Congress

GOP: NASCAR is contagious, but its fans are not

WASHINGTON — Being around NASCAR fans requires no inoculation.

That was the word Thursday from Republican officials after they learned that a congressional committee's Democratic staffers had advised aides to get vaccinated for hepatitis and other diseases before visiting NASCAR events in Concord, N.C., and Talladega, Ala.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said his committee aides were visiting health-care centers, detention facilities and other operations where they could be exposed to communicable diseases. He said the immunizations were routine for health-care workers.

"Democrats should know that there is no preventive measure yet designed to ward off the blue-collar values and patriotism that NASCAR fans represent," said Linda Daves, the chairwoman of the North Carolina Republican Party. "If they aren't careful, they just might catch some of it."

Republican Rep. Tim Walberg, whose district includes the Michigan International Speedway, said Democrats must not understand the term "rubbin' is racing."

"To suggest that vaccines are needed to attend NASCAR races is insulting to millions of hardworking Americans who love their country and the smell of burnt rubber," he said.

The brouhaha began when the House Committee on Homeland Security decided to study public health preparedness at mass gatherings. They advised aides to get immunized for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus and influenza before going to the UAW-Ford 500 in Talladega last weekend and the Bank of America 500 this weekend northeast of Charlotte, N.C.

The committee is examining whether the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is coordinating with state, local and private law-enforcement and health-care responders to prepare for possible mass emergencies.

Rep. Robin Hayes, the North Carolina Republican whose district includes the Lowe's Motor Speedway, complained in a letter to the committee's chairman about staff members feeling the need to get vaccinated before visiting his hometown.

Hayes and Thompson exchanged words in a CNN interview. Thompson told Hayes he "ought to be ashamed" of himself for using an effort to protect workers for a "few minutes of fame."

Hayes encouraged people to come to Concord, noting, "We got our shots when we were born."

Unlike a sporting event such as the Super Bowl, which draws about 70,000 people for a few hours, major stock-car races can draw 200,000 to 300,000 fans or more, many of whom camp on-site for several days. Also, NASCAR is privately owned, and directly employs some of the security officials who are in place on race weekends.

The Drudge Report Web site, which became famous for breaking the Monica Lewinsky scandal, linked to the original story on the matter on the Web page of The Charlotte Observer, which McClatchy owns, with the headline "Redneck rash."

Republicans said the suggestion of vaccines usually recommended for travel to Third World countries showed that the Democrats were out of touch with real Americans.

"While red-blooded, patriotic Americans were packing their coolers and gathering their families in preparation for attending last week's race at Talladega, a leading Democrat was advising staff to get immunized," said a news release by the National Republican Congressional Committee titled "Talladega Frights: Democrats Allergic to NASCAR Nation."

"If anything, it's the NASCAR fans who should get immunized against Washington officials, not the other way around," said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C.

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