“In all my born days as a white boy from Hickman
Based on the way that the world’s been to mе
It’s called me belligеrent, it’s took me for ignorant
But it ain’t never once made me scared just to be.”
– “Long Violent History” by Tyler Childers
Before last Saturday (Sept. 16) night, I had forgotten about one of Bristol Motor Speedway’s more popular traditions.
It had slipped my mind that all 36 NASCAR Cup Series drivers would be introduced to the fans in “Thunder Valley” while being backed by a hand-picked song before the start of the Bristol Night Race.
The excitement/curiosity over who chose what song probably reached its peak four or five years ago, at least for me. When you haven’t experienced it in person since 2019 and NBC can’t air said intros because of rights issues, it’s out of sight, out of mind.
So when the playlist was posted on social media, I had a “oh yeah, that” moment.
This year’s selection definitely had a spectrum.
At one end, you had Austin Cindric‘s choice of “Goofy Goober Rock” by … Spongebob Squarepants; two different tributes to the late Jimmy Buffett (JJ Yeley and Justin Haley) and Ross Chastain‘s obligatory watermelon-themed song, “Watermelon Moonshine” by Lainey Wilson.
Of course, there’s the assorted collection of classic rock, rap, hip hop and country music.
Ninety-seven percent of the 36 songs that played over Bristol’s sound system Saturday night could have been used to get one hyped up for a sporting event or to set a chill vibe for an evening barbecue.
Then, there was Bubba Wallace‘s song.
Wallace is known for his affinity for heavy metal music (“The heavier the song, the louder the song, the better it makes me feel”) and he’s been referenced by and featured in rap/hip hop music videos for Run The Jewels and Post Malone.
“Long Violent History” by Tyler Childers is about as far away from those genres as you can get.
On a list that contained a fair share of country songs, the three-minute, 10-second tune is arguably the most country — or bluegrass — of them all.
Though a very small part of the song would have been played, you’re forgiven if you weren’t able to make out the song’s lyrics — backed by a fiddle and banjo and sung with Childers’ Kentucky accent — in Bristol’s cavernous space that was likely filled with boos when Wallace was introduced.
At first blush, it’s probably not the kind of song one would associate with Wallace.
That is, until you get to the content.
The song was produced and surprise-released by Childers in September 2020, at the tail end of the long, hot summer we all lived through and I wrote about a year after it all happened.
That summer — filled with anger, riots, protests against police brutality and the backlash against them — is what Childers addresses in “Long Violent History.”
The song, which I first became aware of within a year of its release, is essentially an open letter to Childers’ fellow “white rural listeners” (his words, not mine) who rebuked the Black Lives Matter movement then and still do three years later.
As some of the lyrics go:
“Could you imagine just constantly worryin’
Kickin’ and fightin’, beggin’ to breathe
How many boys could they haul off this mountain
Shoot full of holes, cuffed and laid in the streets
Til we come into town in a stark ravin’ anger
Looking for answers and armed to the teeth.”
When he released the song, the then-29-year-old Childers published a separate six-minute video testimonial.
It it, he explained why he felt the need to write a song that was his “observational piece on the times we are in.”
“From the outsider’s perspective, it’s hard to see where all this visceral anger is coming from,” Childers said. “What I believe to be one of the biggest obstacles in pinpointing the cause of this is our inability to empathize with another individual or group’s plight.
“In the midst of our own daily struggles, it’s often hard to share an understanding for what another person might be going through. With that in mind, at the risk of mistakenly analogizing two groups of people, I would ask my white rural listeners to think on this. I don’t mean to imply that many of you aren’t already doing good self-examination on this issue, but I have heard from many who have not.”
Childers further expounds on the song’s lyrics.
He posits how people who look like him would act if they were bombarded on regular basis by headlines like “East Kentucky Man Shot Seven Times on a Fishing Trip” or “North Carolina man rushing home from work to take his elderly mother to the E.R. runs stop sign and was pulled over — beaten by police when they see a gun rack in his truck.”
What would it take for them to care?
Asks Childers: “What form of upheaval would that create? I’d venture to say if we were met with this type of daily attack on our own people, we would take action in a way that hasn’t been seen since the Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia.”
The Battle of Blair Mountain, in 1921, is the largest labor uprising in American history. It included 10,000 West Virginia coal miners who marched in protest over poor work conditions and housing and low wages.
Sparked by the murder of a police chief who had been more friendly to union miners over the companies that employed them, the battle in question resulted in the estimated deaths of 16 miners.
“If we wouldn’t stand for it, why would we expect another group of Americans to stand for it?” Childers said. “Why would we stand silent while it happened? Or worse, get in the way of it being rectified? I’ve heard people from my Appalachian region say that we wouldn’t act the way we’ve seen depicted on various media outlets.
“But I’ve also seen grown folks beat each other up the day after Thanksgiving for TVs and teddy bears. And these aren’t things these communities have lost. These are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and cousins, mothers and fathers.
“Irreplaceable threads within their family fiber torn from their loved ones too soon with no justice, and they are demanding change. Same as I expect we would find.
“Life is hard enough without being worried about the smallest interaction with a public servant.”
Childers’ “Long Violent History” is a three-minute song.
Goes without saying that it isn’t your typical Bristol pre-race fare.
It likely won’t change anyone’s mind about anything.
But at least you now know what it, and Wallace, have to say.
2023 is Daniel McFadin’s 10th year covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his third year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021. His work can be found at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and SpeedSport.com.
The podcast version of “Dropping the Hammer” is presented by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
About the author
Daniel McFadin is a 10-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He currently works full time for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is lead reporter and an editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR podcast "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" presented by Democrat-Gazette.
You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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