Archive for January, 2010

100 Random Facts and Memories

January 26, 2010

1. My earliest memory is of my mom pushing me in a little yellow bucket swing on a bright spring day in my backyard, singing my “ABC”s with me and counting.

2. The first birthday I can remember is my 4th birthday. I received a monster truck board game.

3. I was obsessed with dinosaurs from birth, practically, until about the age of 10.

4. I owned literally every action figure from the first Jurassic Park movie.. I think I still do.

5. It thrilled me when my first band agreed to call themselves The Dennis Nedrys. Dennis Nedry is a character in Jurassic Park.

6. I take pride in being a team player, a role player, the person that does what nobody else wants to do; if it means getting the job done. I’m the guy who “takes one for the team.”

7. I HATE MUSHROOMS AND COCONUT

8. I remember being 4 and “cruising” with my dad in his car, jamming to Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” and Van Halen’s “Panama,” and me responding to the latter by saying “Dad! That’s a country!”

9. I also recall jamming to a ZZ Top record with him.

10. The first three ROCK albums I ever bought were with my first ever paycheck, which I earned being the mascot for the Chillicothe Paints. The albums were greatest hits compilations from ZZ Top, The Doobie Brothers, and Van Halen.

11. I decided to check out The Doobie Brothers because of a Simpsons episode that had a funny reference to them.

12. Lisa Simpson inspired me to take up the saxophone.

13. I’ve been a NASCAR fan longer than I have anything else. Except maybe dinosaurs and reading.

14. My mom began teaching me how to read and write at the age of 2.

15. My mom and I have co-authored dozens of books. They were all created when I was between 4 and 8.

16. I had a slight Colorform obsession.

17. I first had iced coffee with Casey Wolfe and Ansel Benson. I had no clue what I wanted from McDonald’s one day so Casey told me to drink an iced coffee. He created a monster! Now coffee is my favorite beverage.

18. I didn’t have my first kiss until the age of 17.

19. My first car was a 1997 Pontiac Grand Prix, green.

20. The first record I ever played while driving it was Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits.

21. Vince Tropea once said that he hears Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded” in his head whenever I enter a room.

22. I’ve been on the front page of the Chillicothe Gazette at least three times, and have been within the pages many a time.

23. I accepted Jesus Christ on December 13th, 2004.

24. I’m a charter member of Lighthouse Baptist Church.

25. I played a year of football at Wilmington College, but I barely played.

26. We played against current Colts wide receiver Pierre Garcon, and I was a teammate of LeRoy Kelly Jr.

27. I bought an X-Box on 8/8/08.

28. I met my first love on Halo 3.

29. I used to be a mainstay on the Top 100 Wheelman list on HaloCharts.

30. I’ve wasted the most time playing Halo 3, Age of Empires II, SimCity 3000, and the Madden Football series in my life.

31. I believe I can do anything I want to in this life, I just need opportunity and money to get my dreams kickstarted.

32. As a kid, every payday I ‘d ask my mom to buy me a toy. She told me I didn’t need any more toys. I saw a loophole and I would say, “Mommy, can I have a book then?” That helped boost my love for reading.

33. My favorite fast food restaurant is Taco Bell.

34. My favorite sit-down restaurant is California Pizza Kitchen.

35. I have a constant fear of dying young and/or being forgotten, even though I have no fear whatsoever of the actual afterlife.

36. I don’t think I discovered who I was until after high school, and matured much later than many people my age.

37. I was a mailman for three months.

38. My favorite record is Marillion’s Misplaced Childhood.

39. My favorite color is teal.

40. I want to travel the world.

41. My first concert was Journey/Def Leppard in Cincinnati, Summer of 2006. I went with Derek Kuhner and Scott Miller.

42. On the way there we drag-raced a convertible filled with hot women down the highway as Van Halen’s “Panama” (that song is everywhere in my life) blared through my speakers. Kuhner proclaimed “We’re living in an damn music video!!”

43. One of my clearest memories is the entire Chillicothe Cavaliers Basketball 2008 State Championship Game.

44. Inspired by Ren and Stimpy, as a young child I kept a “magic nose goblin” collection.

45. My favorite TV show is The Simpsons.

46. My favorite movie changes constantly but if I had to pick, it would be Jurassic Park or The Land Before Time for sentimental reasons.

47. I take my iPod with me everywhere.

48. I think my best talents are creative and journalistic writing, traditional lyric writing, organizing events, and playing Texas hold ’em poker.

