Monday, February 19, 2007


"What the hell just happened?" Was my first reaction. I'm still not sure, but the officials, after several explanations tell me that it was a win for Kevin Harvick in his Chevrolet, at an average of 149.335 mph. Typical of American racing coverage however, I observed this morning that article after article mentioned the confusing ending and the name of the winning driver all at length, but with no mention of the car. I can't imagine a horse race that mentioned only the name of the Jockey, but that's NASCAR reportage and that's America's disinterest in technology and engineering.

I've been in love with racing for a long time and although, as a boy, I knew the names and biographies of men like Sterling Moss and Juan Fangio, my infatuation was with the technology as much as the skills and the teamwork that are racing. My infatuation was and still is more with sports car endurance racing, as unlike these hand made, purpose built NASCAR machines, the cars bear some relationship to and some components with what you can buy at the dealer and drive home in. Not coincidently, American engineering has been a dominant force. Races that take 12 to 24 hours sometimes do justify the journalistic "oooooh the engineering" rhetoric that in other events and in general is meaningless. "Oooooh the money" seems to apply better to the rolling billboards of NASCAR.

The term "stock car" is as much of an anachronism as I am; these tube frame, hand built machines with the painted-on headlights don't roll off an assembly line and the rules make them all very similar in order to level the playing field, but it's big business and growing in popularity every year. With on board cameras and HDTV, I have to admit it's fun to watch -- the hype, the blatant merchandising and the encroachments of foreign manufacturers into a genre that started with moonshiners, shade tree mechanics and souped up cars notwithstanding. As I've said often enough, I'm as annoyed by Toyota's presence (even if they did place 22nd) as much as I would be by a potential World Series win by Venezuela or the Japanese are by a foreign Sumo champion, but getting past the emotional chauvinism, perhaps what we're seeing here is the Americanization of Japanese cars and to me that's far better than seeing Ford's and Chevy's consumer offerings looking like toys for iPodpeople whose other car is a skateboard. In some strange way, maybe a Toyota win would be an American win.

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