Every June, there it was, one of the most interesting juxtapositions in all of sports.
For years, the Cup Series race weekend at Infineon Raceway coincided with another signature Northern California event: San Francisco Pride weekend, the largest gay and lesbian celebration on the face of the planet, including its signature event, the Pride Parade.
"We'd go flying out of the track driving south to the San Francisco airport," Sterling Marlin recalled. "We'd hit all this traffic and miss our plane, and when I asked what the holdup was, somebody said, 'It's the parade.' I was like, 'What kind of parade?' We don't have one of those in Columbia, Tenn."
Alas, this year's Pride is scheduled for June 29, one week after the checkered flag will have fallen at Infineon. But there still is a place where this unlikeliest of cultural crossroads exists, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Welcome to Gaytona.com.
Meet Betty Jack
In the weeks following Dale Earnhardt's death in 2001, millions of Americans began tuning into NASCAR to see what all the fuss was about. One of those millions was a very successful Atlanta-based editor and project director named Dave. He and his partner, Dick, began tuning into Cup races and eventually made their way to the nearby Atlanta Motor Speedway for their first live race.
"We were hooked," said Dave, who chooses not to reveal his last name because his employer "doesn't have a great sense of humor."
Sense of humor about what, you ask? That would be Dave's drag queen alter ego, Betty Jack DeVine, the webmaster of Gaytona.com and all-around fun-loving gal er, guy.
"It's just something fun to do, darling," Dave said in his thickest Betty Jack drawl, then laughed back into his regular voice. "We had gotten into watching racing and started joking about being the only gay NASCAR fans in the world. We were laughing about it and thought it might be fun to start a Web site. We started kicking around names, and Dick said Gaytona Gaytona.com!"
If you build it
Then, a funny thing happened on the way to the world wide web.
We figured the site would just sit there. Then I started getting e-mails that each said the same thing. 'Betty Jack, I can't believe it! I thought I was the only gay NASCAR fan!' They didn't come flooding in, but they were steady and came from people all over the country, relieved that they weren't alone.
-- Dave, aka Betty Jack DeVine
They posted the site in 2003, complete with a blog, a gay NASCAR fan's guide to visiting Daytona, updates on openly gay racer Evan Darling and Betty Jack's DeVine 9½, a fantasy team made up of drivers selected for their attitude, racing ability and, yes, their good looks.
"We figured the site would just sit there. Then I started getting e-mails that each said the same thing. 'Betty Jack, I can't believe it! I thought I was the only gay NASCAR fan!' They didn't come flooding in, but they were steady and came from people all over the country, relieved that they weren't alone."
Soon, Gaytona's cult following blossomed into a full-fledged user base, thanks to media coverage ranging from the Las Vegas Sun to The Advocate.
"But I have to remind people that this is nothing serious. I get reporters calling and asking, 'What is your membership base?' or 'Do you have representatives at every track?' And I'm like, 'Dude, this is just me and my boyfriend having fun with other race fans.'"
Anyone looking for proof of Gaytona's unabashed goofiness need look no further than the video clip titled "Betty Jack's NASCAR and Bridge Party," which begins with Betty Jack and fellow dragster Bootsy Ramsbottom declaring their two favorite activities in the world are "watching NASCAR and playing contract bridge" and then proceeding to do exactly that.
And before anyone gets their feathers ruffled over their favorite driver's inclusion in the DeVine 9½, just read the disclaimer: "Are they gay, you ask? Not that I know of -- and who cares, anyway? All I know is these hotrod hotties are all bad sexy and wicked fast, and we're looking forward to a super season as they race for the championship!"
The 2008 version of the DeVine 9½ (which actually is 13 drivers) includes Elliott Sadler ("he's like a big bear"), Brian Vickers ("we call him Brian Wreckers"), Reed Sorenson ("a local Atlanta boy"), Carl Edwards ("duh") and Dale Earnhardt Jr. ("he loves rap music and opposes flying the rebel flag -- what's not to love about that?").
But the one driver who always ranks No. 1 at Gaytona is Betty Jack's favorite driver of them all -- Jamie McMurray.
"That first season I started watching NASCAR, he got his first win at Charlotte. He was so genuinely emotional and excited he won me over in an instant. I just wish he could get back to enjoying racing like that again. At the Daytona 500 this year, we met him and David Ragan at an autograph session, and Jamie just looked so sad. I really feel for him, and I think that's the dirty little secret of even the manliest male NASCAR fans. They love it for the emotion as well. It's their version of a soap opera."
Welcome, race fans
Dave makes it out to at least a couple of races each year, even spending some party time atop the RVs in the Atlanta Motor Speedway infield.
On the surface, it might sound like a great way to get beat up, but so far Dave and Dick's experiences at the track have been anything but threatening. And while the occasional abusive e-mail does pop up from time to time, by and large, the NASCAR fan base has been welcoming to this unique niche of race fans.
"It's just always a good time. You buy your ticket and take your place in the stands, and every section is like its own community. Everybody's your buddy. You pull for your driver, I pull for mine, and we just have a good time and don't worry about who is with whom or what they like or don't like. Anything that brings us closer together has to be a good thing, right?"
Ryan McGee, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine, is the author of "ESPN Ultimate NASCAR: 100 Defining Moments in Stock Car Racing History." He can be reached at email@example.com.