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'NASCAR...more fun than generally allowed, unless you turn Buddhist and get another lifetime' -- P. J. O'Rourke

     NASCAR's Andrew Giangola: A New Yorker looks at NASCAR...and this is what he sees (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   It's funny how life plays games with you.
   One moment you're grumpy, looking for a cup of coffee, or a Monster or a Red Bull, and fretting about snow and sleet and parking passes to the next race....
   ...and the next moment you're immersed in a poignant scene inside a Richmond V.A. hospital with Marine Sgt. Russ Friedman – 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, reliving some of those frightening encounters with Iraqi IEDs and RPGs and flashbacks, in the midst of a wheelchair brigade...and some not so lucky to be in wheelchairs yet.
      Andrew Giangola lives in lower Manhattan, not known as a place jammed with rabid NASCAR fans. In fact New York City itself probably doesn't have all that many NASCAR fans anyway, or else that New York City Speedway, over on Staten Island, might have fared better...though Giangola does find Big Apple race fans sometimes in the strangest places.
   But here it is a snowy grey morning, downcast with some sleet or freezing rain, and we're packing for Daytona and the NASCAR season opener, and we're opening the mail. And here's something quite curious – the NASCAR book Giangola has been working on the past two years.
   NASCAR books over the past few years have become an epidemic. One or two might be worth reading, but most seem to be churned out by that giant NASCAR marketing-PR machine by the dozens, most too fluffy even for a coffee table. NASCAR PR people sometimes even churn them out themselves, not even under pseudonyms.


  The Daytona Shootout is on tap Saturday night....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   What we'd really like to read is an insider's story of the real NASCAR, its secrets, its men and their decisions.
   But while we wait for that, and for the roads to clear, here's Giangola and his take on this sport.
   Remember now, he's only been around NASCAR since sometime in '03. So we're not talking David Poole or Monte Dutton.
   And it should be noted upfront that Giangola is one of NASCAR's top PR men and marketing agents -- whatever you want to call the guys hired     to work out of New York to try to create a bigger NASCAR presence or just awareness up there, among other chores.
   Now there are a bunch of tough and dirty jobs in this sport, but trying to put NASCAR up front in eyeballs in NYC is probably not the easiest.
   Heck, just learning NASCAR, or teaching someone who lives in New York how to 'do' NASCAR, how to understand what NASCAR is really all about, well, that's probably not easy either.
   So Giangola got the call to get out on the road, check out the sport's tracks, ramble through the infields, meet some real die-hard fans and get a feel for just what this thing really is.
   Now, two years later, we get the results.
   Yes, part of the book ('The Weekend Starts on Wednesday'), maybe even much too much, is classic PR puffery and marketing stuff.
   However, at the end of it all, there was the unexpected sense that sometimes we get so caught up in dodging trees in this sports business that we miss the big picture of the forest itself.

  Tony Stewart will again be centerstage at Daytona's annual pre-500 Media Frenzy (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   You're going to be hearing a lot about drivers and crew chiefs and car owners and races over the next 10 months, beginning with NASCAR's annual Media Frenzy Daytona SpeedWeeks' opener Thursday at the track.
   What this is about, though, is the other side of the fence, with the people who really pay the freight for this sport.
   Some of it was surprising.
   There's Binghamton's Joe Striley and his huge cooler of chicken at Pocono...and Michigan's Ron Murphy walking across hot coals at midnight in the infield...and Toledo's Norma Horner, who turns her NASCAR weekends into eight-day marathons beginning pre-race Mondays.
   Jack Hege, now 82 and able to boast of attending every single Daytona 500 (and drinking beer with the late Tim Richmond)...and Mike Wright, who has more than 100 Richard Petty autographs, and who was following the King when just a kid back during that infamous feud of '72, and who remembers back when irate fans did more than hurl invectives at brash newcomer Darrell Waltrip.
   There's Pennsylvania's Jack Hoenstine, who this next May plans to make it down to Darlington Raceway again – for the 59th straight season, and who remembers when drivers would smoke a cigarette during cautions (yes, David Pearson did have a lighter on his car's dashboard)....and who was there when North Carolina Motor Speedway first opened back in'65.
   Giangola rewraps Poole's Wessa Miller story, one of the classics, about the girl with spina bifida, who gave the late Dale Earnhardt a lucky penny that February back in 1998.
   He finds a one-time opera singer from Winston-Salem's School of the Arts, John Hyland, who wound up a U.S. Army scout and was then seriously injured in Iraq, finally losing a leg after more than 30 operations....and who may well sing the National Anthem at one of this season's races.
    Giangola digs into the Russ Friedman story. That's the guy who won a contest last year and had the Richmond race 'named' after him.


