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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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The Bard of NASCAR

Building on his professorial bona fides, Giangola, a Malverne native and NASCAR’s director of business communications, is also the author of the just-published The Weekend Starts on Wednesday: True Stories of Remarkable NASCAR Fans (Motorbooks), a highly entertaining look at some of the sport’s most passionate supporters. Many of them travel hundreds of miles to NASCAR tracks to watch their favorite drivers.

Indeed, one of the book’s running themes is the collegial, carnival-like atmosphere which prevails in the NASCAR track grandstands, campsites and infields, where up to 200,000 fans cumulatively gather for Sunday’s stock car races.

“I was thinking of calling the book, ‘You Hungry?’ If you walk through a NASCAR campsite, complete strangers ask you that question and offer up water, a beer, a turkey sandwich, chicken wings, or a sausage hoagie,” Giangola said, adding, “Show me another place on earth with as many empty beer cans and as few fights. In fact, in two years traversing the infields of NASCAR, I’ve yet to see one.”

The chapter discussing how one NASCAR race ended up being named after Russ Friedman, a Huntington Station native who earned two Purple Hearts while serving in Iraq, might be of the most interest to Long Islanders. NASCAR sponsor Crown Royal invited fans a few years ago to submit an essay as to whom they should name a 400-mile Richmond, Virginia race after. Friedman suggested honoring the military with the ‘Crown Royal Presents the U.S. Armed Forces 400.’ The event morphed into the ‘Crown Royal Presents the Russ Friedman 400’ amid concerns that the federal government couldn’t back a private endeavor, and because Crown Royal executives were so impressed by Friedman’s wartime service.

Two of my other favorite characters were Julie Catalano of Boise, Idaho and Dr. Diandra Leslie-Pelecky, a professor of physics at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Catalano, the owner of Mystique Salon, holds court every Monday, analyzing the previous day’s NASCAR race for her customers next to a life-size, cardboard cutout of her favorite driver, Carl Edwards. If Edwards wins on Sunday, Catalano offers everyone who patronizes her Salon the next day a special offer, such as a free pedicure or manicure.

Professor Leslie-Pelecky’s NASCAR analysis is fascinating, as she explains in layman’s terms the effects of viscosity on an engine’s lubrication, why the right-side car tires are larger than the left-side tires, and why pit crews paint their lug nuts fluorescent pink.

Now, I should mention that Giangola and I were classmates at Fordham University, and he was a great writer even then. He also doesn’t need a plug from me, since his book got a favorable mention in The New York Times, generated a live Good Day, Tampa appearance prior to the Daytona 500, and is being sold to Hollywood for the Weekend Starts on Wednesday movie. Still, when your friend becomes a ‘professor,’ even for a day, it counts as news.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: