GateHouse — The air-quotes sport of NASCAR has never, for many reasons, appealed to me. I’m not really into cars, or deafening rackets, or thick brown clouds of fume, or stickers trumpeting the greatness of cereal companies and auto-parts superstores or cleaning solutions, or people named Dale, or funnel cakes. OK, I’m lying. I’m very much into funnel cakes. Actually, if it came down to it I’d gladly live for three weeks inside a cochlea-shattering speedway packed tight with tire chunks and Dales if I could get regular access to beer and funnel cakes because, if you haven’t guessed already, I’m sort of obsessed with my health.
But like millions of other things, my NASCAR-free lifestyle was something I subscribed to before I had a child, back when I got to select — all by myself — the events and pastimes to which I would donate my time.
Some years back the Little Man came into possession of a remote-controlled No. 20 car, given to him by his Uncle Dave and Aunt Jeanne as part of what I believe be to a preconceived, nefarious plan to ensure that we cannot travel within six country miles of a Toy Department without my son squirming off of his leash and scampering into the car section.
Once there he’ll investigate the exciting new sizes, styles and permutations of No. 20 cars that have come out since the last time we were in a toy department, which was, usually, about eight hours prior. (He also believes that the car continues to be driven by a man named Twenty Stewart, which is sort of awesome.) If you ever found yourself concerned that a loved one was spending too much money on a silly-sounding collectible — comic books, action figures, whatever — you can go to bed tonight weeping tears of joy that they’re not collecting NASCAR toys, which are evidently produced faster and with less care than Sandler movies. (KASEY KAHNE NEW MODEL: NOW WITH DARKER TIRES!)
For this reason, the lot of us found ourselves recently at our First NASCAR Race, and having somehow escaped with most of my original hair and a belly full of fried death, this is how NASCAR races apparently go: Upon your arrival at the track, all men are required to remove their shirts, unless their shirt says STAFF or an image of Calvin urinating on something. There is then an array of pre-race festivities, including a playback of “God Bless The U.S.A.” and the arrival of two parachutists, one carrying the flag of America and the other — this is true — carrying the flag of Kroger. You are availed of gourmet options at places like the Jack Daniels food wigwam, where I purchased a beef wrap, an item that consisted of meat shavings wrapped in a pretty professional-looking approximation of a tortilla, for the extremely reasonable price of about $300. And then you head out to find stupid-looking ear plugs that serve as a dead giveaway that you’re well out of your soft plushy comfort zone — hilariously, the concession-stand ear plugs come in a rainbow of humilating colors, including Tawny Kitaen Lipstick Red, Construction Zone Orange or Look At Me, I’m Scared Of The Big Noises Yellow.
And then the race starts, and here’s something they don’t tell you about NASCAR races: When these machines turn on, YOU CANNOT HEAR ANYTHING THAT IS GOING ON. It is so mind-rattlingly, deafeningly loud that it isolates you from friends and family, which is probably why people go, now that I think about it. It’s so loud that Jessica Alba could be three feet away, tearfully pleading with me to spend the month in St. Barts with her, and I’d probably respond with something like, “SURE I’LL GO GET YOU A BEEF WRAP DO YOU HAVE SEVEN DOLLARS?”
But after a while, an indeterminate length of time in which many things happen — including strategy and drafting and a pit crew, or whatever — the race ends in a thrilling last-few-laps sprint. Ours was won by a man named Kyle Busch, who I am told that everybody hates because he’s good at racing, which is logic that makes a lot more sense when you’re full of beer and funnel cake. Busch’s victory lap was taken underneath a round of mean-spirited booing from the Indiana crowd, which seemed odd and sort of ungrateful. Yet I took heart, knowing that he couldn’t hear a single syllable of what these people were upset about, and besides, my son was applauding as hard as he could.