Confessions of a NASCAR Junkie
My name is Frank and I’m a NASCAR fan. There. It’s out in the open. I admit that I enjoy watching a race series based on what Jackie Stewart called "one big bloody left hand turn.” If I’m at home on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon the TV is tuned to the pre-race shows on Speed or the race on whichever network crossed the France family’s palms with the most silver for the broadcast rights. Some people get addicted to soap operas. I’m hooked on NASCAR. To some motorsports fans that makes me a lost cause.
It’s true: the open-wheel racing community looks down their collective noses at NASCAR. When seven-time Formula One and Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya defected from F1 to the Nextel Cup circuit, Michael Schumacher had some particularly unflattering words for the sport: "What is exciting about it? I can't see that, running around in ovals… I don't know how heavy these cars are but [they are] a very low-developed car to drive compared to a Formula One car." Perhaps Herr Schumacher should talk to Champ Car Series champion Michel Jourdain Jr. about his decision to race for NASCAR. Jourdain said he wanted to compete against the best, and that means NASCAR. "I believe this step can give me more in every sense," he said. "I think right now, it's better to win the Daytona 500 than the Indy 500."
If NASCAR is so crude and its cars just so many low tech leviathans, why have drivers such as John Andretti, Christian Fittipaldi, Scott Pruett, Paul Tracy, Max Papis and Jimmy Vasser failed to master their operation? Why have there been so few open-wheel drivers who have made a successful career transition to that “one big bloody left hand turn?” Perhaps NASCAR requires more racing skill needed than the effete snobs hiding behind their European arrogance want to admit. If so, they should consider the International Race of Champions (IROC).
The IROC circuit is easily the most egalitarian forms of modern motor racing. Successful drivers from all manner of racing series are invited to jump into identically prepared cars serviced by the same crew. They’re given a set of rules that virtually eliminates all other possible variables. More than any other race, winning IROC boils down to the drivers’ abilities. Know what racing series four of the top five drivers in this year’s IROC come from? You got it. NASCAR. A roster of past winners looks like a “Who’s Who” of NASCAR.
Yeah, you argue, but NASCAR appeals primarily to toothless “white trash.” WRONG! According to a 2004 survey, about 75% of NASCAR fans have attended college, more than 25% own their own homes and about 36% make more than $50,000 a year. The survey also indicated the sport’s fans are evenly distributed across the country. The Northeast (home to 20% of the nation’s population) accounts for 20% of NASCAR’s fan base. Not surprisingly the largest portion of NASCAR’s fans live in the South (38%) but 35% of the US population lives in the South, so the demographics line up there too. While only 10% of NASCAR’s fans are African-American, the same applies to the NFL, where 11.7% of the fan base is African-American.
So what’s NASCAR’s attraction? If I had to boil it down to one word, it would be “drama.” In what other motorsport could a rookie whose parents mortgaged their house and maxed out their credit cards to help him along in his career, a young man who learned the layout of the track by playing video games, win the pole position and then win the race his first time out? And then what are the chances of him repeating that performance in the same location the following month? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Denny Hamlin’s performance at Pocono in June and July.
Every race is rife with unanswered questions that add to the entertainment. Who will Tony Stewart run off the track and then blame for getting in his way? Is this the week Carl Edwards misjudges his back flip and gives Jack Rousch a heart attack by spattering his ass all over the pavement? Which car will get air born while sliding down the track? How many laps before Kyle Petty drives into the wall?
NASCAR isn’t perfect. As long as the France family controls the business with an iron fist, the rules will seem arbitrary, ephemeral and capricious. And critics who have absolutely no understanding of the sport will continue to deride and demean NASCAR’s Ricky Bobby-ness. But if you’re open to trying new things, tune into a race. Watching 43 cars go ‘round and ‘round for two or three hours may seem inherently dull, but it isn’t. In fact, you may soon have pro-NASCAR confessions of your own.
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Sports on television bores the bejesus out of me. I always fall asleep! Going to the races doesn't sound appealing, either; baking in the hot sun next to all those people who've had too much to drink, watching the same-ol-same-ol cookie-cutter cars drive in a big circle, waiting for something horrible to happen just to break the monotony. Give me a curvey back road and a free afternoon. I'd rather be driving! But yeah, I agree about the stock cars. The current state of affairs makes it all too fake, and it forces the producers into manufacturing the soap-opera backstories in an attempt to differentiate one from another. Bleah, fakery makes me sick!
Go and see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0vNJmsxceE I think this best describes why Nascar never hits it off in Europe, Asia, Africa, etc etc..