When I was a kid in the 70s, all I knew about auto racing was what I had gleaned from the Speed Racer show and ads in comic books for slot car tracks, Hot Wheels, and Johnny Lightning. What I gathered from all that was that the apex of racing was the Indy 500. I knew who the Unser brothers were, and Johnny Rutherford, and I remember a book on “the world’s greatest race” that told the stories of guys like Jim Hurtubise.
But despite having grown up in the South, I never really developed a serious interest in racing (and those who recall my automotive history may well understand that.) As a participant in the larger culture, of course, I continued to recognize certain names — Foyt, Petty, Earnhardt, and so on — but even as coverage increased for NASCAR racing, I guess the Indy 500 was still the ultimate race in my mind. (The notion may also have been reinforced by my five years in Muncie, Indiana, where a reference to “Michael” in a sports headline was more likely to mean Andretti than even Jordan.)
But things change, of course, and that reached me with a resounding thud today as I leafed through the Sunday sports section of the local daily. I saw one article on the Indy 500 — at the very bottom of the back page. NASCAR news took up two-thirds of the page, even then (there’s apparently a big race taking place a couple of hours away from here in Charlotte.)
As I said, I’m not a big fan of racing, so I don’t have a dog in the fight, and on an intellectual level, I was aware of the rise and dominance of NASCAR. But as we all know, there’s a difference between intellectual and emotional knowledge, and the sense that your time is passing that comes with the latter. “It is the blight man was born for/ It’s Parnelli Jones you mourn for.”