49. I used to be addicted to gambling. I’ve got that under control now.

50. I’ll never ever forget holding my two baby sisters for the first time.

51. My sister Hayley was born premature and needed extra medical attention. That scared me so much. She ended up being okay.

52. I’m sad that my sisters and I are a generation apart in age, that keeps us from being closer.

53. I wore the numbers 53, 70, 76, 79, and 84 in football. My favorite was 53, I wore it all four years of high school. I consider it my lucky number.

54. I’m interested in medieval culture, politics, history, and warfare.

55. I also want to learn as much as possible about Native Americans, World War II, and The Civil War.

56. I bought my first guitar from Pete Sabatini. The first song I learned, er segment rather, was the intro to Bob Seger’s “Mainstreet.”

57. When I bought my bass the first songs I tried to learn were by Rush. Big mistake for a beginner.

58. I want to learn how to play piano.

59. I love birdwatching, stargazing, hiking, and fishing.. but I don’t get to do these very much.

60. I have an obsession with Italian sub sandwiches.

61. I want to learn how to paint and draw cartoons/comics.

62. I used to be into powerlifting.

63. I believe in extraterrestrial life.

64. I vote not by party line, but by the situation.

65. I think the death of Officer Larry Cox was the worst thing to happen in Chillicothe in my lifetime.

66. My favorite sports team is the Cincinnati Bengals.

67. I want to become a high school teacher, then work my way to becoming a professor. The whole way I want to pursue side projects in novel writing and music making, and perhaps one day start my own studio or restaurant.

68. I decided to make a 16 hour round trip to go to a NASCAR race last year with Danny Russell, with only 36 hours notice.

69. I admit to enjoying the music of Lady GaGa.

70. My first celebrity crush was Shania Twain.

71. I’m a firm believer in The Golden Rule.

72. My favorite beer is Guinness; Extra Stout.

73. I want to own a motorcycle someday.

74. Why stop there? I want to own a NASCAR team.

75. I intend on being responsible with my money if I ever start making enough to save.. so that one day I could do the above, haha.

76. The best concert I ever attended was Porcupine Tree in Cleveland, 2007.

77. Most of my closest friends I didn’t get close to until late in high school, or after graduation.

78. I love epic science-fiction/fantasy sagas.

79. I’d love to be a pilot but my vision is absolutely horrible.

80. So is my sense of smell.

81. I won two Power of the Pen Regional competitions in middle school.

82. I want to take up photography.

83. My grandparents are awesome, I love them.

84. I’d love to be on Survivor, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Jeopardy, and The Amazing Race.

85. I’m a beast at Scrabble.

86. The physical feature I’m proudest of is my teeth.

87. I love roller coasters.

88. My favorite songs are “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses, “Shine” by Collective Soul, and “Africa” by Toto.

89. I’d love to own every DVD of The Simpsons, Family Guy, South Park, The Office, Scrubs, and several other series… because I never really watch TV.

90. I’d also love to watch more English Premier League Soccer.

91. I love clean guitar tones and meaty distorted riffs just the same.

92. If I ever become wealthy I intend on giving back. I believe all humans deserve the same opportunities, if they’ve worked hard for them and been good to others.

93. I don’t think I’ll ever get a tattoo.

94. I want children of my own, but only when I’m financially stable and mature.

95. I’m afraid of hospitals even though I know they’re there to help.

96. I’ve never flown other than a 30 minute small-plane tour of Ross County.

97. I want to drive in an auto race someday.

98. There’s going to be another 100 random facts and memories one day, don’t worry.

99. I’ll always take time out of my day to talk to anyone who wants to have a good conversation, no matter who they are.

100. I really, really like my last name and have a slight obsession with it.

This is so epic.

Radical.

I haven't tried wine yet; this shall be the first

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Album Review- Marillion, “Misplaced Childhood”

January 20, 2010

Marillion's 1985 record, Misplaced Childhood.

“Two hundred Francs for sanctuary and she led me by the hand to a room of dancing shadows where all the heartache disappears, and from glowing tongues of candles I heard her whisper in my ear: J’entend ton coeur. I can hear your heart….” -Bitter Suite (III. Blue Angel)

41 minutes is all I need for sanctuary as Marillion takes me by the hand, leading me into a world of dancing melodies where all my heartache disappears. From the glowing lyrics, frontman Fish seems to hear my heart indeed. I’m going to warn my readers now, I’m extremely biased about this album. I don’t know if I can fairly grade it, considering this is far and away my favorite album of all time. This piece of music means a lot to me. Forgive me, but realize.. this IS a great album, a must-listen for anyone, especially those with emotional investments in the records they enjoy.

