Borne under a bad sign (3)


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Well shucks, I better get a-movin’ with this tale, time is getting away from me, the moment gelling into a custard whose surface is getting burnt – no, burnished – by what was then the future, stuff I had no mind of as I began my entry into Daytona and is now a fleeting present, crowded with banalities like going back to work and changes in the weather (raining hard yesterday, slowly cooling down into this windy, next-front morning, the next iron-barbed arrow to be loosed from the boyish quiver of El Nino), causing my Greek-chorus-styled mind to enter the dreams of drivers and crews and chiefs and owners as they fret this coming Thursday’s Gatorade duel—winds on the backstretch, tires on a cold sunny track, all of it tempered by the worry that the accidents which always result on this track in the heat of battle will reduce the available resources for Sunday’s 500 by a car, perhaps two, and then what?

But there I go, getting’ ahead of myself. The future ain’t much more than a tossing winter’s dream anyway …  And the fun is the here and now, especially when it was last Saturday, and my lengthening hindsight both obscures and focuses what transpired on that day, seeing so much more than what I saw then, catching everything I missed whilst snapping picture after picture on my little Canon digital, scooping up all those little buckets of Race Day to re-examine here, that I may have wet nourishment enough to last maybe half a season, til July, when the Coke Zero 400 turns all this upside down, geysering lava from the summer sun and filling the Speedway’s bowl with crazy heat nonsense.

So where was I? …

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Daytona’s main entrance is approached over a skyway which crosses the eight lanes of US-92. A perky touristy sign on its fascade lets you know you are at the threshold of Daytona Beach, but the structure is for passage into Daytona’s other main attraction. It’s grand and wide, designed for moving a river of fans at once, four zigzagging levels up on one side, the span across International Speedway Drive. four zigzagging levels down. It doesn’t look like much of an effort to get across but it’s really about three times longer a walk when you consider all the zigzags on either side.

I walked my way over around 11 a.m.. The fan zone had been open since 8 a.m.., but the grandstands weren’t due to open til noon. Though not massive, a constant stream of fans were pouring through Daytona’s fan fuel injector, in gaggles of two and three and four (far as I could tell, I was one of the only ones in solo passage, but then my presence was just a ghost anyway).  Fans bundled against the cold wind, some more optimistic of the day’s potential warmth than others (some of the ladies gamely showing off what skin they could, if only plunging v-necks of t-shirts showing off recent boob jobs or their saggier but more honest forebears), decked out in driver jackets and hats (I attempted no count, but the Dale Jr. attire looked faded, as did Smoke gear, much of it festooned with old numbers, with plenty of bodies proclaiming Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin and Kasey Kahne, with the odd old guard Earnhardt Sr. mixed in with the occasional Biffle or Kenseth or Busch.)

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Crossing over there was a hard pattern of brightness and shadow from the girders of the bridge; at the far end I could see pure brilliance and palms shagging to and fro in the wind, like a portal to paradise or Oz or something people of average-to-less-than incomes are willing to pay good money for. A world approaching as I crossed the bridge.

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The first thing you encounter, on The Other Side, is the carnival of merchandising just outside the Speedway proper, a huge impulse aisle hawking scanners and driver gear, There are semi-trailer-sized booths selling a single driver’s wares, like the one above selling Dale Jr. hats and jackets and t-shirts and panties. (Surprising how you can paint the number 88 on the breath of spandex which t-backs a thong). It’s always a good opportunity to stock up on the latest gear and number and refreshing one’s loyalties (or changing them). Gathered together at a driver’s merchandising booth, the sense of solidarity and faith is tangible, strangers united by a the fortunes, for better or ill, of a usually diminuitive man in a firesuit that is covered with corporate logos.

Racin’ fans Stand by Their Man, the 1968 Tammy Wynette song coursing through their clogging arteries from a heart as devout and stout as only duration can be, doggedly through the good and bad times:

Sometimes its hard to be a woman
Giving all your love to just one man

You’ll have bad times

And he’ll have good times
Doing things that you don’t understand

But if you love him you’ll forgive him
Even though he’s hard to understand
And if you love him

Oh be proud of him
‘Cause after all he’s just a man

Stand by your man
Give him two arms to cling to
And something warm to come to
When nights are cold and lonely

Stand by your man

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The merchandising seems to both praise and ridicule the attitude, but song is not about time’s ironies but an article of faith which only a devoted spouse can lend, whether said significant other has earned such faith or not. (Many wonder if Dale Jr. still deserves such slavishly lavish endearments, but his myth as the son of the great one makes him a figure to be mothered as well as conjugally chased through the wilderness of Dale Jr.’s eternal bachelorhood.) The world is full of women who have been made fools of by such a song – Hillary Clinton and other wives of randy politicos, for instance – seeing them stand grim-lipped next to their husbands as the guilty fucks face the press and announce their retirement from office is an image which makes “Stand by Your Man” so haunting and yet defiant. Whatever the case: the Dale Jr. booth was busy as I passed by, not much more than the Smoke Home Depot booth further down, but reliably profitable.

