NEW YORK. Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Center has long been the time and place where young New Yorkers first imbibe culture, beginning with Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts in 1958. “It is a wonderful opportunity,” says Letitia Nerfosa-Weil as she drops off her son Charles (“not ‘Chuck’ or ‘Charlie,’” his mother says) and daughter Chloe. “They have to learn to endure boredom, it’s all part of growing up.”
But this Saturday is different; instead of listening to Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” budding aesthetes will instead be exposed to “The Young Person’s Guide to NASCAR,” a four-installment program put together by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and The National Association for Stock Car Racing, the pre-eminent bodies in their respective fields of highbrow aestheticism and modified stock car racing.
“So many young New Yorkers must wait until they matriculate at a ‘safety’ school in the south before they hear about NASCAR,” says Evan Winstead, the representative from the elite partner in the joint venture. “They must learn to appreciate stock car racing if they are to rule the unwashed masses someday as C-suite executives of public companies.”
The NASCAR rep, Rusty Ray Mergen agrees. “If you look at the demographics of America, the high-tax blue states are losing population to the low-tax red states,” he says before expectorating snuff juice into a New York Philharmonic souvenir plastic drink cup. “Y’all better learn you some NASCAR up here before we consolidate New England into one state to save money on post offices.”
The session begins with a welcome from Mergen and Winstead, who point out the many similarities between classical music and stock car racing. “Stock car racing is boring–one left turn after another,” Winstead says, and an abashed smile creeps across Mergen’s face. “Just like classical music!” he adds in an effort to soften the blow in the bipartisan spirit of the day.
“You got that right,” Mergen says. “You ever open up the envelope for your Boston Symphony subscription series and groan because it’s the same old, same old, year after year. The three B’s, with maybe–maybe–a fourth B, some Bruckner, thrown in?”
It’s Winstead’s turn to shrug his shoulders in embarrassment. “Hey, it saves on photocopies!” he says, and the two polar opposites share a laugh.
“Can anyone think of another way NASCAR and classical music are similar?” Winstead asks the audience members, and a young boy shoots his hand up.
“They’re primarily for white people?” he asks tentatively, and the two panelists nod their heads. “Good point,” Mergen says. “When was the last time anybody heard Duke Ellington–America’s greatest composer–at the symphony?”
“And NASCAR?” Winstead says, but not at all defensively. “The only black people are in the . . .” he says, before hesitating.
“Let me finish that for ya, good buddy,” Mergen says. “There aren’t any.”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “From NASCAR to NPR: Bring Red and Blue States Together With Purple Prose.”