I had an interesting epiphany recently. Opera lovers and NASCAR fans have a lot in common. Well, they don’t have the same things in common, but there are some common traits. I’m not sure how any of this matters in the eternal scheme of things, but here’s a go at it anyway.
I was raised going to auto races. My Dad got interested in auto racing through a couple on his paper route when he was growing up. Johnny and Alma owned midget cars and before long Dad was going to races, working in the pits, meeting drivers, and cultivating a life-long love of auto racing which he passed on to his family. We went to midget and sprint car races at the San Jose Speedway and listened to the Indianapolis 500 on the radio.
Stock cars, and definitely NASCAR, was not a part of my auto racing education. It wasn’t until Sam and I got married that I knew anyone who followed NASCAR. I hate to admit it, but I considered it a white, male, redneck fellowship. Of course, stock cars got their start during Prohibition. Drivers delivered bootleg whiskey primarily in the Appalachian region, modifying their cars for greater speed and heavier cargo. It has evolved to now be the second most watched sport next to the National Football League.
I went to my first opera when I was in the eighth grade. Chorus was a yearlong class and it was my only alternative to Home Ec. This was the 1960s and I was already bristling about certain cultural expectations. No way was I going to take any classes that perpetuated gender roles – like Home Ec and typing! The end-of-year field trip was to the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco and a real opera. Thankfully, the opera was Bizet’s Carmen. It’s probably the most accessible opera and a great one to introduce to a group of twelve and thirteen year olds – or anyone, for that matter.
NASCAR and opera both have dedicated fan bases. NASCAR, I would guess, has a larger fan base, but opera lovers are their own fierce group. Just listen to the Saturday afternoon matinee of the New York Met and you’ll get what I’m talking about. In fact, there are now simulcasts of the Met that air in theaters throughout the country! The Met has their own version of Name That Tune (and composer, opera, and scene) and regular people really know the answer! Yes, opera geeks abound.
Opera goers have their favorite operas (please don’t invite me to Wagner’s epic, fifteen hour Ring Cycle) and NASCAR fans have their favorite drivers or teams. Operas and NASCAR have spectacular endings resulting in either an encore or a burnout. Both opera and NASCAR feature international lineups which broaden and expand their reach.
Both opera and NASCAR are acquired tastes for me, exposing me to two diametrically opposed fan bases that really aren’t all that different if you can maintain an open mind. I can see it now: an opera diva singing the national anthem at a NASCAR race and an opera commissioned about NASCAR. (Smile)