Borne Under a Bad Sign, #6: Season of the (Witch)


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The Big Lebowski opens up with the song “Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds” by the Sons of the Pioneers and shots of tumbleweek working its way into Los Angeles from parts of a wilder West. The voice of the The Stranger (narrated by Sam Elliott in a basso, hard-tack croon) comes in:

Way out west there was this fella… fella I wanna tell ya about. Fella by the name of Jeff Lebowski. At least that was the handle his loving parents gave him, but he never had much use for it himself. Mr. Lebowski, he called himself “The Dude”. Now, “Dude” – that’s a name no one would self-apply where I come from. But then there was a lot about the Dude that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. And a lot about where he lived, likewise. But then again, maybe that’s why I found the place so darned interestin’. They call Los Angeles the “City Of Angels.” I didn’t find it to be that, exactly. But I’ll allow there are some nice folks there. ‘Course I can’t say I’ve seen London, and I ain’t never been to France. And I ain’t never seen no queen in her damned undies, so the feller says. But I’ll tell you what – after seeing Los Angeles, and this here story I’m about to unfold, well, I guess I seen somethin’ every bit as stupefyin’ as you’d see in any of them other places. And in English, too. So I can die with a smile on my face, without feelin’ like the good Lord gypped me. Now this here story I’m about to unfold took place back in the early ’90s – just about the time of our conflict with Sad’m and the I-raqis. I only mention it because sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a hero, ’cause, what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talkin’ about the Dude here. Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s the Dude, in Los Angeles. And even if he’s a lazy man – and the Dude was most certainly that. Quite possibly the laziest in Los Angeles County, which would place him high in the runnin’ for laziest worldwide. But sometimes there’s a man, sometimes, there’s a man. Aw. I lost my train of thought here. But… aw, hell. I’ve done introduced him enough.

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Sam Elliott as The Stranger in The Big Leboski.

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And with that, we are into the vaguely Raymond Chandleresque So-Cal noir of The Big Lebowksi where bowling culture of the late 1950s slips hard on the banana peel of the nihilistic 90s. The film by the Coen Brothers was released in 1998 – the last time El Nino wreaked such havoc for folks like us – and become a cult classic, spawning (as I have written earlier in this labyrinthine series) a whole new department of cultural studies in academia and annual Lebowski Fest events around the world. (There is also Dudeism, an online religion devoted largely to spreading the philosophy and lifestyle of the movie’s main character. Founded in 2005, it’s also as The Church of the Latter-Day Dude, the organization has ordained over 50,000[62] “Dudeist Priests” all over the world via its website.)

I have, for the past too many posts, attempted to draw parallels between the plight of the Dude in The Big Lebowski with that of NASCAR in 2010.  NASCAR fams may indeed be to the second decade of the 21st century what bowling enthusiasts were to the ninth decade of the 20th, an anachronism which provides a retreat (if not quite safe enough haven) from the viciousness of a world which keeps growing into an older, meaner, and larcenous adulthood.

As I write this moment it’s Saturday afternoon, Feb. 13, a week after  the main events I have purposed to write about, and now I’m following the Nationwide Drive4COPD 300 race on the Lap by Lap page at NASCAR.com. My wife and I had cut back to basic cable last year trying to save money, which means that I’m going to miss a LOT of races on TV this year, especially after ABC announced that a good share of theirs were being passed to ESPN. But you do what ya gotta do, and there’s always some workaround with all of the dubious gifts technology has provided us. Where the’s the Web, there’s a way.

A bright sunny cold afternoon here, Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos on the stereo, the cats sleeping on the couch across from me where there’s a good sunbeam. It’s been a sloppy race, far as I can tell, with Chrissy Wallace going into the wall on the first lap, bringing out the first caution, and on lap 7 Trevor Bayne and Mike Bliss went into each other and sending Brad Keselowski spinning. Danica Patrick narrowly missed that wreck and is currently running 19th. I’m also checking Tweets on the race. Several have mentioned that Paul Menard has played a part in both of the yellow-caution wrecks so far. “Wondering why someone would pay so much money to show bad they are on national TV week after week,” Tweets Shawn Courchesne. “Somebody please ask Paul Menard this.” There’s even a #BLAMEMENARD channel.

