Okay, so if you don't want any more lessons in NASCAR life, you could skip this one and not miss much. But consider, it has all the elements of a Shakespearean drama, with the added plus of a Jim and Tammy thing, and if you know who those folks are you're in more trouble than you know.
I promise, I'll get off this theme eventually…
The news blared large and in print on Sunday morning. I retrieved the paper from the campground entrance and there it was. Bold. Tantalizing trash from the world of the racing South. Poo from the Pee-Dee.
If you know what the Pee-Dee is, you're really in trouble. Deep poo.
Seems that the darling of the racing world has fallen on hard times. Even the headlines hinted ominously at the the dark days ahead. "Trouble in Paradise?" was the 40 pt. screamer that met bleary eyes. What the hell?
Now I know I hinted at the lack of affection I have for Jeff Gordon. He's a driver, by the way. A driver and a (yeck) California transplant. He jest ain't no North Carolina boy, Hazel.
Jeffy has, it seems, only enhanced the myth and the mystery. The drama, as I said. 'Cause wife wants a divorce. And this is D-I-V-O-R-C-E, yuppie style. And lord knows, we want the dirt, the dirt I tell ye.
Jeff met Brooke (another yeck from the gallery, can I get a witness) at Daytona after a race some years ago. She was a Winston girl, a gallery hanger on, a body for the camera, a passer of trophies. Which might explain the trophy wife capability she most ably exhibited for the television audience. She was quite the curvaceous catch, if she do say so.
And she did.
Jeff marries Brooke. Up and coming NASCAR driver and Winston girl. Trouble was, this sort of thing was supposed be illegal. Against the rules. NASCAR and Winston, having image issues and wanting to maintain a pristine state for the viewing (the lucrative viewing) public, was quite up front with the drivers about laying off the pursuit of the Winston girls. No smoking nookie, so to speak. We shall be whole, we shall be pure, we shall be NASCAR.
But…well, you know. It's hard for the old boys at NASCAR to deny their new star attraction. Especially when his sponsor is DuPont, which has more money than any entity anywhere, and they pump up the ratings / advertising revenue / ratings / by god souvenir sales. Very hard. It is, perish the thought, a money thing.
Now consider. Jeff comes across with the sort of wholesome, winsome, by all accounts welcome good lad image that the networks crave. Nice profile. Bit thin on the lips but we'll work on that. And the concept. Put him with the Winston girl! Photo ops! Spokesman for the sport! Let's make 'em born again Christians to get the whole Southern slant behind us! Kick in the youth thing for the yuppie demographic!
Sell it! Sell it!
Oh my, did they sell it. The dollars were flowing in, the sponsor was (as though DuPont needed it) getting a major kick in advertising return, the networks were thrilled, the ratings soared.
NASCAR had just entered the MTV age, and the masses were coming.
The old-timers watched, a bit non-plussed, as the yuppie hoard descended. The sport which had enjoyed some modest growth and a loyal fan base shot through the roof. The race crowds suddenly became an object of affection for the major market trinket masses. A veritable soap opera developed, almost of its' own accord, between the Gordon newbies and the traditional drivers who had paid their dues without huge financial backing and market exposure. The whole weight of the Hollywood / Wall Street Empire came down on NASCAR like a sumo wrestler on a power dive. Tracks suddenly became profitable. Advertising for everything became not only a moneymaker, but also a foregone conclusion.
All was right in the kingdom for several years. The Brooke and Jeff Show flourished and the subjects were made glad by it. A whole slew of victories ensured its' success. She would appear in victory lane, a designer outfit clad model of sweetness and peck Jeff on the cheek, claiming her place by his side without interfering with the good old boy back slapping pit crew hijinks that were, of course, all part of the show. Smiling, demur, the fine picture of the Christian husband and wife.
Who just happened to be on their way to being multi-millionaires.
Heh. I used to get such a kick out of watching a race with Stu and his wife Patty. They, who started going to races about the time Jeffy was born. Who endured the changes and the whole shift from racing to profit margins. Patty, who had taken a #24 Gordon car and scorched it with a propane torch and buried it, nose down, in her sand filled / glassed topped coffee table for effect. Stu, who tended to salute the Gordon ride with a single digit salute at the track as it rolled by. Nothing could get the two of them closer to physical sickness than seeing the Brooke and Jeff show in victory lane.
