April 11, 2006
This past weekend, as I was racing through the channels on my television, I caught a glimpse of the King, Richard Petty. The most heralded racer of all-time was being interviewed trackside by an overweight racing analyst. Normally I have neither the time nor the inclination to devote any of my attention to NASCAR, but I made an exception this time—he is the King, after all. The analyst was in the midst of asking Petty for his opinion on the insertion of hard liquor into the sport—it can now be found being served at the races and in the sport's advertisements.
The President of NASCAR, Mike Helton, decided to make the change on the basis of a decrease in the number of moneyed sponsors in the sport. Over the past few years the amount of money it takes to run a successful race team has sharply increased. NASCAR wants the money, apparently, and sponsors like Jack Daniels and Crown Royal are willing to give it to them. And, lucky for us, both Mike Helton and Richard Petty are two-faced on this issue—equaling four faces, by my count.
First, Richard Petty said in the interview that the insertion of hard liquor into the “sport”—for lack of a better term—has tainted the family-oriented nature of NASCAR.
If I am not mistaken the newly-named Nextel Cup was for decades known as the Winston Cup—a cigarette manufacturer not exactly known for its family pack. Furthermore, the lead sponsor for NASCAR’s junior circuit is Busch Beer, hence the "Busch Series." Now, I don't know about you, but I have never considered smoking and beer swilling to be family values. As it is, this country has a real problem with substance abuse and the last thing we need is Richard Petty equivocating on this issue.
If we were interested in curbing anti-social behavior in this country we would not advertise mind-altering and addictive substances in any way, shape, or form—especially within media frequented by young people. Petty's credibility on this issue seems to be lacking. He made a small fortune as a result of such anti-social advertising—cigarettes, beer, and "chew"—and only now, after the sun has set on his career, does he want to have an attack of conscience.
Now, let me speak about you Mr. Mike Helton, president of NASCAR:
In stating your case for allowing hard liquor sponsors into NASCAR, Mr. Helton chose to play fast and loose with the truth. Instead of simply saying that NASCAR needs the money to maintain itself as a profitable enterprise, he chose to dress it up with some social consciousness.
Here are his arguments, enumerated by Liz Clark in the November 11th 2004 issue of the Washington Post (summarized):
--The distilled-spirits industry has proven to be responsible in its marketing.
--The addition of hard liquor sponsors would give teams more opportunities to become economically viable. (In other words, more money, better teams, better competition.)
--(Equivocating in a "Petty-like" fashion) Americans no longer make a sharp distinction between hard liquor and beer in everyday life.
Point #1: How, exactly, has the liquor industry proven itself to be responsible in its marketing? In fact, how has it proven to be responsible in any facet of its business? This industry makes billions providing mind-altering substances that often lead to the break-up of the family unit.
The fact of the matter is this: Do you really think liquor companies care whether or not we drink responsibly? The more responsible we are with the drink, the less liquor they sell. How many designated drivers do you see every time you are leaving the bar? Do the math. (The last time I checked the lot I didn't see any buses parked out there.) Furthermore, what would constitute irresponsible marketing, a cartoonish camel smoking? Captain Hook drinking spiced rum on the deck of a clipper ship? What about a dog named Spud Mackenzie wearing a Bud Light t-shirt? Responsible, indeed...
Point #2: This is the only salient reason for the presence of hard liquor in NASCAR, money. This is where he should have stopped.
Point #3: I would really enjoy reading Mr. Helton's anthropological research into this issue. Hopefully, Mr. Helton, it won't be long before we Americans no longer see a sharp distinction between alcohol and various other mind-altering drugs. (The Ecstasy race team, sponsored by "weed" eater, perhaps?) Apparently, according to Mr. Helton, Americans are quite comfortable with the level of dysfunction in this country that can be directly attributed to the use of substances like alcohol. Why root for the Skittles team when you could get free rum runners from Bacardi in victory lane?
Who, might I ask, will speak with credibility on this issue? Alcohol, historically, has been a pox on America; a recreational activity that has cost us hundreds of thousands of lives. If liquor companies are willing to spend millions of dollars to have their monikers put on racecars, such advertising must be quite effective. How, exactly, could this be considered a good thing for anyone but those cashing the checks? As a country we cannot hold our liquor as it is; do we need more? Do our young people not have enough distractions in the home? Could this sport of family values actually be anything but valuable to families?
Thank you, Richard and Mike, for reminding me of why I don't dig your "sport."
And, for those of you in Old Milwaukee, it does get better than this.
About the author or the publisher
I am a graduate student with a BA in Political Science. I am currently about halfway done with my MA degree in Social Science at the University of Michigan in Flint. In my free time, I operate a web-based basketball publication in my home state for which I have received press credentials.