Most of the time, we all think of NASCAR as an exercise in speed and/or profit, all horsepower and advertising. But every so often, we get reminded that NASCAR is far more than just a sport; it's an integral element of Southern culture. Yes, "NASCAR" is hack shorthand for "redneck," but there's more to it, and the South, than simplistic pundits would have you believe. Just as the South produced some of the finest literature in the world in the first half of the twentieth century, so too did NASCAR give us some of the finest sporting storylines in the second half and beyond.
Why am I waxing/babbling poetic like this, and not just showing yet another goofy photo of Junior looking confused? Blame ESPN's Ed Hinton, the finest NASCAR writer working today, for his story today on the rich history of Talladega.
"Race at Talladega, and they will come" -- surely Ed didn't write that; it's too cliche -- somehow manages to yoke together William Faulkner, Forrest Gump, Bear Bryant, the Civil War and ancient Indian legends into one article about how Talladega should be on every NASCAR fan's to-visit list:
As much as the media, fans and drivers alike have maligned it (myself included) over the years, Talladega twice a year is a must-see show for all of us.
It is the essence of what people want out of NASCAR, even though the close racing may be artificial due to restrictor plates, and the outcomes are crapshoots given the aerodynamic shoving and slamming and banging.
No driver despises navigating the wreckfests here more than Mark Martin. And yet, three years ago, when he was taking some weekends off and certainly skipped Talladega, he readily admitted watching every lap on television. Too exciting to miss.
It's great stuff, and reminds us why we follow this silly sport. It's not just cars going in a circle; there's so much more to it than that, more that fans plug into on an unconscious level. Anybody who thinks that NASCAR is just about mashin' the gas and turnin' left, well ... clearly they've never been to Talladega.