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?