A bizarre courtship

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

The cars were lined up in a semicircle of resplendent photo-op color. President George Bush stood in front, smiling at the cameras as he congratulated some of auto racing's top drivers last week.

NASCAR at the White House. NASCAR Dads, the President hopes, watching closely.

NASCAR Dads? Yes, and get used to the term. Heading into an election year the humble, lowly and often forgotten NASCAR fan has somehow morphed into the nation's hottest voting block.

"To stereotype, the 'NASCAR Dad' is working class, pro-national defense and anti-crime," said David Lanoue, political science professor at the University of Alabama. "He has great misgivings on issues that could be summarized as politically correct.

"And he has been deemed this year's critical swing voter."

Which is why these days politicians are wrapping themselves in all things NASCAR, even if it is the very sport the cultural elite have mocked and misunderstood for years.

After being ridiculed as rubes for decades, the simple NASCAR Dad is now being coveted, courted and coddled. And in some cases, with Barbra Streisand's money, no less.

That the snooty Washington political set suddenly is obsessed with NASCAR is stunning. It's not that the fans aren't familiar with campaign slogans, it is just that the most popular concern for this crowd is getting females to "Show us your . . ." well, you know.

Fatherly types who enjoy other sports such as the NFL Dad or the NBA Dad (not to be confused with Bennie Blades or Shawn Kemp) apparently are worthless.

So coming to a racing oval near you – stiff politicians dreaming of the Oval Office.

Talk about entertainment. It's the NASCAR Duds.

Upper-crust John Kerry, a senator from Massachusetts and candidate for president, working the infield at Talladega isn't a campaign strategy. It's a Fox reality show.

This may turn out to be a big year for C-SPAN.

And just imagine if Hillary were running.

"To hear New England Democrats suddenly talk about their favorite NASCAR driver (is comical)," Lanoue said. "I guarantee four years ago they not only didn't have a favorite driver, they couldn't name two."

Unlike most politicians, President Bush appears at ease here. Although he hails from an elite, wealthy Eastern family, he has that West Texas drawl and you could envision him enjoying a DVD of great racing wrecks.

"I see a lot of the 'Bubbas' who work on my administration showed up," Bush said last week at the NASCAR ceremony, in a way that didn't offend any actual Bubbas.

Others are struggling to make a connection. When ex-Vermont Governor Howard Dean announced he wanted to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in the back of their trucks, it probably conveyed his true perception of NASCAR fans.

No one has yet laid claim to the people who don't think Mississippi State should have hired Sylvester Croom, but it's still early.

So in an effort to help any confused candidate who thinks getting Jeff Gordon's endorsement will help, we offer, free of charge, Yahoo! Sports' guide to dealing with NASCAR fans:

• Don't ever criticize the number three.

• Don't propose switching to electric-power engines to help ease noise pollution and our reliance on foreign oil.

• Do promise to issue an executive order that returns the Southern 500 to Labor Day weekend. It is worth at least 10 percentage points in the crucial South Carolina primary.

• Don't turn down a side of ribs or an oversized dip because you are watching your cholesterol.

• Do try to get a photo op of you and Dale Jr. shotgunning a Bud.

• Don't respond to complaints about the lack of "clean air" on the track by outlining your environmental record.

• Don't propose carpool lanes and light rail to ease congestion in turn three at Bristol.

• And, most importantly, don't believe any claim that NASCAR's tens of millions of fans are the same guy. About 40 percent of them aren't even guys. New York and Los Angeles rank second and third in total number of television viewers. Likin' a little racin' don't a redneck make.

No matter who wins the election, this is an historic time. High-priced consultants and silk-suit politicians are hard at work trying to connect with the humble NASCAR Dad.

Enjoy your moment in the sun, boys. It won't last long.

Just ask your wife, the Soccer Mom.

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