NASCAR embodies a brave and futile rejection of Benjamin Franklin's famous aphorism, "In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." In this way, it is a gospel sport, because while the rest of America lives in denial of death and has made peace with cultural conformity, NASCAR fans instinctively know that we are made for more. This is, I believe, one of the subconscious reasons for NASCAR's broadening appeal in American life.

Take taxes. NASCAR's story begins with young bootleggers in modified cars outrunning the law in the back hills of Georgia. We're not just talking about the Prohibition era, but decades following it, when avoiding heavy federal and state liquor taxes—a key tool of state power—was the engine that drove the business. Such bootlegging was partly about poor Southerners finding a way to make a living. Yet it was also about evading a creeping federal government still resented by Confederate holdouts. It was a defiance of the Constitution of the United States by otherwise good and law-abiding citizens, even churchgoers.

NASCAR blossomed just as the country was increasingly conformed to Northern mores, especially to the suburban culture that swears allegiance to Sobriety, Safety, and Security. NASCAR would not bend the knee, and we still see residual outlaw resentment in T-shirts and bumper stickers sported at NASCAR events: BEERIODIC TABLE OF ELEMENTS, GUN CONTROL MEANS USING BOTH HANDS, AND DRIVE IT LIKE YOU STOLE IT. It's enough to make well-to-do suburban parents tremble—and cover their children's ears and eyes. The ubiquitous presence of the Confederate flag at NASCAR races signals this continued defiance of the larger culture, or as another T-shirt slogan puts ...

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August 2008

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