My guilty NASCAR pleasures


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After the astounding failure of Bristol Motorspeedway to come within a country mile of selling out last Sunday, criticism of the state of NASCAR has been flooding the bandwidth*: Races are boring. The Car of Tomorrow is junk, bland beyond contempt. The Chase system robs all the excitement from regular season races. Broadcasters are inept. Digger is a dope. Ticket prices are way too high. Long-time fans are treated with contempt. NASCAR isn’t the “in” sport any more. (Now we have Ultimate Fighting Moms, I guess.)

Simply put by many, NASCAR is one screwed-up enterprise, perhaps forever so.

Maybe it wouldn’t hurt as much it does because a part of me still loves the sport, in ways I wouldn’t base a run for Congress on, much less even admit to my wife.

Or even to myself, though I’ll try to do so here.

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According to Wikipedia, a guilty pleasure “is known as a something one considers pleasurable despite feeling guilt for enjoying it.”

Most people tend a few of these in their closet of their private existence, trooped out, usually, when their eternal inner child demands a binky. It’s the pint of Hagen-Dazs spooned on the drive home, big knives purchased for no good reason at the army-navy store, it’s the collection of stiletto pumps which were bought on a whim and worn only once – or still sit in their pristine boxes, waiting for a wild night which never quite comes around.

Guilty pleasure are indulgences; the word drips with the sweetness of indolent, vapid sin; yet they aren’t really bad, just naughty, scenic with the nubile mountains of vice yet really only the low sloping foothills. Our toes merely graze those deep dark waters of stolen delights; just a dip and we flee back out the door, lest we gather much notice, lest we find ourselves lost in a dive which won’t let us go.

My first list of guilty pleasures all have a brainstem back to childhood; indulging in them restores that long season’s slow, molasses-thick joys. I love cold quivering tapioca and hot Cream of Wheat brimming with a moat of milk; love Mountain Dew and Chips Ahoy cookies and the too-sweet-sour blossom of a Pop-Tart on the tongue.

Back in my less moderate days and nights, chowing down on a cracker piled with an oily anchovy, chunk of Limburger cheese and an onion slice, chasing it with a gold gasoline slug of Cutty Sark on the rocks and deranging the mix further with a pull on a fat glowing stogie (or doobie) just about summed it all up. A decadence good for only one bite, but man what a mouthful you can cram into a singular chomp.

Some of my guilty pleasures nurse from the well of a forever-cherished puberty and all of its wild yet unactualized imaginings. I love Sean Connery James Bond movies (something about that underwater battle scene in “Thunderball” mixes in my imagination with the opening credits of the movie where naked girls cavorted almost revealingly enough in the same bubbly element.). I love napping in the nude in summer. I love tattoos and piercings and bondage gear though I’ve only indulged in the former and rarely show ’em in public anymore.

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Git er done, Oh Oh Seven …

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Guilty pleasures are subterranean, they thrive deeper down. The shelf beneath the archetypal psychology and poetry and mythology books is stuffed with a motley of cheap pulp detective fiction which I like to read before bed; my favorites are Richard Prather’s Shell Scott paperbacks, crammed with passages like this: “Her name was Cherry Dayne, spelled hoo-boy, and she was the kind of gal the people in my dreams dream about – five feett, five inches tall, a hundred and twenty pounds arranged 36-22-36 above those fabulous legs, and a face flaunting incandescent lips and acetylene-blue eyes, topped by beige-blonde hair the approximate shade of boiling honey” (from “Kill Him Twice,” 1965)

Some guilty pleasures I share with my wife, like watching “American Idol,” “Dancing With The Stars” and “Project Runway” on TV at night when we’re too tired to think. While she’s off in the loo or upstairs changing into her jimmies, I’ll click over to “The Girls Next Door” or street car drag racing on Speed — guy guilty pleasures, you know.

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Classic “Girls” (the first bite is the sweetest.). Got enough mojo to take care of three live-in girlfriends at once?

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My NASCAR guilty pleasures came at me late. I wasn’t much of a car junkie when I was young; growing up in Chicago and then living on campus at college in Spokane, I didn’t even need a driver’s license until I moved to Florida in 1980. But I did play rock ‘n’ roll and got addicted to the big night pleasures of testosterone-addled, booze-fuelled noise. I packed my midnight-blue Hamer guitar away 20 years ago, but I love to listen to Whitesnake and the Foo Fighters on my iPod at the gym. Of late my greatest musical guilty pleasure is Nickelback’s “Animals,” with hard-charging, pedal-to-the-metal lyrics like “It’s hard to steer when you’re breathing in my ear / But I got both hands on the wheel while you got both hands on my gears.” Pour that into my ear at full volume and I commence galloping full-out on the recumbent bike.

NASCAR’s thundering oval, loud and proud and way too expensive, is a welcoming arena for my guilty pleasures, a proferred nipple I just can’t say no to.

Here are some of them:

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  • I love it when the pace car drifts off back to pit row and there’s a sudden overwhelming roar of two score flat-out Chevvies, Fords, Pontiacs and Toyotas, that sound blending with roar of a crowd who have waited weeks, months, even a year for this day. It has all of the feral jubilation of the first power chord of a concert by those headline acts I saw back in the 70s and 80s, drums flailing, long hair flying, all the hot pots and lights strobing a maximum wattage. The aural jolt of that moment is pure oohlahlah. All of that wasted gas, at such cost, squeezed from the wallets of so many to enrich so few, corporations and drivers who have become branding strategies — who cares, amid such wild whirling sound? Boogity, boys, boogity!

