Not long ago, rumors were circulating about the Obama campaign sponsoring an entry in a NASCAR event. The rumors proved to be untrue, but if the deal had panned out, I wonder if it might not have looked something like this...
The scene: Moody’s Truck Stop and Repair, on I-85 about ten miles outside of Charlotte, N.C. The phone rings. A wiry, grizzled little man in dirty overalls and a baseball cap bearing the Red Man chewing tobacco logo – the owner, Floyd Moody - wipes his hands on a kerosene-soaked rag, and answers.
Floyd: Moody’s Truck Stop and Repair.
Caller (in a smooth voice, like a can of Pennzoil softly glopping into a funnel): Hello, Mr. Moody. My name is David Plouffe. Perhaps you’ve heard of me?
Floyd (scratches his chin in thought): Let’s see now…Plouffe….Plouffe…Um, naw, I don’t recollect…Wait a minute. You’re not that independent hauler who pulled in here last year in a pink Mack truck, are ya? The one with the big trailer that had a picture of a tube a’ KY Jelly on the sides? Got roughed up by some of the boys over to Melissa’s diner? ‘Cause iff’n it’s you, I can tell ya, none a’ my mechanics had nuthin’ to do with it.
Plouffe: No, no. I’m the campaign manager for Senator Barack Obama.
Floyd: Well, ya’ll are barkin’ up the wrong tree, Mister. In the first place, I’m supportin’ McCain, and in the second place, even if I was votin’ for your guy, they wouldn’t be no money involved. See, my wife Ada jes’ had a hip replacement…
Plouffe: No, you misapprehend me, Mr. Moody.
Floyd: I what?
Plouffe: You misunderstand. The Obama campaign doesn’t want you to give us money; we want to give you money.
Floyd: Come again?
Plouffe: You used to sponsor a NASCAR race team, didn’t you?
Floyd: Yeah, my repair shop here ran a car seven or eight years ago. Got too expensive for us, though, and we folded the operation up.
Plouffe: But you still know the ropes. You’ve got some men you can put together on short notice to staff a pit crew.
Floyd: I reckon so. ‘Course, could be kinda hard to pick up a driver on short notice. And what about the car?
Plouffe: The Obama campaign can provide a car, and a driver for the main race. We just need some fellows in the pit who can take care of the car and give us some tactical advice, and a driver who can do the qualifying rounds. And we’ll pay you well.
Floyd: I might get Earl Hunneycutt to drive the qualifyin’ laps; I ‘spect he’s out on parole now. But, as I said, me an’ the boys all support McCain; though I s’pose we could wear sunglasses and false beards – y’know, to protect our honor. Ya’ll pay well, is that what I heard ya say?
Plouffe: Very well, Mr. Moody.
Floyd: W-e-l-l, Ada has been wantin’ one of them fanny tucks. See, the other night down to Smokey’s Tavern, we was sittin’ at the bar soakin’ on a coupla beers, and when we got up to leave, Ada’s bar stool followed her out.
Plouffe: Really, Mr. Moody, I don’t need to know…
Floyd: Didn’t even notice till we climbed into the car an’ her head poked through the sun roof like the top of a Christmas tree.
Plouffe: What you do with the money is your own business, sir. I’ll be in touch. Good afternoon.
(With the help of massive infusions of scotch, Plouffe, at the end of a long day, was finally able to eradicate the image of Ada Moody and her traveling bar stool from his mind).
* * *
On the big race day, an hour before the event was to commence, Floyd Moody’s mechanics stood around in the pit, under a rainbow-colored “Hope and Change” banner. Jake scratched his face incessantly.
Jake: Man! Why did Floyd insist on us wearing false beards? We already got real ones.
Billy Ray: I dunno. But he’s givin’ the orders and that extra five hundred dollars for a day’s work at the race ain’t gonna hurt none.
Jake: May be. But I got to tell ya, Billy Ray, this is the craziest race I ever heard of, let alone been associated with. I mean, first, Obama’s campaign guy has a car delivered by some bewildered leasing company employee; the car’s already been souped up, and the seats tore out, and it’s been repainted (Jake scowled as he looked at the banner over the pit; a faithful recreation of the car’s lavish new paint job ). An’ what the hell did he want to go an’ put runnin’ boards on a race car for? Lord only knows what the Avis people are goin’ to think of it when it gets returned. Then, Earl Hunneycutt has the best day of his life during the qualifying rounds, and places the car in the 12th spot, and what happens? We have to bounce Earl and use some mystery driver – who still ain’t showed up, yet, mind you. And to top it all off (here, Jake dropped his voice, not wanting her to overhear him), some middle-aged female shows up this morning claiming to be an extra pit hand sent by the Obama people.
Billy Ray: I can’t argue you with you on any of that, Jake. It all does sound kind of fishy.
Jake: Durn straight it sounds fishy! And what do you expect happens just a little while ago? Obama’s pal, Jesse Jackson showed up! He wasn’t here ten minutes before he gets to talkin’ with some biker dude wearin’ a black Dale Earnhart cap – the number “3” was right there in front, clearly visible – and Jackson up and says how he always thought Dale, Sr. was overrated.
Billy Ray (Whistles in awe): What happened to Jackson, then?
Jake: I don’t know. I couldn’t get close enough to the ambulance driver to find out. Hey, what’s all that commotion over there? Who is…
Jake’s jaw dropped, like a loose tailgate on a Ford 150, and he gaped, with an expression on his face of surprise and horror, not unlike what one would anticipate seeing on the map of the village atheist come judgment day. The crowd near the pits opened up to reveal a tall, slender black man in a rainbow-colored jumpsuit approaching. He carried a modified racing helmet under his arm (there were two little hollow pods, one on each side of the helmet, no doubt to provide room for his substantial ears), and he was accompanied by four black-suited security men, their eyes shaded with sunglasses, their heads bristling with electronic communications gear.
