How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the NASCAR: Chapter 1.

They say that Everything’s Bigger in Texas. They also say, Texas: It’s Like a Whole Nother Country. It turns out that both of these things are true. The sky is certainly bigger in Texas than anywhere else I’ve been, and Texas Motor Speedway, which contains a 1.5-mile track and holds over 200,000 people, is so big that it hurts your brain to look at it.

Edmund Burke once defined the sublime as that which “is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling,” and his 1757 Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful captures with uncanny accuracy the experience of beholding for the first time the spectacle that is NASCAR:

THE PASSION caused by the great and sublime in nature, when those causes operate most powerfully, is astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other, nor by consequence reason on that object which employs it. Hence arises the great power of the sublime, that, far from being produced by them, it anticipates our reasonings, and hurries us on by an irresistible force. Astonishment, as I have said, is the effect of the sublime in its highest degree; the inferior effects are admiration, reverence, and respect.

If anything can be said of NASCAR, it is certainly that it “anticipates our reasonings, and hurries us on by an irresistable force.” This is why, when everyone I know asked me why on earth I was going to NASCAR, I could only reply, “I have absolutely no idea. It is beyond reason.” This is also why, once putting myself in the presence of the event, I was hurried on through the weekend by the irresistible force of astonishment after astonishment, to be catalogued in the account that follows.

KL—companion par excellence, noble provider of the weekend’s tickets, and Lewis to my Clark on this momentous expedition into the roaring heart of America—drove us across Oklahoma and into Fort Worth on Thursday, November 2. Friday we were up early to see the grounds before the crowds moved in, and to get me acclimated to staring at the race track before the evening’s Truck Race. At our host Rob’s recommendation, I rented a Nextel FanView Scanner for the weekend, which was the right thing to do. Not since my sister received our family’s first Game Boy, which, you will recall, came with that mother of all computerized addictives Tetris, have I been so enthralled with an electronic handheld device.

This baby lets you watch TV coverage, hear radio coverage, or (the coolest) listen in on individual drivers talking with their crews during practice and the race. It also allows you to scroll through various charts of statistics on the drivers, which was very useful in helping me decide who I wanted to support. Well, that and looking at the cars. I liked the Cingular car (number 31) because it was bright orange and easy to follow on the track. I liked the Cheerios car (number 43) because it was appropriately cheery. And I liked the Jack Daniels car (number 7) because I like whiskey. It turns out that this is a better method of choosing a driver than, say, scrolling through the FanView’s photo database to pick the cutest one, because the latter might lead you to consider Jimmie Johnson, teammate of fellow pretty boy Jeff Gordon, which, you will soon learn, is unacceptable when you have been adopted by a tribe of Tony Stewart fans. So 31, 43, and 7 it was for me—drivers Jeff Burton, Bobby Labonte, and Clint Bowyer respectively.

 

Rob and Robert

After studiously considering the universe of wonders opened up by the Nextel FanView for an hour or so, KL and I borrowed Rob and Robert’s pit passes to see the cars up close. Add to the list of astonishments the speed and the sound of these stock cars. They are fierce little machines. When they roar by at 170, 180, 190 mph, your ribs hum along. (I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing an indy car in action, but by all accounts neither the eye, nor the mind, nor the soul can keep up with one as it races by.) Burke wrote that “excessive loudness alone is sufficient to overpower the soul,” and considering the relationship of sheer power to the effect of the sublime, he adds:

Let us look at [a] strong animal, in the two distinct lights in which we may consider him. The horse in the light of a useful beast, fit for the plough, the road, the draft; in every social, useful light, the horse has nothing sublime: but is it thus that we are affected with him, whose neck is clothed with thunder, the glory of whose nostrils is terrible, who swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage, neither believeth that it is the sound of the trumpet? In this description, the useful character of the horse entirely disappears, and the terrible and sublime blaze out together.

If the terrible and sublime can blaze out of a single horse, consider the 750-horsepower engine of a stock car, designed for no other purpose than sheer, mind-blowing speed, and tell me what words in the English language can possibly capture the blaze of that. Megahugeness? Gargantuosity? Scrumtrillescence?

Seriously, people. NASCAR challenged, at every turn, my very ability to use words to any effect.

On that note, I must pause my chronicle, as my computer is being a dork and won’t let me upload any more photos. Tune in later to learn which of my drivers won the truck race, how NASCAR is like a medieval village, the name of the sweetest akita this side of Honshu, and much, much more.

10 thoughts on “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the NASCAR: Chapter 1.

  1. Oh honey, I can see that you are a Texan at heart!! (And, by the way—I can’t believe you came to Fort Worth and didn’t let me know!!!)

    You did cheer for Kevin Harvik, didn’t you? I’m pretty sure he must be kin to me—Orvig, Harvik, Arvik (The original spelling before the Ellis Island bunch got hold of it.)

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone else capture it with quite the same grace. I don’t like going fast, but I love watching fast. There is something about that power that tightens up my insides. F-16, Nascar, Funny Cars, even roundy rounds. I love the sound of a fast engine!

  2. Time Magazine had a mini-review of Driving with the Devil: Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels, and the Birth of NASCAR by Neal Thompson:With clean-cut sponsors like Tide, the U.S. Army and Nextel fueling NASCAR’s multibillion-dollar engine, stock-car racing’s seedy past has been buried beneath the track. Thompson exhumes the sport’s Prohibition-era roots in this colorful, meticulously detailed history. Painting NASCAR as “the accidental sport of Southern moonshiners,” he recounts wildly entertaining stories of how late-1930s racing pioneers like Lloyd Seay, who was later murdered by his cousin, and “Reckless” Roy Hall, a jailbird, honed their craft during bootlegging runs, dodging the law on dusty Goergia back roads.

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