Cover image for Fixin' to git : one fan's love affair with NASCAR's Winston Cup
Fixin' to git : one fan's love affair with NASCAR's Winston Cup
Wright, Jim, 1947-
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Durham : Duke University Press, [2002]

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305 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
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GV1029.9.S74 W75 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In the past twenty years, big-time stock-car racing has become America's fastest growing spectator sport. Winston Cup races draw larger audiences--at the tracks and on television--than any other sport, and drivers like Dale Jarrett, Jeff Gordon, and Mark Martin have become cultural icons whose endorsements command millions. What accounts for NASCAR's surging popularity?
For years a "closeted" NASCAR fan, Professor Jim Wright took advantage of a sabbatical in 1999 to attend stock-car races at seven of the Winston Cup's legendary venues: Daytona, Indianapolis, Darlington, Charlotte, Richmond, Atlanta, and Talladega. The "Fixin' to Git Road Tour" resulted in this book--not just a travelogue of Wright's year at the races, but a fan's valentine to the spectacle, the pageantry, and the subculture of Winston Cup racing.
Wright busts the myth that NASCAR is a Southern sport and takes on critics who claim that there's nothing to racing but "drive fast, turn left," revealing the skill, mental acuity, and physical stamina required by drivers and their crews. Mostly, though, he captures the experience of loyal NASCAR fans like himself, describing the drama in the grandstands--and in the bars, restaurants, parking lots, juke joints, motels, and campgrounds where race fans congregate. He conveys the rich, erotic sensory overload--the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feel--of weekends at the Winston Cup race tracks.

Author Notes

Jim Wright grew up in Indiana watching his father race on quarter-mile dirt tracks in the 1950s. After spending a couple of decades establishing himself as an academic sociologist, he began regularly attending NASCAR races in the 1990s. A sociologist who has taught at Tulane University and currently teaches at the University of Central Florida, Wright has written seventeen books. He lives in Orlando.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Auto racing amounts to yahoos watching other yahoos chase their tailgates, right? Sociologist Wright doesn't agree completely. A racer's son himself, he juxtaposes the magniloquent ("existential inauthenticity") with the colloquial ("real kick-ass street rod") to draft the history of the sport and its place in Americana. From the pit stops he made in 1999 on tracks from Daytona to Darlington, he describes racing in terms not unlike those he chides sports magazines for, as he hopscotches from issue to issue. Wright counters charges against racing including sexism, racism and overcommercialism, and then confirms most reader expectations. Wright asserts, for instance, that the rampant advertising on driver autos and uniforms reflects larger cultural trends, but concedes it is a "marketing bacchanalia." He also deconstructs gearhead stereotypes only to reassemble them: for every God-lovin' family-oriented enthusiast, there's another good ole boy passed out in the stands before the checkered flag drops. But the crux of his unabashed study is that racing can be good fun. The finest chapters focus on the thrill of going 200 mph while negotiating turns on an increasingly slick, sloping ellipse. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

In the last few years, NASCAR stock-car racing has emerged as the major sporting event in the country, well ahead of football, basketball, etc. in terms of attendance. Wright's background as a sociologist (Univ. of Central Florida) and a race fan encouraged him to look at the drivers and, even more, the spectators. Mark Howell did much the same thing in From Moonshine to Madison Avenue (CH, Dec'97), but Wright emphasizes the fans' points of view and fans' backgrounds in an extremely entertaining way. He explores issues of race, economic standing, educational background, and regional origin/location. He examines the various tracks, their history, size and design, and user friendliness (i.e., how pleasant or difficult it is to attend races at each). Thus, this work becomes a manual, almost a necessity, for a novice race fan. Wright's personal enthusiasm for the sport comes through in his infectious writing. Because so much written about stock-car racing in general and NASCAR in particular is biased and negative, this positive yet realistic book is a joy to read. Bibliographic endnotes stand in for a formal bibliography. For general readers and large academic collections supporting study of the sociology of sport at the upper-division undergraduate level and above. F. W. Yow emeritus, Kenyon College