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  • I love the track bunnies and goddess wives of the drivers, tall and blonde and Nordic, heart-transfixingly statuesque, buxomly Italian, trailer-park-fallen, whatever, all so hungry for the big oval noise, nubile and young and perfect as they stand clapping in the next row over or way down there on the drivers’ stands. And for all of their proximity they are no closer than a Bond girl up on the screen or Miss July on the glossy centerfold spread — no way to actually touch them but who cares when they can be so virtually loved.
  • I love the utter devotion of fans, especially women, for their drivers; love their reveries on chat rooms and in devotional YouTube videos, inebriated on country music and young hunk looks and celebrity and impossibly good money. And like a Faith Hill torch song, their adoration is for what we would all like to have in great measure yet have come to know over long hard years how fleeting and impossible and even wrong such loves can be. Everything we thought was true and beautiful and perfect in childhood and adolescence which we have come to know as simply wishful thinking, a guilty pleasure which we indulge anyway, walking Dale Jr. walk to his car with that perfect redneck grin.

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The 07 Clint Bowyer Chevvy crosses the ’07 Daytona 500 like turned-over shotglass of Jack.

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  • Yeah, I love the crashes, like most male NASCAR devotees do. There are legends: Kyle Busch barrel-rolling and flipping so eloquently at the 2007 Aaron’s 312 at Talledega; Michael McDowell’s phantasmagorical wreck during qualifying at Texas in ’08; all of those cars wrecking at the finish of the ’07 Daytona 500, Clint Bowyer crossing the finish line on his roof and on fire; Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman going airborne at Talladega. But it’s never about the drivers when I indulge in watching wrecks on YouTube, its the ballet of things gone terribly wrong, in all of that steel flying, for better and worse, over doom, death actually averted. It’s not until the wreck has stilled to a stop that I think about who might be inside that car. (Of course there are limits. My guilty pleasure gets queasy watching Jeff Bodine crash his truck at Daytona at 2000 and shut off completely watching Dale Earnhardt make that long slow careen into the wall off Turn 4 on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. I like my crashes, but mortality is not part of their savor. It’s watching drivers beat death which makes the crashes so delicious and heady.)
  • And I love the presence of Winnie the NASCAR Goddess of Fate at the track, invisibly strutting down pit row, reaching under the hoods of cars to tweak good or bad fortune this way or that, focusing the eyes of her blessed drivers to see the opening in the pack, dimming those of the damned so that they don’t see the wreck coming. Winnie’s last-lap whims, where most races are decided, are like getting lucky after last call at those honkey tonks and roadhouses I frequented way to much back in the day. Heaving up from the stool, stumbling out toward the door towards my car for that dangerous dark drive home, suddenly SHE so rarely and always surprisingly would appear out of the smoke and the din, smiling, young, vulnerable, sweet … Or so she appears at that bottom-of-night hour. Whether just up ahead in the windshield or smiling back in the rear-view mirror, Winnie’s appearance right then repeats and completes that old getting-lucky-at-last moment, embodying the pure physic of a guilty pleasure, something strange, forbidden, otherworldy, and impossibly sweet.

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As it turns out, our guilty pleasures may provide enough bad sweetness in some safer measure so that we don’t go yahooing off into the dark. A recent article in Scientific American says researchers in the science of flavor modulation are developing inexpensive yet potent compounds that make foods taste sweeter, saltier and more savory than they really do — the idea being that such compounds could slake the appetite before delving into the sort of culture-wide gluttony which produces diabetes and heart disease.

Moderation (versus abstinence) depends upon doses that are wild enough to pleasure without driving one crazy. I never could work out the mix with booze, but I have learned to measure my pleasure in small enough dollops.

What is interesting to me today is that my guilty pleasures are growing more sensual at the same time the actual remittance recedes, becoming more cerebral. My NASCAR guilty pleasures are mostly virtual, hotly imagined, requiring only occasional sips of actual experience (all of the races I’ve been to have been at nearby Daytona.) Yet the receipt of pleasure is real, especially as I sit here writing in the grand anonymity of cyberspace, singing loud and proud amid a NASCAR choir I will never meet. My NASCAR guilty pleasures suffice even in silence.

I’m going to guess that these guilty pleasures are important for the long haul. It’s not like we can really afford them, any more, not with everything essential getting so damned, but that indeed may be what is makes their guilt so pleasurable. Makes it almost enough. Gets us through the day. To the next post.

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Besides, we have a full life to report back to, jobs to work so we can pay the mortgage and car-loan and gas and food; responsibility weighs ever-heavier on us, taking more from out wallets, wearing out our bodies, inexorably hauling us toward the dimmer and more fearful years of our dotage.

Hell, there isn’t enough time or money for guilty pleasures, but what would our lives become without them? So we indulge yet budget them at the same time, a very frustrating management style if you ask me, sort of like the alcoholic who tries to control and enjoy his drinking at the same time.

Can’t live with or without ’em: so we keep quiet about our untidy respites in honeyed pleasures, somewhat mollified by the knowledge that everyone has their own.

My guilty NASCAR pleasures probably will keep NASCAR alive a lot longer than it deserves, bu who’s gonna can cast the first stone?

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My final NASCAR guilty pleasure: Burnouts. Especially by the No. 48.

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* For a great post on this, see Monte Dutton’s “Where did all the people go?” Be sure to read the comments.

One response to “My guilty NASCAR pleasures

  1. You turn phrases with reckless abandon. Which is admirable.

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