5. God and Guns
"This season has been a morale boost for our soldiers working both here and overseas and I expect we'll have even more to cheer for in 2005." --Lt. General Roger Schultz, Army National Guard.
At the finish, I think, it comes back to the difference that struck me at the start--my subjects knowing more people on active military duty than in same-sex relationships.
In Nascar, the gay issue is abstract and religious because there is no gay presence at the track. Evangelical Christian preachers follow Nascar like old-time circuit riders. They have their own double-wide trailers parked in the garage area, conducting prayer meetings and operating with the full cooperation and encouragement of the tracks. They minister in cases of death and injury, counsel couples, and offer drivers and crewmembers a place to talk about stress, addiction, and depression. Like cops and soldiers, Nascarites would prefer talking to the chaplain than to a shrink.
They have ethical discussions.
Jeff Gordon, whose first wife plastered psalms inside his car, once told me: "There is a fine line in our sport between trying to do the right thing and trying to do the competitive thing that puts you over the top to win. We've had a lot of conversations in our Bible studies about that. God wants us to do all of what we know in our abilities to win the race, but we all know in the back of our minds what wins a race in a way that you'll feel proud and what wins a race in a way that you're not very proud of."
There is a starchy pride in Nascar, at least in the garage. Drive hard, finish the race, stand up like a man. Once they bought the WMDs and the need to oust Saddam, they accepted deployment. Military service ran in Nascar families.
All those brothers, sisters, cousins, and friends on active duty were making satellite calls and sending e-mails back to the garage. It was the citizens of Nascar Nation who knew first that the war on the ground was losing its wheels. And they were the first ones who raised money to buy armor for their kids' Humvees in Iraq.
I wish I had been at Michigan Speedway two years ago when Greg Biffle won the GFS Marketplace 400 at Michigan Speedway in a car sponsored by the National Guard, which then decided to extend its Nascar enlistment for another season. Neither the Guard nor the Army, which also sponsors a car, would release figures. They say it comes out of an advertising budget of more than $500 million for all the services. The Marines and the Air Force have lesser Nascar deals. Painting your logo on just a lower rear quarter panel (behind the tire) goes for between $250,000 and one million.
How much armor would that buy?
When asked if Nascar advertising really drew recruits, Ike Shelton of Missouri, then the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said "You will not find them at golf tournaments."
Truth is, Nascar Dad, if he exists, also plays golf, watches the news and takes his time thinking through a problem--how you fix an engine, craft a race strategy. He came to realize, as a citizen of Nascar Nation, that pragmatism trumps ideology, if indeed there is ideology to begin with. And then he made the connection. In the same way Nascar gave us the sentimental patina of good old boy tradition, Christian morality, and all-American products while it was expanding into Mexico, courting Toyota and Jack Daniels, and selling out old Southern tracks to make room for major metro markets, the Republicans diverted us with clanging alerts about gay marriages, partial-birth abortions, and terrorists, while pumping up their profits.
The supposed lesson of this dog-eat-dog business is don't get eaten, get better, because if you don't it's your own fault. None of that stick-and-ball welfare where baseball and football try to keep weak franchises afloat.
If you lose, it's because you didn't work hard enough.
You didn't have enough faith.
Until this past race.
Copyright ©2006 Robert Lipsyte