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?!