A Weekend At The Races or “It’s Not Just a Southern Thang”
The myth is that NASCAR fans are on the lowest rung of the sports fan ladder. The only people who attend are people born and raised in the South and the average racing fan’s IQ is in direct relation to the amount of teeth he or she has. Stock car racing is supposed to be the rebel yin to the northern yang and only simple-minded people watch cars go in circles for hours.
Spend some time at the track and you realize that the myths are just that–myths. With the exception of the old blue seaters in Madison Square Garden for New York Rangers hockey games, I have a hard time trying to think of a better type of sports fan to be sitting around than a racing fan.
Walking through the lots of Charlotte’s Lowes Motor Speedway on the Friday of the Dollar General 300 and the Saturday of the Banking 500, or at any track for that matter, you could get the initial impression that you’ve stepped back into a completely different era, one of simple living with a modern convenience or two thrown in for good measure. Row upon row of RVs, campers, and tents. Grills of various sizes for cooking and bonfires for heat. Folding tables and rickety looking chairs set up outside for dinner on paper plates using plastic utensils.
I would bet that these fans’ idea of really fancy-ing up a steak would be to marinate it in zesty Italian dressing overnight. Beer? The cheaper the better (it’s not the quality of the beer but the quickness of the buzz). Oh, and don’t forget to turn on the LCD TV hooked to the satellite dish. Hey, I fully agree that simple outdoor living only goes so far as well. The nicer the TV and the greater the selection of stations, the easier it becomes to live simply (or in my case simply live).
They come from all over, these racing fans. I spotted a license plate from as far south as Florida and one from as far north as Ontario, Canada. A few from New York, Pennsylvania, a few from my old home state of New Jersey and then all points west. Two gentlemen I spoke to before the Banking 500 made their trip from Indiana. Some of these aren’t simple drives down the highway but long, multi-day interstate treks.
Ahhhh, so they’re not only from the South! You can thank Cale Yarborough, Donnie Allison, the 1979 Daytona 500 and a major snow storm that covered the Northeast and Midwest for initially busting that.
Thank Dale Earnhardt for taking it the rest of the way.
Think about it: a large portion of fans drove a greater distance than the distance the field of 43 would be driving, and in a circle, no less! In nearly every way imaginable, that sounds completely nuts. Are you guys crazy???? Most of us can’t wait to get out of our cars from a commute to work, yet many are traveling great distances to watch people drive theirs, granted–they are moving at speeds we onl y wish we could hit.
I believe this to be one of the most basic appeals of NASCAR. Most of us can’t hit a baseball at 95 mph, we can’t shoot free throws from a foul line, we have no desire to be tackled by a linebacker and we don’t have the ability to shoot a puck past a goaltender. No matter what part of the country you live in, most of us can drive, making it easy to imagine, “I can drive . . . I can do that too.” All you need is something you most likely already own: your car. You know, the one that can’t move nearly as fast as the ones on the track, but at least you can serve your mid-life crisis by getting behind the wheel and day-dreaming about the speed. Not to mention indulging yourself in that one other really wonderful daydream . . . <cue heavenly harp music> . . . crashing into someone who just cut in front of you at 180 miles per hour, while not garnering a single point on your driver’s license, possibly winning money AND a championship in the process. <cue snap-back-to-reality gong>
A NASCAR tailgate is a sea of flags. American flags, pirate flags, NASCAR logo flags, state flags, confederate flags (keep the groaning to a minimum…it’s no big deal and the people flying them most likely pose no harm to anyone), you name it, it’s flying high. Second only to American flags are the driver flags. The number 48 . . .the number 9 . . . Stewart’s 14 . . . 24. . . There’s probably a winning lottery combination to be found in there somewhere, but to those flying their flags, it’s the Pledge of Driver Allegiance.
Kannapolis, North Carolina’s own Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 88 outnumbers every other flag by at least 2-1. By that I mean two flags for every Carl Edwards flag, two flags for every Kasey Kahne flag, on and on. His fans are easily the highest in number, no matter how bad he’s doing (or for how long he’s been on a down streak). He’s NASCAR’s enigma; the legacy to the legion of fans who will always want an Earnhardt to cheer for.
Earnhardt Jr. fans have become experts at two things: watching their driver struggle and questioning Jeff Gordon’s manhood. I’m imagining there’s a trade off there, at least until Jr. starts winning consistently again. And I’m sure Gordon’s manhood will still come into question. It’s part of Nascar’s Things You Can Count On: Tony Stewart will always be a hothead, Kasey Kahne will have the best looking female fans, Jimmie Johnson will always be a major contender for the Chase cup, Earnhardt fans will always rag on Jeff Gordon . . . death and taxes style, baby!
I either passed by or spotted some fairly elaborate setups in the day lots, the campgrounds and the infield of the track. One of the more elaborate setups came from “Couch Man” out by turn one. I had seen Couch Man and his crew last May in the same spot with the same setup: numerous boards being held up over a large pickup truck, three couches, a loveseat, two beach chairs and a table (there’s a reason why they call themselves the “2nd best deck in Wracelin'” . . . I wonder who’s first).
The best one I spotted was in the campground alongside the racetrack. Picture a beautiful RV with what would appear to be the owner’s front lawn laid out along the side. He had decorated with bales of hay, potted flowers, tall figures made from straw, a small tree, and, yes, a mailbox with his lot number taped on as his temporary address. He seemed to love the attention as well. He never hesitated to stop what he was doing to talk to someone and he was also very quick to break out a bowl of candy for children passing by, making their Halloween come just a little bit early, but with no less the fun.
My big regret was not asking him if he ever finds mail in his mailbox on race weekends.
But–gasp–I never did find the “dumb, yankee hating” race fan! Truth be told I’ve never really seen them at any race I’ve ever attended. No dirty looks and no contempt.
So much for that myth. And even though there’s no disguising that I’m a born and raised (and proud) New Jerseyan, I’ve never once not felt some sense of warmth and friendliness from any Southerner I’ve spoken to at a race.
So much for that myth too. All I’ve ever found at any race in Charlotte were good, honest people with a fierce love and devotion to God, country, family, and anything that goes faster than Kyle Busch’s Toyota Camry.
And of course, devotion to Dale Jr . . . no matter how bad he’s doing.
– Brian Hedden, Entertainment Editor