NASCAR Drivers & Music: A Surefire Hit With Fans and the Ears

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NASCAR Drivers & Music: A Surefire Hit With Fans and the Ears
(Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

When you watch Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s No. 88 Chevrolet zooming by in the long straights of Talladega, you probably have "Sweet Home Alabama" ringing in your ears like the high-pitched squeals of his Sprint Cup machine. Talladega's the unofficial home of Earnhardt Nation.

Or if you're watching the season finale at Homestead with four drivers having a shot at the title, you might be thinking about Billy Joel's 1982 hit "Pressure."

Just as the song tenses up after each chorus and bridge, each lap in the deciding race only puts pits in our stomachs when our driver inches closer to a championship.

For the talk that music and sports gets in the media and at water coolers across the world, it got me wondering about the kind of music that's truly synonymous with NASCAR drivers and teams.

You see it during the pre-race events, with each track seemingly having a concert to entertain the fans or a pop star sensation belting the lyrics to the National Anthem.

Musicians like Kelly Clarkson, Dierks Bentley, Chris Daughtry, Jason Mraz, Hillary Duff,  and Vanessa Carlton are some of the faces of the recording industry who have made their rounds to the NASCAR circuit.

Before you tell me that NASCAR is all country music, let's take into consideration the following.

 

1) The Drivers

Not all of these leadfooters are from the Southeast, and most don't truly fit the mold of the "old school" stock car racer. I'm talking about Jeff Gordon, the Busch brothers, Tony Stewart, and Kevin Harvick to name a few.

Today's racing stars hail from California, Indiana, Nevada, or locations out of the Southeast region of the States.

You'd be surprised at what some of the drivers listen to, mostly because of the stereotyped image of NASCAR.

For instance, Mark Martin, who hails from Batesville, Ark., enjoys rap music. Yes, that Mark Martin, who still gets tormented as the spokesperson and driver of the Viagara Ford ride from 2001-2005.

Martin has been quoted as citing Eminem being the sole artist who got him instantly hooked into the music genre. It's so strongly associated with the 50-year-old racer that in 2006, a rap anthem was made for Martin to honor his achievements in racing.

Another rap/hip-hop fanatic is Gordon, the 37-year-old Vallejo, Calif. native who has experienced something of a rebound this season. His association with this music genre's a bit obvious, as the famed racer's name was mentioned in Nelly's ditty "E.I."

Witness:

I drive fastly, call me Jeff Gordon, in the black SS with the navigation.

While the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr. is long associated with country music duo Brooks & Dunn, today's racers are as mainstream as high school and college students who "get down" to some rap or enjoy the acoustic/rock scene.

Three-time Cup titlist Jimmie Johnson is known to relax to some Jack Johnson before he climbs into the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet.

Kid Rock's music is long associated with two-time champion Tony Stewart, who befriended the Detroit rocker years ago when the former narrated Smoke's 2002 title season on a NASCAR DVD.

Or how about those independent drivers who try to make the field each race? Kris Allen's winning Idol song "No Boundaries" probably suits the struggles and moment when the little guy has their moment to shine among the stars of the sport.

 

2) The Action On The Track

Yea, yea, yea, to the non-NASCAR enthusiast, it's merely four hours of cars going around in circles. But when you're on the highway in gridlock, or driving on a nice open road with you at the wheel of your sedan or sports car, music is a must to make that ride enjoyable.

When you watch a race, there's already music being played on the track. It could be from the television broadcast, the pre and post-race festivities, or the actual event itself with the 43 machines roaring to life at speeds of up to 215 miles per hour.

As the green flag unfurls to kickstart the race, the perfect song for one of the most beautiful sights in all of sports is the Rolling Stone's "Start Me Up."

There's nothing like seeing these steel chariots charging into the first corner, going two wide and for the same inch of real estate on the track.

Once the race hits that stride with the leader pulling away or being challenged by a gaggle of cars, Dave Clark Five's "Catch Us If You Can" or Pat Benetar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" capture those exciting moments as if those musicians sung those tunes about the race.

When you think about it, it's a common thing to have a song in your head that fits the action on the track perfectly.

For instance, I sometimes think of The Beach Boys' hit and Marky Mark's song "Good Vibrations" when I hear that a driver is experiencing a vibration with their car, or a mechanical problem associated with a loose tire.

Heck, even Europe's "Final Countdown" plays in my mind when I see the action of pit road, with each precious second dictating the difference between a win and disappointing defeat all within 15 seconds or less.

When the checkers fall after a hard-fought race, I often think of Boston's staple song "More Than A Feeling" when you see the winning driver and team bask in the spoils of Victory Lane.

After all, it's got to be a helluva rush to go from an intense competitor to an excited spectator with the trophy, check, and media awaiting you on that particular area of the track.

 

3) The Race Itself

With the Indianapolis 500, Jim Nabors' rendition of "Back Home Again In Indiana" is as synonymous as the fanfare for "Monday Night Football" for an NFL prime time match-up on that most dreaded first night of the work week.

The same could be said for each of the 36 races comprising the NASCAR Sprint Cup tour.

You might think of Sheryl Crow's 2002 song "Soak Up The Sun" when you're envious of the fans basking in the California sun of Fontana.

Or you might have James Taylor's "Carolina In My Mind" when the Cup gang races at Lowe's Motor Speedway—after all, it's home to over 90 percent of the teams and drivers when the other 34 events are contested away from the Tar Heel State.

With most of the crown jewel races this season being plagued by Mother Nature, The Beatles' "Rain" or B.J. Thomas' tune "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head" probably sum up the collective mood of any one present at an idle track.

The roller coaster in a cereal bowl like action of Bristol Motor Speedway could be best enjoyed with Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me 'Round" or with its sample in Flo Rida's "Right Round."

A lap at the 0.533 mile concrete-laden track typically hit the 15-second mark, so the dizzying action of BMS definitely suits that 1985 song.

Whatever the music, whatever the song, what's certain is that when you watch any sport, be it the jazz-like motion of the NBA, the hard-rock action of the NHL rinks or the progressive world of NASCAR, adding some music to your day truly makes a stock car race even more enjoyable to your senses.

Writer's Note: I would like to dedicate this article to Kara Martin, my "big sis" figure here on B/R for reminding me about my passion for writing and NASCAR, as well as to all the fathers out there reading this article.

Last but not least, this article goes out to my wonderful father, Virgil, for not only raising me well, but for his undying love and support!

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