Sunday, June 26, 2011

NASCAR's appeal is hard to explain

SONOMA -- I don’t remember not attending a NASCAR race at Sears Point. There is no other event like it that I have ever covered.

It’s part carnival. Part comedy. Part calamity.

For example, I walking through the tunnel to the infield at Infineon Raceway before Sunday’s 23rd Annual Toyota/SaveMart 350 when a father -- a Jeff Gordon fan -- and his young son pulled up to me carting worn out race tires they had obtained in the pits. They were carrying/rolling them to their truck a half mile away where they were camping out. It didn’t matter that the tires literally had “Junk” written on them. Used tires are like new souvenirs for nutty NASCAR fans.

No tread. No cost. All good.

At least the tires were free. Prices for everything else in the infield at a NASCAR race are ridiculous. The biggest line for souvenirs was in front of Dale Earnhardt, Junior’s merchandise trailer. There were four people working the registers there where you could buy a racing jacket for $120 yet it was too hot on Sunday to wear it or show it off. I imagined the amount of money Junior fans were spending for his merchandize on Sunday then wondered why no one would buy flowers to lay next to his dad’s memorial plaque above Turn 3.

Of course, if you’re standing in line, you work up an appetite and a thirst. On Sunday you could buy one BBQ oyster for $3, a soda for $4, a side of fries for $5, hot dog for $7, caramel corn for $8, a turkey leg for $9 and, if you were hungover from sticker shock, there was a bloody mary for $9, too.

I saw an 24-ounce beer advertised for $12, which may explain why I saw one NASCAR fan walking around with a T-shirt that read: “Will Sell Wife For Beers.”

By the look of his wife and the price of beer that seemed like a good trade to me.

But a better T-shirt might have been “Will Sell Sheet Metal For Wife.” A large piece of sheet metal off Jimmie Johnson’s car was put up for auction in Victory Circle before Sunday’s race. The winning bid was $525.

That’s right $525 for a piece of junk. It’s enough to make you want to drink a large margarita … for $13

So what’s the draw of NASCAR that brings rednecks to the Wine Country? I’ll let know-it-all Cliff Claven tell you:

“One of the appeals, whether it’s consciously or subconsciously, is it’s purely an American sport,” said former “Cheers” co-star John Ratzenberger, Sunday’s Grand Marshal. “They want to gravitate to it.”

Like NASCAR fans to junk tires. It’s just hard to explain. You have to here.


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