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Animal House trumps the Oscars

by Monte Dutton

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Nothing wrong with NASCAR can’t be fixed by a race at Martinsville Speedway.

Some people are going to disagree. They’re the ones who think every race should be in some place like Las Vegas.

They’re the ones who believed Gillian Zucker, president of Auto Club Speedway, when she claimed that she couldn’t draw a crowd in February because of — get this! — the Academy Awards.

As if there were fans saying, “I’d love to see that race, but I just can’t leave without knowing if ‘Hurt Locker’ won the Oscar.”

Who can give it up for Jimmie Johnson when Dame Judi Dench is on the tube?

Some of those fans watched the Tums Fast Relief 500 on television — and probably had a jolly good time making stupid jokes about its title — and the wonders of Martinsville probably seemed elusive.

Something about television makes race cars look slower. Martinsville can look like a Homecoming Parade in fast-forward. Specifically, it can look like the Homecoming Parade in Animal House, complete with calls for “ramming speed” and an abundance of profanity among the participants.

Do not judge Martinsville if you’ve never been there.

On TV, it also looks a great deal like bumper cars at the county fair. Up close — and by that, I mean, in the lower rows of the grandstands, squinting at cars flashing by and trying to keep dust, grime and oil out of the eyes — it looks as if all the cars were constructed by NASA, not organizations with names like Furniture Row Racing.

It’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys. At the end, unflappable guys like Jeff Burton are… flappable. Being a race driver, Burton sometimes seems embarrassed by the perception that he has good sense. Maniacs are more the norm in the circus to which he ran away many years ago. After Burton’s teammate, Kevin Harvick, got mad at him, Burton’s first reaction was to defend himself (“There is nothing I did that I regret, and there is nothing I won’t do next week.”) and his second was to take mild offense that he acted like everyone else.

“I drive like that every week,” he snapped.

“I have this reputation of being a passive driver, and I drive hard every week. I drove hard this week, but I didn’t drive any harder than I normally do.”

Martinsville would be a lot better place to have every race than Vegas, solely on the basis of the post-race quotes.

Monte Dutton has covered motorsports for The Gaston (NC) Gazette since 1993. He was named writer of the year by the National Motorsports Press Association in 2008. His blog NASCAR This Week (nascar.rbma.com) features all of his reporting on racing, roots music and life on the road. E-mail Monte at nascar_thisweek@yahoo.com. ‘© 2010 King Features Syndicate

On TV, racin’ at Martinsville looks more like a homecoming parade in fast-forward. Up close and in person, its more fun than a barrel of monkeys. (Photo: Getty Images)

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