I don't know what a "rear spoiler" is. I haven't a clue what a "polesitter" does. And while I gather, from medical journals, that prolonged polesitting can cause rear spoilage, I know very little else about auto racing. Until last weekend, I had never heard the phrase "tar far" (tire fire), "cow shin" (caution) or the proper pronunciation of "gentlemen" (it rhymes with "cinnamon").
"Jinnamin!" honorary starter Brett Favre barked into a microphone on Saturday. "Lits giddit awn!" So began the NAPA Auto Parts 300 and, with it, a two-day, four-race, nearly seven-hour marathon of stock car coverage on CBS, climaxing with Sunday's Daytona 500. For race fans it was NASCARnivale.
Race fans, I had inferred from my one visit to the Indianapolis 500, fell into one of two categories: tattooed, shirtless, sewer-mouthed drunks; and their husbands.
But Daytona was different. At Daytona the white trash was on the track. A white paper plate stuck for laps to Rusty Wallace's grille. A hot-dog wrapper suctioned itself to Bill Elliott's windshield. But these items only hinted at the dietary regimen of the racing demographic. The starting lineups were aisle 2 of a 7-Eleven sprung to automotive life: cars sponsored by, among others, M&M's, McDonald's, Burger King, Budweiser and Jimmy Dean. These weren't cars, they were my Saturday dinner plans. NASCAR knows its audience. The sport began to grow on me like shower-curtain mildew.
I could have listened all weekend to the delightfully indecipherable Buddy Baker, and did. The CBS color analyst comes from the deep end of the Deep South. He sounds like Strom Thurmond shot full of novocaine while eating Saltines during larynx surgery. He uses "pit" as a verb a lot. Apropos of nothing at all, Baker said at the end of the Daytona 500, "Ahahahoohoo! Today's Vallumtime's Day, idnit?"
The entire weekend was a linguistic revelation. Pit crew chiefs, I now know, speak in six- and seven-syllable, subject-free sentences: Southern haiku. When asked what went wrong with his car's engine on Saturday, one crew chief sighed, "Just come apart, I guess." To explain a rival crew's failure to remove loose tires from pit row, another chief said with a shrug, "Too damn lazy, I reckon."
The drivers speak in sponsorship tongues. A NASCAR driver will emerge on fire from a 16-car pileup and still thank Goodyear, Dura-Lube and the good people at Winn-Dixie before passing out from the pain. Forced to drop out of the Daytona 500 after a crash, Joe Nemechek hung his head and said heartbreakingly, "It's a shame for this whole BellSouth Lucent Technology Chevy." The previous day, during taped coverage of a Daytona qualifier, Nemechek was asked to react to another crash. He shook his head and said, "Tough break for the BellSouth Mobility Nokia team." Like Iron Eyes Cody in the anti-littering commercial, I felt a single tear streak my cheek.
By the time Jeff Gordon pole-sat on Sunday, got the green, traded paint, pitted, took gas, drove the tars off his Chevy, was cow-shinned, caught a mirrorful of Dale Earnhardt right on his rear spoiler, got the checkered and thanked DuPont, Pepsi and Goodyear, I had watched 1,050 miles of racing in 24 hours. That is like driving from Gas City, Ind., to Sulphur, La., and about as pointless.
Except that I now know Rich Bickle from Dick Trickle, end most sentences with "I reckon" and have a new hero in Buddy Baker. Sounds like a Happy Vallumtime's Day, after all. Dudnit?