I admit, up until several years ago, my opinion of NASCAR basically aligned with the way it was portrayed in Talladega Nights. I thought NASCAR racers were all men whose last names sounded more like first names and who dated women that were way out of their league. I assumed the reason the spectators drank so much beer is because that was the only way to make watching left-hand turns over and over again the least bit entertaining. NASCAR was the sport for the “good-ol boys” and their trophy wives, and I didn’t see where I could fit into their fan base.
One summer afternoon, when I found myself longing for the start of football season even more intensely than usual, I got desperate enough to tune into a race. There were some exciting lead changes, a few jaw-dropping wrecks, and plenty of impressive performances by the pit crews. This was enough to convince me to tune into the next race the following weekend. Before long, I found myself thoroughly enjoying watching the Sprint Cup series, to the point where I made a conscious effort to be in front of my TV during race time, and even started checking out some of the Nationwide series. The more time I spent watching NASCAR, the more my previous misconceptions began to dissipate and became replaced by respect and admiration. I realized the sport was much more than just turning left.
One of the aspects I enjoy the most about any sporting match is watching and analyzing each team’s strategies. NASCAR does not disappoint in this regard. Each team is constantly making strategic decisions regarding fuel mileage, taking two tires or four, whether to take the inside or outside lane on the restarts, and what adjustments to make on pit road. I find myself audibly applauding crew chiefs when they make a call that leads to top-10 finishes and mumbling “I-told-you-so” when they end up with a driver who runs out of fuel with two laps to go.
NASCAR is unique in that it is both an individual and team sport. Every driver competes against one another to earn points in the standings, but there are also numerous racing teams that own the cars, and most teams own multiple cars. It is always interesting to see drivers from the same racing team interact throughout each race in an unpredictable fashion; sometimes working together, other times against one another. There’s nothing a driver hates more than when they feel like they got screwed by their own teammate, and the scathing comments made on the drivers’ radios prove it. “What the hell was the 48 thinking?” is a phrase commonly muttered by Hendrick teammates and non-teammates alike. My guess is that he was thinking about his sixth Sprint Cup championship, but I’ll let you be the judge.
My personal favorite thing to watch during the race is the incredible work on pit road. I can hardly wait for the yellow flag to fly just so I can see who will pit and how fast their pit times will be. The speed and efficiency at which the pit crews operate never ceases to amaze me, especially considering the dangerous and strenuous conditions they work under. Four new tires, track bar adjustment, and a full tank of gas in under 15 seconds? I’d have the most active sports blog and cleanest house in the world if I could work at that kind of pace!
Of course, there’s also the wrecks. Let’s face it, every true sports fanatic craves those moments where we turn to each other and simultaneously bellow “Ooohh! OUCH!” Fortunately, with NASCAR’s steadfast dedication to and major advancements in driver safety, the pleasure we enjoy when watching a wreck generally doesn’t have to come with a side of guilt.
For those of you who like a solid dose of off-the-track drama, NASCAR certainly isn’t lacking. Whether it’s Kurt Busch going on a tirade against the media, Allmendinger failing a drug test, or Danica blaming everyone but herself for a poor finish (added bonus- she looks even hotter when she’s ticked!), there will surely be stories to keep you licking your chops in between races.
I’ve also come to appreciate how difficult the sport truly is, and the amount of talent it takes to be a successful driver. Drivers must be able to endure highly unpleasant in-car conditions, including temperatures in excess of 120 degrees Fahrenheit, lack of oxygen, and extreme G-forces. They also need a tremendous amount of strength to handle the steering, breaking, and the impact from collisions. Both physical and mental toughness are key to the success of any NASCAR driver.
If you’re not a fan of NASCAR, you should be. Once you give racing a chance, you’ll realize that many of the stereotypes about the sport are simply not true. Plus, you may end up embracing the few typecasts that perhaps do have some validity to them, as they give the sport character and an added entertainment factor for the fans. Race day is sure to give you a large serving of strategy, rivalry, and action-filled entertainment both on and off the track. NASCAR has surely made football’s offseason more tolerable and created a lot of enjoyable and memorable weekends for me. Once NFL season kicks off, if you (like I often do) find your team blacked out or in a blowout, flip it to the race for a quick pick-me-up. You won’t regret that you did.