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Choosing to follow NASCAR is the pits

March 12, 2002

"Driving fast and turning left are all that's left because, Realistically that's all one ever does."

- The Austin Lounge Lizards

I am sitting here wearing my No. 88 UPS Dale Jarrett hat, smoking a Winston and drawing up plans to have my headphones hardwired to pit row.

In his honor, I'm thinking about having Old Copper's engine re-bored to 4.125 with a 3.340-inch stroke - trouble on a six-cylinder maybe, so I might just have to drop in a Ford V8 SVO block.

And call me a rebel if you must, but I will refuse to kneel down to the suits in the NASCAR front office by installing restrictor plates. And that whining Sterling Marlin better not show his little dough face around Hagerstown or I'll run him into the Burhan's overpass (or is it an underpass) so fast it will make his Hans spin.

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Well, I'm trying. Trying to become a NASCAR fan, now that there is talk of building a big oval in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle. I want to get in ahead of the curb, so to speak, so I'm boning up on the Winston Cup circuit. Already I have learned two things:

1.) I hate Jeff Gordon.

2.) It is not entirely clear to me why I am supposed to hate Jeff Gordon.

But I hate him, there's no gain saying that, and no one's better at hating than me. Now I just have to find out what he looks like, so when he's racing in Charles Town I can stand up and bellow "Yo Gordon, you stink! Yeah, I'm talking to you!"

Bellowing is a necessary skill to have for a NASCAR fan, yes, even the women, because it is my understanding the cars are - well, let's just say that mufflers don't come as standard equipment.

Which could be a sore spot, especially in Jefferson County and particularly Shepherdstown, where I am sure a "Citizens Against NASCAR Tracks" (CANT) branch opened for business about three seconds after the proposal first aired.

They don't even want a decent, four-lane road running through their county which might make it possible to drive 55 without getting stuck behind trailer-park living, mini-van driving, yard-sale-hopping, never-40-mph-exceeding - what was I talking about? Oh, NASCAR, right.

You think a NASCAR track is going to fly in Jefferson County? Where they gonna put it, Murphy's Landing? "The Old Crow Stonewall Jackson Firecracker 400 Shootout."

No, I don't see that coming to Jefferson County. Now, Inwood may be another story. It could be the next logical progression for Shiley Acres.

Of course, whether it's coming anywhere is a question open for debate. Apparently, the only local official aware of this 1,000-acre track site is W.Va. State Sen. Herb Snyder, who says, in effect, that the reason racing officials haven't heard about it is that it's bigger than NASCAR. Which in the South is like saying it's bigger than the Almighty AND sweetened tea.

Snyder won't identify the investors, but he says that they represent the corporations that generally sponsor NASCAR races. So without giving it away, maybe someone like Banheuser-Aush or Lood Fion.

Conversely, it probably rules out Belvedere vodka or Patek Philippe. Although come to think about it, why should it? I read the other day that Wal-Mart is going after a more sophisticated, upscale clientele, so why couldn't Ballantine Books, Givenchy Parfums or The Macallan single malt scotch whisky go after ... well ... er ... moving right along.

I think it would be a fantastic way for West Virginia and NASCAR to break new ground and attract new fans.

"Hello and welcome to Baker Heights, West Virginia, and the inaugural Fidelity Magellan Mutual Fund 500." That's a race even someone who hates Jeff Gordon could love.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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