Marillion is one of those bands that have two distinct eras due to changes in frontmen, like Genesis or Van Halen or AC/DC. The first four albums the band released, all in the 1980s, were under the lead of a charismatic Scottish poet by the nickname of Fish (Born Derek Dick). The band and Fish parted ways in 1988 and changed style significantly while picking up Steve Hogarth as their new frontman. While I enjoy Hogarth-era Marillion, I have much more emotional connection to the work Fish produced with the band, especially the album I’m preparing to discuss.

I discovered Marillion a few years ago when I realized that I had an obsession with “Progressive” rock. The term is loosely applied to any band with concept albums, superb technical ability, longer compositions, ambitious lyrical content, and influences outside of traditional rock roots. I acquired some Marillion, eager to absorb the keyboard solos, psychedelic vibes, out-of-this-world grooves and trippy rhythms that other prog bands were known for. Marillion displays all of these traits and then some, HOWEVER; it wasn’t their “progressiveness” that hooked me. The band seemed to have a more gentle, realistic, and authentic touch to their music and lyrics than many other prog bands did. Much of this can be traced to Fish, a well-travelled and cultured poet with a bold way of speaking and wearing his heart on his sleeve. Fish is one of the best emoters in rock history, I dare to say, up there with greats like Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Chris Cornell, Steve Perry, Robert Plant, and Bono. Every word, melody, note, and afflection Fish sings has a meaning; no word is without a purpose, no lyric is superficial.

I don’t think this is an album that casual listeners can truly grasp after one listen; nor do I think it’s an album that can be played in the background. It’s a wholesome, full work that is best enjoyed in isolation, without distraction. There’s so much going on in Misplaced Childhood, so many layers of meaning and music, that it takes time to “get.” It took me time.

Now, on to the review….

Fish

“Pseudo Silk Komono” seeps into the listener’s ears, a haunting, creepy organ melody lurking in the shadows of conscience. When Fish sings the lyrics, I can imagine a tired, weary, sage old man speaking these words as he reflects, struggling with some past sin or memory that he wishes to forget. This sets up the album on a somber, heavy note. “The spirit of a misplaced childhood is rising to speak his mind to this orphan of heartbreak, disillusioned and scarred; A refugee.” Fear and regret soak Fish’s words. I am able to feel the sorrow and remorse. Even if I haven’t faced the same horrors the narrator has, I can relate due to the emotion that drips from these poetic lyrics.

Marillion’s guitarist, Steve Rothery, is well-regarded for his melodic and atmospheric, clean playing style. This style is best exemplified in the intro of the second song, “Kayleigh.” His ringing riff is accented by clever piano and bass harmonies, while Ian Mosley’s drumming is snappy and tasteful. Fish pours out his heart to an old lover, begging her to come back, sharing very personal memories in a catchy and melodic tune. Yes, this is a rather “poppy” song, and was a huge hit in the United Kingdom, but the music and vocals are quite authentic. The heavy, haunting build-up in “Kimono” contrasts the jangling melodies that came here, but it works to be very effective as Fish begins to recall happenings past.  Rothery’s guitar solo captures the essence of yearning and separation, complimenting the hearty Fish vocal. Having undergone a recent split, and having had to comfort myself with this album as I had done many a time before, something about this song struck me to the core.  “Kayleigh I’m still trying to write that love song, Kayleigh it’s more important to me now you’re gone. Maybe it will prove that we were right, or ever prove that I was wrong.”

“Lavender” begins on one of the sweetest, simple, pure piano lines that I’ve ever heard. Fish’s voice drips of longing and remembrance as he recalls the innocence of childhood. The lyrics in this song are a bit more straightforward than in the other two, as this is done on purpose to tie into a popular nursery rhyme and perfectly capture the mood of youth. While Fish begs for his love to return to him in “Kayleigh,” in “Lavender” he acknowledges that he owes her for her love in a powerful chorus that gives way to another delightful Rothery solo.

