SPORTS

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August 16, 2002

NASCAR is tool of class rule

I want to start this out by saying that I have never really "gotten" auto racing. When I received Sports Illustrated back in middle and part of high school, I faithfully read each article. That is, except for the auto racing features—they just never really did anything for me.

I've tried, believe me, I've tried, but as much as I attempted to adopt the persona of an auto-racing fan, I could never really feign interest for long enough to get through the generally small sections of the publication dedicated to the "sport."

I was apathetic about other sports—hockey, for example—in the same way. However, the photos published in Sports Illustrated of hockey games usually helped me muster the enthusiasm to read entire features. Auto racing, though, seems to have three ways of being represented photographically: (1) basic shot of cars on track; (2) basic shot of cars formerly on track, now spinning off wildly, either solo or synchronized; (3) basic shot of driver holding up some silly trophy with a bottle of bubbly and a busty girl beside him. It never got my adrenaline going the same way basketball or football pictures did.

However, there has got to be some appeal to this sport. I know this because I am supposed to write about it today. I also know this because it is a sport that, though very dangerous, many people who have a lot of money and are famous want to risk their well-being to participate in it. Last week, actor Jason Priestley of Beverly Hills 90210 fame crashed his race car into a wall while going 180 miles per hour, breaking his back. Priestley is one of dozens of Hollywood actors and actresses who have risked all for the rush they get from going "vroom-vroom" really, really fast.

From my own experience driving cars, I sympathize with Priestle y's infatuation with the sport. Careening down the freeway is quite enjoyable—zesty, you might say—and being perfectly in tune with the machine you are maneuvering is somewhat of a "rush."

Most of what mystifies me about auto racing, quite frankly, is the enormous fan base that it has generated. I dislike sitting in the backseat of a car, watching someone else drive it; I can't imagine what would possess someone to sit on a hot bleacher and join thousands of other people in paying to be amateur backseat drivers to the seasoned professionals racing in the NASCAR circuit.

NASCAR's puzzling attributes reared their ugly head the other day when I was playing Boggle with a friend who was visiting me in Portland, Oregon from Oklahoma. For those of you not familiar with the game, the goal is finding words of three or more letters from a grid of randomly placed letters. He who finds the most words within the 25 letter square during the allotted time (about 2 minutes) wins. My friend from Oklahoma claimed NASCAR as a word, and I protested. Like Scrabble, in Boggle both abbreviations and proper nouns are off-limits. "Well," retorted my friend, "NASCAR is not an abbreviation, it is Nascar." Huh? "It's Nascar!" she insisted. Not caring so much, and knowing that I could win anyway, I let her have the points, but was taken aback at how culturally ensconced the auto-racing league had become in the southern parts of the country. That NASCAR had become an entity so complex for my friend that she was adamant about its legitimacy as a word, and that it evoked so many emotions for her, surprised me.

It also got me back to thinking about my social sciences sequence this year, during which my teacher discussed auto racing in the context of The Republic. His suggestion was that auto racing could be viewed as a tool of the modern guardian class to keep the masses under control; we should view it as directing how people spend their time much like the myth of the metals that Socrates proposed would control the people. I chuckled at the suggestion then, but upon reexamination, with actors breaking their bodies for the sake of the sport, and with an auto racing league symbolizing a complex system of associations for my peers and their entire communities, it seems to be a more reasonable assertion. Perhaps I, as a member of society, have not given enough credence to the idea of auto racing as a sport. In any case, I should probably pull out my old copies of Sports Illustrated and read through some old auto racing stories.

Nah, forget it.