Correcting the 5 Biggest Misconceptions About NASCAR
Sometimes, NASCAR fans have it rough. We try to explain why we're addicted to this fast-paced sport or try to convince others to give it a try, and nine times out of 10, our efforts are rewarded with a sideways glance or a simple shake of the head.
Although we're worn out by the constant back-and-forth with those who aren't fans, we never let it get us down because we know that NASCAR is a sport with a lot going for it (even if everyone else says that it isn't a sport).
We know that NASCAR is more than left-hand turns. We know it is more than loud race cars "wasting" fuel and rubber. We know that this sport has made more progress than the stick-and-ball sports in the last 65 years.
Still, there are some misconceptions that need to be cleared up nonetheless, and here are the five biggest misconceptions that still linger like a stigma over the NASCAR Nation's head.
5. "It's a Waste of Time and Money"
This is a misconception that couldn't be any further from the truth. I've heard it more than once that NASCAR isn't anything but a waste of time and money. That all they do is "drive up the price of gasoline" (yes, I have actually heard that one) and "waste perfectly good tires that I could use" (yep, heard that little gem too).
To dignify such close-minded sentiments, and in case you're not a NASCAR fan (thank you for reading this), NASCAR does not use regular unleaded pump gas in its race cars. Instead, the sport uses a Sunoco blend called Green E15. The fuel is green in color and is a 98-octane gasoline. When have you heard of a passenger car using such a fuel for daily transportation?
On that note, the tires are no more than Goodyear slicks that are not street legal. The point is, such ideas are moot. We have no reason to gripe about such things.
Moving on, NASCAR is also far from a waste of time and money. As a matter of fact, several of the sponsors invested in NASCAR are well-known brands, from Target and Coca-Cola to AdvoCare and Aaron's. Take a look at a NASCAR race today, or open up another window on your browser so you can pull up YouTube and check out a recent race.
Notice how everything seems like a giant, moving billboard. Even the tracks have large advertisements posted all over the speedway (like the Budweiser Party Porch at Daytona). Anyone with an idea of how a business works would know that companies would not invest in such a sport if they weren't going to get a great return on their investment.
Often, with the most die-hard fans, you will never see such a brand loyalty as theirs. I was a Dale Earnhardt fan when he passed, and to this day, I am a raging Coca-Cola addict.
Lest we forget the charitable contributions made by NASCAR and its partners. We have the NASCAR Foundation, the Victory Junction Gang camp, Speedway Children's Charities and so on (for a list, here you go). We also have the annual NASCAR Day, and NASCAR works rather closely with the Make-A-Wish foundation as well.
NASCAR works through these charities to contribute to the community and to those in need. Case in point, Joey Logano, last week's winner at Michigan, went on a shopping spree with five at-risk youths in Jackson, Mich.
Also, keep in mind that NASCAR has been working with teams, stakeholders and race tracks to improve the environmental impact that the sport has made, and it even has the largest solar-powered sports facility in the world.
4. "Nothing but a Bunch of Dumb, Inbred Rednecks."
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What's sad is that a lot of outsiders refer to the NASCAR Nation as a bunch of dumb hicks. It's a hasty generalization that is as ignorant as the people who believe that little stereotype.
While the number of college-educated NASCAR fans only differs slightly from college-educated non-NASCAR fans, there are also several college-educated NASCAR drivers.
2008 Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman graduated from Purdue University with a degree in engineering. 1992 Winston Cup champion Alan Kulwicki studied mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. Jennifer Jo Cobb holds an associate degree in pre-journalism, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. holds an associate degree in automotive technology from Mitchell Community College in Statesville, N.C.
But going back to the college-educated fans: A 2012 Scarborough Report shows that NASCAR fans are three percent more likely to have a household income of $75,000 or more, and they are seven percent more likely to be married. They are also more likely to own their homes instead of just renting them, and a substantial portion of them have a disposable income.
Those statistics, plus more, do not sound like those of a "dumb hick."
3. "It's Nothing but a Bunch of Cars Making Left Turns All Day."
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Every single NASCAR fan who has admitted to his or her peers that he or she enjoys NASCAR has heard this one. It's maddening, and from experience, I can tell you that it can give you a headache if you keep pursuing the topic.
NASCAR runs on a fair amount of road courses (it could use more), and anyone who is familiar with the term "road course" should know that such a course features both left and right turns. Here is a list of current road courses in NASCAR:
- Watkins Glen, seven turns, five right turns.