In “Bitter Suite,” the mood reverts back to what is felt in the beginning of the album. Thundering, chaotic drums and dark, desolate bass chords resonate as the guitar picks and prods at inner demons deep within the listener, summoning forth mistakes and regrets that cling to this very day. The first part of the song is definitely a “mood” piece. Fish recites the lyrics in the beginning of the song, rather than sings them. The poem he reads is very pessimistic and dark in nature. Fish launches into his singing once more with a gusto, recalling lost souls who struggle with their pasts. “She was a wallflower at sixteen, she’ll be a wallflower at thirty four. Her mother called her beautiful, her daddy said, “A whore”.”

From here the music begins to build a bit, Rothery taking over for Fish, the guitar’s passionate lines just as useful as any lyric or word could ever be. The song shifts a bit, recalling the same mood as “Lavender” and “Kayleigh,” as Fish ponders another lost lover. My favorite lyrics in the entire album are sung in a heart-wrenching fashion: Two hundred Francs for sanctuary and she led me by the hand to a room of dancing shadows where all the heartache disappears, and from glowing tongues of candles I heard her whisper in my ear: J’entend ton coeur. I can hear your heart…”

The heart is certainly a recurring theme in Misplaced Childhood. One can tell that Fish and company put their hearts and souls into this work. It’s a deep, moving piece so far that has touched a wide variety of emotions, and the album isn’t even halfway over at this point. Fish, overwhelmed by the pressures and personal tragedies he’s faced, finds himself lost and directionless. “ On the outskirts of nowhere, on the ring road to somewhere, on the verge of indecision, I’ll always take the roundabout way.”

“Heart of Lothian” is a rip-roaring, spectacular, powerful anthem. Pete Trewavas plays a rumbling, active bassline as Rothery grinds out a flying, nonstop guitar line that brings to mind banners, parades, color, and smiles. There’s more satisfaction and bravado in Fish’s voice as he spectacularly describes “rooting, tooting cowboys” and “lucky little ladies at the watering hole.” Whatever darkness that plagued the narrater is forgotten, or at least covered up, by this swaggering fist-pumping sing-along. Has Fish moved on from his troubles? Has he made some kind of revelation about his life? Has he discovered that misplaced meaning once again?

It doesn’t appear to be so, as in the latter half of the song Fish’s voice suddenly turns to lament and confusion, the music melting around his mournful vocal as he proclaims, “The man in the mirror has sad eyes.”

“Waterhole (Expresso Bongo),” is a rhythmic whirlwind, as the keyboards and drums prance around in circles around an arrogant and bitter-sounding Fish asserting that “the heroes never show.” This is a quick song, but its punch is well-felt as it immediately gives way to “Lords of the Backstage,” which functions as a companion tune. The victorious tone of “Lothian” returns, with the snappy rhythm accenting Fish’s confession that he “just wanted you to be the first one. Ashes are burning, burning. A lifestyle with no simplicities, but I’m not asking for your sympathy. Talk, we never could talk, distanced by all that was between us. A lord of the backstage, a creature of language, I’m so far out and I’m too far in.”

Last night you said I was cold, untouchable. A lonely piece of action from another town. I just want to be free, I’m happy to be lonely. Can’t you stay away? Just leave me alone with my thoughts. Just a runaway, I’m saving myself.” In “Blind Curve,” Fish suddenly becomes closed-off and isolated. His voice drips of the kind of self-depricating hate that only the most upset and lost people can feel. Nearly anyone can empathize with the brutal heartbreak he expresses, as the soul-searching narrator goes on a directionless journey, “still trying to write love songs for passing strangers.” Many due props are given to keyboardist Mark Kelly, whose lines throughout the album have been extremely tasteful and have added so much to the moods. Here his synthesizers waver and weep as Fish succumbs to yet another wave of tragedies; losing a friend, facing his own mortality, and descending into substance abuse. Fish “never felt so alone” as he travels to yet “another temporary home.” Fish asks if he’d gone insane, and the music reflects this depression, slow and sporadic, haunting and meloncholy.

The addictions and depression get the best of the narrator. Fish laments, “I’ve never been so wasted. I’ve never been this far out before.” Another moody spoken word passage follows as he detects a presence, the drums and synth working together to generate a very dark atmosphere. He cries out to anyone who will listen to give his childhood back to him. Fish challenges industry, religion, and politics, saying he can’t take anymore, calling out the world for the evil that it produces. “How can we justify,” he asks, “they call us civilized!” The atmosphere of the album climbs back out of the darkness, as it seems Fish is on the verge of an epiphany. He finds meaning in his quest for innocence and justice. The guitar lines revisit “Heart of Lothian,” if not a bit more melancholy and purposeful this time around.

