Sticking To My PC

Whew! It’s back to Talladega for the EA Sports 500. The title sponsor of this race presumably wants to hype its video games. Here’s hoping what we see Sunday is a competition between responsible, mature drivers. Personally, I don’t want it to look like a video game, at least not the kind I end up playing with my nephews.

Yeah, I’ve been known to get bored and pop the old racing-simulation game into my trusty Dell Dimension XPS T600. (There is no way I could actually tell you what kind of home computer I have if I wasn’t sitting at it and reading the name right off it at just this instant.) No, I don’t drive a Taurus, a Monte Carlo, a Grand Prix or an Intrepid. I drive a Dell, and I always bring it home in one piece.

One of the great aspects of PC racing games is that they are amazingly realistic, and that comes from genuine stock car racers who play them a lot more avidly than I. An even greater characteristic is that, when one hits the wall, it doesn’t hurt. I’m not near as fearless as, say, Kevin Harvick, but when I’m driving my Dell, I know I’m not going to wind up being helicoptered off to Callaway. (Callaway is the name of the hospital in Birmingham where drivers injured at Talladega are usually taken, or is that Caraway? No, that’s a short track in Asheboro, N.C.)

There being no compelling reason to be prudent, I am a very aggressive driver on my PC. Years ago, Humpy Wheeler helped mastermind the development of Legends cars because he saw them as an affordable way to go racing. To me, an affordable way to go racing is in my comfortable desk chair behind the wheel of my Dell.

I like to dial up the track to which I’m about to go and get a feel for the competition by racing it with my Dell. It’s important, by the way, that one “races the race track,” as every driver invariably says when it’s time for a race at Darlington. And, sure enough, racing at Bristol is like flying “jet planes in a gymnasium.”

At least I know, though, that it’s not the real thing. It’s a way for an overweight, middle-aged sportswriter to get a taste of what it’s like to race stock cars (or Formula One or dirt late models or sprint cars or little Ford Focuses off-road, for that matter).

Occasionally, I see something at the real races that reminds me of me. Like, for instance, in August at Watkins Glen, I watched Boris Said’s Chevrolet go flying past three cars into turn one, where he slammed into Ricky Rudd’s Ford (proving the maxim that eight wheels get better traction than four) and, for a moment, at least, greatly improved his position.

As I was watching it, I was thinking, that looks like something I’d do. In fact, that was something I had done, just a few nights earlier in the privacy of my home. It was a hell of a move, mainly because it worked and because I didn’t have to worry about any of the cars I’d allowed mine to mug (I mean, they’re computer-generated, right, and they don’t have human emotions?). Come to think of it, Boris didn’t have too much to worry about, either, because he doesn’t race on the Winston Cup circuit every week.

Now, when I take on my nephews, it really gets wild. First of all, I’m better than all three of them on the NASCAR games. They’re better than me on the ones that have loop-the-loops and go-karts driven by gorillas who are capable of dropping a banana peel for the guy behind them (that being me!) to run over.

Thing is, when I use my drafting expertise to pull out to a big lead, they tend to really start stretching the rules. Eleven-year-old Vince, for instance, may just stop his car, turn it around in the tri-oval and do a Polish victory lap while the actual race is still going on. Think it’s hard to avoid a wreck? Try it sometime with an 11-year-old coming at you going 197 miles an hour in “Let’s play chicken, Uncle Monte” mode.

It will make you forget you’ve got a rear-view mirror filled with DuPont Chevy, I’ll guarantee you that.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2001

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