My Brain on NASCAR: Racecar drivers are hard to Trump

col-cathyelliottJust a few short months have passed since GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump asked the following question at a campaign rally in North Carolina: “NASCAR endorsed Trump, can you believe that?”

Well, it was pretty unbelievable … except it wasn’t NASCAR that made the endorsement. It was Brian France, the sanctioning body’s chairman and CEO. France had some fallout to deal with, some damage-control scrambling around to do, a few ruffled sponsor feathers to smooth and whatnot, but for the most part this minor squall in a very turbulent political season blew right on over.

Mr. Trump, despite his knack for stirring up Kansas-level clouds of dust, has somehow found a way to weather every storm. And when you look at some of the remarks he has made during his campaign, you realize that while he may not speak the language of politics all that well, he is actually quite fluent in NASCAR-speak, and may even be giving some behind-the-garage tips to its athletes.

Take Brad Keselowski, for example. Keselowski got his start in racing by cutting grass and mopping floors at his dad’s race shop. I can just imagine Trump pulling him aside for a little one-on-one time and offering what are now a couple of his most famous lines. “I always want to think of myself as an underdog … but when somebody challenges you, fight back. Be brutal. Be tough.”

Just a few short years later, thanks to a no-holds-barred, aggressive driving style that sent his competitors – and himself – flying into the catchfence a time or two, the driver now known as “Bad Brad” was mopping up the competition instead of floors, and hoisting the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship trophy.

2010 was also the year that Denny Hamlin went on an absolute reign of terror, winning eight races after being sidelined by a knee injury early in the season. Never known for his humility, Hamlin and his team had T-shirts printed proclaiming, “All We Do is Win.”

Perhaps Mr. Trump, who has his own various lines of “American” men’s apparel manufactured in patriotic places like China and Bangladesh, spared a few moments of his precious time to share the following sentiments with the fiery Hamlin, who by the way finished the 2010 season in second place, behind champion Jimmie Johnson.

“Without passion you don’t have energy, without energy you have nothing,” he said. “My whole life is about winning. I don’t lose often. I almost never lose … You have to think anyway, so why not think big?”

Coming soon to a department store near you – the Trump Hamlin collection. It’s nearly the best.

Speaking of Jimmie Johnson, well, he must be a man after Trump’s own heart (or whatever he has lurking inside his chest that passes for one). The six-time champion is NASCAR’s poster boy for the new millennium Handsome. Charming. Articulate. Able to drive the wheels off his race car, then hoist the wheel-less Chevy onto his back and take the checkered flag on foot without even breaking a sweat.

Although this is probably not the description JJ would want to use on his official website, he is Trump’s kind of guy, as evidenced by the words, “In the end, you’re measured not by how much you undertake, but by what you finally accomplish.”
That is lovely … and I’m pretty sure Trump didn’t write it, although I have no trouble giving him credit for the veiled threat that followed — “Anyone who thinks my story is anywhere near over is sadly mistaken.”

(Let’s pause here for an inappropriate personal comment. Although I realize this is sounding a lot like a political column, honestly I still don’t know who I’m going to vote for. In the interest of bi-partisanship I looked and looked for some pithy and entertaining Hillary Clinton quotes, but found that to be the driest of wells. She should check out a NASCAR race sometime, it might lighten her up a bit. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.)

The 2016 Olympics have taught us that nothing is a sure thing. Even Michael Phelps can lose once in a while – OK, once – and there is glory to be found in one’s very best effort, even if it yields no gold, silver or bronze.

A seventh championship for Johnson? Probably.

A presidency for Trump? Stranger things have happened. I just can’t think of one right now.

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