But someone who purports to knowrnthe South needs to know the NASCARrnscene, so I jumped at the chance to gornto Darlington with a buddy of mine whornhas been going for man’ vears and hasrneven written about it once or twice. Atrnthe crack of dawn on race da’, he and Irnset off for South Carohna, he pointingrnout such sights along the way as Eunice’srnGrocery (“Home of Flat Nose, thernWorld’s Only Tree Climbing Dog”) andrna combination house of prostitutionrnand—well, I’d better not say, but vou’drnnever guess.rnWe pulled into the town of Darlingtonrnabout the time the hungocr Saturday-rnnight infield revelers were wakingrnup and popping their first beers of thernmorning and went with the flow of trafficrndown a commercial strip, past SouthlandrnCun Works and a crane set up forrnbungee-jumping, to the press officernjust across the road from the track.rnThere we picked up our credentials.rn(Yes, I was impersonating a journalist.rnI told the Darlington p.r. folks thatrnChronicles is a magazine of vast readershiprnand influence, hi my defense letrnme say that grandstand admission ranrnfifty to one hundred dollars.)rnI drove through a tunnel under therngrandstand and across the track (stronglyrntempted to hang a right and take arnlap just for the hell of it) to the infield,rnwhich was a clutter of campers and trailersrnand converted buses, many of themrnwith platforms on top for viewing thernrace. Scores of flags flapped in thernbreeze, enough rebel ones to give thernencampment the look of a lost Confederaternregiment, but also plenty of U. S.rnflags, plus the flags of many states,rnflags with the colors of favorite drivers,rnand flags featuring portraits of HankrnWilliams Jr., and Elvis.rnThe infield folks had paid upwards ofrntwo hundred dollars to park their vehiihrrnhnmcdiati! ServicernCHRONICLESrnNEW SL’liStlRlBFRSrnlOI.LI’RE.l.MAlliERrn1-800-877-5459rncles and hook up to utilities, plus aboutrnthirty dollars a head. I began to figure:rn95,000 fans at these prices, plus televisionrnand radio coverage and commercialrnsponsors’ logos on everything inrnsight. Big bucks. And this was just onernof thirty or so races in a season thatrnstarted at Daytona in February andrnwouldn’t end until November, in Atlanta.rnWe parked the ear at the Goody’srnHeadache Powder Media Center (freernGoody’s, Pepsis, Slim Jims, Winstons,rnTexaco ballpoint pens, sunscreen, chewingrngum—this journalist business is allrnright), picked up a wad of press releases,rnand set out on a walking tour of the infield.rnA nearby concession area offered arnmobile bank machine, booths selling Tshirts,rncaps, patches, pork skin, hushpuppies,rnand $85 sunglasses, and toiletsrnlabeled “Men” and “Eadies” (thinkrnabout that). For once the men’s roomrnline was longer, not surprising since byrnmy rough count male fans outnumberedrnfemale ones by seven or eight to one.rnThis was not because women were unwelcomernor unappreciated (especiallyrnthose in tight cutoffs and haltertops).rnDespite the high testosterone level,rnhowever, most fans were subdued, sittingrnquietly by their campers and drinkingrnbeer, waiting for the race to start.rnSome were listening to country music,rnone or two to gospel (it was Sundayrnmorning, after all). Wc saw only onernhalfhearted fistfight. The night beforernhad been party time, but m buddy saidrnthat even on Saturday night things aren’trnwhat the’ used to be—or what the) stillrnare at, say, Talladega, where the policernenter the infield only in platoonrnstrength. “They’re afraid they’ll scratchrntheir Winnebagos” was his scornful explanation.rnBeing journalistic, we interviewedrnsome of the fans. Most were blue-collarrnguys from the South, although we talkedrnto groups from Michigan, Pennsylvania,rnand upstate New York. Most wore capsrnand T-shirts with the logos of their favoriternteams and dnvcrs. All were white.rn(The only black fan I sav- was a large guyrnin a cowboy hat yho was with a couplernof similarly attired white buddies; all thernother black folks I saw were armed—securityrnguards emplo)’ed by the track.)rnWe talked about where they’d comernfrom, which drivers they were pulling forrnand why, and politics.rnThe last subject came naturally. GovernorrnClinton was coming in shortly tornbe the race’s Grand Marshal, the firstrnDemocrat who had dared to show hisrnface at Darlington since Jimmy Carterrnin 1976. Carter was well-received then,rnbut in 1992 Clinton couldn’t find arndriver or owner or chief mechanic willingrnto introduce him around the garagernarea. Few fans were ready to embracernthe Arkansas Boy Wonder either. Onernfellow said he came to the races (fromrnPittsburgh) to get away from politics.rn”Politics should stay the hell out of it.rnClinton, too.” I le was with five friends:rnthey had five favorite drivers, but all hadrnbeen for Ross Perot. Now they eitherrnwere for President Bush or were planningrnto sit it out. I told one about howrnfast Arkansas vyomen are (so fast theyrnhad to put a governor on them) and itrnwas rather well received, if I do say sornmyself.rnBut it wasn’t surprising that folksrndidn’t like Clinton. The actual newsrnwas that many of those we talked tornwere undecided, and it looked as if Perotrncould have swept tlie field if he hadrnstayed in. We even found a few whornplanned to vote Democratic—outnumberedrnat least two to one and a little defensivernabout it, but solid in their choice.rnMost were distressed about “the economy,”rnespecially about unemployment,rnbut a couple were, in their own peculiarrnway, pro-choice. “If some old galrngets knocked up, I don’t want to hearrnabout it” is how one put it. (Incidentally,rnany true race fans out there will bernamused to hear that the black, orange,rnand white colors of Dale Earnhardt,rn”Black #3,” turned out to be an infalliblernpolitical indicator. Pulling for Earnhardtrnis apparently like pulling for thernold Oakland Raiders, and none of hisrnfans were for Clinton. Not one.)rnDarlington’s a tough crowd for anyrnDemocrat. Among race fans, the nationalrnDemocratic party is thoroughlyrndiscredited, about as popular as Hondarnor Toyota. Four years earlier my buddyrnhad talked to a hundred fans at thernSouthern 500; in an article I swiped myrntitle from, he reported that 99 plannedrnto vote Republican and that only onernyellow dog Democrat was for Dukakis.rnNo, if George Bush couldn’t count onrnthis crowd, he really was in deep doodoo.rnNext month; The Governor Arrives.rnJohn Shelton Reed drives a four-cyUnderrnPlymouth Voyager, but it does have arnmanual transmission.rn40/CHRON:CLESrnrnrn