And as I rewrite for the first time the paragraphs leading to this place, at lap 31 Danica has slipped to 35th place, just behind Bobby Gerhardt who won the Feb. 6 ARCA race I watched and somehow am going to get around to writing about. Patience, my friend: Every good story needs atmosphere, a pall of smoke and mist to enter as the scene changes. And so, at Lap 63 of the Nationwide race, with Danica running 27th, the Big One occurs, or the Daytona’s incessantly Next Big One, a crash claimed the cars of Colin Braun Robert Richardson Jr., John Wes Townley, Stanton Barrett, Johnny Sauter, Jason Leffler, Brian Scott, Scott Lagasse Jr., Joe Nemechek, Josh Wise and, failing to find a way through the smoke and the wreckage, Danica Patrick. End her Nationwide debut here, and roll the reel of my story, smoke on the track clearing to wicked skies abouve …

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Students on the University of Southern Mississippi campus in Hattiesburg Miss. participate in a snow ball fight in the early hours of Friday morning. Snow flurries were falling as far south as the Florida Panhandle)

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If you’re a show-me kinda big-picture El Nino-Jesus Quintana NASCAR-sytled epistomologist, further proof that we a carried-borne, if you will-to this moment of the inauguration of NASCAR’s 2010 season, let me reconnoiter events of just the past 48 hours. (This is the “sometimes the bar eats you” part.) Heavy rains slogged through Central Florida all day Friday, Feb. 12, a Gulf pisser that seemed to know no end, causing crashes throughout the reason and snarling traffic up like the Medusa’s beehive ‘do. This was ahead of a cold front (that negative Arctic oscillation, Nino’s bullet-headed bowling buddy) which rakes the ass of the state now with the icy determination of Catwoman in a blackout liaison.

AP reported  Friday’s assault of Southern Comfort on ice thus:

Snowstruck Southerners tossed snowballs not far from the Gulf of Mexico as winter took its biggest whack at the region in decades Friday, coating areas from Texas to the Carolinas and grounding many flights at the world’s busiest airport.

The storm also put a treacherous glaze on highways ahead of the holiday weekend. A car plunged off an icy road into a pond outside Montgomery, Ala., killing two brothers ages 4 and 2, State Trooper Kevin Cook said. The boys’ mother, who was driving, survived.

It was the South’s turn to cope with winter after back-to-back blizzards in the past week dumped 3 feet of snow on the Mid-Atlantic and parts of the Northeast, where pockets of residents remained without power. Federal forecasters said every state but Hawaii had snow on the ground somewhere Friday, a freakishly rare occurrence.

Airlines scrapped nearly 1,900 flights, many of them at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which sees 2,700 arrivals and departures on an average day. Of that total, hundreds were halted at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, which got more than a foot of snow from Thursday into Friday.

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For the faithful at Daytona, Friday was a total washout, with Sprint Cup and Nationwide qualifying cancelled and the Trucks race rescheduled to 6:30 p.m Saturday. The lineup for the Drive4COPD 300 will be set “by the rule book,” with Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards leading off. Danica Patrick will start 15th. (Without qualifying or a past record in Nationwide competition, how is it that she makes the race? Practice time? An unexplained fact which the Fates, at this moment, explain with a shrug …) Five teams withdrew from the race and drove off, apparently not enthused enough with the paltry $45,000 purse for just starting the race.