Because it was staged, my friends. It was made for TV. It was disgustingly, and transparently, a for profit industry. NASCAR rolled and played along, giving some questionable race rulings in Jeff's favor, propping him up onscreen by televising his exact racing position regardless of how poorly or well he was doing at the time, pushing a series of deep-pocketed sponsors his way.
So. The crux. The fans that had been attracted by Jeff Gordon were adamant in their loud (albeit largely uninformed) demands for more, more of the product. They worshiped at the shrine of the DuPont ad campaign, Brooke was the perfect (albeit childless?) wife and companion. Jeff, the instrument of all that was good in America, small time racer made good, the good looking and gee whiz spokesman for the industry.
Meanwhile, back in reality land, the old timers choked and coughed and made some concessions. "Okay, so we have to have this thing going on to make the sport grow. Isn't he photogenic though? Nicest guy you'd ever wanna meet."
Here's the thing. I listened to Jeff's radio frequency at times while at the tracks. I can assure you, with all the impartiality of a sometime fan, that wholesome is not a word I would use to describe his use of the King's English. That his reaction to rough, yet legal racing tactics was largely a whining, juvenile diatribe. That the old timer racers would chuckle at his discomfiture in private, but toe the NASCAR line in public by nodding sagely and saying "Oh yes, fine racer. Gaining a lot of respect on the circuit."
Again, this is a for profit industry. And they were all profiting. Largely. A united front. A happy and rich family of "Look what we found" tobacco farmers who knew the proper time to shut up and make deposits.
But maybe, just maybe, in her Winston girl coifed and plasticized world, Brooke had another think or two.
For years, Jeff had not exactly done well in promoting himself as a member of the homophobic tribe. Rumors abounded. Unsubstantiated internet gossip. To the viewing public, he came across as someone who could just as easily drink Coke as Pepsi. Liked pink and blue. Lass and laddie.
A (gasp) swing-two-ways sort of guy.
Which, of course, was not helped one bit when the TV announcers picked up on the multi-colored DuPont racing scheme and tagged his pit crew as the 'Rainbow Warriors'.
Yeah, the Bible Belt was not exactly ready for all that. And the razzing was on. Some of it was funny, some unduly harsh, some probably close to the truth.
Brooke filed for divorce citing marital misconduct. What exactly is that all about?
Marriage: Irreconcilable differences?
There's trouble in paradise indeed. I would love to have been a fly on the wall at NASCAR headquarters when the divorce news trickled in. To see the banging of heads on leather tabletops. The hand wringing. The anguish. The drop in stock. OMIGOD, the drop in stock.
And don't think it didn't happen.
Now, all fairness, Brooke has a touch of the yuppie flu herself. The demands for divorce included ownership of the 9 million-dollar beach house, cars, airplane, servant's wages and the alimony gig. This one is not a giant in the maintainer of all things wholesome and Christian that the media would have you believe. She has some yet to be revealed reason for all this, but getting a slice of the pie is not the last thing on her agenda.
And as much as I hate to admit it, I kinda admire her.
She could have been a Playboy Playmate. Maybe (no offense Brooke) a successful stripper. Could have been a TV star on her own. Gave it up for the image and the corporate sponsorship. Profited, sure. But what for?
And finally, after seven years of supposed marital bliss, she said fuckit.
And wants out.
And to hell with the media and the NASCAR potato heads and the fans. Enough, she says, and I have to stand up and giver her a hand.
When the news broke last Sunday morning at the track, I stood and delivered my usual Sunday sermon to the adoring (and largely hungover) masses. "You watch, the Gordon fans will roast their queen in boiling oil to save the sanctity of whatever-it-is they call "It's a Wonderful Life".
Sure enough, more than one obviously pro-Gordon fan rolled by our campsite and, after a bit of prodding by the non-Gordon contingent, rendered an opinion. "She's always been nothing but a Barbie doll and now look what she done gone and did." Or, in the words of one wag, "I always said she was a slut. Gold digging slut, that's all."
Uh huh. They're missing the point. The party's over, the media machine is already starting to fold tents, and I imagine that somewhere, deep in the bowels of DuPont corporate headquarters, a strategy session has already taken place. One of those 'how do we put the best spin on this debacle' sessions.
Call me irrepressible, cranky, and stodgy. But nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing a balloon full of over hyped bullshit publicly pricked. And for that, dear Brooke, you stand tall in my eyes.
Stick it to 'em, baby.
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