Saturday, February 23, 2008

NASCAR, Tofu And History

I like NASCAR. Many people do and many don't. I had a friend who told me, "I just don't get it!"

NASCAR is not sport you "get". You like it or you do not. Me, I love it. Small tracks at Martinsville, Bristol, mid sized tracks like Dover, the first "super speedway" at Darlington and two zip code tracks like Talladega, I love'm all, but I love the smaller tracks the most because they are the history of NASCAR all the way back to bootlegging and country roads. Ask Junior Johnson. He's not ashamed of his and his sport's history. He has a smile on when recalling those days. When Junior is smiling, that is very very good. When he is not, well, quickly move behind a solid object.

The France family created NASCAR. They sweat the bullets, risked everything many times over and made NASCAR what it is today. A sport where a kid who graduated with an engineering degree from Purdue can make more money coming home fifth than Richard "The King" Petty made in his first two seasons. Richard never went to Purdue. He did go to Duke for a fundraiser for Ronald Reagan back in 1980.

Few other sports have the individuality of NASCAR except possibly bowling and poker. Tiny Lund was huge. Harry Hyde figured out how to hide fuel in a car where officials couldn't find it. How can you not love a sport which has a guy named Fonty Flock?

Buddy Baker's dad, Buck, once wrecked his race car, flagged Buddy and his car into the pits and yanked Buddy out of the car, jumped in, made up two laps and went on to win. After winning Buck slid into the pits, jumped out saying "GD, that's how you win." Buddy asked what about victory lane and his dad said as he stomped off, "Find it on your own."

I once saw the greatest driver in the world at Powell Speedway on a hot Saturday night in the heart of Ohio. Powell was maybe a half mile track with wooden bleachers that held maybe a hundred people in those days. After winning Petty stayed until midnight shaking hands, signing autographs and making sure his winning purse was cash. Thus was the sport of NASCAR, small town by small town, close interaction between drivers and fans, and cheatin' and beaten and bangin' were just part of the sport. Many northerners who now are pleading for a race used to call NASCAR and its fans hillbillies as if that was an insult. Powell Ohio would kill for a NASCAR race and the millions of dollars pumped into the community, but instead Powell has grown from a small town to become a bedroom community for Columbus and is now acre after acre of cookie cutter McUgly McMansions on cutsey named streets.

Now NASCAR is coast to coast and south to north. Yeah I'll watch them all, but the history is being lost for new venues and bigger, faster and newer tracks.

This week they're racing (that mean mashing the gas pedal down and turning left for a couple hundred miles) in California. Like I said, I'll watch them all, but NASCAR in California is like going to Taos for clam chowder, Boston for blue corn tortillias, Vegas for religion or New Orleans for dieting.

They all can be done, but why?