Spirit of the Road
RS: guitar, bass, and vocal; TomP: percussion & production
Floridians are crazy about football (HS & NCAA), NASCAR, and golf. The Daytona 500 is the Great American Race; the annual Super Bowl of racing held every February– officially opening racing season. NASCAR is second, only to the NFL, among professional sports franchises in US television ratings.
People native to central Florida, know & love NASCAR.
I am nowhere near being the greatest driver ever; but I can handle a stick. Many of my former patients were/are huge racing fans, and knowing their sport helped me get them to relax. It often started a discussion, which allowed them to build a relationship of trust with a Yankee doctor.
As a general rule, southerners take racing & driving much more seriously than northerners. The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is head-quartered in Daytona, FL; which dominates North American racing; asphalt & off-road. Founded in 1947/48 by Bill France, Sr. (and still majority owned & controlled by the France family), NASCAR controls the lion’s share of the $3.1 billion annual revenue the sport generates.
The International Motorsports Hall of Fame is in Talladega, Alabama. This institution, built by Big Bill France in 1982, claims to be “dedicated to enshrining those who have contributed the most to the sport of auto racing either as a driver, owner, developer or engineer.”
The vast majority (around 90%) of inductees are white American, predominantly NASCAR drivers; which mars this institution’s validity. Indy Car & Formula One racing have always been dominated by European & South American drivers, yet just two non-Americans have been enshrined into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame since 2003.
NASCAR’s modern era began in 1972, when it secured its first title sponsor, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. When big tobacco & distilleries were banned from television advertising; they quickly turned to NASCAR as a new promotional outlet for their target demographic.
–Yellow Flag! CAUTION!
In the midwest, there is low visibility with snow & sleet; along with icy roads in the winter.
Drivers learn to be cautious, because you can’t drive fast on ice; if you try, you end up in a snow-filled ditch. The good news: it’s a soft landing. The bad news: it’s an expensive tow bill, plus it sucks being the idiot everyone remembers as they slowly glide past you. When the trucks are all out, it can be quite a wait, so always have a warm blanket in the trunk.
–Green Flag! GO!
Different climates mean different rules. Down here it [usually] rains a lot in the summer; but that’s it, so people drive fast because they can. In Florida the unwritten driving rules were laid down by Dale Earnhardt #3– the “Intimidator.” His style was aggressive, as he would wreck other drivers just to win a race, then bullshit his way through the post-race interview; victimized drivers never bought it. Racing fans either loved him or hated him, as he was the Ty Cobb of racing.
The end came quickly & tragically for #3 at Daytona, on February 18, 2001; when he crashed into a wall and was killed instantly on impact, on the final lap of the Daytona 500. He had been continuously blocking faster cars during the final laps, in order to ensure a 1-2 finish for team members Michael Waltrip & Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Here’s the video with over 2 million views: pay attention to the replay at around 3:30, and decide for yourself.
–Black Flag! DISQUALIFICATION!
NASCAR is a serious sport, with a thin margin for error. For decades, NASCAR ignored & dismissed improvements in safety, citing them as “unnecessarily expensive.” The list of NASCAR drivers killed on the track includes: Earnhardt, Adam Petty, and Kenny Irwin– the latter both died just two months apart during practice, when their throttles stuck wide open, causing them to crash full speed into the wall of a turn. Driving 180-200 MPH can be a terrifying (and deadly) experience, unless the driver is in complete control of the vehicle.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series– October 13, 2000: Tony Roper’s Ford pick-up is pushed into a sudden hard-right turn, causing his truck to impact into a concrete wall at full speed. Tony Roper died the next day from his sustained injuries. Very few have the nerve, reflexes, and driving skill to safely compete at this level.
In the mid-2000s, NASCAR redesigned the racing vehicle with safety improvements; a higher roof, wider cockpit, and the driver seat located more towards the center of the vehicle. Earnhardt’s death in 2001 prompted NASCAR to require all drivers to use the “HANS” (Head And Neck Support) Device. This device keeps a driver’s head & neck from whip-lashing forward, in a wreck. Basilar skull fracture is the common cause of death in head-on car crashes.
–Pit Stop! REFUEL & CHECK CAR!
At race speeds, Sprint Cup cars average 5 MPG. NASCAR vehicles are unregulated by the EPA, and have no mufflers, catalytic converters, or other emission-control devices. Leaded fuel was banned in the US in the 1970’s, but not completely discontinued from the Sprint Cup series until 2008.
