve had my own run-ins with Stewart’s Jekyll and Hyde personality. I’ve been at press conferences where he’s told reporters, “That’s a stupid question.” (In his defense, it was.) I’ve also seen the kinder, gentler Stewart away from the glare of the Nascar spotlight.

The Happy Tony Stewart.

The Happy Tony Stewart.

Stewart now owns tiny Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, one of the grand cathedrals of sprint-car racing. He took over the track when it was on the verge of closing, pumped a bunch of his own money into it and preserved one of the great events of the sport, the King’s Royal.

When I interviewed him at Eldora for a July 2009 Wall Street Journal feature, he couldn’t have been nicer. Away from the Nascar pressure cooker, where his day is regimented minute by minute for more than 40 weeks a year, Stewart clearly becomes a different man.

This, of course, makes the incident in Canandaigua all the more unfathomable. It’s easy to imagine Stewart losing his temper at Martinsville or Bristol, two of the half-mile bullrings where Nascar still races. But a little-known short track on a Saturday night racing sprint cars? I can tell you — and he would, too — that there is nowhere in the world that he is happier.

There are also some questions for Nascar in all of this. Since the early 1990s, when it started to shuck its good ’ol boy image for a more corporate look and feel, Nascar has tried to keep a short leash on drivers like Stewart. In turn, many fans will tell you that Nascar took away much of the character(s) of the sport.

I was at North Wilkesboro, one of the short tracks that wasn’t glamorous enough to make it in the new Nascar, in the early ’90s when a fight broke out in the garage between two drivers. It was just a short tussle — a few punches thrown, words exchanged. I don’t even recall who was involved.

Buddy Baker

Buddy Baker

But I do clearly remember Buddy Baker, an old-time Nascar driver-turned-broadcaster, turning to the crowd shortly after the fight broke up and loudly proclaiming, “Hot damn, boys, this is the way we used to settle things.”

He had a point. Maybe if Nascar allowed a few more minor dustups in the garage, if everyone who deviated from the corporate script wasn’t called on the carpet for the slightest transgression, drivers would work these things out among themselves.

Sure, a few punches might get thrown, a few uniforms ripped. But if Nascar gave these drivers a little more latitude, let them be themselves, maybe it would not only spice up a sport that has become staler than a month old loaf of Wonder bread, it might just prevent explosive outbursts far worse than the minor shoving match I saw in the North Wilkesboro garage.

As for which Tony Stewart was on that track in Canandaigua, only he knows for sure. And he’ll have to live with it.

Mark Yost is a former reporter for National Speed Sport News and author of “The 200 MPH Billboard: The Inside Story of How Big Money Changed Nascar.”


Dark Enough to be Interesting

That’s the latest review of my new detective mystery, “Cooper’s Daughter: A Rick Crane Noir.”

It’s the 18th 5-star review the book has gotten since coming out in June. 

The reviewer also said the book was, “A good throwback to the classic detective story.”

If you haven’t read Cooper’s Daughter, pick up a copy today. Here’s the jacket copy to whet your whistle.

When his daughter is found dead in a Binghamton rail yard and the police treat it like a cold case, Bill Cooper hires the one man who can figure out what happened – Rick Crane. But as the Upstate New York private eye digs into the case, everyone tells him to “let it go.” Crane doesn’t, and soon discovers that the death of COOPER’S DAUGHTER was about much more than the murder of one wild young woman.


Rick Crane: A Classic Noir Hero

That’s according to the latest review of “Cooper’s Daughter: A Rick Crane Noir,” my new top-10 noir mystery.  

A classic noir with flawed but honorable hero who is willing to face real danger to make sure that justice is done. Good pace with all the details you need to get sucked in and lose several hours.

Here’s what others had to say about the book featuring a hardboiled private eye in Upstate New York: 

– A good throwback to the classic detective story. Dark enough to be interesting.

– Rick Crane has serious personal problems and an “Iffy” moral code that allows him to move through the underworld on his way to morning Mass with little concern.

