NASCAR, WOOH, YEAH! But why?

It’s the fastest growing sport in the US, and it claims almost a third of Americans as fans, but I don’t see what the big deal is about NASCAR.

Clay Coffman
Clay Coffman

Thirty minutes before the flag drops at the starting line, Kansas Speedway is filled to the brim with hooping and hollering NASCAR fans. Beer flows like the Rio Grande as the coherent and incoherent alike argue about who they think is the best driver. Crew chiefs scramble like squirrels in the fall to make sure that everything is in its proper place and ready to go. Drivers close their eyes, visualizing the track, practicing their entries and exits. Owners sit in their suites, anxiously waiting, hoping that they have made the right choices.

I stand alone and look around at the monster that is the track itself. Then, a question suddenly hits me: What’s so great about this hallowed oval?

According to Fortune Magazine, NASCAR is the fastest growing sport in America. NASCAR.com claims almost one-third of all Americans as fans, and NASCAR has set records in number of TV viewers in the past several years. Corporate America has been clawing for media exposure in the sport, with total sponsorship contributions more than quadrupling the amounts in the NFL or MLB, at a whopping $1.5 billion dollars.

Fans regularly drive across the country to watch the 43 decorated stock cars make 1,000 left turns. Almost like a religious exodus, the faithful come in buses, on bikes, in the back of converted bread trucks — by whatever means necessary, arriving sometimes days before the race.

But what is it about NASCAR that is so great? I can’t seem to figure it out.
Is it the speed?

No. NASCAR isn’t the fastest sport in the world. Formula 1, which is huge in Europe and many other parts of the world, hits top speeds of 240+ mph. NASCAR — usually about 200 on the straight-aways.

So is it the excitement?

I can’t speak for everyone else, but in the races that I’ve seen, it seems as though the most exciting part of the race is when the driving gets dirty. But that’s not even racing.

Personally, I love racing, and it frustrates me that the technical, sophisticated sport that used to be racing has been morphed into this red-necked stampede of angry drivers who think they have the right to drive like 6-year-olds in a bumper car arena.
But it’s all good, because it’s entertaining.

I guess I could see how the out-of-control driving, and the off-track shenanigans could be entertaining for a while, but it only goes so far when the track itself is the same shape every race. I mean, I know that every sport can be a bit repetitive, but that oval-shaped track gets old after a while. With almost no variation to the basic shape of the track from city to city, and the drivers always facing the same way, you would think after a while someone might say, “Hey, why don’t we go the other way?”

I think it’s time for NASCAR fans to try something new. ( I know, it is a scary thought.) Red Bull Air Racing, a sport still in its infancy when compared to NASCAR, is one of the most insane sporting events that I have ever seen. Planes fly 260 mph just barely 50 feet off the ground or water. In Istanbul Turkey last year, one of the air races attracted more than 1 million people. Yet, when the races came to the US, only about 100,000 people attended.

If people watch NASCAR for the adrenaline rush, there is no reason a sport like this wouldn’t catch on in the States. I guess everyone is too busy worrying about who traded paint with whom, or who is still in the “chase.” Snore.

Maybe I’m just missing something. Maybe there is some facet of stock car racing that the unexperienced eye can’t pick up on. I know it takes an incredible amount of skill to drive those cars, because everything is more difficult at 180 mph, but when is everyone else going to get bored?

I already am.