Tuesday, August 25, 2009

NASCAR Sacrilege

Mark Martin is my least favorite driver. Oh, I know that is almost blasphemy to NASCAR nation because Mark has been nominated for stock car sainthood. Every time he's on t.v., listening to the announcers describe him in terms just short of reverential, I expect to see wings sprouting from his shoulders and a halo floating above his head. I've heard that NASCAR fans are vastly more Republican and conservative than Democrat and liberal and from the message boards I read, I'd say that true. Conservatives have always proudly proclaimed their opposition to political correctness in all its forms, but it turns out, they have their own rigid rules of p.c.-ness and one of them seems to be that never a discouraging word should be heard about Our Hero.

I'm prejudiced against Mark for several reasons. First is simply because even when I was young, I wasn't captivated by the too-good-to-be-true, holier-than-thou Pollyanna character. Heroines (and heroes) are more interesting if they have some human flaws.....and I expect Mark probably does have some flaws. I'd probably warm up to him a little more if I knew what they were but that's not allowed in the "Mark is perfect" mode NASCAR is in. From reporters to drivers to fans, they all know what is expected of them and so they speak the fawning words of flattery that make me want to roll my eyes and say, "oh, please, enough." I expect the driver who said anything but the required, "I look up to Mark soooo much," would be penalized by the sanctioning body.

The second reason for my anti-Mark bias is how much extra credit he gets just for being older. I'm old myself which is why I can get away with pooh-poohing the exaltation of age. Yes, I understand that Mark is 51 and I understand that he works out religiously to remain fit and yes, I think that is admirable but good Lord, he hasn't exactly returned from the dead. He was barely gone before he was back. Because of his age, Mark is judged by a different standard than the other drivers. Everything he accomplishes is seen through the prism of the number of birthdays he's accumulated and he's placed on an undeserved pedestal because of it.

For instance, I guess you're allowed to be nice if you're old. Jimmie Johnson is called a bland, vanilla corporate clone for being gracious and generally positive in interviews but when Mark is the same, its considered being a class act.

Kyle Busch is admired for his "winning is everything" attitude. Even people who don't like him have to admit that he's a great driver. That passionate, go-for-broke spirit seems to be what NASCAR applauds when it is Dale Earnhardt or DW, but when Mark forgoes the win and settles for second by not bumping Kyle out of the way, he's praised for his integrity.

Third, Mark strikes me as a dog in the manger. Oh, how coy he was about letting Rick Hendrick lure him back to racing. He debated; he was dubious; he was doubtful but in the end, he agreed, really, more as a favor to Mr H. than because he really wanted to, don't you know? Because Rick Hendrick appeared to have a plan - let Mark hold a spot with the 5 car in 2009 and then bring Brad Keslowski up from the Nationwide series in 2010. (Hendrick was quoted as saying that Brad was the future of Hendrick Racing).

But Mark has done extremely well with Hendrick equipment and Hendrick resources so after racing a few months, low and behold, it turned out that he wanted to stay on, for sure in 2010, and maybe even longer. And what about Special K anticipating the spot in Cup he thought was his? Well, "sorry about your luck, Kid, 'cause the 5 is mine and I'm keeping it". So, poor Brad is left hanging out to dry, looking around for a ride. We hear now that he's going to be racing for Roger Penske in 2010, not too shabby, but not exactly the primo HMS slot either.

I assume there is a killer instinct lurking beneath Mark's pretense of humility because I doubt you can be competitive in NASCAR's elite series without it. I could be totally wrong about him. Maybe he is every bit as humble and loyal and good and true and honorable (add your own descriptive adjectives here) as he is touted to be but excuse me if I decline to join the hallelujah chorus of Mark Martin adoration.