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It's Not What You Drive, It's What You Wear

Headed for the Big NASCAR Race in Fontana? Well, You Gotta Look the Part.

August 29, 2004|Preston Lerner

The National Assn. for Stock Car Auto Racing, a.k.a. NASCAR, was formed in Daytona Beach, Fla., in 1947. Back then, it was a regional curiosity dominated by good ol' boys partial to white lightning, Confederate flags and homegrown drivers who complained about the performance of their "tars" (a.k.a. tires). But thanks to endless television coverage and relentlessly promoted sponsor tie-ins--the recent Nextel Cup Tropicana 400 presented by Meijer comes to mind--NASCAR has emerged as a national sports-marketing leviathan. This year, viewership of the Daytona 500 was four times that of the NBA All-Star Game. And sales of NASCAR licensed products, including apparel, total over $1 billion annually, according to SGMA International, a trade association for sports manufacturers and marketers.

NASCAR has a huge following in Southern California, with Los Angeles the second-largest TV market for the sport. More than 100,000 racing fans are expected to flock to the California Speedway in Fontana over the Labor Day weekend for the Pop Secret 500. Let's say you plan to be one of them. Just one problem: You don't know a restrictor plate from the all-you-can-eat sushi special, and you don't want to look like a clueless metrosexual. Fear not, urban aesthete. Just follow these fashion do's and don'ts, and you too can pass for a member in good standing of NASCAR Nation.

The First Commandment of NASCAR Fandom: Pledge allegiance to your favorite driver by wearing, carrying and/or dragging as much of his merchandise as you can manage. At the moment, the fans of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon are the Hatfields and McCoys of NASCAR. Earnhardt, the driver of the No. 8 Budweiser car, is the son of Dale Earnhardt, who was NASCAR's most towering figure until he was killed at Daytona in 2001. If you're young and hip, Junior's your guy--especially if Bud red becomes you. Gordon, of the No. 24 DuPont Chevy, was cast as the anti-Earnhardt when he arrived on the scene. His public relations savvy and clean-cut good looks earned him the not necessarily flattering nickname of "Wonder Boy" (to Earnhardt's "Intimidator"), but he's still NASCAR's fastest heartthrob.

WANNABE BILLY

The credential hanging from Billy's neck is supposed to let the world know that he's got access to the pits. We're not buying it, dude. The thing is, shorts aren't allowed in the pits. But they're ideal for showing off the nifty Dale Jr. socks. Check out the hipster bucket hat too, just the thing for a Gen-X racer who prefers Third Eye Blind to the Grand Ole Opry. Billy's T-shirt pays homage to Dale Earnhardt the Elder. Ditto for the cooler. Which will come in handy up in the nosebleed section, which is where Billy is sitting.

PIT STOP PATTY

The garish colors and gaudy graphics of NASCAR--think Las Vegas on speed--don't make for understated ensembles. On the other hand, the bold designs make it easy for Patty to catch the wandering eyes of NASCAR dads as she prances through the pits. Coincidentally, NASCAR jackets have recently become a surprise hit in the world of hip-hop. Go figure, right? Speaking of inner-city fashion, there's also plenty of oversized gold jewelry to choose from. Car numbers are the most popular motif (see necklace). This theme works equally well with tattoos (not shown).

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

Back in the good old days, it wasn't uncommon to see fans hauling around what appeared to be giant meat lockers full of cold brewskis. But since 9/11, most racetracks limit the size of coolers that can be carried in--yet another sign of the decline of Western civilization. A race scanner and headset will allow you to listen in on radio transmissions between Dale Jr. and his crew, not to mention muffling the cheers of nearby Jeff Gordon fans. As for you "Wonder Boy" devotees, a Jeff Gordon wristwatch with stopwatch functions is essential for keeping tabs on the interval between the No. 24 and the No. 8 cars.

IT'S GOTTA BE THE SHOES

Sure, you can get by with sneakers or shoes--or even thongs or sandals if you're not roaming around the pits, where open-toe shoes aren't permitted. But nothing says "I am a player (or I want you to think I am)" like a pair of Nomex-lined Simpson racing booties. These are the real deal, worn by many drivers in the belly of their 800-horsepower Nextel Cup beasts. Of course, the same things that make them so useful in a race car--skin-tight fit, paper-thin soles, fireproof material--render Simpsons utterly miserable for walking. But hey, do you want to be comfortable or do you want to look cool? Thought so.

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