Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Thursday, October 7, 2010

NASCAR and South Park: a Winning Combination?

Kenny McCormack is poor and stupid -- so naturally, he loves NASCAR.

At least, that's how Eric Cartman thinks on Wednesday night's episode of South Park on Comedy Central. The long-running animated comedy turned its attention to America's premiere form of motorsport in its most recent episode, and anyone who knows anything about the show should've had an idea of what was coming:

Lots of NASCAR stereotypes, and maybe a few "Oh, no they didn't!" moments. After all, we're talking about South Park here -- there isn't anyone that show hasn't gone after in its 13-year run. So knowing what I was in for going in, I wasn't offended. I was uncomfortable on a few occasions, which I'll get into in a moment, but I was far from offended.

See, when done right, NASCAR stereotypes can be funny. Let's face it, the stereotypes are there because at some point, to some degree, they've been true.

But was the episode funny?

Frankly, I didn't think so. I love South Park, and I think it's one of the funniest shows on the air. Even when the show lampoons people I like or causes I believe in, it does so with such wit that it's still entertaining. But last night's episode missed the mark; much like Talladega Nights: the Ballad of Ricky Bobby, I found the vast majority of the show's jokes flat and uninspired.

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't seen the episode yet, and hope to catch it either online or when Comedy Central re-airs it, stop reading.

Basically, Cartman wants to be a NASCAR driver ... but doesn't think he'll make it, because he's not poor or stupid enough. When his friend Kyle convinces him that he is in fact poor and stupid, Cartman enlists the help of Butters (who will obviously never learn) and embarks on a quest to become a big-time NASCAR driver.

The first try? Downing a bunch of Vagisil to kill brain cells (I am not making this shit up), hijacking a car that looks suspiciously like Jeff Gordon's before a race, only to drive the wrong way on the track, send another car flying into the stands and flip into a lake near Victory Lane.

Fans were killed, the media lambasted fans for being stupid ... and Cartman landed a sponsorship deal from Vagisil.

Which leads me to Uncomfortable Moment #1: the car flying into the stands, and the reporter later claiming several fans had been killed. Considering last year's near-miss at Talladega -- you know, Carl Edwards nearly flying into the crowd -- I thought this was a bit on the nose. I know South Park goes for shock value, but ... damn.

Cut to a press conference before the next race (apparently, in South Park, the big boys race in Colorado) ... where reporters are asking star drivers Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick questions. Cartman butts into the intelligent discussion about track temperatures and tire biases to make more "poor and stupid" comments -- before insulting both Earnhardt and Patrick when they questioned him.

Brief aside ... Junior in a Budweiser firesuit? Hello, 2007. Also, Kenseth and DeWalt parted ways last year. Get with it, South Park!

After a brief spoof of one of my favorite TV shows, ESPN's Pardon the Interruption, we get back to the track -- where Cartman proceeds to wreck people on the pace lap. That Cartman would be on a rampage, wrecking everyone in sight, is no surprise -- but when Patrick gets out of her car and winds up run over by Cartman ... hello, Uncomfortable Moment #2.

Eventually, Cartman has wrecked everyone -- to the delight of Vagisil's founder. Kenny has spent all this time trying to stop Cartman, determined to defend NASCAR fans against the "poor and stupid" stereotype, even going so far as to try and bring a sniper rifle to the track (only to have the security guard at the gate tell him he can't bring it in, but "you can probably buy one at the gift shop" -- I'll admit, that was funny).

At one point, Kenny winds up on the track, watching two cars side-by-side barreling toward him. Ironically, they miss him. Oh, my God ... they didn't kill Kenny!

But now the Vagisil founder's wife, tired of being the brunt of his insults, decides a little revenge is in order. So she goes out, pulls Johnson from his wrecked car, and proceeds to beat and bang with Cartman as they approach the finish line.

And guess what ... even in South Park, the No. 48 car wins.

It's not fair.

At the end of it all, Cartman didn't learn his lesson. Then again, he never does. I appreciate that the show took pains to show just how wrong Cartman was, but all in all, this wasn't one of their better episodes. It wasn't all that funny, and even though I was never offended, those uncomfortable moments helped ruin the experience.

In a way, South Park paying attention to NASCAR can be seen as a good thing; this is still the country's second most popular spectator sport behind the NFL, but the sport does need to bring in more, younger fans. I don't know if an episode of South Park can help with that, but I don't see how it can hurt, either.

My only suggestion is this: next time South Park wants to tackle NASCAR, at least make it funny.

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