Sport on TV: Fast cars, guns and moonshine. What more could a man want?
Sunday 26 December 2010
So they haven't selected the new Stig from the Stig Farm yet. Top Gear (BBC2, Tuesday) has yet to replace Ben Collins, who outed himself as the show's stormtrooper-lookalike boy racer in his autobiography – an act that was regarded as so abject by the BBC that it was as if Santa Claus had whipped off his fake beard to reveal that he had been Noel Edmonds all along (the clue was in the name).
There was plenty of residual resentment on the show too, with the presenters taking potshots at cardboard Stigs and Richard Hammond even turning the targets round so he could shoot them in the back. The shooters were provided at the Virginia International Raceway, a venue for Nascar, which Jeremy Clarkson described as "by far the world's No 1 spectator sport".
Why the guns? It's obvious really. At the track they offer a crash course in the art of the drive-by shooting. This is the place that racing-driver movie legend Paul Newman described as "heaven on earth", and if you got caught in the crossfire then that was very likely to come true.
This bizarre sideshow at a major sporting venue is not so surprising given the genesis of the United States' motorsport of choice. Stock car racing's "birthplace" was credited to another track the trio visited, the Wittsboro Speedway in North Carolina. It originated among the men who drove moonshine whisky down the country lanes in the Appalachian mountains. Their cars had souped-up engines so that they could outrun the police. Obviously this wasn't exciting enough for them, so they started racing against each other. Those guys were the original drink-drivers.
Danny Boyle would have made a decent run on Thunder Road. The film director broke the wet-lap record for the "star in the reasonably priced car". His mentor was Tiffany Dell, a predecessor of Collins who eloped from Top Gear to Five's Fifth Gear. Boyle's success prompted accusations from Clarkson that "all these years the Stig has been coming here and slowing celebrities down".
Boyle is to direct the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics and the tightly-jeaned one offered him his own vision of the pipe opener: "The gates open, the gates are on fire, some Jags come in, XKRs on full opposite lock, and on fire... the crowd could be on fire." Well, it was always likely to be a case of crash and burn after the brilliance of the Chinese ceremonies.
Boyle revealed that in Beijing the performers had to wear nappies in rehearsal so that the routines were not interrupted by toilet breaks. From Thunder Road to the thunder box. It's something Paula Radcliffe might like to consider, but despite Boyle's best efforts you can't help thinking that the London show will just be pants in comparison.
* Andrew Flintoff made a creditable debut in the commentary box at the PDC World Darts Championship (Sky SPorts 1, Tuesday), calling the last leg of the match between Terry Jenkins and Joe Cullen on his own as Sid Waddell and John Gwynne left him to it. But surely we'd all prefer Fred to be chucking his darts at the Aussies in Melbourne. Even a few well-directed verbal barbs might do the trick, especially while Shane Warne is on the loose, flighting his own cupid's arrows willy-nilly in the direction of our poor English roses.
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