I’ll never forget the time I first truly got “hit” by “Childhood’s End?” This song, simply put, is my life story, musically and lyrically. It’s a revelation, happy and forward-thinking, a butterfly breaking out its coccoon, the dawn after the night, the light after the rain. Fish has found the meaning of his life, and has discovered that he’s still the same child he was in the past. “The only thing misplaced was direction, and I found direction. There is no childhood’s end!!” The music is victorious, Fish sounds genuinely happy, and the synth solo in the end of the song is one of the most powerful passages in music I’ve ever listened to. I can’t sum up how much this song means to me, especially the bolded/italicized part below…

And it was morning
And I found myself mourning,
For a childhood that I thought had disappeared
I looked out the window
And I saw a magpie in the rainbow, the rain had gone
I’m not alone, I turned to the mirror
I saw you, the child, that once loved

The child before they broke his heart
Our heart, the heart that I believed was lost

Hey you, surprised? More than surprised
To find the answers to the questions
Were always in your own eyes

Do you realize that you could’ve back to her?
But that would only be retraced in all the problems that you ever knew
So untrue
For she’s got to carry on with her life
And you’ve got to carry on with yours

So I see it’s me, I can do anything
And I’m still the child
‘Cos the only thing misplaced was direction
And I found direction
There is no childhood’s end
You are my childhood friend, lead me on

Hey you, you’ve survived. Now you’ve arrived
To be reborn in the shadow of the magpie

Now you realise, that you’ve got to get out of here
You’ve found the leading light of destiny, burning in the ashes of your memory
You want to change the world
You’d resigned yourself to die a broken rebel
But that was looking backward
Now you’ve found the light

You, the child that once loved
The child before they broke his heart
Our heart, the heart that I believed was lost

So it’s me I see, I can do anything.
I’m still the child
‘Cos the only thing misplaced was direction
And I found direction
There is no childhood’s end
I am your childhood friend, lead me on

The album ends on “White Feather,” a marching and boistrous number where Fish asserts possession of his own heart and soul, that he belongs to no nation, but he is the owner of himself and a free spirit with free will. It’s not the most powerful song on the album, by far, but it is a happy conclusion to this journey of negative and reflective moods.

I can’t use words to describe what Misplaced Childhood means to me. It’s one of the albums with a nonstop “shiver factor” and depth unparalleled. It’s the kind of music that you hear, and you think to yourself, “Where have I heard this before? Why is this so familiar?” It’s familiar because Marillion has harnessed the fabric of the human spirit, of love and loss and everything in between, and channelled it into one of the greatest albums of all time.

I long to speak with more people that have been touched as deeply as I by this album, who have listened to it literally dozens of times and love it just as much as I. If you take my advice and listen to it, or already have, whether you like it or not… I’d love to read your thoughts in the comment section..

Point-blank, I recommend this album to every person who listens to music with emotional investments, who look for something “more” out of their listening.

Anybody who is a casual fan of progressive rock such as Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, and Camel can find a good bit to enjoy in Misplaced Childhood as well, so even if you’re not an emotional listener, the record’s still good for a couple spins.

Timeless classic, an epic of love and loss and rediscovery…

Final Grade: A+

BUY THIS ALBUM HERE!!

Marillion: An Underrated Band

Unveiling My Projects in Progress….

January 12, 2010

THE GREATEST BAND THAT NEVER WAS

Nate Bahre drinks hard, plays hard, and rocks hard. Aleksandr Balanov legitimately believes he’s the second coming of Jim Morrison and is out to prove it. Frederick Ryan Slash Bryan Thomas is a Lovecraft-obsessed hacker who also happens to play the meanest set of skins in town.

How the hell is Albert Shaw going to fit into this motley crew of musicians? The young, reserved bassist unsuspectedly plunges headlong into the seedy world of rock and roll, pulled after one fateful jam session with these seasoned players. They form a band that defies categorization and begin touring around town, facing usual AND unusual pitfalls that every small-town group encounters when starting out. As members wind up in and out of jail, passing around groupies, falling off buildings, stumbling upon evil spirits, and encountering the wrath of jilted family members; Albert realizes that rock and roll ain’t noise pollution. It’s a life-consuming monster that can’t be tamed.

