Friday, July 05, 2013

COLUMN: Newton

I believe that everyone on Earth has two sides: the person we want others to perceive us as, and the person we actually ARE. I'm not exactly sure about the person who I actually AM (I like to think of him as a work in progress,) but I most certainly know the person I'd like to be perceived as.

He operates on an entirely higher plane of cool that some can't even comprehend. He's funnier than the average bear, but he's also just a little bit aloof in that distant and mysterious way. He's a well-traveled ladies man who loves exotic food, cutting-edge music, avant-garde art films, and you just KNOW he has a library full of classic literature in his house. He is equal parts Holden Caulfield, Jack Kerouac, and Robert Downey, Jr.

The real me is a teeny bit different. I'm only funny if you give me a laptop computer and an indefinite amount of time. I'm not aloof -- I'm just too shy to talk to you. I'm afraid of airplanes and I can't hold eye contact with a pretty girl. My definition of exotic food is Taco Bell, I secretly enjoy the music of Chris Brown, my favorite movie is "Twister," and the largest library in my house is the stack of water-logged Entertainment Weeklies I keep by my toilet.

Holden Kerouac Jr. I ain't.

No matter how much I yearn to be the coolest guy in the room, it'll never happen. I'm just me. A guy who's afraid of bees and bugs, routinely breaks out in heat rash, hates to get his hands dirty, and sleeps with socks on. A guy who doesn't know how to change a tire or swim or snap his fingers or keep his shoes tied.

And, yes, a guy who loves NASCAR.

I know, I know. I can't explain it either. I'm a card-carrying liberal Democrat who drives a European car laden with bumper stickers supporting both Obama and the Human Rights Campaign. I should hate NASCAR.

But I can't help myself. I don't know if it's the speed, the excitement, the danger, the strategies, or what. All I know is that I like stock car racing, and not just a little. It's one thing to tune in to the races, but I read the blogs and follow the Twitter feeds. I call in to NASCAR talk radio. I'm currently in a close second place in my NASCAR fantasy league (yes, they exist.) And, every once in a while, if I'm feeling especially brave, I go to a race.

Maybe you spent last Saturday racing for the cure or gumbo'ing your ya-yas. Me? I was in Newton, Iowa for the Dupont Pioneer 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race, where I learned many truths about the reality of being a NASCAR fan:

* Fellow NASCAR fans are, by and large, really nice people, occasionally to a fault. We got to the race early and got stuck in line next to a guy with clearly nothing better to do than make 150 new friends. Talking at roughly the volume of a stock car to absolutely anyone daring enough to make eye contact, we learned all about the murders in his hometown ("They'll git the guy, mark my words, what with the D&A and all. With D&A, they can go back and check out what George Warsh-ington was up to if they wanted!") We learned about his daughter's neck goiter (she's doing much better.) We learned that his wife was running late (and/or packing up her earthly belongings and heading for the hills whilst the getting was good.) Still, I'll take THAT guy over the usual beer-spilling frat-boys I end up next to at most rock shows.

* Iowa Speedway workers are, by and large, really nice people. We were concerned that we'd miss the autograph signing, so the staffer at our entrance unlocked the gate early, searched all of our bags early, and scanned all of our tickets early, all so we could run straight to the autograph line when the time came.

* NASCAR drivers are, by and large, really nice people. We made it to the autograph session and managed to score a couple of the much-coveted admission wristbands. I got to meet Brian Vickers, Elliott Sadler, Trevor Bayne, and a dozen other drivers. ALL of them were unbelievably nice. I couldn't help but think of the hours I spent in college trying to meet my favorite musicians only to discover they were arrogant twits.

* NASCAR sponsors really enjoy giving away free stuff. Fill out a quick survey from Sprint and get $5. Fill out a quick survey from Chevy and get a free t-shirt. On an entirely unrelated note, I hope Mr. Bud Weiser enjoys his Chevy brochures, and if a certain rival publication starts receiving telemarketing calls about their cell phone service, it should be dismissed as coincidence.

* Thanks to the sponsor trailer, I know for sure that Dupont Pioneer products yield "good, clean corn." Not that bad dirty corn we're all used to.

* I should know that if I'm ever out of my element and having a good time, it's bound to rain on my parade. And it did, quite literally, as the skies let loose during the introductory parade of drivers.

* If you think stock cars are loud, try sitting in the second row when they bring out the jet dryers. I've long since destroyed my ears on a steady diet of dance music over the years, and even a grizzled vet like me was sitting there with earplugs AND my fingers in my ears every time those wheeled deathmobiles rumbled by.

* Whoever sings that "Rain is a Good Thing" song is a liar.

* How does the Iowa Speedway make up for an eventual rainout? Apparantly by encouraging felony drunk driving. "BEER FOR THE ROAD?" shouted umpteen vendors at us as the crowd headed dejectedly to the parking lot. Many took them up on it. Turns out it was okay, though, because I'm pretty sure you could have passed out drunk, gotten a good night's sleep, and waited out the hangover while still in line to leave the parking lot. There's a chance I might still be there now.

Maybe I don't really like NASCAR. Maybe I just like waiting in line after line, all capped off by some extra waiting in the parking lot to get the heck out of Newton and head home while resisting the urge to bump-draft traffic on the interstate.

Holden Kerouac Jr. would NOT have been amused.

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