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Tuesday, Mar. 19, 2002
On location at Darlington, South Carolina. A racetrack. And all points betwixt and between.

You can't help but marvel at the possession obsession that becomes evident when traveling on the racing circuit. Sitting here, in the middle of a field barren save for about a billion dollars in hardware, the American way comes front and center in all its' hideous glory.

Quarter-million dollar motor homes. Hundreds, thousands of them. A smattering of smaller vehicles that look vagrant in their rust and grime sit hard next to their more regal neighbors. Some, like us, are middle of the pack in appearance. Having interiors less luxurious than your average 5th avenue apartment, we tend to sit outside and poke at open grilled wood fires and play "rate the motor coach" as they stream by like so many duchesses at a masquerade ball.

These are the citizens who might have been starving artists back in the Woodstock day. Whose Volkswagen bore a peace symbol or one of those flower decals. They might have marched for peace and played guitar or bongos.

Now they ponder over burl wood selections for the dash on their Bounder or Airstream or Provost . Their back-to-earth politics have more to do with dumping the holding tanks than growing their own kale.

Right off the bat you have to choose what side of the fence that you, as a tourist, want to sit on when visiting South Carolina for the race. Are you the sort who can make guttural noises when asked a probing question? Drive a vehicle festooned with rebel flags and advertisements for the local muffler shop? Do you frequently say "I don't know"? This might be the place for you.

On the other hand, if wearing high topped shoes without socks tears at the broadness of your fashion sense you might wish to consider another venue. Maybe having someone's RV generator start up next door at 5 am isn't you idea of a wakeup call. Although it can be amusingly palatable if they toot 'Dixie' on the horn at the same time. Or maybe not. I don't know.

Ally consumed sufficient quantities of rum and coke and something called Jungle Juice to enable her shopping spirit last night. The vendors of Taiwanese merchandise, produced especially for this most American of sports, were happy to oblige. Rows of trailers hawking everything from ball caps to flags to radios line the campground perimeter, with men who have less teeth than a new born leaning anxiously over the built in counters and drawling "Hep ye wit anyting, miss?"

She declared her need for a jacket, a racing jacket. She wanted a driver, a racing driver. This, an important thing in the world of Darlington. To have a driver to root for and argue about. To know honor by defending the driver and all he represents. So she pondered. Considered. And chose a dead one. Dale Earnhardt, the man, the legend. And the jacket he still sells, albeit from the grave.

Nobody ever accused NASCAR of skipping out on merchandising. Let the dead speak, and profit.

Stu accompanied her on her shopping mission. A short hop across the campground ditch and into the valley of vendors. And they were gone long enough to let me know she was serious about it, that she was probably breaking out the forbidden platinum card and waving it teasingly in front of some poor entrepreneur. One black jacket, medium, with the number 3 emblazoned on the sleeves, if you please. Dale, another 100 bucks for the account, thank you very much.

So when she came back with a red Budweiser jacket bearing the number 8 I was a little confused. 8 being the number of Dale's son, Dale Jr.

"Nice jacket Ally. Uh…you switched allegiances at the vendor's stand or what?"

Turns out that driver loyalty should not be confused with color coordination and a more verbose fashion statement. The red jacket just, well, looked better. And that's the best explanation I'm gonna get. Cause I just don't know. Or just don't get it, one or the other.

Having arrived at the track on Thursday afternoon and basically vegetating through the Friday warm-up laps and truck race, and the Saturday Busch race (for those minor leaguer's who hadn't quite made the big time yet), I was prepared for the cacophony to reach a peak on Saturday evening, and I was not denied the moment.

A fairly full campground grew to capacity with the arrival of the faithful for the big race, the one you see on television every Sunday. Packs of fans roamed the site at will, dressed in the colors of their favorites, or merely the standard uniform of the race fan: shorts, t-shirt, ballcap and a beer.

The smoke from three hundred campfires and grilles rose staggeringly in the air for the Saturday dinner hour. Ribs, steaks, pork butts, give us your meat, we shall season and set it above fire to add to the ambiance and cholesterol and scenic value of the American dream. Toast the cook with a cold one. We are the people, the end of the long trail of mortgages and SUV's, the wearers of things loose fitting and the predictors of weather. The brayers of laughter for the off-color, the cheerleaders of the port-o-jon dump man, the buyers of every thing conceivable. We are the possession obsessors, we are here and unapologetic. Make way, we race and we shall not be denied. Do we have enough ice? Look, the guy across the way has a fiddle. And the guy behind has satellite TV. Next year, so too shall we.

And when the beer is endless, the 64 quart coolers lined up in multitudes, the hours roll by and the night rolls in. The prim slip away to dream on queen sized beds with overhead video and heated mattresses. The middle of the road squirm into slightly undersized bunks and converted dinettes and bang their heads on vinyl coated headboards. The poor, the under-RV'd, might just fall to the ground and kiss the soil on which they lay, to have a story for next year. Yes, the year I passed out on the ground at Darlington and lived to tell the tale.

The dawn of Sunday and the nirvana of the big one. The Cup race. We have come seeking and here is our parish, the house of asphalt and hot dogs. Having seats very, very close to the track is a good thing. It enhances the rumble, the vibration which penetrates the headphones of our radio scanners and makes Jell-O of our knees. We beseech the favorites to be fast, to mash the foot southward and make nitrous the air for our noses, twitching for the breath of that joss stick of the track. The rubber, oh yes, give us the bits of rubber flying from the tires and over the fence and into our very laps, the balm of our being, let us rub it into our skin as if it were holy oil. Let us have the communion of the race fan, lay on our tongues the wafer of the french fry, tip the flask (oh boy, wrong simile) or the silver goblet and let us taste the goodness of the barley and hops. We dine at the table of the Earnhardts, we trudge mightily up Petty Blvd., we bear the weight of the tradition and majesty, we mourn the deaths and the Southern heritage, the mishaps, the roar.

We be not so very much, we be race fans.

We could be a redneck. Some guy named Foxworthy says so. The same guy played over the external speakers at 210 decibels on a Friday evening in the campgrounds. Was it entertainment or merely an expression?

Ask me on Tuesday, y'all. I don't know.

Wait a minute, this is Tuesday.

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