DIBIASE: NASCAR’s place as an American “sport”

Justin Dibiase

Seventy-five million fans adore it. It is broadcast in over 150 countries. It claims 17 of the top 20 attended sporting events in the United States. No, I am not talking about football. The “sport” that I am talking about is NASCAR.

I’ve tried. I’ve watched Daytona 500s. I’ve heard the analysts describe the intricacies of the “sport.” I’ve even bought one of those Dale Jr. souvenir mugs.

However, I just can’t find any reason why NASCAR is where it is today in America. A bunch of cars going around in a circle just doesn’t intrigue me the same way as bases-loaded, bottom of the ninth does. Maybe if it did away with the massive racetracks, closed I-95 and made the drivers race from Jersey to South Beach – using overpriced interstate gas stations as pit stops – then I might watch. Throw in a couple of traffic lights and sweet jumps, and now we are talking.

Most of NASCAR’s fans love to see these high-speed cars crash, causing mass chaos on the racetrack. Well, here’s a suggestion. Tune in to Monday Night Football, and I guarantee you will see some high-performance motors crashing at some high velocities.

Is it the wild tailgate parties that attract fans? I would tell these people to attend next year’s Ohio State-Michigan college football game. You might see a tailgate or two there.

Here’s how I know the popularity of NASCAR is a bit superficial: the lack of popularity of horse racing and track. Why won’t people go out in droves to see these physical specimens amaze with their athletic ability? In the words of Holden Caulfield in “Catcher in the Rye,” “A horse is at least human, for God’s sake.”

I always think back to the commercial where the horse, the man and the man in the racecar are racing. While the horse and the man are engaging in honest competition, the man in the racecar is probably rocking out to Lynard Skynyrd on his XM radio as he cruises by the other two.

As for the notion that NASCAR drivers are athletes, I have the following to say: false. NASCAR drivers are tacticians; they are great strategists; they are very knowledgeable. They are not athletes. Jose Reyes is an athlete. Sidney Crosby is an athlete. I would even say Phil Mickelson is an athlete. 53-year-old Ken Schrader is not an athlete. Heck, I drove 500 miles straight on a road trip last spring without a bathroom break.

I understand why ESPN gives NASCAR the massive attention that it garners. I see it as a large-scale representation of the National Spelling Bee, the World Series of Poker and those adorable dog shows.

Call it a function of being born and raised in the Northeast, but I can never imagine a situation where I would follow NASCAR. Well, maybe if one of them stole my wallet or if Danica Patrick was riding shotgun, then I might follow a NASCAR.

Seriously though, I have a soft spot in my heart for teamwork. So, I naturally admire the different racing teams in NASCAR. However, when I found out that this “sport” did not have the same scoring system as my beloved Roller Derby, I was baffled. Team members want their teammates to succeed, but it is ultimately an individual sport. This contradiction would be like the Democratic presidential nominees actually disagreeing with each other (which never happens).

One of the most glaring negatives that NASCAR faces is sellouts. Yes, sellouts – not the ticket kind. Why is it that people get upset when the Chicago Cubs want to corporately rename Wrigley Field, but the same people think it is fine for NASCAR drivers to adorn themselves with corporate logos ranging from Tide to Viagra? NASCAR even names its championship after phone companies. What would happen if NHL commissioner Gary Bettman allowed the NHL championship to be renamed Lord Stanley’s Campbell’s Soup Cup?

There is one aspect of NASCAR that I can link to the rational American sports system: cheating. In last year’s Daytona 500, Michael Waltrip and his crew were caught “juicing” their fuel with additives. No, there was not a Senate hearing for the naughty driver, and Waltrip got to keep his previous two Daytona 500 wins, asterisk not included. Honestly, what would an American sport be without some form of cheating? It would be like Scripps National Spelling Bee without all those pocket dictionaries in the smart kids’ Buddy Lees. For this reason, I can endorse NASCAR to America.

Who knows? Maybe someday I will see the light. Maybe one day I will wake up and realize what magnaflux and an A-Frame really are. Or maybe I will realize why doing doughnuts on the infield after a win is cool. It may even be possible for me to make the drive to the Dover International Speedway for a race someday. Until then, I will be satisfied with eating peanuts on a lazy Sunday afternoon at the ballpark.

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Justin DiBiase is a junior civil engineer from Franklinville, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected]