Nothing says “class” like riding to Seattle on a Boeing Business Jet to cover a KC-767 rally (see photo below), with the movie “Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” on both widescreens.
Yet, the movie’s paean to jingoistic-hick car racing culture meant more to me than mere slapstick; indeed, it was allegory, emulating the very soul of the twisted and tiresome six-year race by Boeing and Airbus to sell a new tanker to the US Air Force.
Hear me out.
You have the All-American driver Ricky Bobby, an unbeatable NASCAR champion. He is our stand-in for the KC-767.
There is his fellow driver and childhood friend Cal Naughton Jr. Cal faithfully manuevers his car to ensure that his buddy Ricky always wins. Cal, of course, plays the role of the US Congress.
And there is Jean Girard, the effiminate French driver who finally knocks the KC-76… er, Ricky, off his perch and sends him and his car into a lengthy rehabilitation period. You guessed it: Jean is the KC-30.
At this point, Ricky loses his car, his house and his best friend runs off with his wife. (Keep up: Darleen Druyun is the car, James Roche is the house and Congress — in the form of John McCain — is the scoundrel friend.)
So, finally, Ricky fights his way back onto the racing circuit and makes a final stand against Jean, the Camus-reading, macchiato-sipping Frenchie driver.
In a predictable twist, Cal (re-assuming the role of congressional stand-in) comes back to Ricky’s side, and literally wipes out the rest of the competitive field to give his buddy Ricky a clean shot against Jean on the final lap, cheering him all the way.
But then there’s another fateful twist. Neck-and-neck with a few hundred yards before the finish line, there is a massive collision. Both cars do sumersaults down the final stretch in a scene that evokes, to me, not a car crash but a contract protest upheld by the Government Accountability Office.
The two drivers — sore, bruised, but uninjured — climb out from their cars, eye each other and make a foot-race for the finish line.
I refuse to be a spoiler, but let’s just say that it doesn’t take a NASCAR bookie to correctly guess how this race is going to end.