Tuesday, May 17, 2005

NASCAR: The True Religion of the Bible Belt

I live in the South, where the Civil War is referred to as the War of Northern Aggression, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama is revered as an unofficial national anthem, and NASCAR is king. Folks here follow it religiously and are as loyal to their favorite drivers as Catholics are to the Pope. Daytona is the NASCAR equivalent of Mecca and receives almost as many pilgrims. Given the amount of fans he has around here, Dale Earnhardt could very well be canonized for sainthood before the late Pope John Paul II were it to come to a vote. Feuds have started and marriages have ended over driver loyalties and rivalries that make the Yankees/Red Sox debate seem trivial. If Jimmy Jack Billybob pulls up to the single-wide to pick up little Sally Sue to go a-courtin’ and he has a “24” sticker in his truck window, he better hope that her Daddy don’t answer the door with a shotgun, because his truck has a “3” and an “8” on it. People here take their car racing Seriously, with a capital S. It’s creepy. But NASCAR is no longer confined to The Bubba Belt these days, and has become huge business nationwide.

Of course, what would big business be without corporate sponsorships? NASCAR is a vast playground for advertisers. Every car is festooned with logo after logo for sponsors, as are the drivers’ jumpsuits and helmets. Each car has a major sponsor, and then a dozen or so lesser sponsors. Most drivers are so associated with their sponsors that were you to ask any average fan who drives the Interstate Batteries car or the Home Depot car, they can tell you in 2 seconds flat, without blinking. There are folks who take half their buying cues from NASCAR, folks who drink Coke over Pepsi because they don’t like Jeff Gordon and feel a certain kinship with guys driving the UPS truck but mutter under their breath when they see a Fed Ex truck in town.

And not only are the cars and drivers sponsored, the races themselves all have a corporate sponsor it seems. The Pepsi 500. The Golden Corral 500. The Bud Shootout. Plus, each level or series of racing has its major trophy sponsor. The Busch Series. The Craftsman Truck Series. And the big daddy of them all, the Nextel Cup. The Nextel Cup? Yeah, that’s right. It’s used to be the Winston Cup before NASCAR went all family-oriented. Corporate America used to bow down to soccer moms, and now it’s after NASCAR Dads.

Last year, the Powers That Be decided that in order to be more family-oriented, no longer would a cigarette company sponsor the major trophy. Now it’s a cell phone company instead. However, while the smokes may be gone, there’s still beer and sex. There’s cars sponsored by Miller Lite, Budweiser, and Coors, as well as Viagra and Cialys. What’s more family-oriented than beer and erectile dysfunction?

Truth be told, it’s just about money. It’s filthy expensive to go to a race, with tickets priced in triple figures. I thought only U2 and fancy hookers charged that much for 2 hours of entertainment? Nextel paid out more dough than Philip Morris to be the corporate demigod of NASCAR, and the others have put all their money in the kitty, too. If marijuana were legal, there’d be a sleek shiny Chevy Dopemobile Racing team. You name the product and it’ll be found on someone’s car, suit, or helmet. I saw a guy with the PORK logo on it. I guess if he crashes he’ll be the Other Burnt Meat. When will we see the E-harmony.com Racing Team? Or maybe the Axe Body Spray Team?

Notably, though, there are no condom manufacturers sponsoring cars. That’s a shame. They could help cut down the number of teen moms in trailer parks if Trojan had a race team. They could change the car’s paint scheme every couple races. Red for the old-school original condoms. Light blue for the lubricated races. They can call the car the Trojan Chariot. Come on, kids, burn a little rubber with Trojan Racing!

I myself don’t follow NASCAR. To me it’s 75,000 drunk-ass hillbillies watching 40 guys drive in a circle waiting to see a crash at 200 miles an hour. Give me hockey any day.

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