If the cars don’t matter anymore, does NASCAR? – Orange County Register

Drivers came and went. The cars remained.

The Fords raced the Chevrolets. They chased one bright red-and-blue Dodge. Richard Petty drove it, and David Pearson drove a Mercury and Cale Yarborough generally drove a Chevrolet. The race was on Sunday and the auto showrooms were hopping on Monday, because that wasn’t just Petty’s or Pearson’s car or Yarborough’s car. It was yours.

Now NASCAR isn’t what it used to be. Marketers, pundits and media throw darts at the reasons why. All the targets are legitimate, but they forget the one in the bull’s-eye. The car isn’t what it used to be either.

People bought Fords or Chevrolets for the same reason they became Baptists or Methodists, at least in NASCAR’s Southern cradle. Long before someone invented “branding,” the name meant something.

Chevrolet owners said Ford was an acronym for “Fix Or Repair Daily.” Ford owners noted that Chevrolet actually meant “goat farmer.”

It was a big deal when the new Galaxy or Fairlane came off the line and an uncle would take it into the driveway. Family members would lift the hood and study every hose. If a rebellious relative showed up with an Impala or another GM alien, he was ignored.

“I’m crazy about a Mercury,” Alan Jackson sang, in a tribute to Ford’s first cousin. “I’m gonna buy me a Mercury and cruise it up and down the road.” Years before that, Ronnie and the Daytonas extolled the “little GTO.”

Jeff Burton, from South Boston, Va., remembers those days. He won 21 races, when the game went from regional obsession to national fad. Now he is NBC’s race analyst.

“When my son turned 16 he didn’t even get his driver’s license,” he said. “Still doesn’t have it. So times have changed.’

Who counts cars on the highway anymore? Who could tell a Nissan from a Honda at first glance?…

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