Don't Be So Stuck Up
By Jim Alderson, 7/14/00

I am a NASCAR fan. I come by it honestly, residing down here in Danville, where there are more than a few of us around. It often seems that my pickup truck is the only one in town not sporting a #3 decal (Dale Earnhart, for the great washed) on the back window. I am proud to see the Wood Brothers #21 car sporting Virginia Tech identification, and only wish Tech could cop a sponsorship on a ride that ran at the front of the pack on a more consistent basis.

I make no apologies whatsoever for my enjoyment of the sport (I also make no apologies for driving a pickup. It comes in handy). If that makes me a redneck, so be it. I have been called worse, and tend to laugh at whatever names are hung on me, while reserving the right to fire back.

I have several friends in NASCAR, including some drivers as well as members of pit crews. I would point out that some of these guys (Hey, Rusty) read these columns on Hokie Central and often move on to other parts, including the message board. I like to think I have created a few Tech football fans among the good old boys. To me, one of the great spectacles in sport, ranking only behind watching Tech take Worsham Field, is observing the NASCARs take the green flag under the lights at Charlotte. These days, it sure beats watching the lousy bullpen of the Baltimore Orioles blow another save.

I have attended several races (I especially enjoy those where somebody supplies me with free tickets, hint, hint) and on a couple of occasions have been fortunate enough to cop a pit pass. Since the race can basically, from that location, only be heard and rarely seen, I tend to pay close attention to the various strategy sessions that take place in all of the pits, or at least as close as I can in between constantly being told to get out of the way, in stronger language than just related.

There is a little more to it than patting the driver on the helmet, pointing to the track and telling him to keep his right foot down and turn left. The thought that goes into successful NASCAR racing is right up there with the complexities of Bud Foster’s defense.

The denigration of NASCAR on the HCMB surprised me. I have gotten a lot of mileage poking fun at the arrogance and pretensions of the Hoos and I really hate to see some of us acting like those who apparently are taught those disagreeable qualities on the Lawn at the base of that statue of Mr. Jefferson. Come on, guys, we’re Virginia Tech, not Snobbery U. Does the name Bryan Whitesell ring a bell? He is one of us, a Mechanical Engineering graduate who does pretty well as team manager for the #24 Dupont car. While the term ‘ignorant redneck’ might be applied to me with some accuracy, it certainly does not fit him. NASCAR shops are loaded with engineers, many of them Hokies. They are all very bright guys engaged in demanding work. I am proud of them.

Some of the griping about Tech sponsoring Elliott Sadler’s ride is the quality of fan to which we may be appealing. I would suggest attending a race and getting to know them. Most are not the toothless inbred hillbillies I have seen mentioned, but people with a passionate interest in their sport. Sound familiar? I have spent time tailgating with many of my fellow race fans (they do it very well, too) and find they are not different from what seem to be considered ‘normal’ people.

Considering that NASCAR enjoys a degree of corporate interest and sponsorship that most sports, including football, can only dream about, more than a few carry the same demographic profile that we want. I enjoy their company. And there are a lot of them; check the attendance figures at Richmond or Martinsville.

If Tech putting our colors on a car causes some to become fans of Hokie football, I say welcome aboard. For all of our vaunted and enthusiastic fan support, we still have a smaller fan base than most of the rest of the football company we have recently been keeping. I daresay a good chunk of the crowds at, say, Neyland or Bryant-Denny stadiums are also NASCAR fans. The Vols and Tide don’t seem to have suffered much contamination.

I have a good friend who often accompanies me to Tech football games. He did not go to Tech or anywhere else, and is in fact a tile mason, a profession considered blue collar. He is very good at his work (try laying tile sometime), is highly intelligent and articulate, and has become a big and knowledgeable fan of Tech football (he also cares very little about computers and rarely reads a word I write, so this is not sucking up). Considering his size, I wouldn’t want to be the one to tell him his support is not wanted or valued.

To grow our program to where we want it to be, these are the fans we need attending games and, more importantly, watching on television. Network executives aren’t checking the academic pedigree of those watching our games, only counting eyeballs.

Different sports appeal to different people. Only a few minutes of televised golf will have me in a catatonic state and the only women’s basketball game I have ever watched from beginning to end remains Tech’s NCAA game in Greensboro against Tennessee. I do, however, like NASCAR and consider our sponsorship of the #21 car an excellent investment in public relations. If you do not feel the same, then by all means I would advise not watching. I will be, however, so try not to look down your nose too hard at me as I pop a beer, grab a chicken leg and cheer as they drop the green flag.

Jim Alderson, best known for his biting political commentary on the A-Line email newsletter, also brings a unique, sarcastic, and well-informed perspective on college sports, particularly (1) Virginia Tech sports and (2) ACC sports.  While Hokie fans currently have very little use for subject number 2, Alderson is an entertaining and informative columnist on subject number 1.  For even more fun, visit Jim's A-Line home page.


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