For others around the country, things under the current bad Nino reign showed iller effects:

  • – On Friday, a luger from the Republic of Georgia was killed during a training run, hours before the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, where conditions have been difficult due to El Nino-related weather changes (no snow, lots of rain)

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Lluger Nodar Kumaritashvili goes up and over the third turn of the luge course-named The Thunderbird-at about 80 mph, catapulting over the outer lip of the track and slammed into an unpadded roof support post. El Nino conditions in Vancouver have made conditions on tracks and courses much icier and more perilous.

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  • Also on Friday, six people were shot at a biology faculty meeting at the Shelby Center for Science and Technology on the campus of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, killing three and seriously injuring the others. A woman on the faculty, reported to be a professor who had been denied tenure, was taken into custody.

Rough stuff.

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In a drug-induced dream sequence, the Dude envisions Maude Lebowski as a Valkyrie-styled bowler who wants his johnson — or even better, wants to bowl.

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No wonder many turn to the absenting pleasures of a prolonged threhold-adolescence, like Tom Sawyer ever between childhood’s lost Eden and hard-fallen adulthood.or even The Dude in The Big Lebowski is contemporary sort of Sawyer, driftings ever in a fog of hassle-relieving potsmoke, bowling for hell of it and basking in the eternal summer of his 1960’s ennui, listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival and practicing his t’ai chi.

But no matter how staunch his resolve to fail to evolve, the Dude constantly gets tangled in an adult world whose purposes are irrevocably dark and sinister. The country is going to war with Iraq (the first time – its 1991), and the guy who doles out bowling shoes at their lanes is a double for Saddam Hussein. Thugs who mistake the Dude for the other Lebowski–the rich, “big” one – rough him up, demanding money. Other thugs wanting money from a fake kidnapping scheme throw a ferret into the tub where he is bathing in candlelight & smoking a joint. His car is stolen, taken for a joyride and left by the side of the highway, rear view mirrors broken off, a huge scrape on its rusty sides and a deposit of crap in the back seat. His drink is drugged at a party held by famed pornographer Jackie Treehorn; a dream sequence where he ends up getting chased by motorcycle nihilists with big scissors trying to cut of his Johnson ends with him running along a coastal highway where he is picked up by cops. The sheriff of the small town bonks a coffee cup off his head. He is thrown from the cab driving him home when he complains about having to listen to the Eagles, he’s thrown out. His apartment is ransacked and is in shambles. He is followed and hounded by cellphone calls he refuses to answer. Even his friend Walter gets him into endless spats with the authorities, pulling a gun on a fellow bowler, yelling obscenities in a diner, smashing up a car he believes that some punk has bought with money stolen out of the Dude’s car. When Donnie dies of a heart attack (during a confrontation with the nihilists which ends badly for the bad guys), Walter and the Dude go to a high place by the sea to pitch his ashes; when Walter releases them, winds catch them and hurl all of Donny’s mortal remains straight into the Dude’s face.

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The Dude, in his various scrapes with reality.

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Real life sucks for the Dude-you’d spend the rest of your life bowling, too. But the good news is that he somehow abides, managing his way through every scrape with fate with just a few bumps from various coldcockings, the Darlington Stripes of Life of life in the modern world. The Dude’s fate in the movie is much like Danica Patrick’s performance in her stock car debut at the ARCA race on Feb. 6, a survival against the odds which, except for a couple of lucky dodges and one thrilling save, seemed remarkably easy.

Taken in a different way, NASCAR is dealing with the presence of women in racecars in a way which must have been like bowlers facing off with nihilists and pornographers and the unchecked aggression of Saddam Hussein: a changed world, and whether for better or worse it’s too early too tell. Perky-breasted women in the merchandising booths, hooting for Junebug in the stands or rooting for their man from the sidelines, that’s one thing. But a woman in a car on the track out ahead of the boys is a much, much different thing, an almost conspiratorial invasion of femininity into firesuits, an aggression which, according to Walter, “will not stand.”

