Perspective Unapologetically Skewed

Has NASCAR imitated "Days of Thunder"? (John Clark photo)

Has NASCAR imitated “Days of Thunder”? (John Clark photo)

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.

About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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7 Responses to Perspective Unapologetically Skewed

  1. Earl says:

    I too was somewhat annoyed by the flood of quotes last night, Monte.

    My question is why? Just for fun? Nothing that heavily promoted and rigidly orchestrated is for fun. Fun would have been if Kurt and his CC had just started interacting like that out of the blue. This had the charming spontaneity of a rocket launch, down to the ice cream in the pits and Jeff Gluck dutifully tweeting everything that was said as if he’d been paid handsomely to do so.

    Maybe there was a product being promoted, or there’s a DoT part 2 coming out that I haven’t heard of, or perhaps this is part of the perpetual project to humanize Kurt Busch to the media and fans, but it really just came off as pointless and trite.

  2. Al Torney says:

    The absolute lousiest racing movie ever made was “Fever Heat” starring Nick Adams of Johnny Yuma fame. He died during the production if I’m not mistaken. Funny thing is I had read the paperback book back in 1961 and it wasn’t a bad read. It actually sells for good money when it comes up on eBay.

    The first NASCAR movie I remember is “Thunder in Carolina” starring Rory Calhoun. It contains all of the known cliches ever used in stock car racing. Alan Hale, Gilligan’s Capt., plays a one armed mechanic working for the Maytag repairman, as Carl Kiekhafer. The film was in color but I have a black and white copy. Buck Baker and Joe Weatherly make cameos in the film. Sort of corny but it seems Hollywood considers this the way to make most racing movies.

    Monte, if you would like to view Thunder or Fever let me know and I’ll be happy to send you a copy. I would like to read your commentary on Thunder.

  3. Matthew LTRF says:

    Another perspective:

    I went to see Days of Thunder on the Sunday of its opening weekend in June 1990, at the Belle Meade Theater in Nashville, TN., a grand old movie theater that opened in 1940 and, sadly, closed in early 1991. I would estimate that around 95% of the 800 seats were filled for that early afternoon matinee, most probably by folks who had never paid much attention to NASCAR, but didn’t mind seeing Tom and Nicole, Robert and Randy and the rest, play make believe for a couple of hours. It was fun.

    The movie was a hit and helped fuel the decade’s boom for all those involved. You were there Monty. High times, excessive maybe, but good anyway.

    What Kurt and crew did was clever. It was done to promote Patricia Driscoll’s Armed Forces Foundation program that helps vets with PTSD and such. Worthy cause.

    I laughed quite a few times during the race. Come on now.

  4. Monte says:

    To each his own. I just represent myself.

  5. Bobi says:

    Thank you for mentioning “Heart Like A Wheel,” the most underrated racing movie ever! All the Danica fans (and haters) should watch this movie of a real female trailblazer who raced because she loved it. God Bless you, Shirley Muldowney!

  6. Monte says:

    I’ve seen “Thunder in Carolinas” a number of times, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen “Fever Heat.” I’d love a copy, Al.
    I’m accustomed to really bad racing movies and have sort of a way of enjoying them for their very badness.
    I was just humming the theme song of “Fireball 500” (Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello) yesterday.

  7. Judy B says:

    I agree w/you, Matt. I’m not a big fan of Kurt but thought it was a good mix of fun & bringing a worthy subject to light. In all honesty, I found it more entertaining than the event the following nite! (IMO plate tracks ceased to host races some time ago)

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