Friday, February 26, 1999; Page A26
STOCK CAR racing has come a long way for a
sport that supposedly had its origins among
backwoods drivers outrunning revenue agents on
moonshine runs. A visionary promoter named Bill
France got the sport organized into something called
NASCAR more than 50 years ago, and although it
took awhile getting beyond its rural southern base,
the racing of Fords and Chevrolets and Pontiacs just
like the ones your father never drove is now one of
the most popular sports in the country as measured
by TV ratings -- second only to football.
But even as it approaches the pinnacle of popularity,
and probably a monster television contract for the
next century, NASCAR is going to great lengths to
assure its ever growing legions of fans that it won't
become like all those other sports, where millionaire
athletes turn in lackluster performances in about half
their games and stiff-arm the fans on their way out
of the dressing room. Its drivers, NASCAR points
out, will still spend hours signing autographs and
talking with their followers. Many of the racing
teams open the shops where they prep their cars to
the tourist trade. And the very nature of the sport --
in which a participant going 190 mph can be
knocked out of competition at any second, often
amid a whirling mass of smoke and flying sheet
metal -- does encourage a degree of humility rare
among professional athletes.
Still, the sport's success is making a lot of NASCAR
drivers multimillionaires, some at a very young age.
The leading example is Jeff Gordon, who at 27 is the
*** figure in stock-car racing and a veritable
conglomerate of endor***ts and business
interests. Mr. Gordon is a skilled and daring driver,
backed by a good team. He is also being regularly
booed by a fairly large number of fans, even though
they are, as The Post's Liz Clarke notes, "hard-
pressed to find something to resent, other than his
good looks, polite manner and beautiful wife."
Perhaps that's enough, given NASCAR's good ol'
boy roots (that and the fact that Mr. Gordon has
been named one of People magazine's "50 Most
Beautiful People"). It's nothing personal, he should
understand, just a reminder to pay attention to the
"I don't believe you can find any evidence of the fact that I have
changed government policy *solely* because of a contribution."
-- President Clinton, March 10, 1997