The stands are packed at Talladega Speedway and ten million people tune into their televisions for the most exciting night in auto sport history. Danica Patrick in the Lunchables number 15 van sits in pole position, but Dale Earnhardt Jr., one row behind her in the Whole Foods number 2 car is favoured to win. Tonight he’s bringing Dunk-a-roos to halftime, and in this league, that might be all that matters. Guest announcer Oprah Winfrey shouts “START YOUR ENGINES!!!!” and Grand Caravans, Odysseys, Siennas, and a groovy Westfalia come to life. This is NASVAN.
The green flag waves, and we’re off and racing. High-octane mini-vans rip around the track at close to 200mph while a pit crew of U12 soccer kids, of varying shapes and sizes, wearing their cleats, shin pads, and racing helmets so big they look like bobble-heads wait to get picked up. Like NASCAR, first vehicle across the line wins, but NASVAN requires pit stops that challenge the driver’s parental prowess. It doesn’t matter when they do it, but at some point drivers have to load a bag of soccer balls and their pre-teen pit crew and buckle them in safely, drive them the distance of a family road trip and then unload them. At Talladega, this is 194 miles, the distance from the speedway to Camp Toccoa in Georgia, but every track is different. Penalties are given for excessive crying, and while car sickness is allowed, all evidence must be cleaned up before you take the checkered flag. Midway through the races, all drivers must stop for the Del Monte Half-Time Break and enjoy some orange slices, even if over an hour of non-stop counter-clockwise turns leaves few of the kids with any appetite.
After halftime, the school bus pace car leads the vans back on to the track, careful to not exceed the posted school zone speed limit inside pit row. At this point, some cars are laps behind, including the lone, floral decorated Westfalia, which announcers have dubbed the “Mystery Machine” way in last place. Forty laps behind, the Westfalia chugs along with smoke billowing out from its windows. “It appears that Fred Jones might be having engine problems, Michael.” “They just set a new record for pounds of food consumed during halftime, so it isn’t a fuel problem.”
Predictably, Dale Ernhardt Jr. is in the lead. Before the race, he reminded his team (who named themselves the ThunderCatHawks in a brilliant moment of consensus compromise) to go to the washroom now, because there’s no stopping in the van. When eleven year old Dale Ernhardt the Third (who goes by Junior Junior) declared a pee emergency only 20 laps after halftime, Dale Jr. downed a bottle of Molasses sports drink, official electrolyte of NASVAN, and passed the empty bottle back to Junior Junior. “You can use this”, he said, and put his foot even further to the floor. Twenty laps later, he’s into the pit for a scheduled stop, and the pit crew swaps out all tires for fresh ones, tops the van up with fuel, and also changes a Pamper’s diaper, all in 11.4 seconds. This is why Fox Sports has described Dale Ernhardt Jr. as the “greatest NASVAN driver since Dale Ernhardt.”
The Are We There Yet? lap counter reads 40 to go when Jeff Gordon in the Fruit-by-the-Foot van gets distracted trying to thread a straw into a Capri-Sun juice pack and crashes into the Pampered Chef number 56 van. The vans spiral in a cloud of smoke and crumple against the wall, and all eyes move to the Sony Bravia Jumbotron to watch the in-van crash cameras in ultra-slow-mo. Earlier this week Jeff Gordon made the controversial decision to add a four year old to his passenger crew to save on weight, and now the child’s carbon fibre booster seat will be put to the ultimate test. On impact the child’s headphones fly forward off his head, but the 4-point harness manages to keep the 35-40 pound child secure in seat. The yellow flag is waved, the Polysporin First Response Crew rushes out to the scene. Praise the Lord, all children walk away from the accident with nothing more than a few scrapes, supporting the Odyssey’s Consumer Report’s Five Star Safety Rating. TV coverages goes live to the Polysporin crew cleaning the four year old’s cut with the non-stingy stuff. “You’re lying. This is the burning stuff.” “It’s just water, I promise.” “I don’t want that bandaid. It looks stupid. Where are the Incredibles band aids?” “This is all we have right now.” “You lost them?!?!?!”
Dale drives past the wreck with his van in cruise control, bottle-feeding a baby on his lap, and rolls his eyes. “A bunch of amateurs”, he says, using his other hand to insert Who Let The Dogs Out into his Caravan’s 6-CD stereo. Indeed, “who let the dog out” is the question on everyone’s mind as a Great Dane bolts out of the Mystery Machine’s side door and chases after Chester Cheetah, The Cheetos Mascot, trying to unmask him in the infield. It may not be the noblest sport, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t sell a shit-load of diapers.