The Ben Bomberger Story: How I Became a NASCAR Fan
If you had met me just seven years ago, you would have found someone who was totally against watching cars go in circles for hours... and hours... and hours...
I grew up in the north. Just outside of Pittsburgh, Pa. to be exact.
As a kid, I never showed any interest in racing, I was a football fan (Steelers of course—going to win their sixth Super Bowl this weekend!)
When I moved down south in 1996 a lot of things changed in my life. The south is a very different place than up north.
Down here they say ya'll (instead of you'ins) and call drinks sodas (instead of pop). But the biggest change down here (besides the fact that we had sweet-tea and biscuits and gravy) was that just above everyone was a NASCAR and college football fan.
Being from the north, I had no interest in NASCAR, and very little interest in college football. I came from a professional sports city, we didn't watch the kids play.
I can remember friends of mine coming to school on Monday mornings and talking about the previous days' race.
"It was great," they'd say. "You should have seen it."
I sat there with my eyes glazed over, thinking about the only fun part I'd like to see—the wrecks.
Unfortunately, you have to watch the entire four hours sometimes to see a wreck, and it wasn't worth it to me.
It was the beginning of high school that my interest started to roll. I went out and bought a NASCAR game for my XBOX, thinking, "I'll try the game out first and see where it leads."
Just like real life, however, all I wanted to do on the game was wreck cars, while driving backwards around the track. The first game I had, I don't think I ever finished a whole race.
I hadn't become a fan yet, but I remember that dreadful day in 2001 when the world lost the Great Dale Earnhardt Sr. It broke my heart, even though I wasn't a NASCAR fan. I had heard the name and knew what he meant to so many people.
He was the face of the sport... the Intimidator.
Then one day, I met my current wife. Her family was really into NASCAR and would watch it every Sunday.
I could remember when we first started dating, I would try and keep away from her house on Sunday afternoons.
If we had nowhere else to go, we would hang out at her house. Her mom would be busy doing 1,000 things while watching the race periodically, her dad would doze off on the chair and her brother came and went throughout.
Me, I was stuck watching the race. Nowhere to go, nothing to do. I kept my phone close and would text my friends as much as possible, many of whom, though, were watching the race themselves and weren't interested in talking about anything but NASCAR.
On a cold winter day Feb. 17, 2002 my fandom took a drastic turn.
It was the 2002 Daytona 500. We went to my girlfriends' house—I was thrilled.
She told me the Daytona 500 was on and she wanted to watch it with her mom and dad.
So there we were, me, her, dad, mom and brother, sitting around the living room set to watch four hours of cars going in circles.
Shortly after the race started, her mom and brother did their usual thing, here, there and everywhere except sitting and watching the race.
My (now) wife and her dad are both dozers, and I knew this. So about 50 laps in, both of them were passed out, him on the chair, her on the couch.
The remote was sitting right there on her dad's arm chair. I thought to myself: "If only I could get that remote..."
I never got the remote that day and decided to just grin and bear the 500 miles.
But something happened, I soon became interested in the strategies. As the cars jostled for position and starting using tire and fuel strategy I began to realize there was so much more to this sport.
They weren't just making left turns all day, they were using strategies to position themselves for the win.
As I watched the closing laps, Ward Burton drove the No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge to Victory Lane. He had only led five laps! I was amazed that someone could be declared the winner when they had led so few of the laps.
That was the day I became hooked. Burton won the race, but not my support. I decided to go with Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Not because everyone else did, but because I remembered how I felt when Dale Sr. had passed away and I wanted to support his son. I also liked the color red and though Budweiser was cool, but that's beside the point.)
Within a few weeks I began learning about the drivers, I scoured the Internet to read up on the teams, sponsors and NASCAR lingo.
Soon I was talking with the best of them. I knew what wedge and caliber meant, and could actually understand the drivers at the end of the race when they said, "the car was a little loose today, so we had to adjust the wedge and tire pressure to get the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet up near the front."
(Previously all I would have heard was the No. 8 Budweiser was up front?)
As my interest grew in the sport, I had decided to become a writer. I went off to college at Radford University where I would study Media Studies, with a concentration in Journalism.
By this point, it was common to find me dedicating five hours of my Sunday afternoon to an entire race. I loved the excitement, the strategy and of course, the wrecks.
In my junior year (2005-06), I felt confident to start writing about the sport I had grown to love over time.
I wrote my first piece for our school's on line magazine (RUWhim.com). The piece was a preview of the up coming Daytona 500. (Unfortunately the side has moved to RUWhim.net and they have yet to put up all the old archives.)
I started writing, and quickly became addicted to it. I loved to write already, and now I loved even more to write about the sport I loved to watch.
I wrote several feature stories during the year. My favorite one was what to give a NASCAR fan for valentine's day. It was similar to one of my first stories here on Bleacher Report (Gifts for a NASCAR fan.)
I spent the year previewing and recapping each race. Many of which I had titles for such as: Californiaboredom and Las Vegasleepfest.
OK, so I was a little rough on the sport at first, but let's be honest, some of those mile and halfers can get dull real quick!
My first race I attended was the October 2004 race at Martinsville. I remember my buddy and I were so excited, we had tickets five rows back from the track (we were thinking football logic... the closer the better?).
Needless to say, we left that day with headaches from the fumes, rubber all over our face and a deafening ringing in our ears.
I've since only been to a couple more races, but have learned to sit a little higher up, or at least bring some ear plugs!
In 2006, my wife bought be the greatest Valentines Day present ever—a ride along in a Richard Petty Experience car at Lowe's Motorspeedway.
It was amazing to hit the high banks of Charlotte in a stock car going speeds upwards of 170 m.p.h. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was like a little girl when I opened the gift up and saw the ticket.
Although I got a little nauseous in the three laps, it was the best ride I've ever taken.
Anyway, as my interest peaked, I decided I wanted to be a full-time NASCAR writer one day. I worked countless hours getting my stories published on line so I could apply for a job out of college.
In May of my senior year, I was interviewed by two newspapers, neither of which covered NASCAR, but hey, they were jobs.
I got hired by both and chose the one in my hometown — GalaxGazette.com.
Throughout my two years here, I have written hundreds of NASCAR articles, none of which make the paper of course, but many of which have been published here on Bleacher Report and another which was picked up by FoxSports.com.
But recently, I got the idea to ask for a NASCAR blog on our Web site. I knew we couldn't cover NASCAR in our tri-weekly paper, the timing of our deadlines just didn't fit well with the sport.
After pleading my case, I was given a sports blog (it's not up yet, by they way, but we're hoping it will be before Daytona).
Today I run my own sports blog (Sports101) where I write about NASCAR and ACC football, as well as contribute regularly to B/R.
My goal one day is to be a reporter that covers all 36 races, be it at the track or from the comfort of my home. I also wouldn't mind being a NASCAR blogger and/or a Fantasy Racing writer.
It's been a long journey over the last seven years, but I'm proud to say I'm 100 percent a NASCAR fan now!
I may not be one of those fans who follows the circuit throughout the country (trust me I would if I had the money and time), or one who camps out the entire week prior to a race, but I put my time in on the couch every Sunday afternoon just like the rest of 'em.
So here's to NASCAR in 2009. I'm ready for an exciting 36 race schedule and the crowning (hopefully) of a new champ!
My fandom took years to complete, but you can do it in a matter of 30 days, check out my article: How to Become a NASCAR Fan in 30 Days, but beware, the sport is addictive and you'll become an addict real quick!
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