I was recently invited to the Atlanta Motor Speedway by some representatives of Nascar and a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education group. They wanted me to see a program for high school students and essentially try to partner with Georgia Tech. That was all upfull and right.
Nascar, on the other hand, does not have an image that, shall we say, resonates with me and my world view. To be frank, I hold the stereotype of Nascar fans as drunk, sunburned, sweaty southern rednecks. I know that in a crowd of nearly 110,000 people that cannot be universally true, but stereotypes being what they are, that doesn’t really matter. The truth is that all stereotypes hold a kernel of truth somewhere; however, ugly they may be or inapplicable to every individual in the group.
At the Atlanta Motor Speedway on this particular Friday afternoon during the pre-race practice runs, the temperature was about 60 zillion degrees Fahrenheit. Apparently Nascar fans go to the races in Winnebago’s, trailers and tents and camp out for the few race days in this excruciating heat. Also, there are no trees within at least a mile of the track, so everyone is camped out directly in the crosshairs of the sun. Hence the sweaty and sunburned sections of the stereotype.
What struck me as I drove onto the grounds, was the number of confederate flags. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many per capita in my life. Indeed some of them were on extra thick poles, which may have been crosses in their former lives, and were at least 10 or 15ft long. At least the breeze had sense enough not to blow, so all the flags were forced to bow down as I drove by. In addition to that, I even saw a poster asking people to join the “Sons of the Confederacy.” I really was shocked by that. I thought the Sons went out with Birth of a Nation or Gone With the Wind. I didn’t know they were still around in Madea’s modern world free of stereotypes. Maybe it is Tyler Perry's fault.
The whole time I was trying to be quiet and inconspicuous. After the demonstration with the students I was standing reading some of the program’s brochures. I was wearing a Tech shirt and a guy came up to me and said, “So you go to Georgia Tech?”
Think of the most stereotypical southern drawl you can and then replay the question in your mind so you can hear what I heard. The guy was a scruffy looking white man with a huge belly that hung down below his belt. His t-shirt had a race car on it with smoke coming from the exhausts in the form of a rebel flag. He had on shorts, work boots and a hunting hat. He was both sunburned and sweating. This is a non-fiction account.
“No.” That was enough for me, keep it short and don’t say anything more than the answer to the question – standard procedure with New York’s Finest and the Sons of the Confederacy.
“So whaduya do there?”
“I work there.”
He kept pressing me. Once I explained what I did, what he said next took me in a Nascar ride back in time.
He turned to look directly at me and lowered his head so he could see me above his shades and under the brim of his hunting hat.
“So yer one of those highfalutin fellers ain’ cha?”