- Sonoma, 12 turns, seven right turns.
- Road America, 14 turns, eight right turns.
- Mid-Ohio, 13 turns, eight right turns.
- Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, 10 turns, six right turns.
If anything, not only do NASCAR drivers know how to turn right, they do it a lot. Road racing is the source of some of the funnest racing to watch, and considering the past three races at Watkins Glen, it can also be very exciting.
But that is straying from the point. NASCAR is more than hot cars making fast laps. It is strategy-based, and let's keep in mind that a large part of what makes NASCAR so intense is the attention everyone pays to detail: from drivers and crews to the fans. Tiny adjustments can mean the difference between good and horrendous.
It also relies a lot on timing. Once again, the difference between success and failure can be a thousandth of a second or less. With the stakes so high, NASCAR is definitely an extreme sport.
2. "Drivers Aren't Athletes!"
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We hear this one a lot. "NASCAR drivers ain't athletes," says the football aficionado from over the beer belly he lovingly refers to as "the house that Budweiser built." "All they do is drive around in circles. I could do that in my truck!"
Well, kind sir, is your truck sans air conditioner? Is your truck insanely loud? Does your truck happen to go over 200 mph? If so, take your beer-swigging self to your local speedway and floor it for the next several hours. Let me know how that works out for you.
It is easy to see that NASCAR races are endurance races. Nothing so drastic as the Rolex 24 at Daytona or the 12 Hours of Sebring, but these guys still have to run 400, 500 and 600 miles in a day. Any lesser man faced with such a daunting task would swoon pretty early.
To make it to the end in these races, you have to be in tip-top shape both physically and mentally. They have to endure these races and be on their guard in case something drastic happens in front of them. It takes a lot of focus and a lot of inner drive to make it.
Also, these guys have to be in prime physical shape. Drivers such as Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards and Mark Martin are known to be fitness buffs. All three of those guys sport ripped physiques and seem to be in good health. That helps when your body has to deal with the G-forces that these guys experience week in and week out. For the record, a G-force is defined as the force of Earth's gravity in any given direction and represents acceleration.
These guys have to withstand such forces on their bodies. Three G's is equivalent to what an astronaut being launched into space deals with, right? Well, in 2006, when Jeff Gordon's car pounded the Pocono wall, he pulled 64 G's.
1. "It's a Redneck Sport."
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As a longtime NASCAR fan, I am actually a bit torn on this sentiment. The fact that NASCAR was born in the American South tends to add a bit of flavor to the sport that isn't found anywhere else. The 65-year history of the sport, steeped in Southern tradition, is much richer than any other sport's history, and as a fan, I love it.
It is that history, full of names like Petty, Allison, Yarborough, Earnhardt, Pearson, Inman, Yunick, Turner and Johnson (Junior, not Jimmie), that speaks to the average American. It speaks to that guy racing Super Stocks at Route 66 Motor Speedway in Amarillo, Texas. It speaks to that guy working at a radiator shop in El Reno, Oklahoma.
But to ensure that NASCAR is around in the years to come, that sport has made tremendous progress in becoming universally accepting and open to all. A growing number of minorities are racing in NASCAR these days, with Drive for Diversity graduates like Kyle Larson (Japanese-American), Darrell Wallace Jr. (African-American) and Paulie Harraka (Syrian). Other minorites include Aric Almirola (Cuban-American) and Marc Davis (African-American).
There is also a growing number of women in the sport, including Oklahoma native Kenzie Ruston,and 2013 Daytona 500 pole-sitter Danica Patrick. Patrick, who is arguably one of the most popular drivers in all of American motorsports, became the first woman to win both a Sprint Cup pole and a Daytona 500 pole when she did so at this year's season opener.
According to Kelly Carter of ESPNW, 8.6 percent of NASCAR fans are African-American, while 8.3 percent are Hispanic. But the number seems to be increasing, and at this year's Daytona 500, names like 50 Cent, T.I. and Bill Bellamy were milling about pit road prior to the start of the race. Meanwhile, recently retired Super Bowl champion Ray Lewis was the honorary starter for the race.
Hispanic comedian George Lopez is also a NASCAR fan. On the 88th episode of The George Lopez Show, Lopez donned a Dale Jarrett jersey, as Jarrett was driving the No. 88 Ford for Robert Yates Racing at the time.
NASCAR will continue to take measures to make the sport more progressive and more encompassing to all, and perhaps, some day, it will be viewed in the same light as the NFL and the MLB.