Much of the Daytona 500’s thunder has been stolen by the presence of Danica Patrick in other Speedweeks events; by the time you read this, a lot of the hype may have been released, like air from a balloon, if Patrick gets the pants beat off her (hmmm) by the Nationwide big boys. Maybe then all eyes will be on the Great American Race, sans Danica. But there’s a whole season of Nationwide races left in which she’ll make an occasional appearance. TV ratings will soar for those races, just like ratings soared for the ARCA race on Feb. 6. Will it be about the racin’, or about the fall of it??

Well, like the Stranger says: Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes, well, the bar eats you.

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The No. 36 Orchard Chrysler Jeep Dodge of Robb Brent.

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Earlier in the afternoon I had a chance to check out the ARCA cars as they were leaving their garages and lining up for the procession later on to the track. It wasn’t hard finding the No. 7 GoDaddy Chevrolet; just look for where the pack of fans was thickest up ahead. Everyone wanted a picture of Danica’s car, or a picture of themselves standing next to it. A brick of from the fallen wall of this historic invasion.

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The No. 7 GoDaddy Chevrolet of Danica Patrick.

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Some drivers were signing autographs. Sitting at a folding table was Leilani Munter, one of four other women than Danica who were in the race. In 39 stock car starts, Leilani has scored 19 top tens and 9 top five finishes. Driving the No. 59 GREENandSAVE Dodge, the first wholly eco-sponsored car (four other environmentally conscious companies are associate sponsors), she had qualified 25th for the Daytona ARCA race. A former double for Catherine Zeta-Jones, Munter’s a real beauty, and the media have fallen all over her of late, with articles on her in The New York Times and Esquire. Her brother in law is Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead and though she’s stuggled to get enough funding to race (a perpetual difficulty for the great number of drivers trying to crack NASCAR’s premium series), somebody plunks down big money for her marketing and social media machine.

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Leilani Munter signs autographs before the ARCA race.

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Other women in the race were Jill George of Cedar Falls, Iowa, Jennifer Jo Cobb of Kansas City, Alli Owens of Daytona Beach and Milka Duno of Caracas, Venezuela.

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Jennifer Jo Cobb’s car.

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It was surprising to find out that many of the cars in the ARCA race were hand-me-downs from NASCAR, cars which were put out to pasture when the generic car came into use. ARCA cars are thus a glimpse at NASCAR’s recent past, cars which, in the hands of much less experienced drivers, result in what is known, pejoratively, as “ARCA races” – shoot-em-ups with lots of reckless driving resulting in a littered field of wrecks.

But for those gamely going for it in the race, the field of view is entirely different. Justin Marks wrote in a guest column, “Hitting the Marks” for the ARCA main website,

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… In a world when things can sometimes seem out-of-reach, the ARCA race at Daytona provides the opportunity for racing drivers of all ages and histories to live a dream. It’s a race where a late model track champion can buy a car, rally the troops, and head to the high banks to battle wheel to wheel with Sprint Cup development drivers and superstars with Fortune 500 backing. The first time I drove at Daytona it was surreal. I know you’ve heard it a million times but it is absolutely the truth. When the motor is at full song, and the car is bouncing up and down and side to side over the bumps, and you feel the air and the draft, it takes you to a place that people can’t understand. It’s a sensory explosion that tests patience, intelligence, and courage. In many forms of racing, experiences like that are reserved for the elite drivers and teams of the place and time. But in ARCA, it’s possible. On Saturday night dreams will be fulfilled, careers will be born, and for one man or woman, a name will be forever etched into the history books of one of the world’s premier motorsport venues. And it will all be possible because the ARCA Series has opened the door.

I may seem biased because in 2010, ARCA will be my racing home. But I’ve been fortunate enough to race in the Trucks, and in Nationwide, and at the top levels of road racing. ARCA made an impression on me more than any others because it was accessible, humble, and fun.

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–And, yes, wild.

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Fans  arriving for the ARCA race under the grandstands.

