Southern women take pride in their crown

Fri, Oct 15, 2004

It’s one of the darndest things I’ve ever heard of or seen. But it happened. James Todd, a handsome doctorate candidate from the University of California at Berkley, applied for and received a large grant to study the culture of NASCAR.

Having worked in NASCAR for almost a decade, I could have saved him the trouble and tens of thousands of dollars by explaining the NASCAR culture — southern good ol’ boys, fast cars, condescending outsiders, every kind of beer known to man and pit lizards who wear tops too tight and chase the drivers, mechanics, pit crews, truck drivers and whoever has authority over garage passes.

It’s a brilliantly simple-minded culture. Very rich but simple.

But he didn’t ask me so he made his way South with a very used camper and trailed the series for an entire season, spending his nights in the infield. That, in itself, had to be an eye opening experience for a Berkley man. I met James through my friend, Deb Williams, who was the first female reporter to receive a garage pass back in the late ’70s. Immediately, I developed an affinity for him and not just because he looks like a young version of the heartthrob model, Fabio. The guy is neat with lots of personality and sincerity. It was also a lot of fun to see my beloved people through his curious eyes. At a Motorsports Hall of Fame induction in Talladega, we chatted at the reception. Surrounded by the NASCAR culture in all of its black-tied wonderment, I asked what he had learned so far.

"Well, one thing I learned," he began with a sly grin spreading across his face, "is that you southern women have this thing about your hair. All the drivers’ wives have beauty queen hair." He reached over, playfully flicked my hair and chuckled. "You have it, too."

I raised one eyebrow imperially and looked at him. After all, this came from a guy whose hair, beautiful and gleaming, falls several inches below his shoulders. "You got a grant for this?" I asked.

"Don’t get me wrong! I love it! But back in California, the girls just don’t care about their hair like you southern women do."

Knowing he was right, I asked the divas later over lunch, "Why do we care so much about how our hair looks?" The answers were varying from personal expression to upbringing to Diva Sharon who quoted the Bible by saying, "The scripture says a woman’s hair is her glory."

But it was also Sharon, who put the entire thing into perspective, when she talked of how she watched her mother lose her beloved locks from radiation as she fought cancer. One day, Sharon was with her in the hospital room, lovingly rubbing her mama’s bald head. Her mama looked up and smiled weakly. "Honey, I’d give anything to have another bad hair day."

How our hair looks ranks high in importance on our list of priorities. Often when I speak at events outside the South, I am asked how southern women differ from others. I have a variety of answers but one always remains constant. "You, too, might be a southern woman if one of the worse days of your life revolves around something that happened to your hair."

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