NASCAR is awesome. I don’t really care how much people want to hate on it. The thing I’ve found is that those who hate on it have no idea what is actually going on during a race. But more on that later.
First off, I’m not your typical NASCAR fan. Well, maybe I am. I am white but I’m neither poor nor stupid. I’m not a racist and I don’t believe that the Confederate flag celebrates heritage – I believe it celebrates a time when whitey could whip darkie and get away with it – so if you’re down with that and want to celebrate it, go ahead, its America – but its not representative of my values and its certainly not celebrating anything that I feel is worth celebrating.
Now, NASCAR would have you believe that their fans are not ignorant, racist rednecks and they insist that their fan base is reflective of the American population. That really couldn’t be anything further than the truth. I’ve been to a few NASCAR races in my day and its a 100% pure white-trash parade. I love it! Nothing makes me feel better about myself than walking through the impromptu trailer park that sprouts up around a NASCAR event – although stopping at a New York State Thruway rest area comes in a close second.
It gets even better when you get to your seat. Everyone is drunk. Nobody talks to one another (not actually possible given the noise of the event, plus you’ve either got headphones and a scanner or earplugs). You essentially sit there, smelling the uncatalyzed, unleaded race fuel, getting your buzz on (whether from fumes or tall boys), watching the boys go ’round and ’round and ’round in some sort of trance state. And yes, boys. There are no women in the Sprint cup – plus you’ve got men racing who are 31 yet look 50 and you’ve got literal children who can’t vote or buy alcohol. If you want, you can wander around and mingle with the animals, but the real action is on the track.
And it is action. The amount of car control required to keep the car from spinning out is remarkable – these drivers are literally at the limits of traction, barely keeping the rear end from breaking loose at 200 mph – sometimes fractions of inches from other drivers, in traffic – with 42 other narcissistic sociopaths on track simultaneously. And unlike F1, where a pass is a momentous event in an otherwise organized parade lap, lead changes and passes are standard fare for an exciting NASCAR event.
As if that weren’t intense enough, there is actually strategy involved. Fuel strategy, tire strategy, airflow management. One of the most interesting elements is drafting during restrictor plate races. Because power is limited, the cars need to take advantage of drafting in order to raise their speed and reduce the impact of aerodynamic drag. This is even more interesting with the design of the new cars, because one can only draft for a certain period of time before the lack of airflow over the radiator causes the car to experience higher than acceptable temperatures – necessitating a choreographed swap between two drivers that decide to work together.
Plus how crazy is it that a driver needs to work with another driver to be competitive, even if those two drivers are competing themselves! Its a sort of forced team-work that relies on the drivers being able to trust each other in the rush of competition in order to maximize their draft.
Finally, the greatest thing about NASCAR is that literally anyone can win. Now, some events do have dominant cars and drivers who can lead most of the race and are pretty much set to win, but especially on restrictor plate races a driver can start dead last yet still win the entire race simply by manipulating airflow, getting a good draft, dipping out and getting a run on the driver in front. This makes the race exciting – people pass, people can come back – theres a lot of action – and that’s not even including everyone’s favorite, the crash!
The fact that anyone can win was characterized best by yesterday’s Daytona 500 – a veritable unknown 20 year old, Trevor Bayne, who had previously competed only once in the Sprint Cup (a 17th place finish at Texas Motor Speedway). This kid came out of absolutely nowhere to win the entire race – coming around turn 4 nobody was even able to come out of the draft and pass him – he simply took it like he owned the thing. That element of chaos is what entertains Americans, its why NASCAR is as popular as it is.
Sure, it caters to the lowest common denominator – but that again is what makes it fun. Not everything has to be high brow and sophisticated for me to enjoy myself. Sure, my dinner last Saturday night involved a discussion of whether Napoleon was a hero or villian, what makes The Great American Novel, and the German creation of a Russian Communist Menace as justification for their invasion during World War II – I had more fun watching NASCAR the next day.