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NASCAR's debut as a nationally televised sport will irrevocably change stockcar racing. 

Bye-Bye Bubba

Even if you had long hair and your every philosophical thought was devoted to bucking the Establishment, it was difficult to grow up in the South and not learn a little bit about Richard Petty. Stock-car racing satisfied a deep-felt need in the Southern psyche. It had to do with still not being completely reconciled to the fact that the South had lost the War. It also had a lot to do with the Southern man's competitive streak, and with his unexplained need to go fast and turn left. Stock-car racing was pervasive. You'd either been to a local dirt track or to one of the newer facilities and you knew the feel of the roar as the pack passed by and the hot-engine smell that hung heavy in the warm night air — or you were surrounded by those who had. In self-defense, you absorbed the smallest details of races and drivers and cars. God forbid you wouldn't know the name of the winner at Talladega or Darlington the next day if somebody at school brought up The Race. The shame would have been total. Stock-car racing may have been the original Southern guy thing. But there's more than bubbas and shade-tree mechanics to stock-car racing today. Back then, rules were few, prizes were small and speed was the only meaningful word in a driver's vocabulary. Now, two years after NASCAR's big 50th anniversary, rules abound, prizes are as much as a million dollars, and NASCAR is making drivers limit their engines and use aerodynamics to hold down their speed. The difference between yesterday and today for NASCAR is money. Not the prize-money given to winning drivers. That's chicken feed compared to what's pouring through the gates, what's being paid by sponsors and, above all, for TV rights. In years past, telecasts of NASCAR racing, if there were any, were on an ad hoc network for viewing in scattered parts of Dixie. This season, for the first time, two major networks bid for and won the rights to NASCAR races: Fox-TV and NBC-TV. The season kicked off on Fox at the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18, and the network devoted much of its Sunday to the race. The debut was both spectacular and tragic. A major pileup late in the race involved nearly 20 cars and looked like a train wreck, yet all the drivers walked away. Then, in the last lap, NASCAR icon Dale Earnhardt was killed in a crash. NASCAR's debut as a nationally televised sport, just as much as the death of a major figure in NASCAR history, will irrevocably change stock-car racing. Soon there'll be drivers — and kids looking up to them — from places out in Idaho instead of little towns like Kannapolis, N.C. Gone will be names like Bubba and Billy Joe in the grandstands and in the cars, to be replaced by drivers and fans named Brad and Chad. Also missing will be the corn-bread-and-molasses accents in the broadcast booths and driver interviews, to be replaced by flat Midwestern tones from announcers and drivers who won't know kudzu from corn liquor. NASCAR is being capitalized, corporatized and televised. Just like with Krispy Kreme, the lure of big profits is taking a treasured mark of the South and nationalizing it. The packaging will be vastly improved, and even the more arcane aspects of camber and carburetion will become entertainment from one side of the continent to the other. But, inevitably, it will be different. Southerners abhor change, especially in their close-held traditions. But we brought it on ourselves. If we'd just kept our mouths shut about stock-car racing, none of this would ever have happened. And things like the feel of the roar of the pack and the hot smells of a homegrown track would stay the
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