Clinton, S.C., Saturday, July 6, 2013, 8:36 a.m.
Jimmy Buffett sang “don’t ever forget that you just may wind up being wrong.” I’ve tried to heed that advice over the years, while, at the same time, being unafraid to proclaim what I believe to be true.
Everyone has his own perspective, after all. I do no more or no less than record mine. I’ve always found it functional to keep it simple. I just react to what I see. Or hear. Or read. If my perspective is skewed, well, I render an honest account of my perspective, skew be damned.
Several times, including as recently as last weekend, I haven’t been able to watch NASCAR races on TV, typically because I was on a long drive listening to it on radio. Last night, while I sat in a minor-league ballpark, monitoring the activities of a 10-year-old playing with a new friend on the grass bank nearby, marked the first time I paid attention to a race, a Nationwide Series one, entirely via Twitter. Alex was enjoying the company of a new friend, Ian. It drizzled for most of the game. The Greenville Drive defeated the Savannah Sand Gnats, 8-4. Meanwhile, in faraway Daytona Beach, Fla., Matt Kenseth was winning the Something-or-Another 250.
I suppose, if I had been at Daytona International Speedway, where I have been many times over the past two decades, I might have seen it differently, or, come to think of it, seen it at all. Maybe, had I been there, the fact that Kurt Busch was driving a “Days of Thunder”-themed car might have seemed, oh, refreshing, or clever, or, uh, “neat.”
From the slightly soggy perspective of Fluor Field in Greenville, S.C., it seemed to me the height of contrived stupidity. I kept reading tweets of either Kurt, or his crew chief, or his spotter, repeating lines from the film, which is well over 20 years old. Kurt and company were limited in a way that fiction isn’t. It wouldn’t have been wise for him to drive wide-open into a crash that started when he was a half mile away. In the gritty realism department, Cole Trickle didn’t actually “hit the pace car,” either.
So I tweeted that I thought it was stupid, which I did, and some others suggested, via the majesty of social media, that I was a washed-up old fogey, which may be true, particularly from the perspective of my Twitter and Facebook detractors. They suggested that it was fun. Maybe it would’ve been had I actually been watching, though I doubt it. This led further to a general discussion of NASCAR movies over the years, which, sadly, I know a lot about because I watched every one of them – “The Last American Hero,” “43 – The Petty Story,” “Fireball 500,” “Speedway,” “Corky,” “Red Line 7000,” “Six Pack,” “Stroker Ace,” et al. – that happened to be available on Saturday matinees at the Broadway Theatre of my youth. I have since mined the cable/satellite mother lode for other auto racing movies made before and after my childhood and adolescence. I’ve watched Clark Gable and Mickey Rooney race cars allegedly.
Being an expert on NASCAR movies is akin to being a connoisseur of the international hopscotch circuit. “The Last American Hero,” which starred Jeff Bridges and Valerie Perrine,” remains the only theatrical NASCAR-themed release that I’ve ever considered much good. The movie about Dale Earnhardt, “3,” was perhaps the best of ESPN’s unfortunate experiment in the cinematic arts, but it wasn’t released in theaters. While many NASCAR fans revere it because of its subject matter, I thought it merely passable.
In the general theme of auto racing, I’m also a fan of “Winning,” with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, which had some NASCAR content; “Grand Prix” with James Garner and Eva Marie Saint; Bonnie Bedelia in “Heart Like a Wheel,” and Steve McQueen’s highly realistic but plot-deficient “Le Mans.”
I think “Days of Thunder” has aged well. When released, most of my colleagues and I laughed at the notion of Harry Hogge building a race car in a moldy old barn and thought the social interaction of the film more reminiscent of the Indy-car scene of the time than stock car racing’s more down-to-earth ambience. My favorite clip in the whole movie took only a few seconds: a foggy shot of the Blue Ridge Mountains with “Charlotte, N.C.” etched across the screen.
Now, of course, in a world of NASCAR trophy wives and supermodel girlfriends, watching Aldo Moretti make the grand entrance at Daytona with his lovely European squeeze seems perfectly natural, but it’s a long way from Harry Gant’s home-owned steakhouse to Brian Vickers’ “Red Bull lifestyle.”
Perhaps “Days of Thunder” was prescient. Perhaps it gave the stock-car fighter jocks – no, that was the same movie, “Top Gun,” with different sets – aspirations of grandeur that have since materialized.
NASCAR generally gets credit (or discredit) for changes in the sport. Maybe it was all the result of a stupid movie.
Next up? “Talladega Nights,” a movie named after a track that doesn’t have night races, subtitled in spite of the fact that there was no actual “Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” That flick was just for laughs, though, and I didn’t mind it because, well, I laughed.