Booklist Review

To those who haven't succumbed to the lure of auto racing, Wright, a sociology professor and author of 17 books, offers a compelling analysis of the sport's appeal. To the unequivocally faithful who already reside in the NASCAR choir, he offers vivid confirmation of the faith. And to both groups he offers a clear-eyed fan's view of what's right with the sport and what's wrong. For several years in the late 1990s, he traveled to various tracks--Darlington, Talladega, Charlotte, Richmond, and Atlanta, among others--to enjoy the races and observe racing culture. His observations on the latter reflect both a fan's affection and a sociologist's love of the meaningful detail. Take T-shirts. Writing with wit as well as insight, he argues that NASCAR fans' T-shirts serve as manifestations of tribal affiliations (Jeff Gordon fans versus Al Unser loyalists), as evidence of attendance at past battles ("Talladega 1995"), or reflections of personal worldviews ("If You're Gonna Be Stupid, You Better Be Tough"). But he also wonders how a sport that publicly strives to be broad based and multiethnic can overcome many existing fans' insistence on displaying the Confederate flag. His very best observations are saved for nonfans. NASCAR critics dismiss racing as "step on it and turn left." When Wright catalogs the variables that a driver must consider--in a split second--during a single lap, readers will certainly have a better understanding of the skill needed to compete among the best. He also debunks the romantic theory that racing is an outgrowth of the southern backwoods moonshine industry of the1940s. This is the very best book to surface on auto racing in many years. Informative, entertaining, and eye-opening. --Wes Lukowsky YA/L: Requires good readers but certain to be of interest to teen racing fans. BO.

Library Journal Review

In contrast to almost every book about NASCAR Winston Cup auto racing, this is not an insider's account; nor does it focus on drivers, races, or NASCAR's history. Instead, Wright offers his perspectives, both as a racing fan and as a sociologist, on the sport and its significance in modern American culture. The framework of the book is his attendance at many Winston Cup races during the 1999 season, which he uses as jumping-off points to discuss a variety of issues, such as fan allegiance, the growth and popularity of NASCAR racing, and the difficulty of setting up a car for the unique conditions of each race track. Wright discusses some of the myths and images surrounding NASCAR racing (e.g., that it sprang from the moonshine trade and that its support base is largely Southern redneck) and finds them colorful but not at all accurate. He makes a positive case that as the sport developed and grew, it always had a national character. Some of Wright's best passages describe the fan subculture, seen as largely working class, staunchly loyal, patriotic, and addicted to the sound, look, and feel of speed. This is an interesting book, but with its academic flavor, it may not hold the interest of the fan just described. Because of its unique perspectives, however, it would be useful both for public and academic libraries. David Van de Streek, Pennsylvania State Univ. Libs., York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Car Culture and the American Dream In the rarefied university circles where I have spent my adult life, cheek-to-jowl with Spiro Agnew's "effete intellectual snobs" and "nattering nabobs of negativism," confessing that you are a stockcar racing fan is on a par with suggesting that maybe-just maybe-the South had a point. Many of my intellectual acquaintances are reflexively hostile to athletic contests of every sort, but even people who will gladly burn off a Sunday afternoon watching the New Orleans Saints lose yet another football game are stupefied that an apparently sane man would rather spend his Sunday afternoon glued to the weekend Winston Cup event. Steve Rushin, a writer for Sports Illustrated , pretty much says it all. "Race fans fall into one of two categories: tattooed, shirtless, sewer-mouthed drunks; and their husbands." Bid-a-boom! Great gag, and anyone is certainly entitled to ask (as I am asked all the time), Just what is the thrill in watching a bunch of white guys drive around in a circle? And why write a book about it? The thrill I will try to explain later. As for the book, Fixin' to Git is essentially a retirement fantasy brought to premature fruition by a one-term sabbatical