Not everyone was disturbed by the passing of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt this month. Of course, not everyone finds attraction in the idea of simulacra of real sedans doing 175-mph laps, and some people, in fact, simply don't see stock-car racing as being a sport worthy of the name. Speaking for the latter viewpoint, Allen Barra of The Wall Street Journal turned out a piece for Salon that declares, bluntly, "There really is no 'game' to be loyal to; it's all fanatical devotion to individuals." Further, says Barra, a major part of the appeal of auto racing in general is "a fascination with destruction and death", a premise echoed by Salon senior writer King Kaufman in his piece on Earnhardt's untimely demise.

Admittedly, the Reaper doesn't score quite so high in non-motorized sports few baseball players are beaned to death, and hardly anyone is punctured by a javelin these days but the notion that NASCAR fans are somehow obsessed with the crash-and-burn aspect of racing fits neatly with the standard stereotype of NASCAR fans as a bunch of beer-swillin' yahoos whose own cars are up on blocks in the yard in front of the trailer. And it's just about as valid, which is to say, not much.

None of this would have bothered me, particularly Sly Stone's wisdom about different strokes for different folks has usually sustained me in such matters except that due to some malfeasance by the Fates, the new Utne Reader showed up this month with a section called "Life After Oil", another green-and-then-some complaint about those horrid automobiles and how they will destroy life as we know it. The idea that someone might actually have fun with a motor vehicle never occurs to these folks; in fact, there's a section in the same issue about finding time for fun in our increasingly busy lives, and needless to say, not one of their pundits suggests it might be enjoyable to go for a drive.

Now I could explain that, were I required to give up my car and rely on public transportation, I would have substantially less leisure time in my increasingly busy life, mainly because the bus doesn't come within three miles of my home, and moving to within walking distance of the place I work would require me to move into a trailer park or into a by-the-hour motel. I could explain that their insistence on retaining a sense of community in an urban environment is certainly worthwhile, but all my friends live fifteen or fifteen hundred miles away, and I have to allow for the possibility, sooner or later, that one of them might actually want to see me in person. I could even explain that my transportation expenses, currently around $6000 a year, would be lessened hardly at all were I to hire taxicabs. But what I can't explain to these people is that going for a drive for the sheer delight of it, burning down a few two-lanes while burning up a few hydrocarbons in the process, is almost inevitably a solitary pursuit; they would never, ever understand such a fanatical devotion to individualism. Maybe Allen Barra was on to something after all.

The Vent

25 February 2001

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 Copyright © 2001 by Charles G. Hill