Driver Kurt Busch stands next to his hauler as he prepares for practice for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway Friday. AP photo.
TALLADEGA, Ala. — Kurt Busch is ready to shake ‘n’ bake at Talladega Superspeedway — proving once again that NASCAR has absolutely no shame in its pursuit of the almighty dollar.
Some might call it tacky.
In a world where far too many people take sports far too seriously, the ridiculous lengths NASCAR is willing to go for its precious sponsorships actually provides some much-needed levity.
Seriously, how could you not get a chuckle out of Kurt Busch — well-known for his petulant outbursts — standing in front of his No. 78 hauler on Friday, wearing a Wonder Bread race suit with actual loaves of the stuff stacked to his left and his right.
Will Ferrell would’ve been proud.
It was “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” all over again. Who cares if the 2006 movie didn’t exactly paint the good ol’ boys in the most flattering light?
“The more you watch it, the more you laugh at it,” Busch said.
The motto of NASCAR is simple: If you’re willing to write a check with a lot of zeros on the end, they’re willing to cash it — pretty much no questions asked.
Kudos to them.
We much prefer this approach to, say, the hypocrites at the NFL and the International Olympic Committee.
The No Fun League zealously doles out fines to players who wear their socks the wrong way, all in the name of protecting its precious image, while working feverishly to bring in enough money to qualify as a small nation. The IOC preaches endlessly against commercialization, right down to banning the use of corporate names on host city venues, but rewards countries that are willing to bankrupt themselves to get a two-week sports festival.
Then there’s NASCAR, which has no problem pushing the boundaries of good taste. Wonder Bread actually looks pretty classy next to previous sponsors such as Viagra and ExtenZe, which used to saturate the late-night airwaves with infomercials promising “natural male enhancement.” It still brings a smile to my face when I remember the year Atlanta Motor Speedway named a race after that most delicious of farm animals: “Pork The Other White Meat 400.”
This endless shilling works best when the driver actually seems to enjoy the product he’s plugging.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. lit up when talking about a promotion this weekend with Xbox.
“I’m a big fan of Xbox,” he said. “I was just on the Xbox this morning before I got on the plane. I’m trying to do some things in my Madden league. You’re always trying to improve the team.”
Busch’s affinity for “Talladega Nights” also is apparent. Last year, after being fired by Penske Racing for bad behavior and forced to take a ride with tiny Phoenix Racing, he competed one weekend with a “ME” logo painted on his car — just like Ferrell’s character in the movie after his career went into a tailspin.
This season, Busch became the first driver with a one-car team to make the Chase for the Championship. Next year, he’ll move to the powerful Stewart-Haas team, his redemption complete.
Just like Ricky Bobby.
“When he thinks he’s on fire, he has to go through rehab and comes back to be successful,” Busch said. “That’s very similar to what I’ve gone through the last 18 months.”
It’s hard to imagine another sport embracing a movie that basically spent two hours playing up every ridiculous stereotype, right down to their “shake ‘n’ bake” racing philosophy (whatever that means).
Busch couldn’t stop talking about Ricky Bobby when asked his favorite scene.
“In the beginning, when he jumps in the Laughing Clown Malt Liquor car,” he said. “Or the table scene, when he’s saying the prayer. That’s got to be the best. Or maybe it’s when Cal Naughton Jr. (Ricky Bobby’s best friend and teammate) wants to figure out how to run the radio and the TV at the same time because he likes to party.”
Of course, there’s a flip side to a sport essentially passing itself off as one long commercial break.
You might as well turn down the sound at the end of every race, when the winner monotonously rips off the name of every sponsor (“I’d like to thank the great folks at Old Spice and my Goodyear tires and that wonderful Sunoco fuel for putting me in position to take the checkered flag”). And, on any given race weekend, there are endless events such as Danica Patrick’s yawner of an announcement Friday that she has a new deal with Aspen Dental (apparently, her teeth are better than her driving skills).
“We’re dedicated to bringing America a healthy mouth,” Bob Fontana, the company’s president and CEO, said seriously.
A trip to the dentist?
That’s no fun.
More Ricky Bobby, please!
Actually, Busch has another idea that’s certainly worth pursuing. He remembers a scene from “Stroker Ace,” that thoroughly awful comedy from the early 1980s that also focused on stock car racing, the one where star Burt Reynolds is forced to dress as a chicken for his sponsor.
“I think we need to get with Bojangles and do the chicken suit,” Busch said, breaking into a big smile.
All they’ll need from you, Bojangles, is a big ol’ check.
Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com or www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963