BY JAMES DOOLITTLE
12:45 PM Sunday, Sept. 23
I’m completely intimidated by gear heads, which may seem odd considering I know plenty of nerds.
Nerds are my peoples. We rose from the same primordial soup years ago, and while we may have splintered in regards to the teat upon which we choose to obsessively suckle — be it record collections, pornography or computer operating systems — we still can eyeball each other’s joie de vivre and understand the time and energy devoted to the cause.
Merriam-Webster’s defines a nerd as ?an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person; especially one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits.? The italicized especially is not Phawkatorial by design. It’s an authoritative exception by both Merriam AND Webster which — by definition allows me to classify gear heads as nerds. Really, the only thing that makes them special from nerds of other stripes is these particular nerds can probably kick your ass.
I don’t believe I’m reaching on this assertion, the nerd thing that is — the willingness to throw asskicks is a total given. Walking through the lots surrounding the Dover International Speedway, I paid witness to many feats of nerdish devotion, the most blatant being the sea of oversized headsets adorning many a middle-aged skull, technological wonders that allow a user the ability to eavesdrop on the frequencies used by their favorite drivers and their collective pits. Fifty bucks to rent, but the real fan, the true gear nerd, well . . . they own their own, thank you much.
Let it be know that my feelings of gear head intimidation don’t derive wholeheartedly from the imminent threat posed by a grown man whose beer belly pokes up into Jeff Gordon’s handsomely sketched face on a worn T-shirt. I know some of these men, and hug them often.
Nor is it brought on by the visual vestiges of America’s Confederacy, be it flag, bumper sticker or again, T-shirt . . . although it probably should.
Rather, it has more to do with the fact that gear heads can seemingly smell the lack of knowledge that wafts off a driver who can’t even change his own oil, let alone differentiate between a lug nut and a cam seal. And they will use this knowledge as a weapon, designed to make one question his manhood, even if the notion of questioning one’s manhood is completely foreign. I for one never even think about it — until I’m caught like a deer in headlights by the questioning glare of an automotive know-it-all whose horrific look of disgust is merely a reaction to the fact that I — YOU — don’t know how to change a spark plug?
Even worse? Not knowing where it is.
And while this moment of self-reflection would, could and should be side-stepped as easily as the Pina Colada stand on the speedway’s grounds, for a reason which eludes me, I can’t. For it is only in situations such as these where I even consider the notion of manhood, the relative size of my stones, and the effect that such an inadequacy might have on generations of Doolittles to come.
That’s right, car care is my emotional kryptonite. Damn you Manny, Moe and Jack.
Perhaps this is why I traveled to Dover on Sunday. Not because I had some passes to get all Nat Geo on a popular subculture I’ve always kept at arm’s reach, but rather, to question why I have an arm’s reach; metaphorically, to face down the greatest continual threat to my emotional well-being since Attack of the Clones.
Considering the track itself is a circular mile, the view from the center is perhaps the most awe-inspiring thing on display, especially to someone who doesn’t know a Tony Stewart from a Kyle Busch. A quasi-doppelganger for Beaver Stadium — that is, if the hands of a celestial deity reached down and stretched Beaver Stadium out by say, oh, a half-mile — the opposing ends of the Dover International Speedway look as if they belong to two separate stadiums. You could literally fill this place with water, throw in some Naval cruisers, and out-Coliseum the Romans.
As expected, the smell of manliness is in the air, exquisitely heightened once you enter the pit area, where rubber, oil and sweat mingle to create a metallic aphrodisiac that smells like David Cronenberg’s Crash looks. As the pit crews busy themselves with pre-race preparations, you can’t help to notice that there are a lot of very beautiful women hanging around, some with headsets and greasy marks that read “official business,” others with spotless manicures that read otherwise.
And the last thought that passes by, just before the engines shatter your eardrums, is that for nerds, these gear heads sure get good trim.