Revving Up The Grapes

May 29, 2005

We NASCAR fans will gobble up entire Wal-Marts full of crap as long as it ties us to the sport we love--like talking bottle openers, driver-faced wall clocks and that home decorating essential, Star Wars Episode III Pepsi Jeff Gordon replica car hoods.

But NASCAR wine?

Richard Childress, the longtime team owner whom the late, great Dale Earnhardt once raced for, has started a winery. No, seriously. One of the biggest names in NASCAR is bottling Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. He's even going to make special-edition wines commemorating his team's wins.

Now, I think you'll find this little wine amusing. Notice the subtle hints of oak, butter and Pennzoil.

Do those words--NASCAR wine--go together? Isn't that like debutante wrestling?

The mind reels. How is NASCAR wine served? When you're ready to open a bottle, do four guys come running up, jack up your chair, yank your head back, pull your chin down, stick the end of one of those long gas cans in your mouth and pour it into you? All in 14 seconds?

Can't you just see it? You're at a restaurant that serves Childress wines, and the sommelier comes up in a hat, headphones and fireproof suit. He pours you just a taste for your approval. You swirl, sip and nod yes. And the guy hollers, "Get 'er done!"

Don't know if you've noticed, Richard, but we NASCAR fans are not generally seen reading Wine Spectator during time trials. We enjoy Pabst on our Frosted Flakes.

Merle, Daytona's on, so why doncha bring over a bag a pork rinds, maybe some fried Twinkies, and what about a nice bottle of Pinot Grigio to go with it?

In fact, until now there had only been one NASCAR whine: "These restrictor plates are killin' racin'!"

Really, how good would your wine have to be to please our palates? Now this is the good stuff! It's been aging ever since Talladega.

Hey, Richard, they better not find out about this in Darlington. They'll think you're French! They'll storm your garage with shovels and torches! My Lord, they nearly stone Jeff Gordon to death just for combing his hair!

Childress ain't scared. He's got the Fast Track Wine Club, and at his online store you can buy Finish Line gift baskets 'cause wine and stock cars both rely on good finishes.

But isn't Childress turning his back on NASCAR's roots? After all, this is a sport that began with moonshiners outrunning cops on the back roads of the Carolina hills, right? Now a NASCAR icon is selling unassuming bottles of Cabernet?

Put it this way, you think Richard Petty would've ever won Daytona, stood on top of his car and taken a sip of Syrah to celebrate? He'd sooner stand in front of the world and admit he needs a pill to get sexually aroused. (Oops. Sorry, Mark Martin.)

The Childress winery is on 65 acres north of Charlotte, with a faux Tuscan villa and a gift shop. The other night they entertained a pack of sportswriters and sportscasters. Childress even had three NASCAR rides out front, including the Intimidator's ol' black number 3. They've started having jazz concerts there, too. Somewhere, Billy Carter weeps.

In fact, there's a tour this Saturday that stops at Richard Childress Racing headquarters, the Childress winery and then the Dale Earnhardt Tribute Center down the road in Kannapolis. Tipsy NASCAR fans at Dale's memorial? They'll hug his bronze statue so hard you'll need a tow chain to get 'em off!

But wouldn't you love to tour that winery? "We run a very streamlined operation here at Childress," Lurleen, your tour guide, would say. "Notice that the mechanics working on the engine have their shoes and socks off and are stomping grapes at the same time. In this way, we can pass the savings on to you!"

You'd be standing at the tasting bar when two guys in overalls started arguing in the back room. "Dammit, Luther! I told you 100 times! The Chardonnay goes in the blue barrel and the antifreeze in the green!"

(Spit.)

Actually, I had a glass of the Childress Merlot the other night, and I have to admit--it was pretty good. The vintner at Childress, Mark Friszolowski, says winning some wine competitions is "key" to the label's success now. If he does, you think he'll talk to the press the way Childress's drivers do?

I'm not sure what happened in barrel 3. I think Jimmy mighta cut me or I mighta cut Jimmy, but she poured smoother'n a gravy sandwich after that, and I just wanna thank my Fruit of the Loom grape-pickin' team, my Listerine spit squad and, acourse, God.

And wouldn't it be wonderful if then Friszolowski started to drive off but suddenly veered onto the front lawn of the American Wine Society headquarters and started spinning donuts? ■

• If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to reilly@siletters.com.

Racing fans, I think you'll find this little wine amusing. Notice the subtle hints of oak, butter and Pennzoil.

COLOR PHOTOPETER READ MILLER

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)