How Video Games and Television Taught Me About NASCAR

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer IFebruary 18, 2009

Growing up I was told many different things by many people. But there will always be something stands out in my mind mostly because it has helped lead me to this point in my life and many more to come.

I was told by my late grandfather that video games and television would rot my brain.

Of course kids are told a lot of things by their family members. If you don't eat your vegetables you won't grow, which in my case explains a lot. If you go outside in the winter with barely any clothes on you'll get sick.

Well, you will, it's called an pneumonia. But not sick as in cough, cough, I can't come to work today.

And so when I was repeatedly told that nothing would come of my obsessive NASCAR Playstation, I believed it. And when I was told that sitting in front of the television and watching every practice session, qualifying and all three Series races every weekend, that it would infect my brain, I believe that too.

But only for a minute.

The fact is it wasn't easy pulling away from the game because I felt as though it was teaching me. I could watch the race on Sunday and hear what the drivers were saying but not fully understand exactly what they meant. The terms seemed foreign and I felt like I was studying for a vocabulary test  which was administered ever race day.

I was sitting at home watching and I couldn't feel what the drivers were.

However, holding the controller and starring at the very realistic screen, that enabled me to feel. I could feel the car jump around in dirty air or slide toward side-ways when loose and not turn and head toward the wall when tight.

I understood what Dale Earnhardt Jr. said when he expressed that there was a dip in turn one at the Texas Motor Speedway.

But the video game did something else too. It made me ultra competitive. When playing all I wanted was that checkered flag and to get my chance at perfecting my own burnout. Something I became quite good at.

I enjoyed mastering every track and beating the simulated 42 drivers. Which I must say the company did a very good job of making each one drive exactly like their real life counter-parts.

With all my video game knowledge I now understood why every Sunday the racing is as exciting and competitive as it is. And I would settle in and watch and understand. But then I realized something.

I'm a couch driver.

When the in-car cameras rode along with a driver during a lap, I would wonder why they were off the throttle what seemed like an eternity.

Or vice versa. I wondered why when someone got a great run going down the backstretch they didn't make a move and get a nose along side the driver in front of them heading into turn three. Instead settling to follow for a couple laps.

And it was the television that taught me everything I know about NASCAR. By parking myself in front of it for hours on end and listening to the drivers and broadcasters, it sank in and stored itself in my brain.

By watching I learned how the car reacted to certain weather patterns, in shade and in sunlight. The difference between driving during the night and day.

I learned the differences in tracks and how is could change and how that treated the cars. Was the track smooth or slick? Was it wide or narrow?

I almost believed that it really was rotting my brain as my Grandfather had said, it was useless information that would never get me anywhere in life. I should have spent more time outside exercising, that will never happen, or reading (more) books.

Then the conversations started and I knew what I was talking about. Granted, I don't know everything and I'm learning everyday, but I knew enough to be able to join in the conversation or teach someone else something.

When I decided what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and that I would be able to use the knowledge I had acquired over the years through useless video games and television, it was bittersweet that I wouldn't be able to tell my Grandfather. He had lost his battle with cancer.

In fact, he pasted away three days after Dale Earnhardt Jr. scored his victory at Richmond in May of 2006 before going winless for two years. When he finally won again on Father's Day of 2008, imagine the emotions that not only Earnhardt Jr. felt but myself as well since I'm part of Jr. Nation.

My life came full circle so to speak.

But if I could have told him something, it would have been this: sometimes playing video games and watching hours of television can be beneficial. As long as you're not playing Grand Theft Auto or watching music videos from MTV. Granted some parents will still reach for the games that will stimulate the brain or maybe help a younger child read.

They believe that it will help better their education.

For my education I chose to reach for the controller, the remote, every new version of the NASCAR Thunder game and 61 inch television and learned from not one, but 43 professors, which have given me the best education of any.