As Air Force One lifted off the tarmac at the Daytona Beach airport two weeks ago, race cars whirred on a tar track below and fans turned their heads to catch the looming behemoth as it breached the crest of the city’s speedway grandstands. The juxtaposition of our nation’s symbol of security and authority against 200,000 tank-topped, overweight mullets chilled me and forced the question in my head, “Is NASCAR taking over America?”
A short while before the portent departure of the President’s bird, Bush addressed drivers in their cars and fans in the stands with the race’s preamble.
“Gentlemen, start your engines,” he said into the microphone, and the contest began.
43 drivers; roughly 200,000 spectators; and an estimated 40 million television viewers heard the announcement. Undoubtedly the other 35 million NASCAR fans who missed the event for one reason or another caught Bush’s appearance on highlight reels later that night.
Though brief, the Daytona pit-stop connected President Bush to the roughly 75 million Americans estimated to watch NASCAR routinely. Most of those people also tend to vote the Republican ticket. The publicity was fantastic. Bush and NASCAR loved it.
“I’m thrilled to be here,” Bush drawled after the race. “This is more than an event, it’s a way of life for a lot of people.”
NASCAR chairman Brian France added, “This is George Bush country here.”
How horribly right they both are.
If there’s one thing we don’t need right now, it’s the leader of the free world sitting around drinking beer and whistling Dixie as his head lolls elliptically to the motion of cars whirring around a track for a few hundred laps.
But Dubya, it seems, has wised to his constituents and returned to his roots — Jeb, his brother, is governor of the state, after all — to woo what may become a key voter demographic in the upcoming presidential election.
I don’t blame him.
In fact, if Bush markets his politics to NASCAR fans half as well as Wal-Mart and Winston market their products, he should be a shoe-in. Brand names and logos cover every inch of NASCAR drivers’ suits and cars. Diehard fans clothe themselves from head-to-toe in their favorite team’s gear. Just think of the bumper sticker potential.
“I don’t know why it has such mass appeal,” said Judson Van Allen, a junior in ILR and a Knoxville, Tennessee native. “It boggles the mind because it’s all left turns.”
Van Allen, who has never been to a NASCAR race but does watch races occasionally, had only this to say about the sport’s growing popularity.
“I think a lot of the popularity that goes along with it is the partying. My friend went to Taladega, and he said his diet consisted of beer and Cheerios for three days. I think it’s a big party for 100,000 people. You can fit a lot of people around a racetrack.”
The same mentality which compels the hordes to this mindless sport apparently also compels some of their votes in the ballot box.
Matt Thompson, a reporting and writing fellow at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies sat at the Daytona 500 when Bush addressed the crowd. Thompson wrote this in The American Prospect following a conversation he had with two other fans after the race.
“Sean Bugg, 22, is rooting for Rusty Wallace in today’s race, and wears the jacket of Wallace’s sponsor, Miller Lite. Sean Clark, 23, wears a Budweiser jacket in support of driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. Miller Lite Sean has the stronger political beliefs of the two, mostly based, he says, on the beliefs of his Republican parents. Budweiser Sean, if he votes at all, will probably vote for Bush, too.”
“‘That Bush,’ Miller Lite Sean says, ‘he’s going to keep shooting straight the whole time, basically. Bush is the one that went over there and handled shit, you know?'”
“‘Yeah,’ chimes in Budweiser Sean, ‘Definitely handled that.'”
And who can argue with them. I mean, Bush handled the WMD’s — he must have just done it secretly because we sure haven’t found any. He handled Osama Bin Laden, too, but we just never found out about it. And, if nothing else, Bush has sure handled the budget deficit: the bigger the better, right Cletus?
Bush, Bush, he’s our man, if he can’t do it, NASCAR can. Despite embroiling the United States abroad and bewildering scores of Americans on the home front, Bush may be able to still find his way back to the Oval office if he can solidify the NASCAR demographic at the election.
If he succeeds, so be it. But I hope not. And, though I certainly won’t blame NASCAR or its fans, wherever they hail from, I will question the character and future of a country whose vision is only as big as a windshield and whose perspective of the past four years is as skewed as the objects in the rear view mirror.
Archived article by Everett Hullverson