By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
And all I ever needed to know about NASCAR, I learned in Daytona. When a woman walked by. Totally nude. On her hands. Inviting guys to play ring toss using Mardi Gras beads and her sprawling legs.
Psssst, wanna know NASCAR's dirty little secret? Its popularity stems as much from women with loose morals as cars with tight steering. While hypocritical NASCAR leaders use prayer to commence races founded on God, country and family values, fans packing their race-venue campgrounds are just as obsessed with beer and boobs.
Started to trek to Texas Motor Speedway last weekend for the Dickies 500. But as I was preparing to load my pickup with a Confederate flag, 19 cartons of Winstons, 102 pounds of red meat and a big ol' bottle of Jim Beam, two thoughts sideswiped me:
1. I don't own a truck.
2. I don't like NASCAR.
Not that I haven't tried. Granted, I barely recognize a Toyota from a toy Yoda. But I was at TMS the day Kenny Brack's IRL car crashed and disintegrated into Valvoline and vapor. I took an aerial tour of the track in a blimp piloted by Casey Mears. I served as an honorary member on Ken Schrader's pit crew. I even went to Daytona and gave the three-fingered salute in front of Dale Earnhardt's statue. With a straight face. Almost.
I know, I know, about 200,000 fans attended Sunday's race, and NASCAR's TV ratings regularly dwarf the NBA and MLB. Jeff Gordon hosted Saturday Night Live, Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman are starting their own team and TMS' Eddie Gossage is the area's best GM. NASCAR doesn't have labor disputes or drug problems or guaranteed contracts or Terrell Owens.
Still, my appreciation for NASCAR wouldn't fill a thimble.
Because, though they are highly skilled, drivers are not athletes. Put them somewhere on the list between poker geeks and macramé grannies. Bulletin: It's the cars--not the drivers--that decide NASCAR races. Example: The worst driver in the best car might win the race, but the best driver in the worst car wouldn't even finish.
Nextel Cup challenger Greg Biffle was sidetracked Sunday by a loose lug nut. Imagine the Mavericks losing because Dirk Nowitzki snapped a shoelace. Or ponder how ridiculous it would be to pick your favorite NFL quarterback based on what brand of shoe he wears, like many racing fans do in cheering exclusively for Ford or Chevy.
For a detailed examination of the intricate athletic machinations of a NASCAR driver, let's look inside the physical genius of Dickies 500 winner Carl Edwards. Explained Edwards, "My team makes my job easy. When I turn the key and step on the gas, the car goes fast." And of the strategic ploy that earned him the win, Edwards added, "It was an eenie, meenie, miney, moe deal ..."
Cue the Guinness guys: Brilliant!
In celebrating his victory, Edwards performed a backward flip off the hood of his car, further cementing NASCAR as the world's only sport in which the athletic feats come after the event.
While I'll never like the car race, how can you not love NASCAR's real entertainment--its human race? It's why I still go to TMS--for all the deliciously wrong reasons.
NASCAR would have you believe its fans turn out and tune in to watch the exhilaration of side-by-side racin'. Wrong answer, Bud-for-brains. What they really want are big wrecks and bigger racks, a little nudging and a lot of nudity. NASCAR knows it, but is afraid to admit it--or show it.
Name another sporting event where the network TV coverage doesn't include crowd close-ups. Name another sporting event that, if the competition were canceled, exactly zero of the fans would go home. Or, for that matter, even notice.
NASCAR infields are a charming collection of mud, mullets and mayhem. Overflowing with free time and cheap beer, fans transform previously vacant plots of land into the freakiest family reunion this side of the annual Addams picnic.
I've seen guys playing poker in a $1.2 million RV with heated marble floors and a 100-inch plasma, just down the gravel road from guys playing horseshoes--using traffic cones and toilet seats. I've seen motorized bar stools, lawn mower engines stirring vats of margaritas and Santa Claus hung in effigy, because December is the only month with no NASCAR racing. I've seen duct-tape bikinis and countless Confederate flags and barbecue grills bigger than your SUV cooking meat-based spreads so expansive they make Texas Stadium tailgating look like tea for two.
There are seniors rooting for Junior, Chevy stickers peeing on Ford, tattoos promoting Satan, Jesus and Harley-Davidson and fat bellies spilling over phat jeans because, as you know, nothing's sexier than a Britney Spares.
It's a big ol' group of Hee-Haw extras, raised on grits and go-karts and the belief that the General Lee ranks well ahead of the Surgeon General.
Simply put, it's the Greatest Sideshow on Earth.
And at the center of it all is testosterone. NASCAR campgrounds are erected by red-blooded males wildly certain that the Great American Race is female.