Many Florida drivers try to emulate their NASCAR heroes, on public streets & highways, everyday. Florida has the highest pedestrian casualty rate in the US. A popular local bumper-sticker reads “Watch for Motorcycles”, often found on 2-ton trucks that roar through neighborhoods creating pollution & roadkill. Check their fenders.
The predominant attitude on-the-road in Florida is: Me first! Tailgating, cutting-off other drivers, and angry driving are the leading causes of pedestrian deaths; along with texting and cell phone use while driving. It’s the distraction of attention that counts, so get your head out of your apps!
–Red Flag! STOP!
Streets, roads & highways only work right, if everyone cooperates and follows the rules– which we were all taught in Driver’s Ed:
1. Signals– every time; other drivers aren’t mind readers.
2. Lights– when raining, snowing, and at dusk until daybreak.
3. Seatbelts & helmets for motorcyclists.
4. Obey the speed limit, especially in city & residential areas; conversely, if you are holding up traffic– pull over and be considerate to let others through, while you take a minute to figure it out.
5. Don’t tailgate– it just makes slow drivers slower, and creates dangerous situations.
There are far too many drivers on the road, who have no idea where they are going or why? This confusion creates congestion & frustration for everyone. Figure out problems, before going into the real world. In the meantime, consider & use mass-transit or alternative options; as indecision is hazardous on the road– to the driver & others.
What is a car? Answers are in order of importance:
A car is a tool (as well as a symbol) for freedom of movement.
A car is the primary cause of global warming.
If money is owed on it, or insurance & maintenance need to be paid, etc.; a car is a liability.
A car is a status symbol; in what you drive, as well as HOW you drive.
–Pink Flag! GO DADDY GIRL!
Danica Patrick is the best thing that ever happened to NASCAR popularity, assuring her a spot in the field for as long as she feels competitive, to the derision of ‘purists.’ No other driver has autograph sessions that look like this:
Hardcore racing fans have been slow to come around to her, but she is a respectable driver. 
In NASCAR she’s a lower-tier driver with an A-team and fast car, who gets middling results, due to her age & lack of experience in this racing style. Any other NASCAR driver got a video this good?
Danica Patrick comes from Indy & Formula One open-wheel racing, where banging other cars isn’t allowed because of the narrow cockpit inside the wheels. The rule in open-wheel racing is to avoid contact as much as possible, because as soon as wheels touch at 220 MPH, there’s high risk of an accident. The number of drivers in an Indy car field is half of NASCAR’s, meaning more room for drivers. Open-wheel has more road race courses, which emphasize manoeuvrability, as compared to the all-out speed of the left-turn oval super speedways of NASCAR.
Patrick competed for years on the open-wheel circuit, and increased it’s popularity while changing its demographics. She is now past her athletic prime, learning a new, more reckless style of competitive racing– where cars have protective armor, and some ‘swapping paint’ is allowed at 200 MPH. Keeping the greasy side down & not wrecking others is enough for her fans, at this point.
Danica Patrick proves herself racing smart, by teaming up with Tony Stewart. “Smoke” is one of the best drivers ever, winning the Indy Series (1997), NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (2002, 05, & 11), and USAC National Midget Series championships. Stewart is one of two drivers (also J.J. Yeley in 2003) to ever win NASCAR’s “triple crown” [Silver Crown, Sprint Car, and Midget Car], which he did in the 1995 season. He has never won the Daytona 500, which is the only blemish on his ‘all-time greatest driver’ resume.
Dale Earnhardt, Sr. won 7 NASCAR series championships– most all-time [tied with Richard Petty]; and one Daytona 500 [to Petty’s seven]; with 76 career wins. Both hail from North Carolina. Petty’s 200 career wins is an unbreakable record, earning him the title– the “King.”
He & David Pearson dominated stock car racing in its early era.
David Pearson from South Carolina, won 3 stock car series championships (the only 3 years he ran a full schedule in his career), and one Daytona 500. The “Fox” won 105 races, second all-time to Petty’s 200; running in less than half of Petty’s total starts. Old-timers often consider David Pearson the best driver ever, and Richard Petty doesn’t seem to disagree anymore.
A. J. Foyt #14, like Stewart, was versatile; the only driver to ever win the Daytona 500 & the Indianapolis 500– which he won 4 times. “Super Tex” also won midget and other NASCAR dirt-track series. He is most fortunate to have survived at least three death-defying crashes.
