I never thought I would, but I did. Yup, went to NASCAR on Sunday- The Subway 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Oddly, the race was only 312 miles despite the name of the event. That’s 312 laps around a track in the middle of the Arizona desert at speeds up to 140mph.
Admittedly, I’ve never been a fan of car racing. I’m actually really afraid of cars, especially when I’m in one but not driving. It’s a control and trust thing. I trust myself, thus, I must always be in control! And when I’m not, I’m a nervous wreck. I once heard Stanley Kubrick, the great director, took to wearing a helmet in his later years whenever he drove. I feel like I’m not too far away from that. But I’ve said too much….again.
My brother is a huge fan and he invited me along. I was pretty excited to go because I knew it would be unlike anything I’ve been to before. Or so I thought.
The people. 75,000 of them in the event proper, but another 25,000 or so tailgating, as it were. I knew that is where it was going to be for me. We all know the cliches- rednecks, confederate flags, rednecks, mullets, and more rednecks. Well, they didn’t disappoint. I saw rednecks galore, and too many confederate flags to be comfortable for sure. Strangely though, I had the longest mullet out of anyone I saw. I knew it would pay off!! I could’ve spent the entire day going around the RV area photographing all the people and elaborate camps people had set up, one complete with a pool table. But overall, a lot of the fans looked like this…
Not a very diverse group, I know. But I did see some Latinos risking racial profiling by Sheriff Joe and his crew who were out in full force.
Turns out though, despite all the cliches, despite the lack of diversity, despite the overpowering politicizing and nationalistic brow-beating….
…that it’s not much different from any other sporting event I’ve been to. The contradictions were no more or no less than you’d see at any major sporting event in the country, professional or otherwise.
I don’t know anything about racing cars, but I know people, and if anything, NASCAR attracts as interesting and passionate fans as any other sport. And lest you’re mistaken, I also know that racing a car at 140mph on a mile-long oval track takes an extraordinary amount of athleticism. Ask any pilot, diver, or any other participant in an activity where the body is subjected to enormous amounts of pressure and g-force, you have to be fit to hang, especially for hours of it at a time.
So why the black and white? I thought it might play to the preconceptions. You think you know what it’s about. There’s no mistaking what these people think. You’re either with’em or against’em. But it’s not like that. Or maybe it is. What do I know? I saw a lot of people having a great time with their friends and family and that’s good enough for me.
I’m not a fan of selective coloring by any means, but I wanted to give you a taste of the rainbow that was there. Hell, when it comes to the people, black and white is all you need to see they have some colorful personalities.
The leader board above right shows the standings after 159 laps. I was bored after 10. But I know diddly squat about racing so that explains it. (Although I did learn some interesting racing tidbits, like how the rubber on the tires beads up and flies off the track- I could feel them as I walked by- and if you’ve ever seen the cars swerving during warm-up or caution laps, it’s because they’re trying to get those beads of rubber off for better traction, not just anxiousness to get their race on.)
But the single best reason for me to go to another NASCAR race is the fact they don’t give a shit about my camera! I brought 2 lenses with me that I would NEVER get away with bringing into any other sporting event. (Take note NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA!) And any sport that allows that kind of access is okay in my book.
Next time (and there will be another), seeing as I probably won’t know much more about racing by then, I definitely will spend more time capturing as many of the folks on Redneck Row as I can. And yes, that was an actual sign I saw.