My friend Ryan told me about this sad story recently. As someone who grew up in North Carolina, going to NASCAR races was part of my childhood. Now the North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, NC – 65 miles away from Fayetteville, where I grew up – is being auctioned off. The auction is today, and nobody knows whether it will be bought by someone who wants to keep it as a race track, or whether it will be bought by someone who wants to make it into a golf course or paramilitary training facility.
I went to several races at Rockingham when I was younger, and several more at Darlington Motor Speedway, just 50 miles south. I remember watching Lake Speed (which I still think is the best name for a race car driver ever) win his first (and his last) race in his hideous purple Buick. I enjoyed watching the racing, certainly, but I also enjoyed it as a cultural event. It was just part of growing up in the South, for me. The sad part about this story is not just that a part of my cultural roots and childhood experience is gone, but also that it is a victim of the commodification and mainstreaming of a sport. I guess it’s inevitable, when a sport like NASCAR gets to be more and more popular, that it’s going to expand geographically, the prices of race tickets are going to go up, etc. Some might say that this is a good thing, and that people like me who dislike it are motivated purely by nostalgia. That may be true. And it’s not like racing was in its pure and unsullied form even when I was growing up; they still had sponsors’ decals all over their cars, after all. The sad part for me is that going to a race at Rockingham was a cultural event that used to be unique to the South, and now the sport has become a lot more generic.