Like John Hinderaker, I have had a hard time understanding what NASCAR is all about from our perch in Minnesota, where ice fishing rings our chimes. John Derbyshire’s 2003 National Review article “NASCAR Nation: One journalist’s voyage of discovery” served to cultivate my appreciation for the NASCAR phenomenon, even though Derbyshire’s voyage seems to have consisted of little more than reading Tom Wolfe’s classic 1965 Esquire article on Junior Johnson and viewing a race from the infield. Derbyshire’s article left the politics of the dramatis personae unexplored, but he concluded suggestively:
I am going to leave it to professional analysts to decide whether NASCAR Dads will be decisive in the 2004 elections, and just register the following impression that I brought away from Talladega with me: Whoever comes into stock-car racing, whether as driver, or owner, or fan, or political pollster, or just inquisitive outsider, will find a sport in which physical courage is admired, family bonds are treasured, the nation’s flag is honored, and the proper point of balance between courteous restraint and necessary aggression is constantly debated. I greatly enjoyed my day at the races. If NASCAR fans really do form a voting bloc, I would much rather they were on my side than on the other. I am glad to have made the acquaintance of a thrilling, noisy, colorful, commercial, very American sport.
President Bush didn’t need Derbyshire’s help to understand the political significance of the NASCAR scene. In anticipating President Bush’s 2004 visit to the Daytona 500 in February 2004, the AP posed a challenge:
Try finding a Democrat in the NASCAR garage. Richard Petty looked around and smiled. “You’d be hard-pressed,” said Petty, the winningest driver in Nextel Cup history and