It was Obama, himself, all dressed up and ready to drive. Floyd Moody came bustling up to see what was what. “Say, listen here, Senator! We didn’t have no idea you was the mystery driver!”
Obama smiled warmly at his pit crew. “Hi, fellas! Yeah, David Plouffe thought it would be better if I surprised you. Don’t worry. I watched Days of Thunder - twice.”
“B-but”, Floyd Sputtered, “there’a a whole lot you jes’ can’t pick up from watchin’ a movie, Senator.”
Obama frowned. “Look, Floyd. I’ve got to do this thing.” He turned and swept an arm across the stands. “This is the quickest way for me to win the hearts and minds of these gun-toting Bible-thumpers, and I’m going to need all the support I can get. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go climb aboard my chariot.”
A few moments later, Obama’s legs were waggling in the air helplessly. Jake and Billy Ray each grabbed a limb and pulled him from the car.
“You’re supposed to climb in feet first, Senator”, Billy Ray explained.
“Ok, ok, I’ve got it now. There!” He settled himself behind the wheel. “Well, fellas, there’s the announcement to start!” Obama’s pit crew was startled when he turned to his Secret Service handlers and shouted, “Come on, Gentlemen!”, but not nearly as startled as when the agents climbed on the running boards – two agents on each side of the car – just before Obama pulled his car onto the track to take up his position in the lineup.
“Hey!” Floyd yelled. “They can’t ride on the outside of your car!”
But Obama was gone. He pulled into position; however, the start of the race was delayed as NASCAR officials descended on Obama’s car. There were some sharp exchanges between the Secret Service agents and the officials, a flurry of calls to Washington, and ultimately the agents reluctantly returned to the pit. Then the green flag dropped, and the cars roared into action.
By the completion of the third lap, Obama had, astonishingly, moved from his 12th-place starting position to 8th place, primarily because some of his maneuvers had led to several near-collisions, and one spin-out that had disabled Mark Martin’s Chevrolet, causing Martin, nearly apoplectic with rage, to retire from the race (the symbolism of the episode was particularly unfortunate; Martin’s car was sponsored by the U.S. Army). The senator’s peculiar driving had made the other competitors extremely wary. For one thing, he had a habit of sticking his arm out of the window whenever he intended to pass. He had also once stepped on his brakes to avoid hitting a butterfly that had haplessly fluttered across the track, forcing Greg Biffle to swerve and bounce off the wall, and to make an otherwise unnecessary pit stop. Whatever political hay he might have been making with the fans, he was not winning any votes among the drivers and their crews.
Floyd finally signaled him to pull into the pits for gas and new tires. The mysterious woman who had showed up as a member of Obama’s pit crew shoved Jake out of the way; “I’ll take care of the tires on the driver’s side”, she yelled in a loud voice – a voice that sounded vaguely familiar to Jake, although he couldn’t quite place it. Meanwhile, Floyd gave the senator as much advice as he could in the minute or two that the car was being refitted and fueled “Senator, unless you’re lookin’ to become the country’s first one-armed president, you’d better keep both hands on the wheel! And maintain a steady speed, don’t be pumpin’ those breaks!”
Obama sipped from a bottle of water that had been handed to him, and smiled. “I hear you, Floyd. You know, I think I’m really beginning to get the hang of this sport!” Billy Ray smacked the hood, indicating that the crew were finished, and Obama zipped back onto the track.
The rainbow-colored Chevy (bearing the slogan “Hope and Change”, plus a small ad for Tony Rezko’s bail bondsman) sped along the track, pulling toward the wall going into the high, banking turns, and cutting toward the inside of the track coming out of the turns. Obama did, indeed, seem to be getting the hang of things. Suddenly, however, a tire blew out. Hope and Change skidded and caromed off the wall.
Billy Ray: Damn! Did you see that, Jake? Obama had a blowout! And his car’s rollin’!
Jake: No, Billy Ray, it ain’t rollin’. It’s just sorta…bouncin’. Looky there! The car came down on the roof and then bounced over onto the tires and then bounced onto the roof again. It ain’t rollin’; it’s flip-floppin’!
Fire rescue teams streaked onto the track where the car had finally come to rest. Although the car hadn’t caught fire, the rescue squad sprayed it down with their fire extinguishers, just to be safe. When Floyd and his boys came huffing up, they immediately began clamoring to know how the senator was doing. “Is he hurt real bad?”, Floyd asked, in a trembling voice.
“Naw,” said the paramedic, who had pulled the senator from the car and checked him out. “No broken bones or nothin’; he’s just shook up a might. He seems kinda delirious, though; seems to think he’s bought the farm You might want to try to talk to him.”
Floyd cradled Obama in his arms; the Senator spoke weakly. “Whole world…could’ve been…hope and change…”
Jake turned to Billy Ray. “I wonder what the hell happened to that tire? We had just put it on…or rather…that woman did…” Jake frowned and scratched his head.
* * *
A middle-aged woman in a navy blue pantsuit emerged from the restroom under the stands carrying a dirty, rolled up jumpsuit under her arm, which she tossed into the first trash can that she spotted. She had short blond hair and wore a wide-brimmed straw hat, into which she was fastening an extremely long stainless steel hatpin that bore more than a passing resemblance to a boot dagger. A pair of large-framed dark glasses obscured her visage, but her ankles – suggestive of a saurapod from the late Jurassic period – fleetingly reminded a few NASCAR enthusiasts of someone they had seen a lot of over, seemingly, the last two decades. They couldn’t exactly remember who she put them in mind of, but the faint and imperfect recollection was uniformly tinged with a visceral distaste.