Got Predictions?

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This column is about predictions. That doesn’t mean I'm making predictions, mind you. It’s not about my predictions. It’s about how predictions are made.

If it takes one to know one, I know all about predictions. I am a notoriously bad predictor. Last year I predicted Jeff Burton to win the Winston Cup championship. The year before, I picked Mark Martin.

So I know how to screw up. In fact, I’ve screwed up so much that I’ve become a keen observer of screw-ups.

Racing predictions come in four styles: 1. Close to the vest. 2. Establishment. 3. Pulled out of a hat. 4. Pulled out of thin air.

“Close-to-the-vest” predictions come from guys who bet the favorite at the dog track. They wear Yankee caps, love vanilla ice cream and eat their steak well done. Most are Republicans. They floss. They also pick Jeff Gordon to win the championship...every year. Betting the odds, which means that, while Gordon has won four championships in the span of seven years, they have only lost a modest amount of money. Another characteristic of “close-to-the-vest” prognosticators is that they don’t bet much.

An “establishment” prediction would come from the guy who kind of resents Gordon’s success. No one out there impresses this guy, but he’s going to go with a veteran, someone who’s good and dependable. He’s no Tony Stewart fan. He wants someone who just holds his tongue and goes to work. He’s a definite Republican. This guy drives a gray or tan car and doesn’t mind it a bit that Dale Jarrett’s car is brown. In fact, he’s probably going to make Jarrett his choice. He likes Jarrett’s style, the way he carries himself and the way he selects his words carefully.

“Pulled-out-of-the-hat” predictions come from the guys who want to be able to say, “I told you so.” They always give you that knowing wink that says, "I've got inside information." They don’t tell you their pick by staring straight in your eyes. They sidle up alongside you when you’re least expecting it. They scratch their chins. They look over the top of their eyeglasses (if they wear eyeglasses). They bet trifectas at the track. They are neither Republicans nor Democrats; they are against whoever won, despite the fact that they will claim to have predicted it. This offseason’s “pulled-out-of-the-hat” prediction for the championship is Dale Earnhardt Jr., or maybe, Kevin Harvick.

“Pulled-out-of-thin-air” predictions come from guys who suspect Gordon is from Mars. Everything is a conspiracy. They think George W. Bush won Florida because NASCAR rigged the election from its Daytona Beach headquarters. Democrats? Oh, yeah. In fact, the Democratic Party is too conservative for these guys. They think Bill Clinton sold out the cause. The only ice cream they’ll eat is Ben & Jerry’s. They like steamed vegetables, bottled water and “Ally McBeal.” Every time they order a tossed salad, they ask for dressing “on the side.” The “thin air” prediction is probably, oh, Robby Gordon. Jimmie Johnson, perhaps, or Ryan Newman. Maybe Shawna Robinson, if she finds a ride. Not only did this guy pick a long shot – in print! – but he flew to Vegas and put $100 on it at 5,000-to-1.

Notice how I kept referring to the predictions as being made by “guys.” By and large, women have enough sense not to get caught up in silly macho posturing. Women, or at least the ones who are not intent on beating men at their own insipid games, do not predict outcomes but, instead, analyze results.

What gets most men in trouble is that innate competitiveness we are taught from the time we first get boosted up wide-eyed onto the back of a pony or take off on a bicycle whose training wheels have just been removed.

In other words, alone we have sound judgment. We are patsies, though, when it comes to the dare, the coy challenge, the half-serious jest. “You know what we ought to do, Fred? We ought to try to hurdle that wall over there.”

“By gosh, I’ll do it if you’ll do it.”

“Well, let me change out of this coat and tie.”

“I think I can clear that barbed wire with my dress slacks on.”

“Awright, by gosh, I’m in. Who’s goin’ first?”

Next thing you know, someone’s at the emergency room.

My guess is, that’s not the way Nostradamus did it. He did not predict Hitler, the Holocaust and the Beatles because some joker in the circulation department thought it was a good idea to run an “I Beat the Prophet” promotion.

Then again, times have changed.

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