and a near-desperate need to get my head out of the routines of academic research and teaching. I am a sociologist (at Tulane while this book was being written and at the University of Central Florida now), and this is my seventeenth book. I published my first book, on political alienation, in 1976, with the fifteen that followed covering a variety of ponderous sociological topics. Like most academic monographs, these books have typically sold a few thousand copies (okay, a few hundred copies in more cases than I'd care to admit), and over the twenty-five years I have been writing them, I have often been asked (by my mother, my wife, my children, and assorted others) why I don't write books that people want to read. Ouch! But it's a fair question. This book is my first crack at an answer. To begin, I am a lifelong racing fan, and writing this book has provided the perfect excuse to indulge myself in what would otherwise be forbidden pleasures. Telling your dean that you intend to spend your sabbatical following the NASCAR Winston Cup Series around the country is certain to raise eyebrows, but no dean would think twice about a research monograph on stock-car racing as an emergent element in the popular culture. (Don't worry. That's only what I told her, not the book I've written.) Rebecca Adams-a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, past president of the Southern Sociological Society, and in her spare time a confirmed Deadhead-got to listen to a lot of great music, interacted with and interviewed some strange and wonderful people, and (one infers) had a blast researching and writing her book Deadheads: Community, Spirituality, and Friendship . I figure that if the Deadheads deserve a tribal sociologist, then why not racing fans? Some of my earliest childhood memories are of Saturday nights at the racetracks. When I was a boy growing up in Logansport, Indiana, my father and his friends raced stock cars at the little quarter-mile dirt tracks one finds, even today, throughout the small towns of north central Indiana-Monticello, Winamac, Bass Lake, Warsaw, Anderson, Kokomo, to name a few. Several old black-and-white photographs in our family album are of my father and his race cars circa 1950 or 1951. I don't remember much about those early years, but I do remember going to the races: the sounds of those great old Ford flathead V-8s firing up; the smell of oil, gasoline, and exhaust fumes; the clods of dirt that would fly into the stands as twenty or thirty reckless young men in souped-up jalopies slid full throttle through the wet clay turns. I also remember that my old man was a "balls out, belly to the ground" driver (the phrase is from Stroker Ace, Stand On It , a cult classic of racing literature), always charging hard, always running up front, always in contention, if not always first to cross the finish line. I don't know that all this is true; it's just what I remember. That's not all I remember. As a working-class hick who hailed from the ass end of nowhere, I remember thinking it was very, very cool that my old man raced stock cars at the local speedways, tuned engines by ear, and often fabricated car parts in his own shop. I remember taking a set of his micrometers (he was a lathe operator at the time) to grade school for show-and-tell, astonishing everyone with the fact that these instruments could measure the thickness of a hair. Again, very, very cool. I also remember turnip greens and ham hocks and hominy grits, the guy from the finance company coming to repossess my mother's washing machine, and the seemingly endless string of old beat-up used cars that served as our family sedans. It took several years of higher learning to realize just how déclassé all this was, and several more years of maturation after that not to care. (I say this here just in case my fondness for-indeed, identification with-the white trash and rednecks is not entirely evident.) In 1953, a few months before I turned six, Dad found himself at the bottom of a pile-up with a broken neck that put him into a coma for nearly a month. The wreck I do remember, the extended hospital stay less so. I also remember the few races Dad drove in after he had recovered from the wreck, my mother's tearful anger about them, my own fears, and the loud, bitter arguments that broke out driving home from the tracks, race car in tow. My dad was never one to do what other people thought he ought to, but for whatever reason, he drove in only three races after his wreck, then quit. He spent another year or two working as a pit guy for other drivers, but he would just as soon have not been at the track as have been there without being in the middle of the action. So, by 1954 or so, his career