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What I Watched Last Night

I'm not a major fan of auto racing but as televised sporting events go, when you need to kill a little time in the neighborhood gin mill, NASCAR isn't too horribly bad. But when a dude goes sliding across the finish line on his roof and on fire like Clint Bowyer did during Fox TV's coverage of Sunday's Daytona 500, you can't help but be either a fan or at least a momentary convert toward what's otherwise a very boring televised sport. Hell, when dudes in the NBA start laying it up with their heads on fire, I'll have a more charitable opinion about basketball, too.

Because NASCAR (which stands for "Nahs car, Bubba") is an inescapable fact every Sunday afternoon between February and November in pretty much every tavern that's worth a shit along the south suburbs/Indiana border, you pretty much have to figure out a system of dealing with it if you want some human contact to go along with your alcohol. Hence, I've discovered that the secret to non-fan NASCAR enjoyment is to show up sometime within the last 50 or so laps. That's when all the good stuff really happens, because NASCAR's roots lie in a past filled with moonshine runners and that alone means the closing laps involve some serious pedal to the metal balls to the walls racing you just don't get anywhere else.

This leads to some potentially spectacular wrecks, which is what everyone counts on to break the monotony of a mess of sheet metal traveling around a big oval for hours on end, and it's not hard to be a fan of any sport where someone can turn a perfectly good car into a shredded tuna can at a moment's notice. Hard-core racing fans get truly offended at sentiment like this, but if racing skill was the only attraction, NASCAR would just cut the whole affair down to 25 laps and let everyone get on with their day.

It occurred to me watching Sunday's race that smoke is a bad thing to see in front of you. Unfortunately, that idea doesn't seem to dawn on the drivers much, because because smoking tires, smoking engines, or people in the stands smoking dope was the prelude to every wreck, and there didn't appear to be a whole lot of avoidance by the guys further back in the pack. It occurred to me that many wrecks Sunday could have been avoided simply if the drivers would just veer into that infield the size of Maine whenever someone started trailing smoke. Jeez, if some crackhead in a rusted-out 1971 Buick LeSabre with no ball joints left can bolt across four lanes to catch the 87th Street off-ramp on the Dan Ryan without causing a massive pileup, professional drivers in considerably nicer cars and money riding on it certainly could pull it off, too.

But even there, reaching into the professional driver bag of tricks to avoid smoke and wreckage didn't seem to matter Sunday, either. My first notion upon seeing Dave Blaney in the Caterpillar-sponsored #22 car nicely avoiding a wreck by suddenly detouring through Pit Row and emerging on the other side of the track was, "Damn, nice move." Yet this was exactly the point where Dave wiped out an entire row of fellow competitors in spectacular fashion.

You just don't get thrills like this with Indy car racing. No, sir. Nor do you get seriously thrilling endings like Sunday's Daytona, where Kevin Harvick dusted Mark Martin by a nose after drag-racing to the finish while half the field behind them was busy disintegrating into a heap of mangled, smoking wreckage.

And of course, it'll be hard for anyone in this year's NASCAR racing schedule to beat highly impressive moment where Clint Bowyer brought his Jack Daniel's #07 car across the finish line on its roof in a blaze of flame. Even I appreciated the incredible irony in the fact that this is exactly how most situations involving Jack Daniel's end up.

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Later that night, the whole rednecks-in-fast-cars theme continued with Country Music Television's airing of Smokey and the Bandit, a Burt Reynolds movie that epitomized the height of 1970s automotive fashion with the CB radio and T-top Pontiac Trans Am. If you tuned in and wondered what that loud flushing sound was, it was what remained - at the time - of the once-admirable careers of Jerry Reed, Paul Williams, and Jackie Gleason.

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Visit the What I Watched Last Night collection.



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Posted on February 19, 2007


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