Saturday, 20 February 2016

IN THE COCKPIT WITH NASCAR POSTERBOY CARL EDWARDS AT DAYTONA


Carl Edwards on the cover of ESPN The Magazine

Montreal stock-car racing legend Dick Foley was not just the first Canadian to race in the Daytona 500, back in 1959, but Foley also inadvertently caused the biggest pile-up in NASCAR history at Daytona Speedway the following year.

After losing, then regaining, control of his Chevy Impala – the words "Montreal, Canada" painted on his fenders – Foley spun out into the infield. Thirty-seven cars (in a record 73-car field) behind Foley weren’t so lucky, crashing in a spectacular demolition derby.

“It was some show, I’ll tell you that,” Mr. Foley told me when he was inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame at a gala in Toronto in April 2012. “There were 37 cars in that accident! Fortunately no one was seriously injured. It was a miracle.”

Scroll down to watch the spectacular video of that crash.

To this day, Mr. Foley returns to Daytona each and every February with his blonde bombshell wife and former ballet dancer Evita Perron, where they catch up with old friends and NASCAR royalty.

Stock-car racing’s storied bootlegging past, car crashes and stunts – one driver was even offered $1,000 cash to race without a roof in Daytona’s 1959 inaugural race – established NASCAR as a macho club of good ole boys, thrill-seekers and speed demons.

Over the decades, everybody knows there have been gay drivers in NASCAR – though just three have ever publicly come out of the closet, Massachusetts-born Evan Darling, who was the first out of the blocks, as well as Stephen Rhodes who raced in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2003, and Justin Mullikin in the NASCAR Grand National Sportsmen division.

“I don’t have a big gay flag on my racing suit,” Darling told the Florida Agenda newspaper. “My partner always came to the races with me. And [other drivers] never had an issue with that.”

Race car driver Evan Darling
Continues Darling, "However, since I’ve turned pro some of the teams have talked about me behind my back. They’re just pussies, they don’t want to talk to your face. If you ask them if there’s a problem, they say ‘No,’ they’re okay with it, but then you hear the stories of what they say behind your back. That’s just how it is and I don’t care. I’m happy and comfortable with myself and I think we should all be that way."

I’m not surprised Darling was treated this way considering the God-awful homophobic reaction to the news that racer Tim Richmond – one of the first drivers to switch from open-wheel racing to stock-car racing – died of AIDS back in August 1989, at the height of the AIDS hysteria. Richmond was just 34.

Many NASCAR fans now admit they are ashamed of how they acted back then, and the sport has taken some positive steps towards embracing their LGBT fans.

No NASCAR driver has done more to embrace his LGBT fanbase than Carl Edwards.

In fact, since his eye-popping beefcake pose on the February 2006 cover of ESPN The Magazine, Edwards has become, like soccer superstar and underwear model David Beckham, the metrosexual posterboy for his sport. When Edwards appeared on The Late Late Show with then-host Craig Ferguson, Ferguson not only joked that Edwards’ nipples seemed far apart, but suggested that was because of the incredible speeds at which Edwards drives.
Montreal stock-car racing legend Dick Foley
pictured here with his stock car in 1959
 (Photo courtesy Eva and Richard "Dick" Foley)

And, man, Edwards loves to drive. I got to meet him in Montreal a few years ago at the now-defunct NASCAR Nationwide Series NAPA Auto Parts 200 at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve. (I also met Paul Newman at the same track at a Champ Car World Series race, but that’s another story.)

Edwards told me his first-ever car was actually a Ford Ranger pick-up truck. When I asked him which he loved most, his Ranger or his first girlfriend, Carl laughed. "That’s tough, buddy! Truth is, if one had to go, I’d keep the Ranger!"

Today, since the ESPN magazine cover and the Late Late Show spot, Edwards has become a key player in the sophisticated urbanization of NASCAR. I told Carl, "The girls love you, the straight guys love you too, and the gay NASCAR fans – and there are many in Montreal – we love you too!"

I then explained to Edwards my informal survey of seven gay friends to crown the hottest guy on the planet at the time: John Legend, Brad Pitt, Chris Martin of Coldplay, Barack Obama or Carl Edwards?

Edwards, who works out five times a week, laughed out loud. "That’s cool!"

I continued: "And I emailed them photos of each candidate, including your ESPN magazine cover –and the decision was unanimous: Carl Edwards is the hottest!"

Edwards was clearly delighted. "Yeah!"

So I asked him how he feels about being NASCAR’s über-hot metrosexual posterboy?

"Well, the great thing about our sport is the diversity of our fans!" Edwards replied. "I literally have men and women coming up to me all the time, 85-year-old women and four year-old kids, and it really is an honour. I love all my fans – all of them!"

Then, without missing a beat, Carl added, "And tell all your friends I really appreciate it!"

Carl Edwards will start in 10th position at the 58th annual Daytona 500 on Feb. 21 to launch the 2016 NASCAR season. Guess who I will be rooting for … Also of note, female driver Danica Patrick will start the race in 16th position.

Drivers, start your engines!




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