Wheels

As I write today’s entry, a life hangs in the balance.

This is not our car, but it's the same model. I don't think I ever parked it on the beach.
This is not our car, but it’s the same model. I don’t think I ever parked it on the beach.

Our 11-year-old Volvo V70 station wagon sits in the parking lot of a transmission repair shop awaiting its fate.

Those of you who are regular readers of New South Essays will remember that number 19 on my 30 days of Thanksgiving list was “functioning vehicles.” Apparently I didn’t knock on enough wood to stave off a jinx, but the Volvo has been tough. We’ve had near-death experiences before.

Almost five years ago, what was then Carla’s car received the terminal diagnosis of imminent transmission failure. The only treatment option, the dealer told us, was total replacement at a price tag exceeding $5,000.

That was nearly 100,000 miles ago. We elected not to pursue the replacement, and instead, Carla got a minivan and I started driving the grocery getter to work. Yes, we had to tolerate a certain level of “rough shifting,” but it’s amazing how much rough shifting you can live with for $5,000.

All has been well until I changed jobs at the end of August and started commuting to Midtown Atlanta. After a couple of months and several instances of the car just shutting off on me, Carla and I elected to switch vehicles. While I traded up in the reliability department, I made a lateral move in the coolness department.

For several months our boys, particularly our eldest, teased me that I was driving “an old lady car” when behind the wheel of our station wagon. When I started driving the Honda Odyssey, he said I was now driving a “Mommy Mobile.”

I would love nothing more than to have the Volvo put out of service and be able to buy a brand spanking new pick-up truck. But financial realities being what they are, a truck is not in my immediate future. We really need to be able to either A.) keep driving the Volvo or B.) trade it in for some value toward another vehicle. A truck would be about the least practical purchase for my daily commute.

It may be a stereotype, but the Clampett's car might be the most recognized Southern automobile this side of John Deere or NASCAR.
It may be a stereotype, but the Clampett’s car might be the most recognized Southern automobile this side of John Deere or NASCAR.

All this has me contemplating vehicles in the New South. If a pickup truck is a Southern icon (remember the opening ceremonies of the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta with the synchronized pickup routine?), has it been replaced? What is the iconic vehicle of the New South? Is it Mercedes Benz, manufactured in Vance, Ala.? Is it a BMW, made in Spartanburg, S.C.?

Or could it be the Kia or Hyundai models, manufactured in Georgia? Porsche is about to build a new headquarters in Atlanta at the site of the old Ford plant near the airport. Could a Porsche be the signature vehicle of the New South?

I don’t really know. It may be a minivan, for all I know. Every time we leave church or a scout meeting, the parking lot looks like a used car lot specializing in the Honda Odyssey.

This week’s post is interactive. Your vote counts, so participate and encourage others to answer today’s poll question: What is the quintessential vehicle of the New South? If we can answer this question definitively today, we could give car dealers something new to advertise during the holiday glut of red bow-topped cars.

Make your nomination by leaving a comment below. Results will be published with next week’s essay.

Southern sports showcase

Last weekend was a convergence of televised events that treated channel surfers with more than the usual amount of Southern accents.

Matt Kenseth wins the 2012 Daytona 500
Matt Kenseth won his second Daytona 500 in one of the weirdest races of all time at the historic speedway.

Unless you were under a rock you know that last weekend was the 54th running of the Daytona 500, the official start of the never-ending NASCAR season. What you may have overlooked was that it was also the 2012 Bassmaster Classic at the Red River in Shreveport, La.

Yeah, yeah, the rest of the world had the Oscars to fuss over, but for true Southerners, it was a weekend to revel in the great sports that have found or are beginning to find a broader fan base.

Truth be told, I don’t watch much racin’ or fishin’ on the TEE-vee. A few years back, Barron had a brief obsession with NASCAR after he saw the Pixar film, Cars. That year, Kevin Harvick won the Daytona 500 by two-tenths of a second over Mark Martin in the closest finish ever, and Clint Bowyer crossed the finish line upside down and on fire.

“Whoa! What is this!” Barron said in a “where has this been all my life” tone as the race finished.

Once he realized there was a five-hour race every weekend for nearly 10 months and all races don’t end that way, he lost interest. But for a couple of years we were as much NASCAR fans in our household as the other neophytes sporting numbered trucker hats and T-shirts with such thoughtful slogans as “Boogity, Boogity” and “The surgeon general said nothing about smoking the competition.”

This year’s race was a logistical nightmare. It was supposed to gun on Sunday afternoon, but rain delayed the event until Monday night. Several wrecks chased fan favorites Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and last year’s winner, Trevor Bayne. Then, with 40 laps to go, something broke on Juan Pablo Montoya’s number 42 car. It swerved and hit a jet dryer causing an explosion and subsequent blaze that delayed the race another two hours. By the time Matt Kenseth crossed the finish line to take his second Daytona 500, it was Tuesday morning.

In driver parlance, it was a weird deal, man.

I don’t want to give away the outcome of the Bassmaster Classic because even though the event has ended, the three-days of weigh-ins will be televised on Saturday and Sunday on ESPN2. What? You say you don’t mind? OK, well, SPOILER ALERT! Chris Lane took the top prize of $500,000 by catching 51.6 pounds of fish in three days.

Chris Lane
Chris Lane holds the 2012 Bassmaster Classic trophy aloft and gives a celebratory yell.

What? You say you’ve never heard of Chis Lane? THE Chris Lane? OK, well, neither had I, but that’s not the point. As a guy who grew up with a bass fishing dad, I can still hear Jimmy Houston’s cackle and see Bill Dance’s pratfalls in my childhood memories. Bass fishing was something I never cared to watch on television, but grew to enjoy with my dad when we had chances to go.

So why are these sports inextricably linked to the South? We all know football is king down South, but people in other parts of the country play it, too – although that’s getting harder and harder to prove by watching the Bowl Championship Series games.

NASCAR and Bassmaster have several things in common: their origins are Southern, they are warm weather sports, their fan bases have some sense of participation and, most importantly, they have numerous corporate entities involved that wish to reach an audience with their products.

Ultimately, it’s sponsorships and advertising revenue that lands your sport on TV.

So before anyone claims the South has risen again based on the ascendance of its hallmark sporting events, think about your consumer behavior next time you pay $8.49 for a Strike King® Kevin VanDam Sexy Dawg Topwater lure or pick up a Diet Mountain Dew.

Did you really want that or did you just watch too much racin’ and fishin’?

Keep your hooks wet and your car off the wall, and have a good season. Second place is just first loser!

What do you think is the king of Southern sports? What makes a sport Southern? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.