CONCORD, N.C. – NASCAR fans have been criticized for a number of things over the years, ranging from perpetuating a redneck stereotype to still showing pride in the Rebel Flag.
Now, as one Mississippi congressman would have you believe, NASCAR fans are also a threat to national security and the nation's health.
Yes, you, Bubba. You, too, Bobbie Sue. Y'all got the cooties.
That's what Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, would have you believe.
The seven-term Congressman recently instructed committee aides who visited Talladega Superspeedway last weekend and are also at this weekend's Nextel Cup race at Lowe's Motor Speedway to be immunized against a variety of diseases such as hepatitis A, hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus and influenza.
Officially, the action was supposedly part of a broader review of federal response to massive emergencies at a large, crowded venue like Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Unofficially, Thompson unquestionably must think of NASCAR fans as a bunch of sickos – and not in a good way.
The hue and outcry resulting from Thompson's actions have become nothing short of a political embarrassment.
However, I admit Thompson did get me a bit suspicious at first. When I first heard the news, I immediately reflected back to one of NASCAR's biggest marketing campaigns in recent years: NASCAR – How bad have YOU got it?
By Thompson's standards, you've not only got it bad – but you're also a walking, talking, fire-breathing, beer-drinking, tobacco-spittin', cussin' and cheerin' sumbitch who is carrying enough pestilence and pathos to bring the good, old U.S. of A to its knees.
You would think that a veteran Congressman – and from a state that has a huge NASCAR fan base – would be a bit savvier when it comes to messin' with the go straight and turn left crowd.
Instead, Thompson paints a picture of folks, who come to races from New Hampshire to southern California, as potentially carrying more communicable diseases than folks in a third-world country.
As can be expected, others countered that Thompson's edict was more liberal Democratic "the-sky-is-falling" hysteria mongering. Even members of his own party have to be wondering, "What is this guy thinking?"
Thompson would have been smart if he had laughed things off when the relatively silent instruction for staffers to get their shots suddenly became national news. Instead, he kept digging himself a deeper hole – and I'm betting especially so with Mississippi voters who just happen to be NASCAR fans.
When he appeared in a debate with Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) on CNN, Thompson told Hayes he "ought to be ashamed" for criticizing efforts to protect the committee's staffers.
Hayes deadpanned – and good for him in doing so – "We got our shots when we were born."
What's next? Ostracizing NASCAR fans like smokers? Is being a racing fan suddenly akin to being a leper?
God forbid that a non-NASCAR fan suddenly comes down with a bad case of Junior-itis. What would Thompson's response be? Require widespread institutionalizing or mass inoculations?
And no, I'm not talking about using inoculation needles to tattoo an 8 or 88 on your skin to try and relieve the Junior fever.
There's no question that NASCAR has fought a serious image problem for much of its nearly 60 years of existence.
There's been the redneck stereotype, the Rebel Flag controversy, being sponsored for 30 years by a cigarette company and the "fun" fans have tossing beer cans onto race tracks when they don't quite care for the race outcome.
And now this most recent embarrassment. What's a poor NASCAR fan to do?
Granted, there are some NASCAR fans that are, shall we say, socially challenged – the type that sometimes forget their weekly shower, eschew deodorant in favor of the "natural" smell and have ample beer bellies that should have Goodyear stamped across 'em – but that doesn't mean they're disease-carrying threats to national security.
But Thompson appears to think so.
Actually, he should be thanking those of you who've slapped a No. 8 or 24 or 48 sticker on your car for the warning, because now he knows to steer clear of you on the highway.
As for me, I'm going to be a bit more careful the next time I refer to you die-hard NASCAR fans as "rabid." Apparently, you might just be.
- Bennie Thompson