SPRINGFIELD, Missouri. In this fast-growing city in Southwest Missouri, stock car racing ranks among the most popular televised sports, frequently beating major league baseball and college football in weekend Neilsen ratings. “It goes back to the moonshiners in the Ozarks,” says Danny Ray Randall, who drives a Pepsi-Cola delivery truck. “We have a long and proud tradition of driving very fast and very stupid.”
“I was just going to the drug store to pick up some Preparation H when–boom!”
So it is no surprise that NASCAR has chosen Springfield as the site of the first event in its newest racing category, the Depends Diapers Senior Citizen Series, which will pit over-65 drivers against each other in a circuit that its sponsors hope will draw new fans in the all-important denture-and- laxative-demographic.
“We did a survey and found out that what fans watch races for is the crashes,” said NASCAR spokesman Randy Powell. “Unfortunately, our younger drivers don’t deliver enough fender-benders and human fatalities to maintain our current advantage over baseball and extreme bass fishing tournaments.”
“I’m gonna bump draft that Taurus all the way to the early-bird special at Olive Garden!”
NASCAR’s new initiative is an attempt to replicate the success of the PGA Senior Tour in professional golf, which has demonstrated that there is an audience for sporting events featuring “mature” athletes whose physical skills have declined. Drivers 75 or older have a 37% higher accident rate than younger drivers, and the number of fatalities resulting from the crashes they cause is expected to rise dramatically as baby boomers begin to reach retirement age in large numbers. That grim statistic doesn’t bother Ethel Webster, a 72-year-old grandmother of four as she climbs into her modified Buick LeSabre for time trials that will determine her position at the start of Sunday’s race.
Webster: Her eyesight is gone, so she gave up bridge for stock car racing.
“I could be playing bridge, but my eyesight is starting to go and frankly I can’t tell a heart from a diamond any more,” she says with a laugh as she adjusts the adult diaper that she hopes will carry her until her first pit stop at the 250-mile mark of the 500-mile race. “I’ve got a Jim Nabors three-CD set that will keep me from getting bored,” she says as she pulls out of the pits, knocking a rear view mirror off the right side of Velma Sims’ Pontiac Bonneville as she goes.
“Tell her not to get out of the car to go to the bathroom this time, would you?”
“God damn you, watch out,” Rusty Ertsen, Sims’ pit boss yells at Webster, causing confusion in the mind of his driver, a retired high school English teacher. “What?” Sims yells over the roar of her engine.
“Sorry–I couldn’t hear you over the roar of my 600 horsepower hemi.”
“I was giving Ethel Webster hell for knocking off your rear view mirror,” Ertsen yells at Sims.
“You gave her a smock for her derriere?” Sims asks, a puzzled expression on her face.
“JUST GO!” he screams at her, and she lurches back onto the track, failing to check her blind spot as she goes, causing two cars to collide as they swerve to avoid her.
“I dropped my reading glasses–was that the caution flag?”
“It’s such a nice day for a drive,” she says to herself as she edges up the oval where higher speeds are possible. Loyal NASCAR fan Jimmy Dale Walton lets out a whoop as he sees Sims hit thirty, then forty miles an hour. “This is what it’s all about,” he says as he sips a Busch beer from a plastic cup. “Thirty-five high performance luxury sedans burning rubber for 500 miles with their left turn signals blinkin’ every inch of the way!”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “From NASCAR to NPR.”