Follow Albert in this rollicking small-town journey that lies somewhere between Spinal Tap, Almost Famous, Dazed and Confused, and the real-life experiences of debut author Tyler Woodbridge.

As we launched into the opening riff of “Wake Up Carl” and I viciously flipped my bass strings, I could feel my worries deafened by the gain and feedback. Standing there on stage, pounding away in what must have been our thousandth time playing the song, it still felt new. I felt new, too.

I looked around at my bandmates, not even trying to conceal my massive grin. Never mind the fact that one of them had tried to kill me. I almost forgot that one had stolen the love of my life in front of my very eyes, and that the other would be lucky to escape the night without getting arrested. These transgressions were trivial, our conflicts had faded. In this moment, as we shared our work and spirit in front of a capacity crowd of twenty five, we were more than just friends, or bandmates, or partners in crime. We were brothers. We were the greatest band that never was.

THE END OF GOOD AND EVIL

In the year 2014, two neighboring nations have been all but taken over by a wealthy family. Sandoval Enterprises have members in government office as their business runs literally everything. As a recession hits, money talks as the family fabricates a false war between the nations of Donia and Nhaliuk to boost a sagging economy. Endless soldiers’ lives are sacrificed in the name of the almighty dollar as sinister men laugh all the way to the bank.

Sooner than later, this maniacal plot is threatened to be exposed on multiple fronts by a special ops soldier codenamed Trigger, a drifting citizen called Jimmy Glencroft, and a devout Christian politican named Eli Radovich. From all reaches of the conflict, they are drawn into an underground multinational revolution that seeks to shake the foundations of politics and war as we know it. Every man and woman involved will be forced to make decisions outside their moral boundary, see life and death through different eyes, and weather the storm of human error. They will need to put an end to this conflict once and for all. An end to both good and evil.

A Foray into NASCAR Writing: 2010 Predictions for Driver/Team Changes

January 11, 2010

(I submitted this as part of my new blog on Racing Reference, called “Wide Open with Woodbridge.” I love NASCAR racing so I figured I’d take a shot at submitting something. I know many of my regular readers aren’t racing fans, so if you read this out of respect for me, bear with me here!! Haha.)

Wide Open with Woodbridge: 2010 Predictions for Driver/Team Changes

There hasn’t been nearly as much intrigue and change over this past Silly Season as there has been in recent years. Previous seasons have beheld major factors such as Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, and Mark Martin moving to new teams. When a Silly Season’s biggest move comes from Martin Truex Jr., that says it all.

However, I feel the changes made over the offseason will cause a ripple effect that will certainly shake up Sprint Cup’s standings, the progress of some young teams, and the downfall of some others. I will go through every driver change and new team, from the bottom to the top numerically, and share my thoughts on how the move will effect Sprint Cup.

#09 Aric Almirola- Phoenix Racing- Miccosukee Indian Gaming Dodge/Chevy.
Last season, the #09 team was about as bipolar as racing teams can come. With hotshot up-and-comer Brad Keselowski behind the wheel, Finch racked up a surprise win at Talladega in the spring, and followed that up with a couple Top Tens in limited starts. In nearly every race that Keselowski didn’t drive, the #09 was piloted by a gaggle of journeyman veterans and one race with Almirola. In these races, the Miccosukee machine was a consistent start-and-parker, only finishing five non-Keselowski events. With Finch running an entire season with just one driver I have to wonder if they will go the start-and-park route or actually try to compete in races. Almirola showed some promise in a limited schedule back in 2008 in which he drove the #8 subbing for Mark Martin, but in 2009 his aborted campaign featured dismal finishes and no interest from potential sponsors, leading to the shutting down of the iconic team. Almirola has a future in this sport and is a gifted racer. I just doubt that Phoenix Racing will give Almirola the equipment, consistency, and opportunity to become the good driver he could be.

Prediction: Between 28th and 35th in points with a couple Top Tens, much worse if they start-and-park much of the season

#1 Jamie McMurray- Earnhardt/Ganassi Racing- Bass Pro Shops Chevy

Jamie McMurray has been one of those drivers that has been “on the verge of being great” for most of his career. With the sensational way he won in his 2nd start as a substitute driver for the injured Sterling Marlin in 2002, many fans and analysts have been expecting much more from McMurray. He performs well every season, but never well enough to place in the Top Ten in points or challenge for multiple wins. When he drove for Ganassi the first time around, he was never worse than 13th in points and had 46 Top Tens in three seasons. Those statistics are good, and with McMurray going from being the number five driver at Roush to being one of only two drivers at EGR, he will get a better share of equipment and attention. EGR may be a team on their way back up, especially after Juan Pablo Montoya claimed a Chase berth and consistent finishes in the #42 last year. This move will benefit both McMurray and the man he replaced, Martin Truex Jr., in many ways.