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I make it all the way back to the grandstands riding on a trolley which goes under the south end of the track (by turns one and two) and lets us off. Fans are now streaming in to catch the ARCA race. I make it up trackside and watch the driver introductions next to the catchfence. I know Danica is starting 12th and wait for her to be called out. It’s pretty stupid, gimmicky and media-pumped – veteran ARCA drivers said publicly that all the attention was good for the sport, but I’m sure most were privately gritting their teeth that a race normally ignored by the public (in which they participated) would be cast in so hot a spotlight focused on one driver, a little woman in a lime-green firesuit. But you should have heard the crowd roar when Danica was called out – a stadium-wide cheer with flecks and speckles of boos from the stoutly unconvinced.

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“… And driving the No. 7 Go Daddy Chevrolet, starting in 12th position … Danica … PATRICK!”

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I walked all the way down to Depalma and headed up to the tower. Late afternoon, shadows beginning to creep into the frontstretch, people putting on more layers of clothing. A gaggle of twentysomethings down from me to the left were partying but good. One woman was standing up trying, I think to either put on or take off a sweater in a way that involved removing her bra through her t-shirt. Or something. She nearly fell over in the attempt, was caught by some guy, righted herself, laughing, pulling on her beer. Lets call the lengthening shadows of that moment both an occlusion of sunlight and the growing effect of all the booze being consumed. More to come on that later; suffice now to say that folks were less and less eating the bar and increasingly getting eaten by the bar.

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The lady at the left fiddled for ten minutes getting something straightened out up there.

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As the ARCA field made it onto the track and around for the first lap, everyone was standing, trying to catch a glimpse of the No. 7 car of Patrick, taking pictures as madly as I, cheering at that green-and-black car with that dayglo orange No. 7 and invisible jockeyette within. Screaming encouragement at her the way I recall fans cheering Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the previous year’s Bud Shootout, before the disastrous year that ensued.

Something so pubescent and virginal about it, so full of first-lap, very-first race-of-the-season exuberance, the single moment of beginning approaching, one warm up lap, two, three, four, then the pace car drifts off into pit road and further down the frontstretch there is a sudden gout of sound as every driver hits the gas pedal hard and the pack ramps up toward the “full song” of wide-open motors and there they go down the superstretch, still in tight formation, more than 50 cars in a block of motion which hits turn four at a wide, sweeping, breathtaking angle, the cars seemingly almost sideways, g-forces attempting to pull all of them up and through the high wall, drivers all bearing down, down, down and round and into the frontstretch for the first time at full speed, everyone still standing, hooting, taking lame pictures of the No. 7 as it whirls past in the same position, so far, so good.

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Go Danica!

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But this being an ARCA race, things don’t have much of a chance to settle down. It was just in Lap Seven that the Big One occurred when 1998 ARCA Racing Series Champion Bill Baird (No. 52 Saturn Machine Chevrolet) and Steve Blackburn (No. 68 Harley-Davidson & Honda of Prestonburg Dodge) tangled in turns 1 and 2. Butch Jarvis, Milka Duno, Leilani Munter, Josh Richards and Chad Hackenbracht were also involved. That was way over on the other side of the track, and the occurrence, to the naked eye, was just so much smoke and a startled roar from the crowd as all eyes went up to the big monitors to catch the replay of the wreck. A quiet lull in the stadium while all that got sorted out, cars loaded onto wreckers and debris cleaned up. Attention diffused from the track to thousands of private dramas of eating food and drinking beer, keeping kids entertained, chattering about whatever, et cetera.

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ARCA wrecker parade.

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The next generation’s Danica was thrilled to see her drive by.

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All seven drivers were taken to the infield care center and released. Things got going again after a while as shadows spread deeper into the grandstands.

