Major-league stock car racing has traveled a lot of back roads through the years, but at the moment it's on a four-lane highway leading straight to mainstream America.
Two television shows will carry stories on Winston Cup stock car racing within the coming week. Tonight, "Inside Edition" will have a story on Richard and Kyle Petty at 12:30 a.m. on Channel 2, and early next week, "Hard Copy," which airs at 7:30 p.m. on Channel 11, will broadcast a segment on Winston Cup racing's growth from a purely Southern sport to one with national appeal.
When both shows filmed segments last weekend at the Winston 500 in Talladega, Ala., NASCAR officials and competitors voiced concern that the programs would purposely seek out footage of stereotypical fans associated with the sport: beer-drinking, big-bellied yahoos.
But "Inside Edition" associate producer Sally Braks says the segment on the Pettys is non-controversial.
"It's just a straightforward piece about two very well-known drivers in a very, very popular sport," Braks said.
Dean Vallas, the director/producer of the "Hard Copy" segment, said: "I'm trying to show a slice of life and give a sense of what this thing is. Ten years ago, I think it was a major magazine that did a spread on racing. Across the top of the page were the words: 'Why they do it -- beautiful girls.' After being here and talking to these guys, I don't think that's why they do it."
Instead of huge egos and impatience, Vallas said he found the stars of the Winston Cup circuit willing to take time "to bother to relate to the questions." That's something most celebrities won't do, he said.
"What impressed me most were two things," Vallas said. "One, they're built with positive outlooks. And the other thing that really surprised me when I was interviewing Junior Johnson and Bill Elliott is that they are so well-grounded; that they are regular guys and that they made conscious decisions to stay that way."