NASCAR. I was a virgin to the sport before the weekend of May 12th, 2012. I had watched a few races on TV over the years, of course, I work in bars so sports are always on the TVs. NASCAR was always like the step-child of the sports people watched. Patrons and co-workers always wanted to watch football, basketball, baseball, NASCAR was only on the TV if a customer requested it, and even then only on one of the smaller side TVs.
If it was on a TV, when co-workers walked by the bar, they would look at me and ask “Are you watching racing?” with disbelief in their eyes. And I always shook my head indicating ‘no’ and pointed to the old guy at the end of the bar, eyes glued to the TV as if he could will his driver to victory just by watching and murmuring. He inevitably had a hat on, probably camouflaged, with the numbers 24 or 88 or 5 emblazoned above the bill in yellow or bright orange. He half-sits in the barstool, one foot on the ground and the other propped up on the stool, in expectation. He is leaning against the bar, his head perched on his fist, his mouth moving silently, murmuring things like “damn caution”, “don’t pit!”, and “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!”
This was my idea of a NASCAR fan, the odd-man-out whose culture I really didn’t care to know about. Until I started dating one…
What do I do? I mean, I liked the guy. And he liked NASCAR. And his friends liked NASCAR, everyone in his social circle was accustomed to NASCAR in their lives, no matter how big or small. So I took a deep breath…paused for a second and said, “Sure, I’ll come watch the Daytona 500 on TV with you.” Whoosh of outgoing air. I was going to watch racing, seriously watch it with people who knew about it and conversed using words like ‘drafting’ and ‘pitting’, and when they said these words, they really knew what they meant.
So, for a few hours on a chilly morning in February, I sat at a sports bar up the street from my house surrounded by my new man’s friends, who all seemed to be wearing some object of clothing with a big number on it. It was either that or South Carolina Gamecock gear, and I’ll take anything over Gamecock gear. I know it’s off the subject but I just had to throw that in there.
When my racing virginity was discovered by the group, everyone was very helpful. The race hadn’t started yet due to rain and I remember everyone chatting and explaining terms to me, some telling me I needed to pick a driver (how can a girl pick a driver right away?! I’d never seen any of them drive and only knew them through Diet Pepsi or Diet Mountain Dew commercials…or those cheesy Go Daddy commercials which had Danica out of the running to be my driver before I even watched a race). The weather was becoming more and more prominent as we watched the delay coverage, which was basically all the commentators talking about anything that popped into their head to fill the unexpected break in their race itinerary.
Long story short, as I’m sure you know by now, there was no race that day. Though one woman, her new race teacher, and some new friends had a blast at brunch. I began to feel not so bad about race fans. These all seemed normal.
I stayed up until 1:00am on Monday February 27th (or I guess that would be early on Tuesday…) and watched the entire Daytona 500. It was crazy. Not only did I get to watch the race from inside Dale Jr’s car on my personal DirectTV channel (well, everyone has it but I like to think of it as personal), but there was an amazing fiery explosion on the track, just KABOOM!! and jet fuel goes up in flames everywhere!! I watched throughout the hour long delay while they cleaned the track and tried to make it drive-able, as the drivers all got out of their cars and chatted it up on the track, one pulling out his cell phone and in turn adding 10,000 new twitter followers in 10 minutes. And then, as the race resumed, the rain threatened and hovered over the track, the commentators tried to guess which way the weather would turn and many gestured over radar screens as they talked about high and low pressure, something I never expected to hear out of a NASCAR commentators mouth. It was implausibly exciting. I can’t remember who won, but being able to watch it from inside the 88 car gave it a whole new perspective for me. Dale was communicative with his crew and cussed when he was upset, he also cracked jokes from behind the wheel, which I never thought would happen. Watching this race made it seem alot more personal. I was in that car with him, I could here him communicate to his crew, asking for advice and yelling at them. I found a driver.
In the next couple months I watched more races, learned about the difference between Nationwide and NASCAR, and heard everyone, man or woman, say something bad about Danica Patrick. I did too. I can’t help it, she seems like such a cocky woman, not someone I’d want to hang with. But I have to respect her. Here she is trying to make it in a guy’s game. It’s akin to a woman getting drafted into a running back position in the NFL. And everyone hates her for it, at least everyone I’ve spoken to. But there’s something about her I have to admire, she really doesn’t give flying fuck what anyone thinks or says. Women can’t race NASCAR, dare I think of all the other things women couldn’t do at some point in time and yet managed to not only do well, but some better than men…but I’m getting off the subject matter here, which is me and my experience at Darlington, and after seven or eight paragraphs you’d think I would have made it by now!
So, off on our journey!