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How a Northern Liberal Embraced NASCAR

By Christopher Maher On July - 10 - 2009

Once, I held NASCAR in only slightly lower contempt than I had for professional wrestling.

Third-generation rednecks running around in circles driving rolling billboards, getting in fights after races, wasting precious fossil fuel and observing beer-fueled fans treat it like professional wrestling, complete with its soap opera story lines.

I’ve come around, and become a fan. 

In childhood, I remember Richard Petty driving like a maniac, and thinking “How cool!”

Then, puberty, adolescence and early adulthood took over, and knowing who I was and what I stood for, I knew I could never get a grip on NASCAR.

But, one year in the early part of this decade, I was subjected to watching a race. Unlike my younger years, when I just watched NASCAR for the spectacular wrecks, I focused on the pit crews and their precision.

Six figures for a “left tire changer?” What in the world?

Yes, but that whole team had to work together to get that car back out on the track in ten seconds or less, and having been in the workplace, I could only hope and pray that wherever I worked could even dare to dream of that level of teamwork and precision.

Next stop on my path to enlightenment was a phone call to an old high school buddy, who had become a NASCAR fan since he had relocated from Greater Cleveland to the burbs of Miami.

He said, “You gotta pick a driver! Someone you root for every race!”

Since Dick Trickle had already retired (Damn, his parents must have hated him!), I chose Ryan Newman. If you know anything about Cleveland, it’s the “One of Us” factor. We like to root for people who are most like we are.

Here was a man who had serious talent, but was no redneck, having gotten his degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue. No dummy.

Plus, at the time, he raced for Roger Penske, a Clevelander (ok, Shaker Heights), shrewd businessman and racing legend.

So, off I went, watching the No. 12 Dodge Intrepid every Sunday, but still watching the pit crews as much as I watched the race.

Anyhow, old high school buddy has drunk all of the talk radio Kool-Aid, and he sends me right-wing garbage that finds its way immediately into the trash can on my Macintosh.

As for me, I still proudly voted for Obama, as the majority of my 95 percent Caucasian ZIP code did.

We, as a nation, are likely to lose many material things we once took for granted.

In this economy, the NBA salary cap is likely to take a hit in 2010, and NASCAR has been widely reported as taking the brunt of the recession’s burden on sports. It’s no surprise when half the manufacturers of its cars are in Chapter 11.

I know these are tough times, and for most of us, if we still have jobs, we take “staycations.”

I’m also aware that global warming is not a myth, that Earth is more than 6,000 years old, and that “abstinence education” is anything but.

But there’s something about those V-8s running at 9,000 RPM that says “America,” and we can’t afford to lose it. Too many sprawling brick ranch houses on acre lots here were built on “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday.”

Mr. President, I know you have far better things to do, but I would like to invite you to join me this Fall at Martinsville for my first NASCAR race. You live closer and you make more money than I, so I’ll let you pick up the tickets. My GM car gets over 30 miles per gallon on the highway, so I can drive down and join you.

And, since you can still smoke at NASCAR tracks, I’ll meet you for a cigarette when the caution flags hit. I still need to quit, too.

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