Nascar was born in the South. It was revolutionized by moonshiners and good ol’ boys that didn’t give a damn about anything but God, family, and driving a stock car. I’m from the utmost southern region of Virginia there is. In retrospect, I’m a southern man. Dale Earnhardt — even though Nascar is nothing to me anymore — is one of my heroes. Nascar was practically a religion in the days of its prime. Fans understood, 99.9% of northerners did not. (And by fans, I mean THE fans from the south that literally made the sport what it is today).
I watched one full race in 2007. It was the Brickyard 400 (All-State 400 for all you assholes that are alienating its original name). Tony Stewart had won the race and was set to do an interview with one of ESPN’s people. Stewart, who was excited from winning in his hometown, the race that he once upon a time dreamed of winning at, said “You know, winning race just gave me a good reason to keep racing to prove all this shit that you reporters have been talking the whole year.” He was fined.
Back in the days of Nascar’s prime, it was accepted for the good ol’ boys to cuss. It was accepted for them to get out of that damned ol’ car and drink a damned ol’ bottle of moonshine instead of a damned ol’ Coca Cola. Now, you let your guard down and you’re getting yourself into trouble. Not too long ago, Bill France said that he wants Nascar’s drivers to display more of their personalities. If that isn’t bullshit, then go out into the field and find me some real evidence. According to the last sentence I have just written, I agree with Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s claims that it’s only a ploy to get incentives from drivers that let loose of their explicit language only to be fined.
Nascar stayed strong throughout the 90s despite an outsider, known as Jeff Gordon, jumping into the southern brigade. Following Gordon’s unprecedented non-Southern success, other drivers like Jimmie Johnson joined (in 2002) to take on a different concept of Nascar. Us southern folk didn’t like it, and I still don’t like it — I hate it. Call me prejudice or whatever you want to, but whenever the topic of Nascar came up in my mind, I thought of a gritty southern premise. Not of these guys that enunciates what happened in the pits or how they won a race. When Gordon won his first ever Nascar race, he cried like a baby. It’s acceptable in the NFL, NBA or MLB, but that kind of shit will never be considered plausible in NASCAR. It’s a tough sport for tough guys that doesn’t shed tears, unless those tears are from sweat that’s pouring off your eyelids.
Forget the idiotic Chase for the Cup system. It motivates and furthermore enrages drivers to have a mediocre “regular season” (an awful name for a Nascar season), to just make the top 12 in the standings, and not turn up the heat until the “Chase for the Cup” “PLAYOFF” (?? PLAYOFFS? PLAYOFFS? Speak it to me, Jim Mora) races begin. For drivers that have busted their ass the whole season only to falter unfairly in the ignorant points system in the last bundle of races, it has to be irritating. This isn’t the NFL, NBA or MLB; this is stockcar racing, where a championship should be given to the driver that has poured his blood, sweat and more sweat onto a race track, inside a car, that he treads around for 200, 300, 400, 500 laps in, every single race.
Following the greatest driver in the history of stockcar racing’s (Dale Earnhardt) death on February 18, 2001, Nascar was never same to me. Granted, it was all over the fact that one of my lifelong heroes was gone from not only the track, but the world. My all-time favorite driver — that instilled in me my all-time favorite number (no. 3), that I knew would always be racing the tracks and scaring the living hell out of the guys that were making an attempt to drive in front of him, a guy that was a high school dropout, a man of morals tied to his family, a regular every-day man that was more than that to me, my late father, my late uncle Danny, and the rest of Nascar Nation — was dead, and it was an instant moment that Nascar would never be the same at that time, that moment.
Following Dale’s death, Nascar inherited the ideas of making racing more safe. They added new equipment inside the cars that protected drivers, and later — which I have a big problem with, in ways — preempted any type of wrecking on the track whatsoever. No resenting, relentless firepower, none of that was available anymore, either. Nascar of the 2000s, from that point on, marked my reason as to why I am completely unable to watch the sport I once loved dearly more than any other.
Dale Earnhardt was known for not only his redneck personality, but by the way he drove a car. Everyone thought of themselves as a follower of Dale. Just a good ol’ southern guy that was tough God-fearing man that knew how to race a stockcar. On Sundays when Dale was behind the pole sitter, the guy that was in front of him knew that he himself didn’t have a shot at winning the race. He knew that Dale was going to come up and give him the scariest ride of his life on the way to the finish. And if that didn’t rattle the guy, and he made his way to the finish line as the winner, he gained a new respect in Dale’s eyes. Dale didn’t physically or verbally attack a driver that won the race over him. He shook his hand, congratulated him and didn’t lose a spec of confidence, because in that next race Earnhardt was just going to kick his — and the other 41 drivers’ — ass.
You can’t get the same type of driving in today’s Nascar. It’s all about safely implementing a formula to drive past someone without a bump at all. Bump drafting is non-existant, and for many wrong reasons than the good ones. The way of driving from back in the good ol’ days was gone and the new days were defacing the concept completely. No longer did you see any kind of bump drafting, or intimidating (Dale’s nickname was The Intimidator).
I use to, and still do, get questions like, “what’s so enjoyable about a bunch of cars turning left a whole race hundreds of times?” Yes, those questions are either from people from the north or younger batches of fans that will never understand the parity. I simply respond, “Now? There’s nothing enjoyable, but back then, everything was enjoyable. You would just have to watch and understand.”
What’s there to watch now? Just a bunch of cars following each other, turning left, in circles, while if they bump one another they’re in for a penalty. That’s what it is. And that’s all it’s going to be for now, and for a long, long time. Because Nascar is no longer a southern sport. It has diverted. And while I’m not going to blatantly say it’s a bad thing (while I think it is), it’s ruined the integrity of what it was and what it should be. ESPN has turned it into Disney. NASCAR, as an organization, has paralyzed the sport, and I can never forgive the people that let it fade away into marketing hell.