Monday, August 31, 2009
COLUMN: NASCAR Weekend
There are two Shanes constantly waging war in my head.
The first is Shane the Artsy Hipster. This Shane doesn't really exist, because the real me is far too nerdy to pull it off. I'm too old, too chubby, and the nearest Urban Outfitters is, like, two hours away.
The second is Small Town Redneck Shane. This Shane doesn't really exist, either -- my natural wussiness prefers the air-conditioned comfort of my apartment over a sunburn any day. Still, like John Cougar Mellencamp so aptly said, I was born in a small town and I can breathe in a small town.
And so the war rages on. Let's say, for instance, there was a one-act play in town that portrayed existential nihilism as a poisoning of the human soul. Shane #1 would think it a winning night out. Shane #2 would rather sit in a La-Z-Boy eating hot dogs and watching reruns of "Cops."
That's the kind of dilemma I found myself in last weekend, as two major events had the indecency to occur simultaneously.
On the Shane #1 hand, it was the 30th Anniversary Birthday Bash at the Rock Island Brewing Company, and attendance was all but mandatory. A full weekend's slate of music featuring the reunion of three of the greatest bands the Quad Cities ever produced: Einstein's Sister, Driver of the Year, and Tripmaster Monkey. Speaking as a card-carrying music nerd: Wow.
But Shane #1 wasn't the only one excited about this past weekend. For six months, Shane #2 had been whispering in my ear about an event coming up -- and it was a whisper that I'm pretty sure had a southern drawl. I had to own up to my secret shame: A very big part of me would NOT be happy gallavanting around the Quad Cities with the knowledge that, less than two hours away, a major NASCAR event was occurring.
There. I said it. I like NASCAR. Sue me. As hip and cool as I yearn to be, there will forever be a part of my brain that thinks cars racing in circles for an entire afternoon is super rad. I watch the races, I listen to NASCAR radio in my car, and I'm currently 2nd in my NASCAR fantasy league and stand to make a pretty penny if the season keeps going my way. And by pretty penny, I clearly mean the value of respect and admiration from my fellow racing enthusiasts and in no way, shape, or form am I inferring that any monetary amounts are being wagered because that would be really, really wrong. Cough.
Two measly hours away from the Quad Cities sits the Iowa Speedway and last weekend's Nationwide U.S. Cellular 250. The decision was too much for me. NASCAR or music -- which would it be? That's when Shane #1 and Shane #2 spoke in unison: "BOTH." Not the brightest move, but I sit here at my keyboard as a monument to human fortitude, because I pulled it off. Here's how it went down:
On Friday night, I went to RIBCO and saw Einstein's Sister reunite to an all-Beatles set that lit my world on fire. But it was a fire I had to quickly douse, because it was off to early bed for me. 8 a.m. was harsh. My bones ached, but I didn't care. NASCAR waits for no one but the rain.
After throwing myself together, my girlfriend -- a wonderful sport in all this, by the way, since I'm pretty sure SHE has two voices in her head and neither one of them were asking for guitars or cars -- and I headed west on I-80. Two hours later we were in Newton and the Iowa Speedway was in sight. Then it disappeared from sight because the traffic cops directed us to a fine spot that I'm pretty sure was in Indiana.
After a lovely hike through the infinite gravel parking lot, we got to the gate -- to discover that our seatback chairs weren't allowed inside. So we had to walk allllll the way back to the car. Well, since I blew my knee out about a third of the way back, it was more hobbling than walking.
Dear NASCAR, have you ever SEEN your fans? We are NOT what you would call toned athletes who enjoy a brisk walk. While normal people spend their Sundays getting out and about, we spend them in BarcaLoungers watching cars go in circles. Normal people worry about their weight. We worry whether we've got enough nachos to make it through the caution laps. There are 43 perfectly good cars capable of shuttling us to and from the parking lot. The least you could do is send out Kevin Harvick to gimme a lift.
Eventually we made it through the gate and headed towards much-needed refreshments. Suddenly the guy in front of me looks at my Augie t-shirt and goes, "Aug-us-taaana? We don't allow no Quad City f------ in NASCAR Nation!" Greeeat. I take my girlfriend to her first NASCAR race and get us killed before the green flag even waves. That's when the guy continued. "Har! Har! Just kiddin', brother! NASCAR ruuules! Whooo-yaa!" Maybe I made up the whoo-yaa. I honestly don't remember. But whoo-yaa was definitely going through MY head.
I hate to admit it, though, but NASCAR really does bring out the best in people. Everybody around us was smiling, friendly, and high-fiving strangers. The race was killer. Kyle Busch, the driver that every NASCAR fan is contractually obligated to hate, started in last place but made his way to the lead in under 70 laps. Then it was a battle between good and evil, as Busch fought -- and eventually lost -- to Brad Keselowski, who we have to like because his car is owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is to NASCAR fans what Jesus is to, well, NASCAR fans.
But we didn't see the win. We were too busy hustling our dirt-covered bodies back to the car for a quick getaway to a much-needed shower, a knee brace, and a hasty arrival at RIBCO exactly ten minutes before Driver and Tripmaster took the stage. It was an awesome topper to an awesome weekend. For once, I had my cake and ate it, too. It just kinda tasted like burned rubber, though.