Friday, June 15, 2012

Pabst Blue Ribbon, Scrapple and the Downfall of NASCAR





Countrie Eatery
950 North State St.
Dover, DE




This was almost the year I said, “Forget it.”

Almost.

Like a battered wife with low self esteem, I keep coming back for more.

I’ve been making the trek up the Eastern Shore for a decade now to sit in the June sun, drink beer and watch the spring NASCAR race at the Dover International Speedway.

But this was the year I had decided I’d had enough.

Enough of the political correctness, boring races and reality TV hosts who pass as modern day racers.

But in the end it was my Dover pre-race ritual and visions of those twin Delmarva Peninsula specialties of scrapple and crab cakes that prodded me to bite the bullet and renew my tickets for 2012.

That, and the fact that Dover was offering the tickets for HALF PRICE this year in a desperate attempt to fill all the empty seats at Dover Downs.

I’m an old school NASCAR fan. To prove it, I wore my two decade old Alan Kulwicki 1992 Hooters Winston Cup Championship t-shirt this year.

I’ve been following NASCAR since I was a kid in the good ol’ days back in the mid eighties.

Back when Earnhardt still drove the Wrangler Jeans car and Terry Labonte won the Winston Cup Championship in a car sponsored by Piedmont Airlines.

Back when the drivers were good ol’ Southern boys more interested in banging fenders and winning races than hawking insurance and Disney movies on TV before jetting off to their Manhattan penthouses.

Back when NASCAR raced on fun door-handle-to-door-handle tracks across the South like Rockingham, Hickory, Wilkesboro and South Boston.

Back when the sponsor of the series was a cigarette, the best drivers had a Southern drawl and the winner got to make out with the trophy girl in Victory Lane.

The good ol’ days.

My first race was at Martinsville. On the backstretch in chicken bone alley. For thirty bucks, you could claim any piece of concrete twenty feet behind the catch fence.

After a day of racing, one half of my face would be burnt red from the sun and the other coated black in tire rubber and brake dust, ears ringing for days.

It took a certain amount of open mindedness and courage to venture north into enemy territory past the Dixieland landmark “The South Ends Here” sign on US 13 to watch a race at Dover.

During the sport’s heyday in the 90s, the fun of watching rough and tumble drivers bang and bump around the race track caught on across the country.

Even a few open minded Yankees took notice.

Dover’s stands began to fill with newly converted race fans from the big cities like Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia -- even New York City.

Granted, it’s an eclectic mix.

But even the Yankees seemed to appreciate what made NASCAR special.

The first time I took my fellow redneck, Suit69, to a race at Dover, I tried to prepare him for the probability of being surrounded by Yankee race fans.

“They talk funny, but they at least try to fit in,” I explained. “They may not own a gaudy Dale Earnhardt Intimidator Seven Time Champion shirt, but they know enough to show up in whatever ratty old t-shirt they can pull out of the back of their Manhattan loft closet.”

“And they drink American beer like everyone else. These aren’t the Heineken-drinkin’ Yankees Pat Green sings about”, I assured him.

What happened after we took our seats that day in Dover should have been all the indication I needed of the coming collapse of the sport.

Sure enough, we were suddenly surrounded by New York City government union workers wearing NYPD t-shirts and bandanas. No sooner did they start yelling in a thick Chuck Schumer accent to hand them a beer, than the guy with the cooler and the union brotherhood t-shirt starts passing out cans of Heineken.

Suit69 just stared at me dumbfounded.

“I’m sorry,” is all I could muster.

I should have canceled my season tickets on the spot.

But I didn’t.

NASCAR should send a thank you note to the Countrie Eatery less than a mile south of the Dover track.

Because whenever I think about how boring the races at Dover have become, I keep coming back to the fun of my pre-Dover ritual.

There’s just something exciting about lining your stomach with chopped up pig parts and crab meat before a long day of sitting in the sun and drinking massive quantities of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Call it tradition.

I call it the best part of race day.

“The Little Creek and a side of scrapple.” When my waitress appeared, I didn’t even need to look at the menu.

The Little Creek is two poached eggs over a Chesapeake Bay crab cake and an English muffin, smothered in hollandaise sauce.

