Sunday, March 3, 2013

NASCAR: Wil It Go 'Round In Circles?, Or Will It ...

From Sunday's Times and News-Star

Grateful all my NASCAR friends returned safely from Daytona Beach after the 500 last week. As the old saying goes, it’s always fun until the first tire and engine  block flies into the stands.

I hail from old-school NASCAR country. My home county in South Carolina is less than a quarter tank from Darlington. Cale Yarborough is from up the road at Timmonsville. Even as we speak, I am looking at a Richard Petty-autographed “Cheerios/Betty Crocker” cap given to me by my friend Buckets, a man whose father was a racer and who grew up in little grease-streaked britches and with oil-stained hands.

NASCAR fans surround me at every turn. You can likely say the same. We live in the metaphoric infield oval around here.

But while I can hear the cars zip by and smell the rubber burn and am genuinely happy for the Junior and Johnson and Martin fanatics I call friends, I am far from sold out to car racing. All I’ll invest is encouragement for those who live for the thrill of the backstretch and the checkered flag -- and who’s drafting whom.

Just not interested. Look under my hood and you’ll see a Baltimore Oriole or a college football or basketball game. I’ll wear a Goodyear hat if you want me to, but not to a race.

Sure, I get it. I understand fanhood, perfectly. For this reason, I begged a store manager for his life-sized Tony Stewart display on Aisle 6, was patient for a year, then was allowed to pick it up the day before ol’ Tony was headed for the dumpster; I gave it to a friend who has a “Tony Stewart” room in her home. She wept.

I was proud to help another friend, Chief, get his satellite radio all hooked up and punched in. He wanted it for three reasons: Willie’s Roadhouse, the Elvis channel, and NASCAR. Car racing on the radio? Couldn’t you just roll down your window, drive fast, yell, and listen? For free? Same thing.

Some of us just aren’t NASCAR fans. That in itself is a tough thing to admit around here. “YOU MEAN TO TELL ME YOU DON’T LIKE JUNIOR!?” People have had their butts whipped for far less.

I don’t invest in car racing for the same reason some people don’t invest in spinach: they like other stuff more. No reason. Oh, they’ll eat spinach dip. A casserole with spinach in it. But they’ll make no investment in full-out spinach. No reason. That’s just their tastes.

I’ll watch a few minutes of NASCAR if the timing is right. I’d even go to a race with you, as long as I can walk around. I’ll listen to you explain the strain on the left-front tire and how cars “take” to the different surfaces on different tracks. And I’ll enjoy it. For a time. Say, 20 laps.

I’d invest my passions in horse racing before stock cars, simply because the horses, the “vehicles,” are alive. But I wouldn’t try to tell a NASCAR fan “The 24 Car” wasn’t alive too, not if he felt it was. “She’s running rough today…” See what I mean?

We will agree on this: You NASCAR fans are tougher than my crowd, the Ball People. We get the jits if a bat or ball or whiskey bottle comes flying into the stands. Y’all are dodging wheels and line-drive lug nuts. That’s out of my league.