Saturday, July 19, 2014

Left Turns

I used to love NASCAR.

It doesn't fit in with the on-line persona I have intentionally or otherwise cultivated. Soccer coach and fan, sports observer, lawyer, alternative music aficionado. Doesn't really seem to fit with redneck, beer drinkin' race fan. But that was me.

Before soccer really. Before I coached or played, except for the few odd weeks when I was eight or in college or at summer camp. Before just about anything but Little League baseball and shooting hoops in the driveway and playing touch (or tackle when the grownups weren't watching) football in the yard, I went to races.

My indoctrination started when I was a kid, growing up 20 miles from Michigan International Speedway. 

I had a classmate through junior high and high school whose father owned a very successful Indy car team. I went to some of those races, watched the cars, even got to meet some of the drivers (my friend's favorite was Swede Savage, who raced for her dad, the best racing name ever short of Dick Trickle). 

But I always favored the NASCAR guys. Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison, and The King, Richard Petty. I went to some races at MIS, watching what were truly stock cars zip around the track at 200 MPH, drafting when it could really be done, and I was enthralled.

Then I went to college in the heart of stock car racing, North Carolina. I worked the sports desk at The Winston-Salem Journal, answering the phones on Friday nights when writing my story about the high school football game that I had just covered. About half of the calls (this is pre-internet days, of course) were very simple: "Where did The King qualify?"

The Petty Blue number 43 Plymouth Superbird
(photo from

When I moved to West Virginia I remained a fan. My friends Steve and Howard and I had season tickets to Bristol International Speedway. Never figured out where the "International" came from, but that was okay. It was us and about 150,000 others, watching 42 (I think?) cars careen around a half-mile oval with ridiculous banks, crashing and passing and finishing backwards.

I went to races in Charlotte and Martinsville and Richmond and Darlington and North Wilkesboro and the Poconos and Dover. And I had a great time.

But kids and sports caused us to eventually give up our tickets and drew us to other pursuits. Gradually I became less and less interested as NASCAR attempted to appeal to a wider audience and gentrified itself and became vanilla and boring and popular and then not-so-popular.

All of the cars look the same. Few of the drivers have Southern accents and almost none can claim a lineage to the bootleggers and bandits who started the sport.

Now when there's a race on, I'll watch for a few minutes, but turn the channel as I realize I really don't care if a guy from California or Indiana or wherever wins. There's one on now, but I'd rather write than watch.

And I miss the good old days.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Truly the World's Cup

I watched the U.S. vs. Belgium match in a pub in Canmore, Alberta with C and a bunch of U.S. vacationers. 

I marveled, with my countrymen, at Tim Howard.

I wondered how many would say "I told you so" when Wondo missed the sitter.

No caption necessary (photo from

I groaned when Belgium scored, and scored again. I said to C after the first goal "Klinsmann has to sub Green for Bedoya" (honest, I really did). He listened after the second, and we cheered Green's fantastic goal, then groaned again as chances went wanting at the death.

I listened to Columbia vs. Brazil on XM radio driving from Lake Louise to Jasper, glad I was watching the Canadian Rockies out the car window instead of the match as I heard the cynical play of the former purveyors of the beautiful game and the exasperating refereeing described, convinced that FIFA had stacked the deck in Brazil's favor in every conceivable but subtle way.

I saw two German tourists, faces painted with the German flag, on a sunny Tuesday morning in Banff. Little did they, or I, know what lay in store a few hours later. 

I passed a bar in the Calgary airport those few hours later, saw the game was on, and did a double, then a triple, take. The graphic read: "0 Brazil 4 Germany". In the 27th minute. I asked the guy standing next to me, still incredulous, "is that score right?" He assured me it was with a wry smile. I rushed back to the gate to tell C (she's of 100% German ancestry) of the score and that I was going to watch the rest of the first half, at least.

I rubbed my eyes when, not five minutes later, back at the bar, the graphic said: "0 Brazil 5 Germany." This time I just looked at the same guy, and he just nodded. Not a word was exchanged or needed.

I watched the French CBC station coverage at half time, deciding that even that lovely language couldn't put a pretty face on being down 0-5 in your own World Cup.

I decided that, at least this once, I was wrong about FIFA.

I followed The Netherlands game against Argentina, getting home from work to watch la Albicelestes win on PKs, a result that seemed neither deserved nor undeserved. Then I saw the Dutch destroy a slightly less desultory Brazil in the Third Place match.

I ambiguously watched the Final, half rooting for Germany because of that familial connection, half rooting for Argentina because I believe Messi to be the best player of this, and perhaps any, generation and that this was probably his best chance to add "world champion" to his resume. 

I was pleased that it was not another boring, tentative final, at least not in the first half, and that it was settled not by PKs but by two moments of brilliance (Schurrle's cross and Gotze's finish).

I was glad that a record number of my countrymen watched with me.

Welcome to the World's Cup and the World's game, American. Stick around for a while.