Jimmie Johnson #48, is a 6-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, and 2-time Daytona 500 winner. Johnson is nearing the end of his incredible run, and currently has 69 career wins– the second-best active total, as of this writing.
Jeff Gordon #24, is a 4-time Sprint Cup champion, winning 3 Daytona 500’s.
He currently has 92 career wins, third all-time; and by far the most in the modern era (1972-present). Gordon is also the active iron-man leader for consecutive races, consecutive seasons winning a pole (22), and is NASCAR’s career-earnings leader.
Johnson & Gordon are from California, which is a problem for some NASCAR ‘purists,’ who prefer good ‘ol boy over pretty boy drivers. The Confederate flag is ubiquitous & synonymous with NASCAR, a symbolic barrier that separates traditional race fans from most newbies.
–White Flag! FINAL LAP!
Tony Stewart is from Indiana, and his total of 48 wins places him 3rd on the active career list. This accident was NOT his fault.
This is what happens when a hotheaded youngster runs into the middle of a live racetrack, instead of waiting until after the race to express his frustrations. Tony Stewart’s view was blocked by the #45 car that whizzes past Kevin Ward, Jr, just before Stewart comes sliding around the corner– with no chance to swerve around him.
Tony Stewart has publicly raised awareness among racing fans, concerning manipulative use by NASCAR officials, of suspiciously-timed caution flags. As Stewart has pointed out repeatedly: a race can be controlled in the tower, by the people who decide when to drop a yellow flag for “debris on the track,” etc…
Respect for Tony Stewart among all NASCAR drivers, helps protect teammate Danica Patrick (and ensure her fans), that no one will intentionally wreck her. That definitely wasn’t the case, when Patrick first started on the pole, at her first Daytona 500 in 2012.
This is precisely what NASCAR needed; as declining ticket sales due to the lack of good jobs, has hit their traditional fan-base the hardest. Danica Patrick (Beloit, Wisconsin) moves NASCAR into an entirely new demographic, that will challenge this sport in a way it has never been before. NASCAR needs the dollar$ too much to ignore her popularity. They also won’t be able to ignore the message of her more educated, more northern fan-base: safety first for everybody, fair racing– no wrecking, reducing noise pollution & emissions, eventually solar/renewable, etc…
To those who say, “Ban NASCAR and racing,” the answer is: “Get real!” NASCAR fans say, “Fuck you!”; then run you down on the road. Racing will NEVER be banned, because so many people EVERYWHERE passionately love it.
The strongest brand endorsement comes in NASCAR. These numbers tell you much of what you need to know about this sport; and the stat that jumps out is 66% of NASCAR fans are willing to PAY MORE for the product their favorite driver is sponsoring. This means a typical Jimmie Johnson fan will drive past a more convenient Home Depot, to spend his/her money across town at Lowe’s– even when it costs more to shop there.
–Checkered Flag! RACE OVER!
–Victory Lane! FINAL DISCUSSION!
Tim Richmond is the ultimate shooting star in modern NASCAR history, coming onto the scene as the 1980 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year. Richmond had only 13 victories during eight NASCAR seasons; but 7 came in 1986– best on the circuit, while finishing 3rd in points. Richmond was from Ohio, but his nickname was “Hollywood,” for his partying lifestyle; which led to him to contract HIV in 1986. He eventually became weakened by AIDS, and missed the Daytona 500 in February 1987. He competed in only eight races in 1987, and (incredibly) won twice before his final race in August.
In 1988, NASCAR banned Richmond’s comeback attempt; allegedly for testing positive for a banned substance. After NASCAR insisted on violating Richmond’s right to medical privacy, he withdrew from racing. Tim Richmond died of complications due to AIDS, in 1989. NASCAR later stated their original test was false.
NASCAR is often compared to the NBA, because the Daytona 500 & NBA All-Star game compete head-to-head for mid-February TV ratings. Every year, twice as many people tune into the Daytona 500, as compared to the NBA All-Star game. Racing & basketball are also contrasted as a ‘white’ sport versus a ‘black’ sport. This leads to parallels drawn between Tim “Hollywood” Richmond & Earvin “Magic” Johnson of the “Showtime” L.A. Lakers. Earvin Johnson acknowledged his problem, educated himself, and took corrective action.
NASCAR fans, that is how Magic survived. Let it be a lesson.
Re-edited w/ photo additions on 2-26-16