– Looking for a good fast moving PI story? Well, stop right here. Great characters, good plot, and well written.


Cooper’s Daughter: Telling It Like It Is

That’s the latest 5-star review of my new noir thriller, “Cooper’s Daughter” on Amazon.

Ray, one of Kindle’s regular reviewers, wrote: 

Very good to excellent book. The author is pretty close to telling it like it is. Looking forward to reading more of his work.

Hang on, Ray. You won’t have to wait long. I’m almost done with Jimmy’s Nephew, the second bookin the Rick Crane Noir series, due out this fall. 

Grabs You By the Collar

I have so many books on my kindle that I haven’t read past the first chapter. This book grabbed me right away and thrust me into a world I did not know. 

That’s just one of the five-star reviews for “Cooper’s Daughter: A Rick Crane Noir.”

Here’s what others had to say:

– Rick Crane has serious personal problems and an “Iffy” moral code that allows him to move through the underworld on his way to morning Mass with little concern. I look forward to his future exploits.

– A quick read, but packed with great characters,and an intriguing plot.

– Looking for a good fast moving PI story? Well, stop right here. Great characters, good plot, and well written. 

Available on Amazon.

Book 2 in the Rick Crane Series due out this fall.

Women Beware

By Mark Yost

ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith and The View co-host Whoopi Goldberg have ignited a firestorm with their comments about the latest incident of domestic violence and athletes. Smith was suspended by the cable sports network for telling women, in the wake of Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice’s modest two-game suspension for basically cold-cocking his girlfriend in an elevator: “Let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions.” He has since apologized.

SmithGoldberg came to Smith’s defense, basically saying that he was just being honest. “You have to teach women, do not live with this idea that men have this chivalry thing still with them,” the outspoken gabfest host said. “Don’t be surprised if you hit a man and he hits you back.”

While their comments have, as usual, been blown out of proportion by the 24-hour news cycle that must feed itself on whatever’s available, the sad fact of the matter is that Smith and Goldberg are basically right. Women who hang out with professional athletes shouldn’t be surprised when the relationship turns violent.  

In just the past few weeks, University of Texas football players Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander were charged with the sexual assault of another student in an on-campus dorm; University of Georgia lineman Jonathan Taylor was accused of chocking and punching his girlfriend; Alex Figueroa and JaWand Blue, linebackers for the University of Miami, an institution of higher learning run by former Clintonista Donna Shalala and no stranger to these incidents, were charged with raping a 17-year-old student after they plied her with alcohol; and recently, former New York Giant Luke Petitgout was accused of assaulting his wife, not his first assault.

In short, forget about head injuries and whether or not the Washington Redskins name is offensive; there is an epidemic of domestic violence in college and professional sports, and no one seems to care.

Varsity GreenI’ve been writing about the business and culture of sports for The Wall Street Journal for nearly 20 years, but even I was taken aback when last fall I reviewed “The System,” by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian, a book that catalogued the most egregious examples of a college sports culture that’s out of control. For instance,while male athletes on average make up just 3% of the college population, they account for 19% of the assaults on women. Most disturbing was their retelling of a Brigham Young University rape case in which the state brought in its best prosecutor but lost because, as jurors said afterward: the football players who had repeatedly raped a fellow student after drugging her  “had suffered enough. They lost their scholarships.”

This isn’t an isolated incident. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was accused of rape last season and several reports, including an in-depth investigation by The New York Times, found that the case was not investigated vigorously because of Mr. Winston’s status as a football player in a town that is football crazy. According to the accuser’s attorney, Patricia Carroll, the investigating officer – not some booster, but the police – initially told her that her client “needs to think long and hard before proceeding against him because she will be raked over the coals and her life will be made miserable.” 

What this should tell us is that the problem isn’t with the players, but with a culture that continues to not only tolerate, but excuse, violent behavior that is systemic. The guilty parties aren’t the athletes or the women, it’s us, the broader culture that continues to revere these athletes, buy their jerseys and tickets to their games, and hold them up as role models.