Prediction: Top 20 in points, contending for a couple wins and having several Top Fives, a typical Jamie McMurray year but slightly better than his Roush seasons

#12 Brad Keselowski- Penske Racing- Verizon Dodge

Brad Keselowski’s been one of the best drivers in the Nationwide series for a couple years now. His hard-charging style has been compared to drivers from Earnhardt and Waltrip to the Busch brothers and his rival Denny Hamlin. He won a Cup race in an incredible finish at Talladega for an underfunded team, and was rumored to be linked to a variety of major teams from Hendrick to Stewart-Haas. Keselowski ends up at Penske, however, and will be an instant contributor to the top of Sprint Cup stat sheets. The #12 had always been a mainstay in Top 20 finishes, in races and standings, from the days of Jeremy Mayfield through Ryan Newman. That is, until last year, when David Stremme bungled his way through the season and selling the #12 completely short of what it can accomplish. Keselowski will have some struggles in his first full season, yes, but his Nationwide experience and racing instincts will carry him to several great finishes and contentions for wins. I don’t think he will make the Chase this year, but don’t rule him out for a trip in the next couple seasons.

Prediction: Top 20 in points, a win or two and over 10 Top Tens.

#34 Travis Kvapil- Front Row Motorsports- Long John Silver Ford

Travis Kvapil, I believe, is one of the most underrated drivers in any level of NASCAR racing. His consistent style and Wisconsin short track background make for a skillset Cup owners shouldn’t pass up. A Truck Series championship doesn’t hurt his resume, as well as over 100 Cup series starts under his belt. Front Row seems to be a team on their way up, at least compared to the teams below them in last year’s points. Bob Jenkins refused to start-and-park the #34 with John Andretti in 2009 as Andretti kept the car in the Top 35 by keeping the car in one piece. Kvapil, I feel, could be a Chase contender in the right equipment. Kvapil boosted the #28 Yates car when he stepped in and kept it relevant even without sponsorship, so I think he can do what Andretti did last year, if not more. Kvapil’s finishes typically don’t match his actual performances in races, especially in several fateful superspeedway events. I actually look for Kvapil to rack up Top Tens for Front Row, help the team gain acclaim, keep himself relevant and maybe even contend for a superspeedway win.

Prediction: Top 30 in points, several Top Tens

#36 Mike Bliss- Tommy Baldwin Racing- Toyota

Unless this team picks up a sponsor or finds a way into the Top 35 I sincerely doubt they will run many full races at all, and if they did, Bliss will be battling for hard-earned 33rd place finishes.

Prediction: Under the Top 35. Several missed races and many start-and-parks.

#37- Kevin Conway- Front Row Motorsports- Extenze Ford

Front Row Motorsports debuts a second full-time team this year with Kevin Conway. Conway’s not the most experienced driver in the world, and one has to figure that he getting the ride has more to do with his rookie status and the fact that he brings a sponsor, than his actual ability. While Front Row’s been doing much correctly lately and will be more prominent with Kvapil behind the wheel of their other car, I doubt Conway will be relevant this season. The team will make their way into the Top 35 and probably won’t start and park as much this year, however, it won’t be a very glorious 2009 campaign.

Prediction: Top 35, but barely. Lucky to get some Top 20 finishes.

#46- Terry Cook- Dusty Whitney- Dodge

Terry Cook’s a good driver. However, this is an unsponsored start-up team. I doubt we will see Cook drive very many full races. In the few races that they do run, they will jockey for 34th position with Mike Bliss and Kevin Conway. The addition of this team won’t be a very big splash in NASCAR at all.

Prediction: Many, many start and parks.

