Sunday was the Daytona 500, and as you can imagine, it’s the biggest sports event my newspaper here in Daytona Beach covers every year.
And man, do we cover it. The amount of trees killed for the auto racing copy we put in
the paper for the last two weeks … well, it would be enough to make Al Gore and Ed Begley Jr., run up a tree and hide. Of course, after all our coverage, there may not be any trees left.
I know absolutely nothing about NASCAR, and care even less. So because of that fact, I am asked one day a year to do something I never do at any other event all year: Celebrity-watch.
Yes, at the Daytona 500 every year, I spend one day pretending I work for TMZ or Gawker. My job at the Speedway is to channel my inner Liz Smith: seek out the celebrity fans, write down what they say, ask a few questions, write my story, and go home.
At first I thought it was demeaning and silly, but then I realized: Would I rather do this, or try to explain why Jeff Gordon’s pit stop was slow and why he couldn’t pass Tony Stewart coming out of Turn 3? (I don’t even understand what I just wrote there).
Anyway, it has led to some interesting encounters. I got a fist-bump from Nick Lachey once, after I’d walked with him 200 yards from the media center to the garage while doing an interview (Me and Nick, we bonded in those four minutes).
I got a 1-on-1 interview with Jets coach Rex Ryan last year, which was a true highlight. And I also got my favorite quote, maybe ever, from U.S. Olympic snowboarder Hannah Teter in 2006, when, after winning a gold medal at the Torino Games, she told me: “The Olympics are the biggest competition in the world for us, besides the X Games.”
Seriously. She said that.
Anyway, yesterday was a pretty light celebrity day. Sarah Palin was at the 500, and I tried to get up close to her to see what pearls of wisdom I could glean from her right palm, but alas, couldn’t get near her. I got to talk to Tim McGraw and ex-NFL coach Jimmy Johnson, which was kind of cool, because I’ve always admired Jimmy’s hair. McGraw, actually, seemed super-nice and real down to earth, as did Harry Connick Jr., who is indeed quite handsome in purpose.
One day a year of this stuff is enough for me. I just think all these sites like TMZ and Gawker cultivate such a ridiculously unhealthy obsession with celebrities, and it does bother me that in some ways, I do the same thing by writing about star athletes.
I don’t, however, follow them into the bathroom and stake out their house. So in my mind, that allows me to get up just a little higher on my moral high horse.
**It’s pretty hard these days, I think, to really move people with a commercial. But Procter and Gamble absolutely did it with this fantastic Olympic ad. Enjoy: