When you’re young and in love you don’t see the object of your affection in the true light that shines down on it. You don’t see your crush in the same way you view the rest of the world. It’s not in black and white but in shades of gray. You all know what I’m talking about, we’ve all been there. Now imagine your your crush is a 200 mile per hour technicolor movie complete with a soundtrack of screaming engines, and the smell of racing fuel. Written by starring and directed by your own family. If you can picture all this in your minds eye you can understand why a young Robyn Vandenberg fell in love with NASCAR.
Our young heroine was introduced to auto racing by her father who sat in his easy chair on Sundays the way so many others around the county did, watching one of the worlds most macho sports. Cheering on his heros, guys like Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough. At his feet was young Robyn who soaked in the sights – sounds and stories of a sport she thought was as American as Baseball – Hotdogs – Apple Pie and Chevrolet, she didn’t know how true that really was. At least not yet.
As a young girl growing up in Georgetown, MA, about 30 minutes north of Boston, watching on TV she didn’t see her boyfriend for the good old boy he was. It wasn’t in her face as she tagged along to Thompson and Stafford motor speedways to watch her uncle, local legend Jim Cheney, take on the best the Northeast had to offer on the modified circuit. The bad boy lived hidden away underneath a smile and good manners. Like Eddie Haskell trying to convince Wally and the Bevs mom he was a good guy. Good old boy Gee Wiz Mrs Cleaver, charm was in full affect.
As the dating turned serious and Robyn started spending entire weekends with her Bo. Traveling to races outside New England she would catch her bad boy in moments his guard was let down. As she went further south the occasional Rebel Flag she saw in the northeast became more prevalent and the meaning seemed to take on a different tone or at least the BASE had been turned up. Robyn, who as a teen had helped organize rock against racism concerts back home, started to speak up letting her Bo’s distant and not so distant cousins know what they were preaching on the infidels and sometimes in the PITS was wrong and she wanted to hear none of it at her wedding reception. She was in love, the bad boy had proposed and she had accepted. Chalking it up to you can’t choose your relatives.
You see even then, each weekend BBQ was different, Robyn now had joined the family business covering the Sport for “Racin Nation.” Even in the deep south.you saw diverse crowds. At tracks like Homestead Fla you would see African Americans in the crowd. Native Seminoles and Cuban Americans – all part of the same family. But this was vastly different from the hord that descended on places Daytona and Talladega. She started to feel torn about her husband. For every great moment like meeting and interviewing drivers like Dale Earnhardt there were more and more bad ones. The Internet had now become a huge part of everyday life. And we all know how the anonymity of a keyboard brings out the worst in some people. Robyn began distancing herself from the family focusing on her job and spending less time on the family message boards. At this time Barack Obama was in the white house and Dale Earnhardt Jr had become the face of racing. For all the good that NASCAR diversity program and Dale Jr’s message of inclusion, the family fringe was becoming less fringey. The N word was tossed around like a beach ball in the stands and the message boards and facebook communities had become a haven for racist Memes and pictures of our lynched Black President . Robyn had had enough. Her once soft spoken pleas for politeness and understanding that people are people, became screams of outrage and disgust. People she once called coworkers and family became just part of the problem while they insisted they weren’t racist. The blind eye they cast on the issue forced her away from what may have been the only oasis in this desert she still had – the work and the drivers.
The Divorce Papers were filed, as the last presidential election was building steam and momentum for Trump was growing. Robyn saw more and more too be outraged by. The shades of Gray were replaced by vivid blue campaign signs, drivers hats replaced by MAGA caps. In Robyns words, “racist fans felt empowered”. In their mind, Trump’s message gave them a free pass. To her some wore the hats to replace white hoods. She had seen enough. Her message was falling on deaf ears, once polite nods of understanding from the fringe became shouts of “what would a Lib Yankee and a girl for that matter know”, and she walked away……
while interviewing Ms Vandenberg she wanted it made perfectly clear
” I want to make it perfectly clear that I in no way am saying all involved in the NASCAR whether it be employee , driver or fan are racist . This has been MY experience. I want to thank all of networks that ran Bump n Run , every Co-host whom I worked with , Track directors and the many guests I was blessed to interview. Some are still a part of my life. I LOVE this sport and always will. Sadly , my experiences the last two seasons have taken it’s toll on myself and my family. I’ve always said I will stop the show when it is no longer fun. Well that time is now. I look forward to enjoying this 2018 season on my terms ”
Now living in the thin air of Colorado, Robyn Vandenberg breathes a bit more easy. Surrounded by her real family, her true Husband (a craftsman), two of her three sons and her five grandchildren – ALL BOYS. This is what she pours herself into, this is her joy. Robyn still fights for what’s right. She still tries to enlighten those with eyes wide shut. Her once mighty Bump-n-Run Podcast followed by tens of thousands has been replaced by the smaller audenced political and social issues show Talkin Shizz. And occasionally she will turn on a race. After all do any of us truly get over our first love ?