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I'm Not Sorry for Watching NASCAR

Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Jimmie Johnson won the 2010 LENOX Industrial Tools 301, one of the races I used to introduce a friend to the sport. Photo: NHMS/HHP

"Are you watching auto racing?"

It's a question I've had to deal with since I first became a racing fan in 2009. (The answer is a 'well, of course-toned,' "yeah!")

"Wow! A bunch of cars turning left!"

A typical retort from the uneducated mathlete.  (Perhaps you should try calculating the centripetal force heading into turn 2 maybe that would make you more appreciative.)

"It doesn't even qualify as a sport."

Also, another ignorant comment from someone that hasn't watched a lap in their life.

Let's see:

Does it involve a team? Can you change four tires in less than 15 seconds because if it takes any longer you'll be fired?  No!?  Then, yes, it involves a team!

Does it require hand-eye coordination? Can you tailgate someone to within a few inches while driving 180 mph?  No!?  Then, yes, it requires hand-eye.

Does it involve a lot of running?  No.  Does baseball?  No.  And, for what it's worth, I'd take Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, and Kevin Harvick in an athletic competition over David Ortiz, C.C. Sabathia, Prince Fielder, and Pablo Sandoval any day!  Mute point.

Bottom line: if cricket and badminton qualify as sports, auto racing is definitely a sport.

So, to answer the initial question: yes, I'm watching NASCAR, and the only thing I'm apologizing to you for is that you haven't been fortunate enough to see the light.

--

I first started following NASCAR three years ago when I was a senior in college at USC.

As an aspiring sports journalist, I understood that auto racing was a way of life in some parts of the country.  If I walked into a sports journalist interview in Alabama or Tennessee, I needed to know something about the sport (little did I realize it would lead me back to my home state of New Hampshire).

Simply put: for me to be successful in the business, I needed to ditch the stereotype that it was 40 cars turning left (plus, J.J. Yeley, Michael McDowell, and Dave Blaney already parked in the garage).

About the same time, I had a woman that worked for NASCAR's public relations department come into a class and talk about how she got hooked on the sport when she first went to a race.  Daytona was just a few weeks away, and following that would be the Auto Club 500 in nearby Fontana, Calif.

I decided after that class that I'd sign up for fantasy auto racing.  I'm an avid fantasy sports player (as you learned last week), and I've always found that playing a fantasy sport helps keep me in the loop with what's going on, because, at the very least, I'll at least check the results and see how my guys did.

At the same time, I also talked with one of my close friends, Rob, who was a mechanical engineer at USC, and worked for Formula SAE (a college program where students build a race car).  Rob said he'd definitely be down to go to the Auto Club and we found tickets for $35.

Not knowing much about auto racing, I didn't realize that third row seats by the finish line weren't nearly as good as I thought they were.  We couldn't see over the infield, and we could only see the cars between turns 4 and 1, but it didn't matter.

On Lap 3, Jimmie Johnson led the race and blew by us at a recorded speed of 183 mph.

Wow!  That was awesome!

Since then, I've been an advocate for the sport.  I took one of my friends, Josh, to the SYLVANIA 300 in Sept. 2009.  At the time, he said: "I don't know anything about it.  But, what the heck?  I'll spend the $80 for a ticket because it'll probably be the only time I go to a race."

...When we left, he asked: "when's the next race?"

To answer his question: the next race was the LENOX Industrial Tools 301 in June 2010.  At this point, it was Josh and two of my friends named Chris; one was my closest friend since the first grade, and he'd been to a race before, so he was all for it; the other, Josh and I had to twist his arm (and both legs) before he finally agreed.  I'm still not sure if he was that sold on the race, or if we sold him more on the pre-race barbeque we'd be having (he loves to grill).  Either way, it worked.

...When we left, he asked: "when's the next race?"

--

There's just something different about auto racing.  It's bigger' it's faster, and it has an irreplaceable thrill.

Sure, I love attending Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox.  I first went there on Opening Day in 1990 when I was three and my dad caught me a foul ball pitched by Roger Clemens.  I was sold!

I love attending the Garden to watch the Bruins.  The first game I attended was a Bruins-Canadiens game in the early 90s.  At the time, I liked both teams.  I soon found out nobody liked Montreal and five minutes into the game Cam Neely smacked some guy through the glass right in front of me and proceeded to beat him to a pulp.  I was sold!

And, while I can't describe my first NASCAR race as a "childhood" memory, I still remember it as vividly as the others: the time Jimmie Johnson blew by at 183 mph.  I was sold!

So, I'm sorry if you don't follow auto racing, but I'm not sorry for watching NASCAR.

-JS