Posted on | October 31, 2005 | No Comments
A NASCAR race is a loud, vaguely violent affair filled with anticipation, excitement, thrills and spills…and it’s real loud. Did I mention that it’s loud?
Oh yeah, sorry.
Considering my roots, my background and general outlook, a NASCAR race is not my can of gas. I never got it. Why would people spend hours watching cars spinning around an oval, over and over again…to the tune of 500 miles? Crashes, right? No, there is that…but it’s more. It’s power, strategy, technology and personalities. There is more than a bit of that. The WWF built an empire on personalities…the no-so-subtle soap opera story lines that inspired love and hate among their fans. Racers have some of that. Not scripted, but real. Of the 100,000-plus fans I saw, most aligned themselves with a driver…sporting their colors, their images and waving their flags. Feuds between drivers get played up, and people boo or cheer at cars as they blur by them, leaving only the overwhelming sound of insanely explosive engines echoing in their heads.
The power of the engines dominates you as you watch them propel the cars around the track, sometimes inches away from one another. Many fans listen in on radio communication between drivers and their crews as they jockey for position. There is an intellectual, strategic appeal. The violence of the sport is latent…not as overt as the chariots of Rome…but anticipated at every turn. The violence of flames and flying tires can erupt at any second. It’s gripping in every sense. The fans have a blast. They’re all on the same page. They drink copious amounts of beer. They whoop it up. Many stay for an entire weekend in a vast field of RVs, campers and tents. It’s an event.
It’s also very White.
The theory I’ve had for a few years is that it mirrors the rise of “new country.” Both took off in the 90s…during the Clinton years and when Black music and Black athletes took over the marketplace. Latinos started to poke through, too. J Lo and the Macarena.
Enter New country and NASCAR, two cultural rest stops on the road to the “urbanization” of all off our entertainment. Two white oases in the midst of a multicultural desert of hip-hop, basketball, salsa dancing…etc.
White suburban kids flocked to the “urban,” and their angry White male fathers felt like an endangered species. They took over the political scene in 1994. Remember the Contract with America? They went to Promise Keeper’s in the late 90s. Now, they are NASCAR Dads. They support the war and Toby Keith. The are mostly blue collar, suburban and rural. They like cars, and really like trucks. They fish. They voted for Bush…twice.
They are a powerful demographic the GOP has targeted quite successfully…the culmination of years of strategy that started with the Reagan Democrats. These are the guys Dean talked about…the guys with gun racks in their trucks…that the Democrats have simply lost.
At the beginning of the race, after the national anthem was sung…a massive bomber flew over the stadium…low and loudly. People cheered. A prayer..supporting the racers and our military was said. This is the America those of us clinging to the coasts just don’t get. And many of us fear.
As for NASCAR…it is a valid sport…an interesting test of man and machine. It’s fun to watch…for a while, at least. And there is no overt racism there. There are a few Black spectators, and they were not singled out. But it is as White a crowd as I’ve ever seen. And they are all one, together and of a mind. And they feel comfortable there, knowing that they are all in it together. They look around and see themselves…a sea of themselves. And it may be a bit enticing for them to think that some people just don’t get…and to feel different from the type of people who “don’t get it.” They probably like that. It differentiates them from society while simultaneously joining them with a distinct, large group identity within it. Let’s not start on identity politics, though. Another blog, another time.
It’s said that you either get NASCAR or you don’t. There is a clean divide between those two camps. Sounds like our red state/blue state country. NASCAR is very red…very white…and it made me feel a little blue.
And Jesus…it was loud!