Sunday, February 20, 2005
A sport with no shame
Commentary by Ed Hardin
Auto Racing stories
- Crash doesn't rattle NASCAR rookie
- NASCAR notebook: Lawsuit is considered after wreck injures fans
- Johnson wins 1 for his crew chief
- Johnson steals Daytona thunder
- Auto racing archive
A line of fans stood inside the new Fan Zone at Daytona International Speedway this week, milling among jugglers and clowns on stilts, and considered the selection behind the bar. They could choose between Merlot and martinis, Chardonnay and crab cakes. No one asked for extra mayonnaise.
People sat on grassy lawns and sipped latte while cars raced around them on a track carved out of sand. The smell of sun screen and cologne was overwhelming.
In the stands surrounding the tracks, the usual suspects sat in their usual seats and toasted each other with cans of beer and tomato sandwiches seasoned with salt and pepper and mayonnaise and wrapped in plastic bags.
The social classes of NASCAR are now separated by chain link fences and choice of beverages. And the sport born of moonshine and Mason jars is comfortable with the distinction.
Liquor went racing this week in Daytona, and it brought its traveling circus of jugglers, clowns and apologists. The liquor salesmen walked around with pockets of money, buying overnight deals with race teams and lining up alongside the beer companies for the single most brazen advertising campaign in America today.
When television cameras zoom in on the cars in the Daytona 500, we'll have seen one of the most incredible transformations in advertising history. We'll watch the Crown Royal Ford racing with the Jack Daniels Chevrolet. We'll see the Patron Tequila Dodge racing against cars dressed as beer cans - Budweiser, Coors and Miller.
We'll see no obvious sign of cigarettes or tobacco products but instead a combustible combination of power tools and vodka, sour mash whiskey and Advil, beer and erectile dysfunction drugs.
The combination of alcohol and auto racing is just one more bad idea that works.
For weeks, experts have stacked up three-wide blasting NASCAR's decision to lift the ban on hard liquor advertising. The medical associations have warned of underage influence, and the liquor companies have countered by saying they're far more interested in influencing only older alcoholics.
One pundit pointed out that the liquor salesmen know their target audience, saying it would be bad for business to promote auto fatalities among their best customers. Others suggest that more than a half million casualties a year involving alcohol and automobiles is evidence enough.
Of course, we know it's a losing battle. NASCAR has always relented to new money over smart money. From the early days of sports marketing, the stock car drivers pitched drinking. Junior Johnson's early race team was sponsored by Carling Black Label Beer, and he later brought Budweiser into the sport a couple of years after bringing Reynolds tobacco into the sport, which was a couple of decades after he brought clear Mason jars of Wilkes County wigbuster to the sport.
So it's all Junior's fault.
The truth is, had Junior been at Daytona this week and seen all those clowns and jugglers and plates of shrimp and artichoke dip, he might've done something about it. No one else is going to. A team member from the Childress race team quit, and a team member from another winemaker (Jeff Gordon) lost it and ended up in the middle of highway A-1A wearing nothing but a towel.
He was apparently not under the influence of mayonnaise or tobacco or crab cakes. He was under the influence of racing, and racing is now under the influence of hard liquor.
A crowd gathered in the infield Saturday afternoon as patrons dressed in sundresses and khaki slacks sipped liqueur and watched the Busch race on televisions set up less than 100 yards from the race itself. If anyone thought this ironic, no one mentioned it.
Life on either side of the chain-link circus went on this week as the traveling show arrived with its marketing combination of rebel flags, sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. NASCAR added hard liquor to the mix, and no one thought a thing of it, further proof that brazen ideas will always be a part of stock-car racing, the sport that can get away with anything.