as a dirt-track driver was over. Dad's career-ending wreck taught me an important lesson about automobile racing: you can die out there . Many drivers have: Fireball Roberts, Grant Adcox, Bill Vukovich, Neil Bonnett, Jimmy Clark, Tiny Lund, J. D. McDuffie, Joe Weatherly, Richie Evans, and, most recently, Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, and Dale Earnhardt (all of whom were very much alive and racing when the first draft of this book was written). The sheer physical danger of trying to drive a hot rod as fast as it will go, fender-to-fender and bumper-to-bumper with a few dozen other testosterone-crazed wild men, even when experienced vicariously, is what makes automobile racing so addictive. And any fan who says otherwise is lying. The three most recent Winston Cup deaths, particularly that of Dale Earnhardt at the 2001 Daytona 500, have spawned widespread concerns about driver safety and about NASCAR's role in assuring it. While no sensible fan would oppose reasonable safety measures, the furor over Earnhardt's death has, I think, obscured three essential points. First, there is no way to drive a race car 180 or 190 miles per hour on a track with forty-two other competitors and be 100 percent safe-physical peril is an inherent aspect of the sport. Second, given my first point, Winston Cup racing is already remarkably safe. A nineteen- car wreck at the 2001 Daytona 500-far more spectacular than the one that killed Earnhardt-took out eight or nine race cars, all of them mangled nearly beyond recognition in what the Charlotte Observer described as a "savage maelstrom of sheet metal," yet everyone involved walked away with only minor injuries. A similar pileup on the interstate at a third the speed would have resulted in multiple fatalities. Third, as I have already said, the inherent hazards are what make automobile racing so appealing to so many. You could, I suppose, engineer all the dangers out of the Winston Cup, just as you could legislate all the strip joints and nudie bars off Bourbon Street, but what would you have when you were through? Who would still be interested? I was thirteen in 1960, and in those days drag racing was all the rage. The Bunker Hill Drag Strip was about twenty-five miles from Logansport, and a lot of us hung out at the strip some Saturday nights during the racing season. (In the winters, we'd hang out at Chogas' Pool Hall instead.) The more daring of my high-school pals would "borrow" the family car to, oh, "go to the drive-in," then get to the track, pop off the hubcaps, paint a number on the left rear window with white shoe polish, and enter the car in the "run what you brung" class, where victory earned you nothing but bragging rights. A few of my buddies built serious drag-racing cars, and hanging around in the pits with them was always a gas (and not a bad way to attract the attention of females, who, then as now, made up an unexpectedly large share of the fan base). But drag racing-a straight ten-second shot down a flat quarter-mile track-was never all that appealing to me. One furious straight-line blast of acceleration seemed tame in comparison to the sustained mayhem of a thirty-lap feature race at the dirt track. Then there was that annual Memorial Day extravaganza of speed, backyard barbecues, and galvanized tubs of iced Fall City beer that was the Indianapolis 500, known then and today as the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing." The Indy 500 was not televised in those days, so if you were not among the lucky few who went to the track (it is about 90 miles from Logansport, so a lot of people from town did go), you listened to the race on the radio. Today Indy 500 racers are in Indianapolis for only ten days, but back then they stayed for an entire month of practicing, testing, qualifying, and racing. By race day, practically every Hoosier boy could recite the thirty-three drivers and cars in the starting grid-eleven rows, three abreast-in order of starting position. You'd know the qualifying speed of the pole sitter, the spread in qualifying times from first to thirty-third, the previous Indy records of all the drivers, and endless other dots of race trivia. In Indiana in those days, May was Indy, and that was that. Speeds then were much, much slower than they are today. I remember heated speculation in the 1950s and 1960s about whether anyone would ever turn a 150-mph lap at the Brickyard. (The 150-mph lap was thought to be an insurmountable barrier, much like the four-minute mile.) Today's Indy racers qualify at speeds as high as 230 mph and the 500-mile race is over in a few hours, but back then it was an all-day affair, often lasting until 5:00 or 6:00 in the afternoon. I'd spend the