For Munter, who had simply gotten tangled in the thrash of cars which usually comprise Big Ones at Daytona, it was a terrible letdown. Later that day she posted the following on her Facebook page: “Thanks 4 the well wishes. I’m ok physically, a bit sore but mainly just heartbroken. I had turned the fastest lap of the race before Igot caught up in the mess – .02 sec faster than the leaders when it came to a giant, crappy end. After 9 years of working 4 this day, it’s hard 2 accept the end after six laps. The support from u is what has made this day bearable, so thanks. I hope 2 be back at TMS ((Texas Motor Speedway)) in April.”

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The ARCA race wore on into the late and later afternoon, dragging as shadows lengthened.

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With the field greatly diminished in size, the pack loosened up quite a bit, with James Buescher leading for the first third of the race and Bobby Gearhardt leading the rest. There would be five more caution, including a red flag caution when Jill George made hard contact with the wall coming out of Turn 4 and flipping over several times, coming to rest right in front of where I was sitting. A horrible wreck – amazingly, she was pried out and seemed OK – but the red flag was really so track maintenance could repair fencing that had taken a lick from the No. 48 Radon.com Dodge.

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Jill George’s wrecked car. The front end was so mashed that she had to be cut out of the cage, but she got out OK.

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Danica for the most part kept in place, avoiding two of the wrecks and making one great move. She was headed down the frontstretch when Nelson Piquet Jr., an Indyleague racer of some controversy, weaved down and bumped the No. 7, causing it to veer into the infield. Danica managed to keep control of the car and steer it down to pit row, and from there back onto the track. The in-car camera shows Danica actually taking her hands off the wheel several times during the maneuver – something Indycar drivers do – with an icy aplomb with earned the respect of many of her media critics. The rest of the way, though, she merely failed to fall back.

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In the end, Bobby Gerhardt took the checkered flag, winning his sixth ARCA race at Daytona, a record. The leaders in the ARCA race did passably well in today’s Nationwide race, won by Tony Stewart. James Buescher, who finished fourth in the ARCA race, finished eighth in the Nationwide race; Gerhardt finished 20th; and Jon Wes Townley, who finished 4th in the ARCA race, finished 23d.

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For these drivers, there may be hope of greater dreams to come. Sunday’s starting lineup for the Daytona 500 include Sprint Cup drivers who cut their teeth on ARCA competition–Ryan Newman, David Regan, Scott Speed, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kyle Busch. There’s always hope.

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Perhaps, too, for the women drivers of ARCA. Four of the six entered in the Slick Mist 200 finished the race, with Patrick in sixth place, Jennifer Jo Cobb 17th and Alli Owens 23d.

Of that group, only Patrick has a realistic chance at the moment of progressing to the Sprint Cup level. As you might figure, money-big corporate money-makes the difference. Patrick said afterward,

I was just kind of hanging out there for most of the race. There were lots of yellows. It feels to me like I got bumped a little bit in turns one and two (on lap 53). I just held to the yellow line because I know that you’re not supposed to go below the yellow line to advance your position and I took myself out unfortunately. I was pretty excited to go from last to the top five. I felt pretty good, I was going side-by-side with people. And then at the end I was running eighth and I thought what the heck so I pulled out of the line and ran high. You can see I was racing by all of the marks on the car. The GoDaddy.com Chevrolet doesn’t look very pretty.

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Take Alli Owens, who grew up in South Daytona Beach. Her parents had small financial means – they own a commercial cleaning business – so, when she was 13, Owens put together a publicity kit, hopped on her bicycle and solicited donations from all the companies she could visit and still make her 8 p.m. curfew. By the time she was 15, Owens had raised $10,000, she said, “which paid for tires and gas.”

Owens gained her racing experience on dirt tracks. “It was so much harder than anything ARCA or Nascar can throw at me,” she says, adding: “You almost have to play the guy role for a little bit, get respect and then switch and play the girl role. That’s exactly what I did.”

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Alli Owens trackside.