#56- Martin Truex Jr.- Michael Waltrip Racing- NAPA Toyota

This is a move that could help push Michael Waltrip Racing into superteam status. Marcos Ambrose and David Reutimann contended often in 2009, with Reutimann picking up a win and Ambrose establishing himself as more than just a road course ringer. Michael Waltrip, despite being one of the sport’s better personalities and a smart owner, failed to accomplish much behind the wheel over the last few years. With the experienced and proven Truex taking over the team, expect Waltrip’s cars to launch an assault on Chase berths. I wouldn’t be surprised if all three teams were in contention for the Top 12 come August. Truex, especially with the guidance of Pat Tryson, will return to top form and may indeed make a visit or two to Victory Lane.

Prediction: Will challenge for the Top 12, make the Top 20 for sure and rack up Top Tens, maybe even pick up a win or two

#71- Bobby Labonte- TRG Motorsports- TaxSlayer Chevy/Dodge

Labonte, after being ousted from the #96 in favor of Erik Darnell, will take over the #71 full-time. Labonte drove several races with TRG late in 2009, racking up a Top Ten and several other promising finishes. Labonte is a great driver, he will find a way to make things happen for this up-and-coming team. With such a good driver and a sponsor on board, I won’t expect any start-and-parks out of TRG this season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team creep into the Top 30 of the standings either. Expect stats similar to Bobby Labonte’s past few seasons: Nothing spectacular, but very solid and occasional Top Tens.

Prediction: Top 30 in points, a handful of Top Tens and a tremendous boost for TRG

#90- No Driver Announced- Keyed Up Motorsports- Chevy

Without a driver or sponsor announced at this point, I wouldn’t expect much out of this team in the near future.

Prediction: A few start-and-parks with a journeyman veteran driver here and there

I hope everyone enjoyed my first-ever blog for Racing Reference. If you enjoyed my insights, give me some feedback and I may write some more. Feel free to comment and discuss; I love to talk racing and look forward to hearing other viewpoints.

My Taboo of Over-Personal Blogging

January 2, 2010

I enjoy writing in this blog. I like how it’s helped me get into better writing habits, release thoughts and feelings, given me a sense of accomplishment, and learn and connect. I can see myself getting very involved with this someday, sooner if not later, given that I’ve recently had a ton of free time in my life open up.

I have one barrier that may stand in the way of me properly expressing certain thoughts or sharing some events in my life. I don’t think I can ever blog openly about my personal life, my family life, or relationships. I can’t bring myself to do it past a sentence here, an allusion there.

Let’s say, for example, that I hate my dad (I really don’t hate my dad, for the record). If I were to communicate on here my (imaginary) disdain for my father, and he were to run across this blog one way or another, there would be many complications in my life. He’d be upset at my feelings, and either become angry with me, or hold it in and become depressed, or grow apart from me. Our relationship would be strained. I wouldn’t want that at all. Therefore, even if it’s relevant to the blog, or if I’m itching to write a blog about family issues, I can’t discuss very personal issues like that. I just can’t.

I realize this blog pops up whenever one Googles my name. I’m okay with that. In fact, I like that. Hence, I have to be somewhat careful with what I write and share on here. I wouldn’t want friends, family members, employers, old teachers, co-workers, etc. to be offended or appalled at something I’ve written. It’s not that I’ve got anything offensive to share anyway, I’m a very easy-going and straightforward guy. BUT, in the off-chance that I’ve got a blog that’s borderline controversial or offensive to share, I realize that it wouldn’t be a very wise idea to publish it here. That’s why I’m going to shy away from overly religious/political/personal blogs.

I value my relationships. Anyone I’ve ever dated or been friends with will be spared from being picked apart on my blog. I could have a field day writing about and analyzing anything interesting, troubling, or unusual that’s ever happened between my friends, or between myself and a lover. I won’t do that. Even if I used “code names” for the people, they’d still know who they were just by reading, and others would be able to figure it out easily. I don’t want to upset anyone or compromise my trust and integrity by airing out dirty laundry or publicly criticizing those I’m close to. I don’t want to end up friends with someone or date a girl and have them think, “I don’t wanna end up close to this guy, I’ll just turn into a blog!” Nope, you won’t turn into a blog… no guarantees about you not turning into a song, though. 🙂

I know, faithful reader(s). This wasn’t much of an update. I just thought I’d clear up my stance on getting too personal on my blog, and thought that could explain any lack of depth. I don’t like being public about my business. I prefer to write about that stuff in lyrical form. It’s funner to do it that way, and I love reading when people pick apart my writing, trying to decipher the meaning. Double fun when they can’t figure it out!

Hope you all have a great day. Thanks for stoppin’ by.