  Marine Sgt. Russ Friedmann: the story behind the name (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

And humor – what would NASCAR racing be without LOL?
   Like 'Tire Man' Chris MacNicol, who attends races wearing a right-front tire bought off Joe Nemechek. (In 'real life' he's a medical supplies sales rep.)
   And the girl with the dragon tattoo in the Pocono infield...and one of Kyle Busch's PR people (now there's a thankless job, even if it comes with all the chocolate you can eat)...and the 'super fans' with their tee-shirts and posters and flags and die-casts and race-day war paint.
   The moment a fan who spent 16 years going to races trying to meet Jeff Gordon finally did....the San Diego girl who calls herself Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s biggest fan....the Michigan family that lost its home in fire, and much of its NASCAR memorabilia.
   A hair stylist in Boise, Idaho, who keeps a Carl Edwards' cardboard cutout at her shop, and who offers Monday specials whenever Edwards wins...a Dallas (Texas) college physics professor who wrote her own book on the physics of NASCAR....
   The mountain climber who carried a NASCAR flag to the top of Mt. Everest, Canadian Dr. Pat Hickey (who saw his first NASCAR race, ironically, in Darlington, S.C.).
    Space shuttle pilot Doug Hurley, from near Watkins Glen, now a Joey Logano-Tony Stewart fan, since his cousin Nan married crew chief Greg Zipadelli.
    The girl from Fargo who wants to become the next Jeff Gordon....and the girl from Greensboro, Marilyn Green, who turned her role as the first Miss Winston into a top modeling agency...
   The Duke freshman who is also trying to launch a racing career...
   The guy who went from 'Bob's Party Bus' psychedelia to born-again Christian in the Talladega infield....
    And the woman who spread the ashes of her friend in victory lane....
    Giangola says he even found a NASCAR sport bar in lower Manhattan, before it was razed for a TriBeCa condo. (And he is quick to say that "on any given weekend New York is one of the top-five markets in the country for total NASCAR viewership.")
   And there are some celebrity vignettes, with famous chefs Mario Batali and Rachael Ray, Brad Daugherty, financial whiz Jim 'Mad man' Cramer, NFL lineman George Martin, and of course Kevin Costner and Tom Cruise (a racing buff since working with the late Paul Newman)....and a beauty queen bit – Kristen Dalton, Miss USA 2009, who played upon her North Carolina roots by using a NASCAR motif in the pageant.
   NASCAR fans all.


  New York City: a tough town to work (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


  Sure, there's a lot of puff, more than enough sponsor mentions (did we point out he works for NASCAR?).
   But what we really end up with here is more than just a bunch of interesting stories about race fans here and yon, Make-A-Wish kids and war veterans and their trials and tribulations, their triumphs, their grief, their comedic touches, but rather a look at a New Yorker learning about NASCAR, not just its current fans, but some of its long-time fans...and a lot of history.
   Yes, there are a lot of NASCAR-generated story lines, sponsor-driven stories.
   The book's 'Afterward, by Kyle Busch,' is a little over the top when Rowdy is quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson.
   And the list of 'acknowledgments' is a full roster of NASCAR's own A-list of flacks and such. Clearly Giangola doesn't have to worry about his bosses pulling his NASCAR hard card any time soon.
   But there are stories here clearly worth a closer look...generally either missed or just glossed over by most of us.
   Sure, maybe this is a 'company' read.
   Still it's an interesting collection of people, though some of the historic lore has been written so many times that many of the hardcore have taken it for granted.
   Bottom line: maybe when we're complaining about yellow line rules and rear-spoilers and lack of horsepower off the corners and cars running too fast into the turns at California and elsewhere, we should step back and consider that there's another side to this whole story – the men and women who have invested a lot of their own personal lives into this sport...on the other side of the fence.
   Thanks, dude. Nice read on a snowy day.
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  Kyle 'Rowdy' Busch (L) meeting financier Jim Cramer. Quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson? Who would have thought....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



It's easy to get caught up in

It's easy to get caught up in the griping and bitching about how racing isn't as good as it used to be. Thanks for bringing to light the happiness that racing brings to us fans. That sounds corny, but I mean it.
Reading this article reminded me how much I enjoy watching races with my 9-and-a-half year-old nephew. He doesn't care about how high the spoiler is or the half-empty grandstands. He just loves watching cars race.

Yes, excellent: I opened the

Yes, excellent: I opened the book, figuring on little....but I was quickly mesmerized. There are some really poignant pieces in here. I was impressed. Check it out and you'll see what I mean.

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