whole day with family and friends in the backyard on Melbourne Avenue, listening to Chris Economaki and the other Motor Racing Network announcers describe the action on the track. On Memorial Day weekend in Indiana, everyone was a race fan. The fifties and sixties were simpler times, in racing no less than in society. Local guys, mere backyard mechanics, would build Indy-style roadsters and haul them down to the track early in May, hoping to qualify them for the race. Way back, a local driver or two had even made the race, although by the 1960s Indy was strictly for professional drivers and teams. One of Dad's racing buddies, George Tichener, had tried to qualify a car at Indy three different times and had actually made the field once, only to be bumped by a faster car later in the day. Our next-door neighbor on Melbourne Avenue, a man named Hank Easley, had also driven a car at Indy in an unsuccessful qualifying effort sometime in the mid-1950s. Hank's opinions about each year's drivers, cars, engines, and such were thereafter held in high esteem. Hank had a real kick-ass street rod that he was always working on in his garage: a 1932 Ford three-window coupe with a Mercury flathead V-8, lots of chromed engine parts, and great big racing slicks for rear wheels. I have no idea what became of this hot rod; I never did see the thing out of his garage, and I couldn't say if it even ran. But Hank was always working on it, I'll give him that. Between dirt-track racing, drag racing, and the annual Indy 500, I was a semiserious racing fan throughout high school. Like most kids at the time, I understood basic automobile mechanics, could tear down and rebuild a carburetor if the need presented itself, and did most of the work on my own cars myself. I left Logansport for Purdue in 1965 and Purdue for graduate work at Wisconsin in 1969. Those years were times of great turmoil in society at large, as well as in the mind of a working-class kid from the sticks of Indiana who was trying to craft an intellectual persona appropriate to the era. I studied philosophy, then sociology, affiliated myself with various left-wing groups and causes, hooked up with a woman who spoke seven languages and actually liked classical music, and began systematically discarding my small-town Hoosier self. I found that showing an interest in chamber music and improvisational jazz turned more of the right heads than listening to Roy Orbison or Patsy Cline, that carting around the latest issue of the Nation or the Village Voice created an impression that carrying that month's Motor Trend did not. So my enthusiasm for motorsports went into the personality trash can along with every other hicksterism-of which, I must say, there were quite a number-that I could identify in myself, including, even, how I pronounced certain words. This period of-forgive me, sweet Jesus!-existential inauthenticity persisted for years. But I was a lucky young professor who managed to publish a lot and to rise quickly through the ranks, so, with some successes as a bona fide intellectual under my belt, it was possible to renew certain youthful passions. One memorable turning point was hearing Bob Dylan's album Nashville Skyline , the first cut from which was a maudlin, off-key duet with-Johnny Cash! I spent the first fifteen years of my career at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. About thirty miles south of Amherst is Riverside Park, an amusement park that featured one of the world's greatest roller coasters and a top-of-the-line half-mile paved oval racetrack where NASCAR "modifieds" compete every weekend. (I learned recently that the Riverside track no longer exists.) Although modifieds are not stock cars, they are very cool, very noisy racing machines that are lickety-split fast on a half-mile paved track. I can't remember why (or when) I went to the Riverside races for the first time, but the experience fanned a spark in me that I had thought had long before been extinguished. Going to the races at Riverside became my favorite weekend entertainment. Sadly, neither my then-wife nor my friends took much of a shine to such a "low-life" amusement as auto racing, so my visits were limited to perhaps two a year. Continue... Excerpted from FIXIN' TO GIT by James Wright Copyright © 2002 by James Wright Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prelude: On the Road to Charlotte
1 Car Culture and the American Dream
Daytona Pilgrimage
2 Deconstructing NASCAR
Back Home Again in Indiana
3 Racin' Basics
Lost in the Land of Cotton
4 The NASCAR Subculture
Short-Track Showdown
5 The Yankee Invasion
Nantahala Interlude
6 Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms
Grand Finale in Atlanta
7 We Are Family