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Monday, Mar. 04, 2002
You might say that I have varied interests.

I'm the same guy who gets all enthralled at the beauty in a really terrific film like Lord of the Rings, who can dissect and discuss for hours the most subtle nuances of a particular musical passage by an obscure yet wholly worthy group. Who will appreciate wit and candor in someone viewed by their peers as just slightly left of center.

So it makes absolutely no sense that I'd get the least satisfaction from something as incredibly interstate bathroomish as NASCAR racing. But, lord help me, I do.

Some years ago Stu and his wife kidnapped Ally and me for a day. Took us up to Richmond for a race. I remember being only slightly put off by all the walking that was required to get from parking lot to track, bemused by all the vendors selling anything from T-shirts to chicken wings, surprised at the sheer numbers of people who turned out to see un-mufflered vehicles go around in circles on an asphalt roadway.

It was all a fairly yawning exercise indeed. Until they dropped the green flag. And I got that first whiff of racing gas and 40 cars wound up engines and flashed by with a stomach dropping sound. Or when two of them separated themselves from the pack and scorched each other's tires in a manic fight for first place.

I suddenly felt an aching need to buy a radio scanner complete with headphones so that I could listen in on every conversation these drivers had with their support team. Big RV's with season race passes to travel throughout the South seemed like a terrific idea. Tailgating in the parking lot. Cute golf shirts with team colors. Arguing over the relative merits of beer sponsorship. Anything emblazoned with a checkered flag.

Even with more recent sanitation of the whole NASCAR scene by the very people who run it, it still brings a thrill to hear that sound they make on that first lap.

I'm not sure that I can verbalize it. It's a sort of rebellion, I guess. The sort of "Take your 4 cylinder gas sipping import and catch this" thing that pure excess is all about. It has no intellectual pride, no soothing museum-Sunday boorishness at all. It absolutely makes you abandon your filet mignon in favor of a cheese dog with a squirt of mustard.

The whole forced hype of the thing. They parade a series of ever younger, wholesome drivers before the clamoring throng, hoping that they will catch on and do well in promoting a grab bag of retail products colorfully emblazoned on the side of the cars. The older ones, whom I understandably have more of an affinity with, seem gruffer, a little more coarse around the edges. I can see some of them actually having driven moonshine down Tennessee or North Carolina back roads in the dead of night and then racing in some dirt field on Sunday. They have none of the corporate smoothness of some of the pink-cheeked newbies.

Yeah, I can't stand Jeff Gordon. That smirking sort of yuppie West Coast stuff leaves me cold.

I'll leave for Darlington in a couple of weeks and camp out in a parking lot for a few days with some other zealots. We'll light the symbolic grille with a handful of hickory chips and plunder the depths of huge coolers and buy lots of can cushies with car numbers on them and dial in our scanners and snicker at the Gordon fans.

And wonder how in the world things could be any better than this.

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