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Sunday, March 25, 2012

NASCAR Ain't Just Whistlin' Dixie

A few weeks ago, I was eating lunch in the break room at my office.  The TV was on in the background, and a story came on the midday news about how NASCAR decided not to include the Dukes of Hazzard's General Lee in the pre-race festivities at the Phoenix race.  There were about five or six of us in the room.  Even though I live in Virginia, I was the only person who was even a casual NASCAR fan.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I was the only person in that room who could identify any driver by their number.  Upon hearing this news, my boss, a middle-aged man who grew up in Connecticut, made some sarcastic remark about the silliness of banning the General Lee from such a hillbilly event.  He then donned an exaggerated, dullard, Southern accent and said, "You know what? I bet there will even be beer drinkin' there."  His subordinates chuckled and nodded.  The subordinates besides me, that is.  Personally, I thought this was a great decision by all involved.  And, I thought the Connecticut Yankee's general perception of modern NASCAR and anyone who follows it to be misguided.

Now, I know the history of NASCAR.  I know that it started as a sport where moonshiners from the Carolinas and Virginia gathered to show off the hot rods they used to outrun the revenuers.  And, I've been to enough races to know that you will still see the Stars and Bars fluttering over some RVs.  But, the idea that NASCAR in 2012 is exclusively for slack-jawed, Southern yokels who only wear shoes when they go to Sunday service is just flat out false.  My New York birth certificate, the anthracite coal on my desk and the degrees on my wall prove all those stereo-types false.  Also, I have two uncles and five cousins who work in the NASCAR industry.  Not one of them was born in the South.  Only one of them was really raised there.  Mostly, they grew up in industrial northern towns.  Allentown, Wilkes-Barre, Detroit ... those kind of places.

It turns out that I was not the only person thinking about the geography of modern NASCAR that week.  A website for young Civil War historians ran an article on the topic.  So, I decided to do a little analysis myself.  Since this whole discussion got started over the Stars and Bars on the General Lee, I will break this down in terms of Union and Confederate states.

The NASCAR season consists of 36 points races.  Those races are held at 24 different tracks.  Eleven of these tracks are located in states that fought for the Confederacy.  Eleven tracks are in states that remained loyal to the Union.  And, 2 of the tracks are located in Union territories.  In other words, only 46% of the tracks are in Confederate states.  Some tracks host more than one race in a season, but the ratio remains basically the same.  Nineteen of the 36 events take place in Union states or territories.  That is 53% of the action.

As far as the competitors ... well they have even less of a rebel flavor.  After today's race in California, Greg Biffle sits at the top of the NASCAR standings.  Greg Biffle is from Washington state.  The man in 19th place is from Bogota, Colombia.  Out of the top 20 drivers in the standings, only 5 of them are from Confederate states.  The only states with multiple representatives are Wisconsin and Indiana.

If people think that watching cars turn left for 3 hours is boring, that is fine.  If people think that an event with such a huge mechanical component should not be considered a sport, that is worthy of debate, too.  But the condescension and elitism towards NASCAR and its fans is both inappropriate and inaccurate.