Originally written on April 17, 2010
My first exposure to nascar/stock-car racing came at the age of six. This was when one of the most underrated films ever made, Six Pack, was released. If one does not believe that Kenny Rogers’ striking and moving portrayal of down and out stock-car driver “Brewster Baker” was an awe-inspiring tour-de-force of cinematic history, then perhaps one needs to develop a more articulate cinematic palate such as myself. Aside from this groundbreaking movie, I had never heard of nascar, and for the most part, would have limited knowledge of its existence and surrounding subculture for another fifteen years.
For the most part, I grew up following the “ball and stick” sports: baseball, basketball, football, etc… Stock-car racing was a foreign and abstract concept. Sure, I knew of open-wheel Indy-Car racing, even though I rarely paid attention, even to the Indy 500. It wasn’t until I moved to central Illinois in my early twenties that I became aware of the large following nascar had. I still didn’t understand. It seemed fairly pointless and derivative watching a bunch of billboards on wheels turn left for five hours, with the occasional crash and pit stop.
I suppose I did, and still do, have somewhat of an elitist view when it comes to nascar. It has always struck me as a “redneck” or “rural” pastime. I am definitely not one to speak as I have wasted countless hours, days, weeks–a good chunk of my life–following the Chicago Cubs, watching mindless sports talk shows and wasting money on jerseys and memorabilia that does nothing other than make various faceless corporations richer. I cannot stand on my high horse critiquing the nascar “lifestyle” or “culture” when I myself have perpetuated an industry that serves merely as a means of entertainment and profit-accruing enterprise. Are the Cubs really going to build a championship team because I’m dumb enough to shell out a hundred bucks for a jersey of a guy that will likely be traded within two years time?
Just about ten years ago, I was recuperating at home after a stay in the hospital. While lethargic and bored one Sunday, I watched an entire nascar race. For the most part, it was a means of passing the time. Just as a three hour long baseball or football game, it essentially offered a means of escape. Watching those “billboards-on-wheels” go around in circles for five hours made me realize the profound metaphor of life it represented. We spend our lives constantly circling through the motions with no true destination, just passing the time in hopes of something greater to come. Occasionally, we “crash the walls,” life slows down, but ultimately we get back in the race. Some days we come out on top, other times near the bottom, but usually right in the middle of the pack circling and circling through life.
To be quite honest, I could still care less about Dale Jr. and Jeff Gordon and the “number-twelve-chevy-starfart-tuna-home-shop-dot-com” car. Just as a nascar aficionado could care less about Carlos Marmol’s ERA with RISP. I do understand the appeal though. It is just a means of entertainment. A means of passing time. Yet another metaphor of our collective lives and psyche.