For years, ace reporter Chad Tucker has told me the racing scene at nearby Bowman Gray Stadium was a reality show waiting to happen. He wasn't kidding. 'Madhouse', an pretty slick look at the world of Southern-fried modified racing, debuted on The History Channel Sunday night and if the premiere episode is any indication, it's gonna be a deliciously bumpy ride. Understand, I ain't much of a race fan. That makes me all but queer in some rusty Camaro circles, but it's my (rather hetero) opinion that one need not possess a patch-covered jumpsuit to enjoy this TV outing. I sure did. The unbridled horsepower, the coiled testosterone, the thick but authentic accents... what's not to love? Bowman Gray Stadium is only ninety minutes or so from Charlotte Motor Speedway, but it's light-years away from the corporate orgy that is modern day stock car racing. At Bowman Gray, the men who climb behind the wheel on Saturday nights are the very same souls bangin' out dents the next day in some cluttered garage. Throw in an inter-generational rivalry, ample editing and a stadium full of fans who would bow up and beat down any Jerry Springer audience and you have White-Trash Pageantry... Unvarnished NASCAR... Tee-Vee GOLD!
That's right: GOLD. As much an anthropology study as a reality show about low-level motorsports, Madhouse (lousiest. title. ever.) features the kind of blue-collar yearning and pit crew euphoria that propelled generations of bootlegger wannabes into the NASCAR stratosphere. The linguistics alone are an embarrassment of riches! In fact, I volunteer to screen the very next episode with a bunch of snooty New Yorkers - provided they let me translate. Maybe then, I can impart some fancy book learnin' on the Yankee set; explain to 'em that twisted syntax notwithstanding, what they're hearing is AMERICA, in all its unwashed glory. It's the same kind of rural verve that made NASCAR one helluva show and the exact ingredient that could put the bite back into a spectacle that's pretty much been defanged. But don't hold your breath. Big time racing will taste more antiseptic with every swig while the unscripted action of Bowman Gray will grow more potent with every sideswipe, sucker-punch and pit-stop. Which is why I'LL be watching Madhouse - every time they fling the doors wide open.
Just don't ask me to go down there and watch it in person. Sorry, Chad.
(Photo Credit: Bruce Chapman, Winston-Salem Journal)