I know some of you are rolling your eyes at the fact that I’m blaming “the culture,” but it’s a problem that goes well beyond college and pro athletics. The Ray Rices of the world don’t come out of the womb ready to slug the first woman they see. This is learned behavior, reinforced by fans who forgive and forget.

It begins when many of these kids are just 10 years old. That’s when they show up at events like the Amateur Athletic Union’s basketball championships, held each year at Walt Disney World and scouted by some of college basketball’s top coaches. This is when the adults who are supposed to be looking out for these kids – parents, teachers, coaches and advisers – tell them to forget academics and focus on athletics. They tell these kids – especially inner-city black kids – that sports is their ticket out. And so, they’re passed along by well-meaning teachers, and eventually get admitted to colleges with seventh-grade reading comprehension and sixth-grade math skills. And the colleges don’t care; these kids sell tickets and get boosters to write checks. Besides, in the case of basketball, many of these kids are on campus for just one year. September to April, really, declaring for the NBA Draft shortly after March Madness, their prime reason for being allowed to enroll. Then, before they’re 25, they sign their first million-dollar contract and have agents and yes men to handle it all. And then, albeit too briefly, we wonder why they get into trouble after years of conditioning them that they’re special and the rules don’t apply to them.  

Not even the president is immune to this cultural cancer. Case in point: Barrack Obama has held up point guard Derrick Rose, who grew up in the gritty Englewood neighborhood and is one of the NBA’s biggest stars, as a role model for Chicago kids. Apparently long forgotten by the president and an all-too-forgiving sports media is the fact that Rose was accused of cheating on his entrance exams to the University of Memphis. The NCAA, no paragon of virtue when it comes to policing academics or athlete behavior, found enough evidence to vacate the entire season Rose was at Memphis. But by then, Rose had moved on to the NBA and his coach, John Calipari, the Tony Soprano of college sports, had moved to Kentucky, becoming one of the highest paid basketball coach in the country. Apparently, all that is forgotten (and forgiven). When Rose came back from a knee injury last year, the president Tweeted: “Welcome back, @DRose. #BullsNation.”    

In short, the problem isn’t them, it’s us. And until we demand better from our athletes, Smith and Goldberg are right. Women better not provoke them.

Mr. Yost is the author of “Varsity Green: A Behind the Scenes Look at Culture and Corruption in College Athletics.”

Upcoming Appearance: Texas Gulf Coast Writers

If you’re in Texas on Aug. 11, be sure to stop by the Texas Gulf Coast Writers in Beaumont. 

Mark Yost, author of "Cooper's Daughter."

Mark Yost, author of “Cooper’s Daughter.”

I’ll be speaking to this fantastic group of writers old and new about the importance of finding the right publisher, no matter what your genre.

I’ll also be taking questions about my new thriller, “Cooper’s Daughter: A Rick Crain Noir.”

Here are some of the reviews:

– Rick Crane has serious personal problems and an “Iffy” moral code that allows him to move through the underworld on his way to morning Mass with little concern. I look forward to his future exploits.

– Cooper’s Daughter is a fun quick read. I couldn’t put it down and read it all in one sitting. Impressive writing to get the story all told with interesting characters (complete with their own back stories), solid plot and compelling details

– Incredibly engaging and powerfully worded. I love how the author leave things to our imagination sometimes but spells out what we need to know for the flavor of the scenes. Waiting eagerly for Crane’s next Job.


College Men, All

The epidemic of on-campus violence perpetrated by men who allegedly passed the rigorous admissions standards of colleges and universities across the country continues. 

This, from the New York Post’s Phil Mushnick, who, as usual, has a unique solution to the on-campus problem of college (and pro) football players.

MushThose NCAA and NFL initiatives to reduce the high incidence of concussions and all life-diminishing head trauma among football players, should be extended to include the wives, child mothers, girlfriends and one-nighters who have their heads bashed in by the football players in their company.