A steal for ten bucks.

You’d pay double that for the crab cakes alone at some fancy seafood joint on the shores of the Chesapeake.

These crab cakes are the real deal too. A decent amount of seasoned breadcrumbs, but plenty of local crab meat too.

The egg and hollandaise sauce add a heavy accent to the delicate crab flavor without overpowering it.

But the highlight of the day is that other specialty of the Delmarva Peninsula – one that doesn’t swim in the Bay.

Scrapple. Everything but the oink.

I’ve famously detailed my Suit757 fascination with this lowly loaf of chopped up pig parts in a previous review from the other side of the bay.

I’ll spare you the gory piggy details this time.

Suffice to say, the Countrie Eatery’s version of pig loaf doesn’t disappoint.

Thin sliced and fried until crisp, this scrapple has a fun texture. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and porky flavored throughout, scrapple is like a poor man’s sausage.

And a great way to prepare for consuming a 30 pack of PBR.

My fellow astute NASCAR fans began to empty out the cozy dining room just as I was polishing off my last few bites of pig parts.

I was so happy, I could just turn around and head south on Route 13 satisfied, past the more comforting “The South Starts Here Sign”, race or not.

“This is why I keep renewing my Dover tickets,” I said to my equally satisfied race companion.

It turns out even with half priced tickets, NASCAR still couldn’t come close to selling out the race. A little over half full, at best.

Of course this is no surprise to any long time fans.

Everything fun about the sport as been driven out in a politically correct suicide pact.

A sport that rose to prominence powered by tobacco money now bans smoking.

A sport founded in the South by good ol’ boys driving fast cars wouldn’t even let golf champion Bubba Watson drive his replica of the “General Lee” in a parade lap earlier this year.

A sport featuring 43 cars racing 200 miles per hour and collectively burning fuel at a gallon per second, now scolds its fans to “Go Green.”

A sport that rose to popularity on “stock cars” banging and bumping to “checkers or wreckers” finishes now mandates identical cookie cutter cars that can’t pass or wreck.

Every move made by the Hollywood suits who now run NASCAR has replaced “fun” with “boring.”

No wonder there are so many empty seats at Dover.

Memo to the suits in the air conditioned skyboxes: fun is better than boring.

This shouldn’t be that damn complicated.

But I’m afraid any hope of turning this sport around died in Turn 4 of the Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 2001 when Dale Earnhardt hit the wall.

The Intimidator would never have tolerated the decline of the sport he loved.

Instead, the sport is now dominated by corporate-polished Yankees straight out of a Dale Carnegie class like Jimmie Johnson – the antithesis of Dale Earnhardt and everything that made the sport so popular in the first place.

The very personification of boring.

Sure enough, after a 13 car pileup on Lap 9, the race settled into a mundane exercise of watching Jimmie Johnson drive around in front of the pack for 400 miles in his “special” car advertizing the new Disney movie “Madagascar 3”.

All I can say is, thank God for good weather and beer.

Fortunately, the powers that be haven’t mustered the courage to ban beer. Not yet.

Oh, they’ve tried.

After September 11, NASCAR clamped down, banning hard side coolers and limiting fans to about a six pack. For “security”. (Where have we seen this movie before?)

I guess they were afraid Osama bin Laden might show up at a NASCAR race and try to hit someone over the head with his dangerous hard side Igloo cooler.

Fortunately, Dover is still independently owned. You can bring in pretty much whatever the hell you want.

In fact, unzipping my cooler to reveal to the gate inspector my stash of nothing but ice and 15 cans of PBR, he just smiled and said, “Be careful coming back down the stairs.”

That’s what I like about Dover.

The NASCAR officials who sanction the events may be doing everything in their power to destroy the sport, but Dover still clings to a few vestiges of the good ol’ days.

Like my pre-race traditions of scrapple and crab cakes at the Countrie Eatery on race morning.

Go ahead. Call me a traditionalist.

As long as the Countrie Eatery’s still open and as long as they’ll still let me sit in the sun, drink beer and watch the cars run around the Monster Mile, I’ll probably keep coming back.

Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt.





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