Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

Twice a year, in May and September, you see the signs at restaurants and motels and liquor stores all along Route One and into Rehoboth: Welcome Race Fans. You see the actual fans too, wandering around town attired in garish color combinations and all sorts of numbers. They’ve come to the beach to party before trekking up to Dover for the NASCAR Nexel 400.

Most gay boys, including yours truly, tend to steer clear of the race fans when they come to town. However, I must confess an odd attraction to NASCAR and its mixture of high performance race cars and low brow culture. Boozy crowds. Pick up trucks and fried chicken. Big hair. And, redneck boys in tight jeans, the outline of a Skoal tin embossed on their asses.

It’s rowdy and sexy and irreverent. And I like that.

I like that the sport was born in the Southern Appalachian mountains of North Carolina and Virginia where I grew up, a place where during the 30’s moonshiners and bootleggers souped up their cars and outran the law on Saturday night and then raced against each other on Sunday afternoons.

I first got behind the wheel when I was thirteen. A teenaged neighbor let me drive her blue Opel GT down a gravel road. King Harvest’s Dancing in the Moonlight was playing on the radio and her hand was on my crotch. Six years later, I was navigating a baby blue Jeep Scout on curvaceous roads with my high school buddies. We were drinking beer and snatching tacky yard ornaments. “Big game hunting” we called it. Hey, we were wild and free, flexing our masculinity and thumbing our noses at authority.

I understand racing’s lure.

Auto racing is also associated with the beach. In the early 1900s, the hard flat sands of Daytona Beach, Florida, became known as the place to set world land speed records and, as a result, the city became a mecca for racing enthusiasts. In 1936, the city began hosting car racing events. The First Daytona 500, arguably the most famous and most prestigious stock car race, was first held in 1959.

Delaware has a long history of auto racing as well. Races were held as early as 1915, and the state’s first track opened in Elsmere outside of Wilmington in 1935. Smaller race tracks popped up across Delaware. Dover Downs opened for horse and auto racing in 1969 and today, more than 140,000 fans descend on Dover International Speedway twice a year, bringing an estimated $94 million into the state’s economy. The race is one of NASCAR’s premier events.

I’ve even heard that there were auto races in Rehoboth from 1936-1941 and then again from 1946-1951. I went snooping through some old microfiche at the public library and found confirmation of a Rehoboth Speedway in 1951, located near the baseball field It was a quarter-mile banked dirt oval and its promoter Harry Blatstein called it the “finest of its kind on the East Coast.” Interestingly, most newspaper stories about the track talked about cancelled races The July 14 races, for example, were called off because most of the cars scheduled to run were held up in traffic coming over from New Jersey. I’m yet to find any articles from the 30’s – the microfiche from that era is in very poor condition and virtually unreadable. I’m still looking.

All this research, though, got me thinking. Is it time for Rehoboth’s gays to embrace auto racing? Seriously, hear me out. We like fast performance cars, as anyone who makes the weekend drive to Rehoboth on a regular basis can attest to. We like to get our drink on, and we like men who posess a certain prowess with lube. NASCAR fans advertise their favorite laundry perferences on their t-shirts, gay guys flaunt their favorite sexual positions. Are you startin’ to see it?

By the way, there are some pretty hot NASCAR drivers, and more of them are starting to flaunt their sexuality. Take number 99, Carl Edwards, for example. He’s the built young guy who does backflips off his car after a victory. ESPN the magazine featured him on its February cover, shirtless in a garage. Classic beefcake. I had a flashback – remember that poster of the greasy shirtless hunk holding the two tires?

Perhaps Rehoboth ought to consider marketing itself as a gay NASCAR resort. Gays do follow the sport, and if you doubt me, check out gaytona.com. With our proximity to the Dover Speedway, it’d be a natural. And, wouldn’t the city like to get some of that $98 million that race fans spend in Delaware? I’m envisioning lots of boisterous gay race fans flooding Rehoboth. Perhaps a Mr. Gay NASCAR competition at the Double L. Forget talent, how fast can you change a tire? I think it’d catch on.


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