It’s epidemic. A football player of some note — often an extra-large current or former college man — is arrested for brutalizing a woman, unless a football fanatic police officer would otherwise blame the steps she was thrown down.

How better to ensure the aftercare of these victims than to enter them into the head trauma research programs and provide them a cut of legal payouts?

On Tuesday, 6-foot-4, 340-pound Georgia lineman Jonathan Taylor was charged with choking and punching his girlfriend. The police further reported the assault occurred on campus and in a dorm, both now common sites for violence by student-athletes against young women.


The Driverless Car Killed Jim Rockford

San Marcos, Texas

Don’t believe what you’ve been reading. Natural causes didn’t kill actor James Garner, the Google Driverless Car did.

To older Americans, the affable Oklahoma actor is probably best remembered as “Bret Maverick.” To me and my high school buddies, he’ll always be “Rockford.” Not “Jim Rockford,” but simply “Rockford,” the main character in the 1970s television show, “The Rockford Files,” in which he played likable but flawed private eye Jim Rockford.

RockfordBefore we graduated in 1981, my friend Ed Shill, now a successful money manager and the only guy to beat The Wall Street Journal’s dartboard contest two quarters in a row, and I bombed around in his 1974 gold Plymouth Duster. Shill liked to drive fast and throw the Duster into corners and slide around the icy back roads of Upstate New York, all the time screaming “Rockford!” as we skidded toward a tree or a ditch. (Yes, there was usually alcohol involved.)

When I was a reporter for the Dow Jones Newswires in Detroit in the late 1990s, I went on a media junket to the Indy 500. Garner was one of the ceremonial pace car drivers. When all the reporters got a chance to ride around the track, I didn’t flock to Anthony Edwards, another Hollywood car guy, or any of the other celebrity drivers the track brought in. I made a B-line for Rockford.

I told him about our high school exploits. He flashed that grin that got him past the first screen test and made for a pretty good career. He even signed a hat to Shill and below his signature penned “Rockford!”

Rockford PoseWhen the talk turned to cars, it was obvious that the man who did most of his own driving in Rockford’s gold Pontiac Firebird had already soured on what was coming out of Detroit. He told me, “When I was a kid growing up in Oklahoma, I would sit out in front of my house and I could tell what kind of car was coming up the road just by the headlights.” Then he frowned and said, “Nowadays, all the cars look the same.”

So Rockford was very much on my mind when I went to Dick’s Classic Garage last Saturday night, about the time police were called to Garner’s Brentwood, Calif., home. I came to the small museum full of distinctive cars from the 1950s – Chevy Bel Airs, Oldsmobile 98 Starfires, Cadillac Coupe de Villes – to talk to the dwindling American demographic known simply as “car guys.”

1955 Chevy Bel Air at Dick's Classic Garage.

1955 Chevy Bel Air at Dick’s Classic Garage.

Once a month, Dick’s hosts an open house. Admission to the museum is free and the parking lot fills up with regulars who bring their own classic cars, from ’34 Fords to late-1960s and early ‘70s Camaros and Trans Ams, cousins to Rockford’s Firebird. I wanted to know what they thought about the Google Driverless Car, now approved in three U.S. states, as well as several European countries. Not surprisingly, I didn’t find many fans.

“That car is how I get off the grid,” said Tom Fortney, 42, who owns a classic 1954 Chevy Bel Air and spoke for most everyone here. “I get in that car and I just forget about everything.”

Indeed, but I think the Google Driverless Car is a bigger development than most Americans realize. Yes it’s cool and marks another technological milestone in a century filled with them. But it also marks the end of an era that began shortly after World War II, when the automobile became a symbol of America’s postwar prosperity and freedom. We’d defeated the Axis powers, made the world (mostly) free, and all got to drive these big wonderful cars with gold-plated grills, twin hood ornaments, wraparound windshields, sweeping lines, and huge tailfins that seemed to go on forever.  These cars defined the America of the 1950s and ‘60s and, in many ways, they defined us.

