Thursday, March 10, 2011

NASCAR: A guilty pleasure or a way of life?

NASCAR. If you live in the South, you don’t have to love it, but you sure as hell better know what it is. 

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t care for the sport when I was growing up.  Dad always had the radio tuned into a race while he piddled outside in the yard or the garage on the weekends.  The droning voice attempting to describe the action on the track was guaranteed to put me into a deep coma if I didn’t quickly tune it out.  What could be less fun than watching a bunch of cars race in a seemingly endless fashion around and around an asphalt oval?  Having to listen to it.

I maintain to the very day that NASCAR races are not now and have never been meant to be taken in over the radio.

So, I tolerated NASCAR if I happened to be in the vicinity of a race on TV—crossword puzzles work wonderfully for the task of passing the time.  Of course, that was all until I met my future husband. 

Scott and a fair number of his family members are pretty impressive NASCAR fans.  For those of you familiar with the sport, you know the next question and let me go ahead and fill you in before you even have to ask:  They are Ford people.  Rusty Wallace was their man.  Of course the aforementioned information meant nothing to me at the time.

For those of you less familiar with the Olympics of Rednecks:  NASCAR drivers engender a rabid loyalty in fans that can rival—and even surpass on the rare occasion—a Carolina v. Duke ACC lineup.  Back in the day, the playing field was broken down into two main subsets:  Chevy v. Ford.  From there, the fan had their favorite driver.  The rivalry de jour was Rusty v. Dale.

Rusty Wallace (Ford) and Dale Earnhardt (Chevrolet) were two of the top drivers and undisputedly the top fighters in NASCAR in the 1990’s.  It wasn’t uncommon that a race would end in a fist fight between Dale and Rusty’s crew and even Dale and Rusty took to the mat themselves when things got particularly festive.  To be perfectly honest, it was that very rivalry that made me view NASCAR in a different light. 

It was either 1993 or 1994 (I’m not enough of a fan to have the minutiae memorized) and the race was in Bristol, Tennessee.  We were at Scott’s parents’ house and, of course the race was on the television.  Bristol is one of the smallest tracks, so wrecks and the resulting high tempers can be prolific.  The drivers were bumping around on the track like it was Driver’s Ed.  The wrecks were spectacular.  Then, there was an incident at the end—I don’t recall the specifics, but it was something like Dale spun Rusty out to take the win.

To put it mildly, Rusty did not receive second place with poise.  There was one unholy Come to Jesus Meeting after everybody got out of their cars.  I was fervently watching the aforementioned altercation and I was suddenly hit upside the head with the stunning realization that I had just watched an entire NASCAR race.  I watched an entire NASCAR race and enjoyed it!

I hate to say it, but I must:  The wrecks and the fights are super cool!  I realize full well that the aforementioned statement casts my character into questionable light, but I’m an attorney and we’re pretty well known and accepted for the fact that we aren’t lily white in nature.  So, after Bristol, I started paying attention.

Of course, there was one little speed bump that I couldn’t have foreseen:  Like I told you before, Scott’s people were Rusty Wallace Ford all the way.  I went home and started watching the races with my Dad and realized very soon thereafter that Dad was a Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet fan.  Yikes.  Capulets and Montagues were we. 

So, Scott and I got married and I decided to surprise him with tickets to the Coca-Cola 600 for his birthday.  It was the first NASCAR race for both of us and we had no idea what was in store.  We arrived at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and waded through a parking lot that didn’t look too different from what one might see at a Buffett concert.  At least I had that going for me.  We got to our nosebleed bleacher seats and guess what?  It started raining! 

We sat in the bleachers and waited for the news about whether or not they were going to delay the race or cancel the thing entirely.  My husband snapped the question, “Why in the world did you ever think I wanted to go to a NASCAR race?” and I started crying.  Fun, fun, fun.  That was pretty much the last time I ever tried to surprise him with a present.

After about half an hour or so, the rain stopped and they were able to dry the track off sufficiently enough to get things going.  That’s when things got interesting.  A fist fight broke out three rows down from us during the National Anthem and Scott and I were magically in better spirits.

The race was crazy.  The cars are so loud and the smell of the burning rubber and oil can get overpowering after a while.  I followed along as best I could, but the people watcher in me kept getting distracted.  There was this one guy who looked like George Carlin in his later years.  He was wearing khaki shorts and nothing else—not even shoes.  The man was obviously drunker than a lord and he kept a beer in his hand as he slowly climbed up and down the steps of the bleachers.  Alllllll the way down and then alllllll the way back up—over and over and over again. He did it for the entire race and, from what I observed, he didn’t spill a drop.

The race ended and I couldn’t tell you who won if you put a gun to my head.  There was just too much to see!  We followed the herd out into the parking lot and found our car.  We were resigned to the fact that we weren’t going to be getting out of there any time soon.  We just sat in our space for a while and watched the insanity. 

Our favorite sight was the large vehicle that had several mulleted men clad in nothing but shorts (Was there a dress code that I missed?)  They were blowing the horn, hoisting their beer cans in the air and kept yelling, “WE’RE FROM WEST-BY-GOD-VIRGINIA!  WHOOOOOOOOOOOO!”  Of course Scott and I were very amused because our brother-in-law is from West-By-God-Virginia and we couldn’t wait to tell him that he was well represented by his peeps.

NASCAR:  It may be an acquired taste, but everybody needs to get a little redneck every now and again.

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