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Nascar Rocks 

The Speedway set expands its sonic horizons

Stadium Arcadium? More like racetrack havoc, when the Red Hot Chili Peppers comes to Concord's Lowes Motor Speedway to rock the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge on May 20. Between the band's recent SNL appearance and later tour with Mars Volta, the Chilis is hawking its ninth album by headlining as the race's infield entertainment. Punk's not only getting in bed with NASCAR, it's cinching the embrace of middle America that began when Hot Topic surfaced at the mall.

The notoriously decadent LA rockers' red hot pit stop has many scratching their heads. Reviews for Stadium Arcadium have identified a kinder gentler Red Hot Chili Peppers though -- the group's traded in smack for sippy cups. Reflecting the band's newfound semblance of maturity and domestic bliss, nesting fans can apply love songs like "Hard to Concentrate" (wherein frontman Anthony Kiedis sings an ode to bassist Flea and his soulmate) and the title track's pieties to their Starbucks-fueled lifestyle. Of course, monster smash "Under the Bridge" already ushered the Chilis into SoCal contempo-pop territory back in 1991 (new "Wet Sand" does evoke Fleetwood Mac, that favorite '90s New Country influence).

The indulgent double album -- 122 minutes, 28 tracks-long -- still flirts with frat-rap fodder like "Warlocks" and "Hump De Bump," but rarely attains the funky white boy purity of the Chili's sock-on-cock heyday. After a wild 22-year career, these once sophomoric freaky stylists are casting a wide net beyond hipster Hollyweird, playing safe and drowning in the milk of human kindness instead of BloodSugarSexMagik.

Still, you wouldn't think that the Chilis would register with the Speedway demographic, but NASCAR officials beg to differ.

"NASCAR is crossing boundaries, becoming more of a national sport and the Red Hot Chili Peppers reaches a demo that is starting to represent NASCAR fans," says Scott Cooper of NASCAR public relations.

Cooper suggests NASCAR is becoming more attractive to a younger crowd because of the new race generation: Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch (who's co-promoting the May 20 Rock 'N Racing event) and Dale Earnhart Jr. The older NASCAR gets, the younger the fans get. We'll believe the punk-badonkadonk synergy when we see RVs disgorging pierced-and-tattooed Bettie Page look-alikes and their spawn at Lowe's vast campground.

Over the next two weeks, NASCAR is taking over Charlotte with events including the NASCAR Nextel Pit Crew Challenge, the All-Star Challenge featuring musical performances by the Chilis and Train, the Coca-Cola 600, the world premiere of Disney's animated feature Cars, an on-site taping of Regis and Kelly Live and Speed Street with an array of musical guests from "U Can't Touch This" MC Hammer to QC After Dark bête noire Chris Cagle.

Just like musicians couldn't have hit records without their producers, NASCAR stars couldn't win races without their pit crew -- hence the second annual Pit Crew Challenge coming to the Bobcats Arena on May 17. It takes the spotlight off the race car drivers and refocuses it on the driving force behind them. Like any NASCAR race, speed is essential; the pit crews will perform elaborate car maintenance in less than 14 seconds. But don't mistake crew members for mechanics: "The Pit Crew Challenge is an event, it's the best opportunity to get a look at the best athletes in NASCAR," says Kurt Culbert, PR manager for Sprint Nextel.

Coming the following week are the Coca-Cola 600 and the Speed Street lineup featuring: Trent Tomlinson, Blake Shelton, Gin Blossoms, Keith Anderson, REO Speedwagon, Sevendust, Twisted Sister, 10 Years, HourCast, country star Julie Roberts (Carolina Panther Jason Kyle's girlfriend) and more.

The Speed Street lineup's inclusion of such past-their-prime acts as REO Speedwagon and Hammer is disappointing. But twangy Roberts and Shelton are definitely worthy, as are Atlanta-spawned hard rockers Sevendust. The event's real revelation should be emerging Nashville singer-songwriter Trent Tomlinson's set on May 27. Tomlinson's debut, Country Is My Rock, has already been praised by veteran country critic Chet Flippo. Question is whether the Chili's next move will be a Jam Cruise with Jimmy Buffett. Club Dread remake, anyone?

Red Hot Chili Peppers will perform with Train and needtobreathe at the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord on Sat., May 20. Band sets start at 1:30pm, with local band Charity Case. Tickets start at $21.

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