Now, just two generations later, the car, something we once loved and cherished, has become nothing more than another commoditized item in an increasingly commoditized world. Instead of driving around in cars that said something about who we are, in the not-too-distant future we’ll be driven around in Google’s nondescript ovoid bubble, the open road replaced by a grid controlled by servers in a basement in a suburb of San Francisco. And I doubt that in 50 years, visitors will flock to Google’s corporate headquarters (since moved to Shanghai for tax reasons) and ogle the first driverless car the way the folks were ogling each other’s cars in the parking lot of Dick’s. 

Now, having driven on the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn and the 405 in L.A. at rush hour, I can certainly see the advantages of a car controlled by a computer and not a guy jacked up on caffeine who’s late for work. The driverless car – in theory – would mean no more tailgating, no more speeding, and, barring a hiccup in the system, no more accidents. The driverless car could potentially do more for world peace than a settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians and keeping nuclear weapons away from the mullahs in Iran.

Grand NationalBut the driverless car falls short here, as well. Because I think Google’s burgeoning invention is also symbolic of a post-9/11 era in which many Americans have been willing to trade freedom for (a false sense of) security. Now, instead of deciding where we go and how we get there, we’re going to outsource it to a computer.

The driverless car marks a fundamental shift in American life, attitudes and culture. I don’t doubt that it’s a development that James Garner – “Rockford!” – found disappointing. So do a lot of us.

So rest in peace, my friend. As one of the last of the car guys’ car guys, you’ve gone on to a far better place.  

Mark Yost is a writer in Houston. In his latest noir novel, “Cooper’s Daughter,” private eye Rick Crane drives a 1987 Buick Grand National. 

I’ve Been Called Worse

Nice shout out from ChadtheElder over at Fraters Libertas for my new World War I blog. 

BTW, Chad: I do WW II, as well. 

Back to the Front

noun, plural rac·on·teurs  
a person who is skilled in relating stories and anecdotes interestingly.

Tyne Cot Cemetery.

Tyne Cot Cemetery.

There are many words that one could use to describe writer Mark Yost (some of them actually not obscene), but raconteur is probably the one that comes to mind first. From his work on the business of sports to his Nick Mattera series of thrillers to the new Rick Crane noir, Mark covers the base and does so with style and flair. 

His latest effort is to serve as a virtual tour guide for World War One’s Western Front at a blog called The Western Front in a Week:

As many of you know, I am an avid World War I historian.

I lived in Brussels for three years, writing for The Wall Street Journal. I have visited most of the battlefields, monuments, cemeteries and museums related to what most Europeans still call “The Great War.” Along the way, I’ve written numerous articles over the years for The Wall Street Journal and other publications.

August 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of what many consider the major events that actually began the 20th century. Over the next four years, more people than ever before (hopefully) will be visiting the Menin Gate in Ypres, the British memorial at Thiepval on The Somme, and the Ossuary at Verdun.

Given all the renewed interest in World War I, I am offering my expertise. I can guide your tour across France and Belgium. I can help you plan your self-guided tour to make sure you visit the most informative museums, most moving monuments, and most haunting cemeteries. And, I am available to speak to your book club, luncheon group, or professional meeting.

World War I is an oft-forgot piece of history, overshadowed by World War II and other events. I hope that changes with the advent of the 100th anniversary.

In short, I’m here to increase your knowledge of World War I and make your trip to the Western Front enjoyable and informative, in whatever way I can.

Over the course of the next four years, I will be commenting here on the anniversary of important battles, republishing my articles past, present and future from The Wall Street Journal, and curating what I hope you will find to be a lively and engaging discussion on World War I.

Our boys will be studying World War One next year as part of their home school curriculum. At this point, requests to have Mark swing by for personal tutoring have not been responded to.  Check out Mark’s new blog anyway and his other writing. It’s all good stuff.