Monday, November 17, 2008

NASCAR. A sponsored assault on my senses.

At the beginning of yesterday's NASCAR race, the final one of the season, a spokesperson from the Ford Motor Company grabbed a microphone and said something to this effect: "on behalf of the Ford Motor Company, gentlemen, start your engines". Which seemed odd to me. Isn't that kind of like getting Canadian Tire to sponsor the ceremonial faceoff in hockey? Or getting Honest Jim from Honest Jim's Truck-And-Tow to sing Take Me Out To the Ballgame during the seventh-inning stretch at Fenway? Or flipping a token from the Seattle Super Sensory Video Arcade to determine who receives the ball at a Seahawks game? There was just something about it that bothered me on a visceral level. Then I looked around me.

I was at a party at Pierre and Francine's house for the final NASCAR event of the year. As complete and total NASCAR fanatics, they had friends in from all over the city. And the country. And from other countries as well. There were a few American race fanatics who made the journey up to Ottawa, people who had met these people at NASCAR events around the States. It was truly amazing. But most amazing of all were the sponsors. I have a Dewalt hat that I wear from time to time. I got it at a booth at Toolfest when I was doing a tool demonstration there a few years ago. No one, ever, has approached me while I was wearing that hat and asked if I worked for Dewalt. No one has ever asked me if I was into carpentry or if I preferred Dewalt tools to other tools. But dozens of people have approached me in my Dewalt hat and asked me if I was a Matt Kensith fan. For a long time, I said "what?" and didn't understand. And then they would start talking about fuel intakes and carburetors and horsepower, and I would glaze over and tune out and eventually slip into a crowd when their backs were turned.

Apparently, Matt Kensith is sponsored by Dewalt. And in the world of NASCAR, sponsorship is everything. I know this because Dewalt Man was at this party. Head-to-toe, hat-to-boots Dewalt sponsorship. This is how he let people know for whom he was rooting. I'm sure Dewalt Man has a real name. And a job and a life and a family and so forth. I may even have learned his name. But it was easy to forget when all you can remember is Dewalt Man. I had a long conversation with Jack Daniels Man. A very friendly guy, he does self-defense courses and goes to NASCAR races and once did the Richard Petty Experience thing where you sit in a car as it goes 145 km/h. Or maybe mph. It happens in America, after all. I heard his name, but promptly forgot it, because he was clearly Jack Daniels man. Now, I like Jack Daniels. (More than I like Dewalt - I don't build stuff, but I do drink stuff), so I decided I would cheer for the same driver as Jack Daniels Man. He told me the driver's name. Then I forgot that too, and tried to look on the TV for the Jack Daniels Car, which I assume was being driven by American Jack Daniels Man.

I also had a terrific time talking to #24, who had socks to match her shirt which matched her car parked outside. She was cheering for #24, which amazingly wasn't a sponsor. It was a car number. Like Brett Favre is #4. I could understand that. But I forget who's #24. The last time I went, I spent a good deal of time talking to a wonderful lady named Home Depot Woman. Not only did she cheer for Home Depot Race Car Driver, but she actually worked at Home Depot herself. It was a few years ago, so I don't remember which came first. I think there's a good chance she doesn't either. Chicken and the egg, and that sort of thing. She was coming later, but I had to go.

I still don't get NASCAR. I still don't know the name of any drivers, except Matt Kensith, who is Dewalt Man, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. who have ESPN DVDs that I reviewed for Cynical Cinema, and Jimmie Johnson who apparently won his third straight Doritos Oreo Wal-Mart Pepsi Haliburton Cup yesterday, which is something only he and a guy I have never heard of before have done. And a bunch of cars went really fast, and a bunch of people in Francine and Pierre's basement cheered. I really don't get this sport, but I sure love the people who watch it.

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