Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, January 19, 2015, 10:30 a.m.
NASCAR takes up every month of the year except two. It starts with NBA and NHL playoffs starting to take shape and ends with the football bowls and playoffs within sight. There is no NASCAR season, only NASCAR years.
A sports writer, inured to years of the satirical press-box ambience, feels slightly awkward in the grandstands. A follower of NASCAR feels slightly awkward during his or her two months of virtual noise. He catches a whiff of gasoline at the local pumps and immediately thinks of how Speedweeks in Daytona Beach beckon. He awakens from a grumpy hibernation about this time of the year and grouses about how he’s tired of hearing about “stick (and/or) ball sports,” which, by the way, is a damnable phrase. It reflects a despicable attribute of humanity, which is the need of every person to find someone upon which to look down.
I never thought I’d see a time when NASCAR fans were snobs. Once upon a time, Indy-car partisans disparaged it as “taxicab racing.” Now, to hear some NASCAR fans, Indy Cars and Formula One might as well be the Soap Box Derby, which they are not. NASCAR spent fifty years reaching the mainstream of American sport, and it hadn’t been nominated for its first ESPY five minutes when some of its fans (and some of its executives) started looking down their noses at other forms of racing and “stick and ball sports.” Every flaw in sticks or balls twenty years ago is now matched by “motors and tars.”
Once upon a time, and quite without provocation, a colleague claimed I “liked to throw off on Mississippi,” which was his native state. I replied that, being a lowly South Carolinian, it ill behooved me to look down upon anyone else.
But, I asked him, with a twinkle in my eyes, “Just out of curiosity, upon whom do Mississippians look down? Haiti?”
I knew I was going to pay for that but just couldn’t resist. He fired the first shot.
Which brings me to the very notion of sport. Among the many trivialities that NASCAR fans stumbled across while sailing the winter doldrums were the ESPN2 pundit Keith Olbermann’s satirical remarks on the Kurt Busch-Patricia Driscoll imbroglio, which, to be fair, is almost impossible to discuss without satire unless one is involved in the legal profession. As Adlai Stevenson said, “The human race has improved everything but the human race.”
Stevenson also said, “Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that he sometimes has to eat them.”
Olbermann isn’t a NASCAR fan. He has that right. He doesn’t consider high-performance driving a sport. He has that right, too. Everyone sets the border between what is and what isn’t for himself. Mine are rather expansive, but I see the other side and respect the view of others, even if I don’t see it the same way. My border lies back this side of chess, bands and cheerleaders, but includes golf, bowling, auto racing, and, uh, lumberjacks who are competing against each other hacking saws and rolling logs. The definition of sport is similar to the endless argument over who should be in a hall of fame. It’s a nationwide chorus of “mine is and yours isn’t.” All I ask of a hall of fame is that its members be famous. Beyond that, each voter can make the call for himself or herself. The hall ultimately is defined by what the voters proclaim it to be, and as flawed as that may be, it beats trying to set cold, lifeless requirements. Rather than argue endlessly about who should be and who shouldn’t, I prefer to go with that’s the system, and this is what it produced. Give me a vote, and I’ll stand up for my own requirements. Fortunately for the world, I’ve never been the sort who gets such honors, and I’ve never wanted to do what it takes to get one, such as, oh, I don’t know, earn respect. Once I voted for the Heisman Trophy but not for the guy who won. It’s one of those cases where I could never respect a process that included me in it.
I like stock car racing best during the part of the year when stock cars race. For two months, I can leave it mostly alone. What little I think, I write. Next month, I’ll begin thinking many things I never get the time to write.
As God intended.
Don’t be fooled by my self-deprecation. Buy my books anyway: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1