the day after dale died.

This morning on NPR, there was an interview with Michael Waltrip, a NASCAR driver. This is the kind of story that provokes a lot of irate email to NPR about how they shouldn't waste time on such trivial matters, what with the situation in the Middle East. But I bet those same people would be thrilled to hear about Mongolian goat racing so they could bring it up at their next cocktail party. Redneck culture is still culture.

It's okay for me to tease both NPR listeners and rednecks, seeing as how I could easily fit in with either.

I for one was glad to hear the interview announced, because I like listening to southern accents. Waltrip's is a little twangy for my taste, but I'm sure some people like it. I'm a little sensitive to twang, mostly because that seems to be what comes out of my mouth after a few beers. Anyway, Waltrip was promoting his book, which deals mainly with the death of Dale Earnhardt. Basically, Waltrip had been racing for fifteen years, never winning a thing, until Dale asked him to be on his team. And then he won Daytona, the race that killed Dale. Bummer, dude.

I remember when Dale died. Not because I care about NASCAR. I don't. A couple of years ago, Josh and I challenged each other to name five NASCAR drivers, and we could not do it, at least not without counting several Petty family members. We both grew up in areas where you'd see t-shirts and bumper stickers for some driver or another all over the place, but neither of our families were fans, so it wasn't part of our inheritance. We sure do like college basketball, though.

But I remember finding out that he had died, because other people cared so much. Specifically, I remember the day after he died. I was sitting in biology class, and the school principal came over the loudspeaker to make some announcement about, I dunno, a pep rally or fire safety. My biology teacher said, "Man, he sounds depressed." She then explained that our principal had loved Dale. I thought that was really strange. Being eighteen, I didn't really think of our principal as a three-dimensional person. Like the rest of the staff, he didn't exist outside of the school day. Also, he didn't fit the description of a typical NASCAR fan. He was always wearing business casual, was soft-spoken and educated. And yet he apparently was a race fan, enough to feel real sorrow when a driver died. That blew my poor little eighteen-year-old mind just a little bit.

It might be that moment which sort of legitimized NASCAR to me. For all my sneering about Mongolian goat racing, I look down on racing, too. It's just a sport, and all of them are pretty much pointless. But they are fun, and competition is a good thing overall. Maybe I should write NPR an email, telling them not to listen to the snobs, because at least one of their listeners was glad to hear a friendly southern accent and remember the day after Dale Earnhardt died.

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