We all know of the devotion of NASCAR WAGs, can recite, in the way of celebrity gospel, how Jimmie Johnson’s wife Chandra gave up a modeling career to support Jimmie trackside, how spectacular babes like Eva Busch hitched their considerable endowments to dorky millionaire jockeys like Kurt Busch, even some business partnerships forming on a wholly equal basis (like Kevin and Delana Harvick). And in the way we think in terms of cultural luminescence, fantasize those romances and devout marriages trackside, Ingrid Vandebosch with her husband Jeff Gordon and their tiny daughter Ingrid by the No. 24,  tenderness of family paired with the cruelties and insane dangers of driving bumper-to-bumper at 190 mph around a Daytona track which loves the tiny jarring slip which causes catastrophe.

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Ingrid Vandebosch and daughter Ingrid stand by their racin’ man Jeff Gordon.

As Danica enters stock-car competition, bringing into possibility the vision of a woman in Victory Lane—who can forget her standing on the dais after winning the IRL competition in Japan, the trophy she won taller than she was, with runner up Helio Castronroves laughing as he holds his tiny runner-up trophy, penis envy inverted in that sublime moment when girl beats boy on the track.

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Venus envy: Look who’s lugging the big ‘un home.

 

With women moving up the ranks of stock car racin’, will men stand by their woman? It’s not really part of the male wiring, though we do it because we must, because we do love the women we are with. It’s just that our gaze gets distracted by biology three million years old, always on the lookout for the next fertile uterus into which to spawn some more sons and daughters. Danica is of the moment the adored centerpiece; but there are others, Milka and Leilani Munter for example, both who were also scheduled to race in the day’s ARCA race (actually five women entered).

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Milka Duna and Leilani Munter were also ARCA racin’ that day.

Will the lyrics of the Tammy Wynette song work turned the other way around, boomed in the basso of a George Jones or Charley Pride?

Give her two arms to cling to
And something warm to come to

When nights are cold and lonely
Stand by your woman

And tell the world you love her(m)
Keep giving all the love you can
Stand by your woman

Stand by your woman
And show the world you love her(m)
Keep giving all the love you can

Stand by your woman

I look around and shrug: naw. The words don’t fit and the rhymes won’t work. The bass-octave octane in Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” (even though the song was written by June Carter) can’t stand still for too long. The Highwayman is on a road from Folsom Prison and the Gateway Baptist Church and back, stopping at home long enough to savor the porch and bed—perhaps the next porch, the  next bed– for a little while.

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At least, such currents run closer to the surface in the minds of most men. My wife that day was off shopping in Winter Haven – she’ll have nothing to do with my racing perversions, that wasn’t in the original deal in which she slipped a ring on her finger which bound her destiny to mine – but she will be home waiting for me after the day’s events are done, has asked me to call when I’m safely on the road home, out of the welter of traffic around the Speedway, telling me to be careful, dammit, with all those drunks on the road. And that home with her in it and our cats and the life we’ve built together these past 14 years is a great counterweight to all that is lifting in me toward the track as I walk toward the fan zone entrance under Turn 4, greater than the winds of El Nino even which blow mightily through the palm trees and carry in the heavy hands the song which gladdens me on days like this, “Ramblin’ Man” by those quintessential crossover Southern rockers The Allman Brothers:

My father was a gambler down in Georgia
He wound up on the wrong end of a gun

And I was born in the back seat of a Greyhound bus

Rolling down highway forty-one


Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man

Trying to make a living and doing the best I can

When it’s time for leaving, I hope you’ll understand
That I was born a rambling man

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I’m enough of a Florida boy — been here for the past 30 years, seeking sunnier skies and blonder women than could be found anywhere in the frozen steppes of my Yankee beginnings –to still have that Southern comfort boogie coursing in my ears: And the wild skies over Daytona that Saturday afternoon were like a Marshall stack, blasting out my heart’s solo as Dickey Betts turns up the volume knob on his Les Paul and lets ‘er rip, providing an equal augment to the thunder which is soon to unleash here …

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Stand by your man … rest awhile with the woman of your means.

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