"NASCAR Drivers: 360," which premiered on FX Friday night at 10 and runs for eight episodes, purports to show that auto racing's biggest stars are just regular Joes. You know, the ones that have private jets shuttle them to meetings with sponsors, live in giant houses and get paid exorbitant sums to drive around in circles.
Friday's show followed Kevin Harvick, one of racing's top drivers, at home with his wife, DeLana; Rusty Wallace as he flew in style to Pittsburgh to talk to a prospective sponsor about the Busch Series team he's starting; and Rusty's brother, Kenny, who after not winning in 300 career starts on NASCAR's top series, has decided to race this year on the Busch Series, NASCAR's second-tier circuit. The show covered the week leading up to the Subway 400 on Feb. 22.
On the one hand, "NASCAR Drivers: 360" puts across a message that surely NASCAR wants everyone to believe: That NASCAR drivers are just like you.
They have wives and children and dogs. Harvick wakes up and says he's hungry, to which DeLana replies, "Not my problem." He later cleans up after his dog (after pestering from the wife) by flinging the poop over his neighbor's fence. Kenny Wallace watches his daughter's middle school basketball game. That sort of thing.
But on the other hand, the show is more like MTV's "Cribs," portraying these guys that are just like you, only with more money than you'll ever hope to see. The houses are palaces. Rusty Wallace not only uses a private jet, he gets to fly it himself. Kenny Wallace drops $10,000 to take over another driver's car after not qualifying for a race. That sort of bling.
The show has potential. It definitely allows fans who aren't diehards to get to know the drivers, showing they have distinct personalities and aren't all good ol' boys from the South with trophy wives and millions of dollars. But if it follows the same formula as it did Friday, it will have to be considered only a cosmetic look at the sport.
Where are the stories of the struggling driver, the one who is just scraping by, and the wives that basically give up lives of their own to support them? And I'm not talking about poor Kenny Wallace moving down a notch to the minor leagues because, as he claimed on the show, a sponsor that didn't want to pour money into a losing Nextel Cup car approached him about driving a Busch Series car (surely his perfect 0-for-300 record had nothing to do with his decision). Rather, I'm talking about the kid with a dream and a driver's license, or the old pro who's on the verge of losing his sponsor and, with that, his livelihood.
And where are the worried wives? Surely each race, each lap, must be incredibly nerve-wracking for a drivers' wife, considering she's one blown tire from being a widow. Kenny Wallace's wife was in tears at one point in the show, not because of the danger her husband faces each time he gets behind the wheel, but because he failed to qualify for a race.
Knowing NASCAR and its my-way-or-the-highway mantra, I'm betting all that gets left out in the editing room. But there are still seven episodes left, so perhaps we'll get a look under the hood.