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NASCAR's Charms Crash And Burn

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NASCAR's Charms Crash And Burn

Sports

NASCAR's Charms Crash And Burn

NASCAR's Charms Crash And Burn

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People all over America, including journalists, get seduced every day by NASCAR, and its heady mix of fast cars, enraptured children, burning rubber, and blood sport. Stock car racing has plenty of haters, but no one, it seems, is a hater after actually going. No one, that is, except radio producers who miss the cars spinning out and slamming into walls because they're scowling at recording equipment, trying to record 120 dB while not permanently damaging their hearing.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

The NASCAR mix of fast cars, enthralled children, and the promise of danger has thrilled many race fans and journalists for years. Producer Dianna Douglas covered a NASCAR race in Richmond, Virginia a few weeks ago. Here's her notebook.

DIANNA DOUGLAS: We stood in the pits in the center of the racetrack. Speeding cars circled us. They were warming up and all I could smell was burning rubber.

(Soundbite of revving engines)

DOUGLAS: If everything went according to plan, I would come away from this assignment with a new hobby. I could add stockcar racing to my list of things to do with friends and family who come to visit me in the nation's capital. I wore a black cap embroidered with silver flames and corporate logos to prove how eager I was to convert.

I think we journalists are notoriously susceptible to NASCAR's heady charms.

Mr. P.J. O'ROURKE (Writer): That stupendous noise, a stroked out American symphony of monster pandemonium.

DOUGLAS: Writer P.J. O'Rourke discovered NASCAR in the '80s, and he's still talking about it. This is from this latest book, "Driving Like Crazy."

Mr. O'ROURKE: Grand National is the most extreme, precise, elegant and exhilarating racing I have ever seen. People sat riveted by four hours of action, unwilling to take a leak for fear of missing a nuance, a crazy pass, a wild spin. It makes the NFL look as boring as baseball and baseball as dull as carp fishing.

DOUGLAS: To be fair, there are plenty of NASCAR haters, but no one, it seems, is a hater after actually going. NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman was bummed about his assignment to cover a race at the Bristol Motor Speedway -until he got there.

TOM GOLDMAN: I fell head over heels in love. It was everything. It was the fans, the spectacle, the smells, you know, even of gasoline and burnt rubber. Everywhere I went, my eyes were just popping.

DOUGLAS: He says he was once a snob about NASCAR. Now he's an evangelist.

GOLDMAN: If necessary, I do and will stand up for it because it's a kick-ass sport.

DOUGLAS: I thought that settled it. I stood near the press box at the Richmond International Raceway and waited for the NASCAR rapture.

(Soundbite of cars racing)

DOUGLAS: Cars spun out, slammed into walls, flames trailed behind overheated tires, a driver with a broken foot won the race. The journalists, the children, the pit crews, everyone was speechless with awe and gratitude. A rapture did occur all around me. But somehow I was left behind.

Maybe it was because my recording equipment can't handle 120 decibels of noise and I had to fuss with it all night. Maybe it's because I was wearing earplugs and headphones and was still worried about my hearing.

All I know is tens of thousands of people felt something that night, and except for a few guys selling snow cones and programs, the only one left out was me.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: And that's NPR producer Dianna Douglas, who'll probably take you to some nice quiet place like the National Textile Museum when you come to visit the nation's capital.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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