Greetings from Duluth, where I arrived last night. Newly crowned national curling champion Tyler George picked me up at the airport, so of course I was all set to pay for his parking, but get this: The Duluth airport has free parking if you get in and out in 20 minutes. Have I mentioned before that the Midwest is my favorite part of the country?
One person I’m looking forward to meeting later this week is reader Jory Fleischauer, who lives nearby. He recently told me about an interesting storyline involving NASCAR, which of course is a realm I rarely write about, mainly because I don’t know jackshit about it. But as you’ll see, Jory has come up with something that’s very much in the Uni Watch wheelhouse.
Check out the little flaming decal under Jimmie Johnson’s left headlight. It’s hard to see, but it says “BA” and also has a number. Jory says (and Johnson’s publicist has confirmed for me) that the initials are for Blaise Alexander, who died in a crash in 2001, and the numbers are the tail number of the Hendrick Motorsports plane that crashed in Martinsville, Virginia, in 2004.
The decal is just the latest stage in a progression that Jory’s been tracking for years now:
After Blaise died, Jimmie would take a Sharpie and write “BA” followed by some flames below the left side headlight. After the Hendrick crash in 2004, they added that plane’s tail number to it. Now it’s progressed to a full-fledged decal on the car.
Jimmie’s car is usually either dark blue or black, and until recently the decal itself was dark as well, which made it harder to see. Sort of an “It’s there, but it’s not there” type of thing. It’s only been in the last two years or so that they have lightened it up so you can actually notice it.
The interesting thing, at least from Jory’s point of view, is that this memorial decal has gotten almost zero attention in the NASCAR world — most people, he says, appear to be unaware of it. “That memorial has been on his car for every one of his 294 starts, every one of his 49 victories, every one of his four championships, as far as I can tell,” he says. “But aside from a brief mention in a 2003 article, but no one has covered it or told the story behind it. It’s like if Michael Jordan wore the initials of a fallen friend on his sneakers for every single game of his career and nobody noticed or said anything. I’m not sure anything like this has occurred in any sport with a star of this magnitude.”
In fact, the decal is routinely omitted from models of Johnson’s car. Jory explains: “NASCAR fans often collect diecasts of their favorite car. These diecasts can get very detailed — the race win diecasts replicate every scratch, tire mark, you name it. But when they produce diecasts for Johnson’s wins, the memorial decal is not there (here’s another example — yes, the photos are are not very clear, but you can tell the decal isn’t there).”
All very interesting. I know nothing about the history or protocols memorial gestures in the NASCAR world, so I asked Jory about that. He responded with a tremendous essay on the topic, covering major memorials for the past 20 years or so. You can see that report here.
NCAA Contest Reminder: Remember, Vince is running his annual NCAA Tourney contest (and I’m providing the annual prizes). Details here.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Good story + slideshow about the Wild’s equipment crew here (with thanks to Karl Anderson). … “Baseball Prospectus Radio posted another uni-centric podcast over the weekend, this time focusing on three Northeastern seniors who’ve designed a shirt with sensors in it to detect changes in a pitcher’s motion as fatigue sets in,” writes Brian Hansen. “The podcast is here and there’s a video of it in action here.” … Sammy Barbour reports that the PuckDrawn site is challenging its readers to rebrand the Original Six NHL teams. This is a classic case of fixing something that isn’t broken, but some of the submissions are interesting nonetheless. So far they’ve done the Wings, Rangers, and Leafs. … Y’know, I could really get used to this (with thanks to Jameson Costello). … Dave Eskenazi sent along some photos that show the 1961 Seattle Rainers jerseys with the 1962 “Century 21” Seattle World’s Fair sleeve patch. “This of course was the event that brought Seattle the Space Needle, not to mention Elvis and a young Kurt Russell (who was a pretty good ballplayer himself).” … Pretty hilarious commercial playing off the hyphen in Ryan Rowland-Smith’s name — highly recommended viewing (with thanks to Jeremy Brahm, plus John Doodigian says, “The blogosphere is already clamoring for the T-shirts to be made”). … Another baseball team wearing green today: Virginia Tech (with thanks to Andrew Cosentino). … Mizzou baseball is wearing very nice throwbacks on Sundays (with thanks to Ryan Sherry). … Sam Graves was watching the UNC/Wm&Mary NIT game and noticed Ed Davis, who’s out for the season and was dressed in civvies, with “Easy Ed” monogrammed on his cuff. … Columbia River High School in Vancounver, Washington, played their opening game of the season on Monday, and 10th-grader John Mahoney was making us proud — below the waist, at least. Next time remember to tuck in that shirttail, John! … So you wanna host a few NCAA Tourney games? There are just a few rules you’ll have to follow (fascinating contribution from Mike Cline). … Speaking of NCAA rules, Arkansas-Pine Bluff neglected to add the little blue “NCAA” patch for last night’s play-in game, at least for the first half. But when they came out for the second half, the patch had been added (good work by Tim Burke). … Camo is bad enough, but there’s something kinda fucked up about the Johnstown Chiefs planning to wear Marine Corps-“inspired” uniforms next week. Details here (thanks, Kek). … My anonymous NFL tipster says there’s a decent chance the Bears may be adding something like this to their wardrobe this season, although probably with thicker numerals. … As most of you probably know, the Phillies wore a blue jay patch in the mid-1940s. Now Matt Algeo has found an old newspaper article chronicling the confusion this caused. Further details on his blog. … There’s this thing I usually say on March 17th, but apparently Mike Engle couldn’t wait, because yesterday he said it for me.