The Roman philosopher Seneca said "luck is when preparation meets opportunity", although a lot of 'sconnies think it was Vince Lombardi who first said it. And if that's what luck is, one of our local guys, Matt Kenseth from just down the road in Cambridge, was lucky yesterday when he won the rain-shortened Daytona 500. He led only one lap of the famous race that starts the NASCAR season, but it was the lap he led that counted. It was the one before the rain came and NASCAR said the race was over. He won the NASCAR championship in 2003 and has had some really good years, but last year wasn't one of them. It's a great start to the new season for the personable young man.
I've always been a fan of motor racing, but wasn't an avid NASCAR fan until Matt jumped from the junior circuit to the big-time about a decade ago. My wife, who didn't know a piston from a pistol, got to be friends with Coleen Kenseth, when she dropped off her dry-cleaning on the way to work one day in 2001 and Coleen said "are you any relation to the guy who's on the radio?". The two became fast friends, and finally my wife said "let's watch NASCAR this weekend". For the uninitiated, NASCAR does a great job of explaining the sport during the weekly telecasts. My wife learned about drifting, drafting, camber, caster, restrictor plates, and all sorts of other technical stuff. I learned that Matt was about to land a huge sponsorship from DeWalt Tools long before a lot of other folks - because my wife heard it from Coleen.
We also learned that among our professional peers, we were unusual in that we actually watched the races. The most common reaction when either of us would be "caught" talking NASCAR with somebody else at the workplace would be something like "oh, yah...NASCAR. I just don't get that". You soon learn that even here in Wisconsin, which has produced a disproportionately high number of very successful race drivers, a lot of folks still consider NASCAR to be a largely southern thing which evokes images of good old boys and rum-runners. When they'd say "I just don't get that", it was code for "why the hell are YOU a NASCAR fan???". Just to tweak my nose at the NASCAR snobs at work several years ago, I put a four-inch high "17" decal in the window of my big black Caddy ElDorado. (Kenseth's car is number 17.) Reactions ranged from "you put a NASCAR thing on a car like THAT?" to "what does the 17 mean?".
I'm hard-pressed to think of another major sport or activity which has done as good a job marketing itself over the past decade as NASCAR. But still, one of the problems drivers like Matt Kenseth...and Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson face is that they're not "good old boys". One of the widely-read NASCAR columnists recently called Gordon and Johnson "cool Californians, rather than colorful southerners". And it's often pointed out that Kenseth is from "WES-consin", a pronunciation that annoys every 'sconnie. So, to all my 'sconnie friends who "don't get it", remember that a home run is just three left turns.