2007 Daytona 500


I'm surrounded by people who avow a dislike of NASCAR. Whereas most of my professional associates and my friends strike this elitist posture, I've always loved stock car racing. As you might imagine, the automotive theater provided by the 2007 Daytona 500 lit me right up—especially when the cars didn’t stay upright.

It ended dramatically, with the nip-and-tuck, slam-bang finish bringing joy to Kevin Harvick, heartbreak to Mark Martin, and headaches to many others.

Yet as breathtaking as it all was, I suppose my stock-car-hating colleagues are still affecting disinterest. "Ho-hum," they’re saying. "Those rednecks are idiots."

It must have something to do with the poor diction and grammar. My wife couldn't help chuckling at the TV analysts, who announce the drivers are coming into the pits for "tars" and who manufacture such elocutions as "A lot of cars is all tore up."

Living as I do in Ann Arbor, a college town, I'm surrounded by intellectual eggheads whose seven-year-old kids qualify their meanings with words like "principally" and "actually," so hearing grown men struggle with the language provides me the same kind of relief as casual Fridays, spaghetti with meatballs, and beer from the can.

Anyway, after the fires were extinguished and the tore-up equipment hauled off to the junkyard, I was left with these observations about a couple of drivers:

1) Tony Stewart. Yes, that same paragon who last season crashed competitors out of a race (was it the Brickyard 400?) and then lectured them on their cavalier ways. This time, while leading the Daytona 500, Stewart lost control in front of Kurt Busch and ended up in the wall. It was poetic justice. But Stewart never admits a mistake or accepts blame; he said he'd have to look at the film.

2) Juan Pablo Montoya. Yes, the genius from F1 who's charged with popularizing the NASCAR spectacle in Latin America. When the green flag fell to start the race, did he turn down the expressway toward Miami? Where did he go? I see he finished nineteenth, but that’s only owing to the big crash at the finish. Otherwise, he ran at the back of the pack. I wonder if Montoya has any idea what he's in for. If he doesn't finish the season, it won't surprise me.

The Daytona 500 furnished the action and excitement I hoped for. As for my highbrow friends, I'll bet they had to sneak a peek. In fact, a line from the weekend's other theatrical event would confirm this natural human tendency. On Saturday night my wife and I attended a staging of She Stoops to Conquer, the eighteenth-century play by Oliver Goldsmith. In this comedy, one damsel declares, "In this hypocritical age there are few who do not condemn in public what they practice in private."

Even for only a glimpse of the highlights, wasn't Daytona a thrill?

I've dug Nascar racing since Bill Elliot was driving a red T-bird in 1984. I was 9 then. Today I'm 31, and still tune in. I'm what they might call a closet fan. I own no stickers, jackets, hats or shirts advertising "my" driver. Heck, I even hate country music. I'm a RACING fan, not a typical NASCAR fan. Here in Oregon I've grown up with C.A.R.T. and the ALMS at PIR. For the most part, people in the NW could care less about Nascar. But I'll admit my inner redneck loves it.
Okay...I'll admit to being an Ann Arbor professional with disdain for Nascar and admiration for Formula 1. And even though I have always thought that Juan Pablo was an instigator and a whiner (hmm...sound like anyone in NASCAR?) he has gotten me to pay attention to the series this year. So far though I've been stuck playing "Where's Juan Pablo" while trying to figure out why everyone else keeps crashing. Maybe Ronald is on to something...it is pretty entertaining.
I've got your back, Ronald, even though I know it's not the popular pastime here at Automobile's HQ. Even though I slightly prefer other racing leagues, the NASCAR circus is entertaining all the same.I banged the coffee table in disgust when Harvick swooped past Martin for the checkers. Not only does the aged Martin deserve a Daytona win more than anyone; Harvick has been a jerk to me personally on more than one occasion when I've been working for the PR staff at Michigan International Speedway. Stewart is still probably the best natural talent on the entire circuit, even after his slip-up on Sunday and the addition of Montoya.

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