Alright confession time, I am a NASCAR fan, a redneck sport and I love it. I enjoy sitting at home on a Sunday afternoon and watching cars go around in circles. I have done it less since I met my wife, but have gotten into it this season. Her own fault, she has been travelling for work and leaving Sunday mornings which means I watch NASCAR when I get back from the airport, and now she has to watch NASCAR when she is home on Sundays.
Why do I love NASCAR? Hard to say, I am part of the video game generation that plays a lot of race car video games and I always liked EA’s NASCAR games more than Gran Turismo or Forza, so maybe that played into it a bit. Sunday’s are lazy days in the household I grew up in so it seems as I continued that trend we would fill it with a sport that forgives you a mid session nap. Missed 30 laps, oh well they recap them and the end is the best part anyways. Maybe it is because I always loved going to the dirt track to watch the 360 Sprints as a kid and a lot of the NASCAR guys got their starts out on the dirt and a good number in the sprints. Hell Tony Stewart even owns Eldora, and until he decided to run a guy over I was a Stewart fan. Although this season I am kind of allowing myself to root for him again. I enjoy NASCAR so much, last year on our whirlwind tour of the continental United States, I made Charlotte a stop so I could go to the NASCAR hall of fame. It was Coca-Cola 600 weekend and I really wanted to go but I couldn’t make my wife sit through the longest race while sacrificing something else on our vacation. I will take my Dad down to a race somewhere like Bristol one of these days so we can enjoy it. Tiana did take me to the World Of Outlaws event the night before the 600.
But as we watch the races on the weekend, I realize this sport is a unicorn in major sports. Am oasis in a desert of sorts. My wife always comments on how polite the drivers are in their interviews. Thankful to the interviewers and the interviewers thankful to them. The drivers are smiling and seem genuinely happy to be talking to the media, they laugh. They do interviews on yellow flags during the race, in competition. The drivers acknowledge the fans and thank them for watching. All these are things you don’t see in other sports. These guys realize that sports are not about winning only, but about entertaining their fans, in fact that is the most important part. In other sports the athletes talk down to the media and their fan base as if they are in some sort of secret club, like playing a stupid kids game as an adult makes them more knowledgeable. It really doesn’t. They try to be coy with answers as if they are keeping some big team secret and they dish out stupid cliches during interviews as if their fan base hasn’t heard they will give it 110% enough. NASCAR drivers seem candid in their discussions. They are permitted to have their emotions lead their talks. Think back to Joey Logano getting wrecked by Kevin Harvick at a race when he was driving the 20 car and saying “His wife wears the fire suit in that family…” during an interview. That stuff is awesome. These guys are real, they get heated. They tell you what they are trying to do to win the race, they laugh before the race in the garage area and they seem to enjoy their work.
They race in multiple different series on a weekend so fans might see their favourite driver take on the Xfinity Series and the Sprint Cup series. Do you think Sidney Crosby is going to play an AHL game for Wilkes Barre Scranton one night and Pittsburgh the next just cause he loves playing? No way, but NASCAR drivers do it all the time. And while doing it they don’t try to pretend like making money doesn’t matter. Your favourite baseball player raves about your city and says he would stay for the town not really about the money. Then someone offers him a little more in another city and he is off for the cash. I don’t blame him, I wish he would just be open about it. NASCAR drivers love the money they sell themselves as much as they can. They race in all kinds of events, sure they love racing but they also love cashing cheques. Don’t believe me, here are some clear examples. NASCAR has an all-star race in May, the winner doesn’t get some piece of shit truck they could buy 12 of like Hockey or Basketball’s all star MVP. No NASCAR says to them there is a $1,000,000 prize for the winner and they get in their cars and drive as hard as any other race to win. It is the most exciting All-star event of any of the sports because the guys want the money. Add to that the recent Xfinity dash for cash that stroked a $100,000 prize for the highest finishing driver of a group in a recent xfinity race, these guys wanted the money. I admire them for admitting they want to get paid. Don’t we all want to get paid. I do sales for a living and I tell my boss every day I want to make more commissions, I want bigger accounts with more opportunities, he likes that. Why don’t we feel the same about athlete? Are we so stupid to believe there is something sacred about sports? There isn’t that is why they cash multi-million dollar contracts and have prolonged labour disputes.
NASCAR also isn’t happy to sit where it is, it is happy to take big swings to please its fans. Take for example the Chase, their version of playoffs. They have added it in the recent past but haven’t just been happy to add it they have then tweaked it constantly to make it the most entertaining for the fans, every weekend. To put a premium on winning and make the very last race important. Other racing leagues don’t have anything like that and it leads to them having boring finishes to the season as often the winner is decided before the final race. Who wants to be the last 3 races in the F1 calendar? Nobody because we already know that Lewis Hamilton is champion.
This brings me to the past weekend when a rain shortened race lead to sophomore driver Chris Buescher winning and now potentially getting one of the 16 playoff round chase spots. It is awesome he won 1 race and has to be in top 30 in points and he gets to go to the playoffs. A team that is underfunded would have little chance at ever making the playoffs in all the other years but now this little underdog team has a shot. Lots of fans are mad because he hasn’t been a great performer and their team will likely not be competitive in the chase. But I think the opposite, it celebrates what makes NASCAR great, on any given weekend any team can win and get a shot at glory. Now I am cheering for Chris Buescher to make the top 30 and get his playoff spot with the other winners from the season. In F1 we all know Mercedes will be the best team or maybe in the past Ferrari or McLaren. In NASCAR it could be anyone. This is like the amazing tournaments that happen in English Football (soccer) where the entire country competes in all the tiers of pro-ish soccer for a chance to win a big trophy. Theoretically a team from the bottom tier could play against a Premier League team for a championship, what glory there is. It is like the upsets of the NCAA March Madness tournament, this is what we love about sport. The chance an also-ran can become a hero. The rags to riches of so many athletes we celebrate and NASCAR has created this opportunity in professional sports. All the NASCAR fans who complain blow me away, this sport has accommodated their love of Dale Earnhardt Jr for so long trying to make sure he gets a shot at championship glory in spite of himself, but then a hard-working guy like Chris Buescher wins a race and you shy away from what makes the sport so great.
So this Sunday I will force my wife to sit at home for a couple of hours while I cheer Chris Buescher on at Watkins Glen (I really enjoy the road courses) and watch the most approachable and honest athletes in pro sports.