Watercooler Ammo: Talladega-tastic

Proving that mocking Southerners is like shooting chitlins in a barrel, Will Ferrell's new flick "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" is opening today to good reviews. Rather than gripe about inauthenticity (the second name ought to be "Lee" or "Joe") or take it personally (I grew up cheering for Awesome Bill from Dawsonville, thankyouverymuch), I'm sticking to (NAS)car talk:

* The first NASCAR series started on a dirt track at the old Charlotte Speedway in North Carolina on June 19, 1949. 23,000 people showed up to watch as Christian "Jim" Roper took first place and a $2,000 reward in a Lincoln Cosmopolitan -- he had found out about the race through a syndicated comic strip. Also racing that day was Lee Petty, future father of all-time race winner Richard Petty.

* About good ol' Richard -- he had 40 percent of his stomach removed in 1978 because of ulcers. (Hey, racing is a stressful job.) He recovered quickly; two months after the surgery he won the Daytona 500.

* It all started there, and Charlotte continues to be the Mecca of NASCAR. About three-quarters of all American motorsports employees work in North Carolina (or as it's known to fans, "NASCAR Valley").

* On March 16, 2003, Ricky Craven (note: NOT Ricky Bobby) beat Kurt Busch in a race at the Darlington Speedway by .002 seconds, the closest finish in NASCAR history. And we do mean close; in the last stretch of the race the cars were touching.

* And finally, from this article about the movie, for those of you who think NASCAR is for rednecks only: "There are 75 million [NASCAR] fans who purchased more than $2 billion in NASCAR-licensed merchandise in 2005. In addition, NASCAR last December signed an eight-year agreement that includes broadcasts on Fox, TNT, ABC and ESPN. Races already are broadcast in 35 languages and 167 countries." Can I get a yee-haw?!

Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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