Now that the 2011 NASCAR season has come to a conclusion with Tony Stewart winning his third championship, I want to talk about how I became sucked into this sport.
Is it a sport?
An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others.
Are the drivers athletes?
A person who is proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise.
Don’t discount this stuff, people…. These dudes (and the occasional women) are athletes competing in the second largest sport in this country (only the NFL is bigger).
Maybe 15 years ago, when I was in the automotive industry where they ALL watch NASCAR, I was ripping on one of my customers for watching “a bunch of cars going in circles for hours.” That’s a typical argument I get, even today, by the way! He told me, “Greg, pick a car, any car, and follow it for one race.” There were no specific criteria for picking a car… Color, driver, manufacturer or sponsor didn’t matter.
Just pick one.
Well, at the time, I liked Miller Lite and I’ll ALWAYS be a fan of Ford vehicles…. So I picked the #2 Miller Lite Ford Taurus driven by Rusty Wallace. The car won the first race I watched (Bristol, TN – turns out Rusty’s pretty good there). But, more importantly, the driver drove the car that won the race. And throughout the course of the race, I find out that Rusty is married and has children. His dad raced. He’s got brothers who race also. He’s part of a large team that, at the time, fielded a couple cars and employed hundreds of people. After 195 minutes, NASCAR wasn’t about cars going in circles to me any more… It was about people… and competition.
Then I discovered the technology in these cars…. AMAZING! Each of them, regardless of who’s the driver, is a sexy, fast, powerful piece of machinery… hand built by small, unnamed armies. Unfortunately, the cars are pretty much identical nowadays, primarily for safety reasons. This also gives the teams very little room to adjust the car to gain a performance advantage (read: CHEAT). It’s all up to the drivers to take what they have and capture the checkered flag.
I think it’s a natural progression for new NASCAR fans to watch races for the wrecks. To a new fan, wrecks are exciting and they change the complexion of every race. I was no different… But once the sport is humanized, you quickly find out that these guys get hurt. They break ankles, legs, wrists, ribs in these wrecks. They DIE… I had a party for the 2001 Daytona 500 in which I put a replica of Dale Earnhardt’s car upside down before the race. I wanted him to crash. He did crash on the last lap. I jumped up and cheered when he hit the wall. He died that day. A husband, father, brother, son…. a race car driver died that day. I was destroyed…. I haven’t cheered for a crash since.
I’ve been to races at Michigan, Charlotte and, most notably, Daytona. For perspective, the Cleveland Browns stadium has, roughly, a 70,000 seat capacity. There were almost 250,000 people in and around the 2006 Daytona 500 that I attended. Just a fantastic experience! Nothing even comes close to it anywhere else….in any sport.
Today, as a “mature” NASCAR fan, I stick with Ford and Roush-Fenway Racing (as long as they stick with Ford). Carl Edwards is my dude… The sport is still about the drivers but, as in all sports nowadays, there isn’t a lot of loyalty anymore
It’s 91 days until the 2012 Daytona 500. Check it out.
Just pick one!