DRIVING HOME THE COUNTRY CONNECTION

What is it about NASCAR and country that go together like butter on a hot biscuit? Veteran racer Kyle Petty -- and one-time country singer -- shares his thoughts on this special relationship.

I grew up traveling up and down the highway with my father, listening to Johnny Cash, Floyd Cramer, Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard all through the '60s. So I couldn't help but love country music. Now I listen to Brooks & Dunn, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, Steve Wariner and Marty Stuart.

I've played guitar since I was about 12. Then, in the mid-'80s I moved to Nashville and Marty Stuart was my roommate! I did some recording and opened for a few people. Playing music was fun and cool to do. But I never got serious because I didn't really want a second job. I already had one.

Most of the guys who drive cars and most of the people who sing country music have that attitude: There but for the grace of God go I. They know they could be that guy sitting in the second row watching somebody else. It's a privilege to be up there singing and it's a privilege to be out there racing. Both understand that we're blessed to be able to do this -- and that other people appreciate it.

The NASCAR and country fans are exactly the same. They've got the same loyalties and the same community values, whether it be small town or big town -- it doesn't make any difference. They feel like they have to give something back to their community and the country.

The crossover between country and NASCAR comes because stock car racing is a Southern ... really a Southeastern sport. If you look at country music at the time stock car racing was really taking off, its stronghold was in the Southeast -- and when you went to New York City or L.A., you didn't hear a lot of country music. It wasn't as mainstream as it is now.

In Winston Cup racing, we've gone through the same kind of thing country music went through a few years ago -- when it became more acceptable and people could admit they listened to it! Country music fans came out of the closet and all of a sudden, stock car fans did too! Now they can say they watch racing on Sunday afternoon and listen to country music!

-- Kyle Petty

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