My Weekend with Hitchens at NASCAR

Last weekend, there was a public memorial service at Cooper Union in New York to commemorate the voice of the late Christopher Hitchens. I missed that gathering, unfortunately, but this weekend, there is another big event that will remind me of my most cherished memories of the man. No, it’s not the White House Correspondents Dinner tomorrow night. I never had the opportunity to attend one of the Vanity Fair after-parties in his apartment near the Washington Hilton.

No, the event I’m talking about is the NASCAR race this weekend at the Richmond International Raceway, the same race that he and I traveled to one weekend in 2005. “What?” you ask. It seems to you that the late Mr. Hitchens and NASCAR would mix together about as smoothly as Texas crude and distilled water?

Well, you’re partly right. As I write in the March print edition of The American Spectator (also online), what began as my half-joking recommendation that he attend a NASCAR race to “see a piece of Americana” turned into an unforgettable weekend when he took me up on my offer to drive him down to the the race in Richmond. He was doing a series of pieces on “red state America” for Vanity Fair, and NASCAR certainly fit the bill. I had written a few pieces on NASCAR as a reporter for Investor’s Business Daily, and I did my best to serve as his ambassador to the sport and to red state America. Walking around the infield media center of the Richmond track with his trademark whiskey flask, Hitchens was immediately recognized and feted by a local sportswriter as well.

Hitchens didn’t write that much about economics, but he penned a few pieces taking on the Nanny State, and he certainly did so in practice, particularly with his beloved cigarettes. However, as I write, I was a bit concerned for everyone’s safety when he sneaked a cigarette at the raceway in an area near the pit crews with their open containers of gasoline. But, as I conclude, “the raceway survived,” and in my car and over drinks (and yes, for me at least, those two events were mutually exclusive), we had stimulating discussions over “everything from Iraq to Thomas Jefferson to Charles Dickens to country music (some of which he was a fan of). I don’t remember who won the races, but I’ll always remember my weekend with this remarkable man.”

At the time, Hitchens was also writing his short biography of Thomas Jefferson. I believe this was his first trip to Richmond, and he enjoyed the historical sites such as the Virginia State Capitol Building that was designed by Jefferson. As I write, he also “seemed most at ease” in the ornate lobby of Richmond’s Jefferson Hotel. I do hope he had a chance to go back and see more of this beautiful city once again.

So thank you, Open Market readers,  for indulging another “drinking with Hitchens” eulogy. His “extended wake” will likely continue, as there are so many wonderful stories about his wit and warmth. Whether you are going to the races, the White House Correspondents Dinner, or just kicking back at home (as I am), have a great weekend!