NASCAR "went primetime" Tuesday night, as the cast of ABC's hit "Last Man Standing" were joined by three-time and defending Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart. I don't know about everyone else, but my Twitter feed was ablaze with race fans - both of Stewart and of other drivers - along with NASCAR media members and other racing personalities eagerly anticipating the show.
Now, for a little bit of preface, everyone who reads my work regularly, all two of them (Thank you, Bob Ellis, NASCAR Ranting and Raving site owner who has to make sure I don't write something that will jeapordize its NASCAR Citizen Media status after my embarassing Twitter attack on a NASCAR official in March 2010, and thank you mom) know three things: 1. I always have an opinion and I'm not shy about sharing it; 2. I have a sometimes demented sense of humor; and 3. I am an unabashed, diehard Tony Stewart fan
Having missed out on Smoke's first TV appearance in an episode of The Glades last June - though according to other fans I asked, I didn't miss much aside from some stereotypical Southern accents which just makes me want to put a boot through my TV screen - I looked forward to seeing him in a comedy setting. That Tim Allen, a car-guy, the narrator for Chevrolet's terrific ads, and a former racer himself (something I learned in this NASCAR.com story yesterday afternoon) is the star of the show only upped the anticipation. I'd never watched "Last Man Standing" until last night, so I was somewhat nervous that, like most contemporary network TV programs it seems, it would rely on gutter humor to get a cheap laugh.
So, how did it go? Did the show live up to Stewart's championship reputation, or did it fizzle out like a Joe Gibbs Racing engine? If you haven't seen the show, be mindful that there are spoilers past this point.
The show was quite entertaining, though my attention admittedly waned during the segments focusing on the mother and the three daughters. I laughed at some of Allen's lines, and Hector Elizondo's as well. More on Hector in a moment. The third main character in the scenes at Outdoor Man, the outdoor shop Allen and Elizondo own (clearly a knockoff on Bass Pro Shops, more on that in a moment as well), was an employee who annoyed me from the first time I saw him and made me grumble when he dismissed racing.
Maybe it's just me, but I got chills when they raised the curtain to reveal Tony's 2012 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevy. And it wasn't just because it was Stewart's ride; I likely would have reacted similarly even if it was Greg Biffle's 3M Ford, the one driver and car I openly root against. There's just something about a single stock car sitting quietly, be it on TV or at a show car appearance or wherever, that is almost as exciting as it roaring around the track. A beast at rest, if you will.
The show's plot - at least the scenes centering on Allen's character and his shop, again I didn't pay much attention to the mother/daughters interaction - effectively boiled down to Allen and Elizondo enlisting Stewart and his No. 14 race car to ramp up excitement for the store. In addition, the shop's logo is placed on the car, albeit quite small and on the rear bumper (to Elizondo's immense disappointment). It was quite humorous that the logo was mere inches from the rear quarter-panel, where the Bass Pro Shops logo is placed on Stewart's ride.
Stewart arrives and greets the characters - referring to Allen as "Choke," which Allen says references his habit of choking people who ask stupid questions; I laughed, imagining the reaction of media members watching the show and seeing that scene - and leaving with strict instructions for no one to so much as touch his race car, especially not kissing the hood.
After some mother/daughter time, we return to the shop. Elizondo declares he must kiss the hood, because Stewart put the idea in his head. He lifts the curtain to reveal that the car is gone! Frantic, they call up the aforementioned employee who annoyed me. Sure enough, he has taken the car, attempting a joy-ride. An amusing sight gag featured the employee, informing Allen of his whereabouts via phone as he stands next to the car and says "You can't miss me." Unfortunately he ruins the comedic gold by adding "I'm standing next to a red race car." Like I said, he annoyed me.
While Allen has gone to retrieve the car, Tony arrives to Elizondo's horror. He remarks that Stewart is early for his scheduled appearance, to which the champ replies something to the effect of "Yeah, kind of my thing." That isn't an exact quote but you get the drift. I howled in laughter, and I'm sure most of the other NASCAR viewers who are aware that Tony is never early or even on time for anything did as well. It was the single most golden moment of the episode.
Tony wants to see the car and keeps reaching for the cord to pull the curtain up, only to be continuously distracted by Elizondo. Elizondo offers to show Stewart some of the equipment his shop sells, hoping to buy Allen and the employee enough time to get the car back before Stewart raises the curtain and goes beserk. Meanwhile, we again find Allen and the annoying employee with the car. Allen tells the employee to push the car while he steers, but the employee claims to have thrown his back out. He eggs Allen into driving the car, having seen the gleam in his eye when describing what a thrill it must be to lead a pack of cars at Talladega earlier in the episode. Allen says, "I'm going to start this car, I'm going to drive this car, and if I don't kill myself in this car, I'm going to get out and kick your butt." Only he didn't say "butt," the only instance of profanity in the episode.
Allen then fires the car up and lets loose in a series of wild donuts. In the NASCAR.com story linked above, Allen revealed that he actually floated the valves in the engine but was unaware until Stewart informed him afterwards.
Stocked up with all kinds of free outdoor gear he will likely never use, Tony finally makes his way back to the curtain and lifts it up. The car is back, with Allen and the employee standing next to it. They try to fib, saying that they were just checking out the left-side of the race car, but Tony can tell it has been driven. Allen fesses up, at which point Stewart demands his keys to even up the score. Allen claims that Tony would flip his truck if he tried to do donuts, which Tony says is the entire idea. Elizondo comes to Allen's aid, saying that two wrongs don't make a right. Tony offers to make the Outdoor Man logo twice as big, to which Elizondo replies "Give him the keys."
The episode unfortunately hits a low point at the very end when Allen declares to his wife that he "drove a NASCAR." I cringed, then scowled. Someone referring to a NASCAR stock car as a "NASCAR" chafes my butt like few things can. Does that mean next Friday, we'll be watching them race NASTrucks? Good grief.
All in all, that bit of irritation aside, it was a very entertaining show. Seeing Hector Elizondo, whom I've only seen as this wise, fatherly sage of sorts interacting with my racing hero and declaring that he wanted to kiss the hood of his car was especially a treat. For NASCAR fans and especially Tony Stewart fans who got all the in-jokes and what have you, it was a nice little taste of the sport we love ahead of this weekend's Budweiser Shootout. And hopefully the scene of the No. 14 Chevrolet spinning celebratory donuts was a preview of February 26's Daytona 500 - with Smoke behind the wheel, of course.