I went to my first NASCAR Sprint Cup race last weekend. Ostensibly with one of my best friends, though he spent the entirety of the race asleep in our tent. His other friends are pretty nice, though, and it was a fun and interesting experience. I got sunburnt, and not enough sleep the night before, but that’s okay.
I’ve been not-following NASCAR long enough that watching the race was an interesting exercise in detached observation. I don’t have a favorite driver (since Bobby Labonte wandered off the scene), nor do I have a “nemesis” driver (though I can see why people just have a hate-on for Kyle Busch), and my rooting interests are somewhat academic. I’m eager to see Danica Patrick do well, if only to help prove that male dominance of racing is largely cultural, and not tied to some mystical masculine traits only available with the addition of some testosterone. And of course, any kind of “brand loyalty” (like, Pepsi drinks can go fuck themselves because Jeff Gordon) is not my game at all.
That said, I like racing. I’m not a huge fan of noise for its sake, or even cars really, which I sometimes think as strange from a man who grew up in Metro Detroit. But I like the competition and the strategy. I like seeing how different cars perform in identical conditions, and I like seeing the edges to which the drivers will push in order to gain the advantage.
Also, the thing that has always struck me about NASCAR especially is that it seems like it’s actually, under the hood so to speak, the nerdiest of the major American “sports.” There’s so much more involved, especially now, than some raw love of cars or the skill of the drivers. The forces involved, the engineering necessary to govern it all, the numbers numbers numbers. (Baseball might be the next nerdiest sport, but only because stats nerds have made it so, speaking of numbers.) And I get why nerds tend to stay away, and it mostly has to do with the culture that NASCAR has inherited in unbroken line down from the moonshiner days, which I certainly saw on full display last weekend.
So I get the discomfort there, and the general reaction away. It’s just a shame, is all. There’s a lot for nerds, math and physics nerds in particular, to sink their teeth into. There’s an underlying grace and purity to the competition that can be fascinating, when viewed that way.
And yeah, I’ll probably go back to that particular race next year.