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Owens says she envies Patrick for being able to drive a Chevrolet co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. “To do this right,” Owens said, “you need to have the best equipment, and Danica obviously has that,” and added: “There’s a lot of women who have tried Nascar but not one that has succeeded, and a lot of it has had to do with their equipment.” (source: arcarracing.com)

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Miss Sprint Cup 2010 Monica Palumbo, left, with new Sprint Cup girls Amanda Wright and Page Duke.

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Friday’s rain created some of the biggest headaches for NASCAR officials and their publicity minions, finding a “sometimes a man eats the bar” spin to put on things. And to entertain the troops, a puff piece by Raygan Swan covered the evolution of ladies in Victory Lane. Ladies not in cars-not eating the bar-but kissing the luminescence of the stars, so to speak. Letting the corporate bar eat them. The lede:

Bikini-clad, standing in heels with a plastered smile on your face and instructed to smooch the gritty and oh-so-sweaty cheek of the winning wheelman.

Sound like a fun job, huh?

Actually, it was a high honor in motorsports during the 1960s and ’70s, because you were the first to greet the winner during his special moment and have your picture taken along side him. I get it, but today’s proverbial trophy girl refuses to be anyone’s eye candy in Victory Lane.

Today she’s college educated, well versed in the ways of social media and can pitch a product better than the late Billy Mays.

She’s Miss Sprint Cup — fan ambassador, friend on the inside, fellow fan, whatever you call her. Just don’t call her a “trophy girl.”

“Absolutely offensive,” said Monica Palumbo, a Miss Sprint Cup figure since Sprint became NASCAR’s title sponsor in 2008. “We’ve worked really hard to change the program and change our name, change the perceptions.”

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In former times with the Winston Cup girls’ main job was to pass out cigarettes and kiss the winner and frequently date drivers, with former Miss Winston Patti Petty marrying Kyle Petty; Renee White hitching up former Daytona 500 winner Derrike Cope (now divorced), Andy Petree marrying Patrice McBride and Brooke Sealey the ex-wife of Jeff Gordon.)

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David Pearson gets a double smooch from a Winston Cup girl and his wife. To keep things even, you know.

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Now the rules are airtight-no contact with drivers (Tony Stewart was warned to never again to kiss a Sprint Cup girl, as he spontaneously did to Miss Sprint Cup Anne-Marie Rhodes after winning the Brickyard 400 in 2007); if a Sprint Cup girl dates a driver, it is grounds for immediate termination. You play, you pay. Now the Sprint Cup girls stand there in Victory lane and smile, smile, smile, their beatific faces often getting sprayed with spermatic gouts of champage and Pepsi and Gatorade.

There are two new Sprint Cup girls in the fold, Page Duke and Amanda Wright. There’s a bit of contrast between the two, with Duke a graduate of Clemson and a hunter who loves country music, and Wright a pageant queen who has two rescue cats.

Perhaps we could differentiate their backgrounds the way we can Bunny and Maude Lebowski, the forme the trophy wife of the Big Lebowski, a hellion who spends her cuckolded husband’s money with abandon and appears in porn flicks on the side, and the latter as the Big Lebowski’s daughter Maude, a rich woman who dabbles in a conceptual art (she flings paint at a canvas while strapped nude to some kind of cabling conveyance which hurls her through the air of a dark studio) she terms “vaginal.”

Bunny (trophy wife) – and Maude (artistic daughter) Lebowski.

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Well, if we could make those distinctions, we’d have to remember that it’s all ad copy, that we’ll never see either of ’em cut loose in any way that’s remotely close to a digital recording device. I remember Palumbo at the Coke Zero 400 last summer, signing autographs all afternoon in that nose-to-toes black fire-zoot-suit, hair primly tucked back to keep the Sprint logos visible, her smile like almost disembodied in the feral afternoon heat of Daytona in July, amped and upwardly curved by big sponsorship bucks. I mean, it is Their premier series, is it not? Or is it NASCAR’s?

Or yours?

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