By: Isaac Donsky, Columnist
The COVID-19 pandemic that has ravaged the globe shut down sports worldwide in March. For months, us sports junkies have been left without any live sports. Only recently have live sports returned in the United States, with the MLB, NHL, NBA, and MLS all having restarted their seasons. It was a sigh of relief for sports fans not only in the US, but across the world.
However, to say that there were no live sports in the US between March and August of 2020 is not entirely true. One league was still going, week after week. And it just happens to be one of the most exciting sports leagues in the country.
As long as you consider it to actually be a sport.
The National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing, otherwise known as NASCAR, found itself in an interesting situation when the pandemic broke out. The league stopped competition during March after the fourth race of the season due to the country-wide shutdown, only to restart a few weeks later with new COVID-regulations in place. As competitors are confined to their own individual cars, the chances for face-to-face contact are almost non-existent. As other sports leagues waited out the storm, NASCAR charged ahead, holding multiple events a week to ensure its original 36-race schedule could be completed.
For several months, NASCAR has been the only form of live sport in the USA. Thousands of sports fans tuned in every weekend to watch the only live entertainment they could get their hands on. Many were instantly hooked. And as a fan since 2007, I couldn’t have been happier.
See, NASCAR has always been viewed as the black sheep of American sporting leagues. Often forgotten by the mass public, NASCAR and its rabid fanbase are the laughing stock of sports fans. NASCAR is seen as a relic of the old South, full of racist rednecks and Confederate-flag toting rebels. Many people don’t even view NASCAR as an actual sport, with former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb stating in 2013 that NASCAR drivers aren’t even athletes. But the general consensus seems to be that NASCAR is just a bunch of cars driving in circles for 4 hours. Boring.
Well, I’m here to disprove all of those points. And to convince you to give this league a chance.
First off, I won’t deny that NASCAR has a checkered past when it comes to its Southern background. Founded in Daytona Beach, Florida, in 1948, NASCAR from the beginning embraced the rebel nature of the South. The men who founded NASCAR were former bootleggers and rum runners. And they were hardcore Southern sympathizers. NASCAR was full of Confederate imagery in the early years. Races such as the Rebel 500 and the Dixie 500 were popular stops on the tour. The winner of the annual Southern 500 was greeted in victory lane by the character known as “Johnny Rebel”. And when a black man by the name of Wendell Scott won a race in 1963, he never got to see the trophy. NASCAR gave it to the white man who finished in second.
It’s important to understand that, while many fans still carry the old sentiments of those times, the sport itself has moved on. And NASCAR has worked hard to make amends for its previous sins.
It is quite common nowadays to see multiple minority drivers among the sea of white males on the grid. The organization recently joined a group of sports leagues that pledged support to LGBTQ athletes, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement. And just this year, NASCAR finally banned the confederate flag from its properties (Something that fans and drivers had been calling on for years).
To the second point, that NASCAR drivers aren’t athletes, tell that to the drivers themselves. NASCAR stock cars are essentially metal coffins with the aerodynamic properties of a brick that can reach speeds of up to 220 miles per hour. Drivers are often faced with massive g-force loads on their bodies as they circulate the track, and temperatures inside the cars can reach upwards of 150 degrees fahrenheit on a hot day. Combine all that with the fact that these men and women have to sit inside these cars for up to four hours. Every weekend. And the intense heat and stress of having to constantly be alert of other drivers on track causes such strain on their bodies that drivers often lose up to five pounds of water weight per race. One mistake and you find yourself into a concrete barrier that can kill you.
No ordinary human being can do that. To say that drivers aren’t athletes is just plain offensive to the men and women that are crazy enough to drive these machines.
Finally, the last point: Watching cars go around in circles for hours every weekend is boring. That is the critique of someone who has never watched NASCAR before. While boring races often happen (And trust me, as a lifelong fan I have seen some real snoozers), the intricacies of the sport keep it exciting.
NASCAR is the world’s greatest drama. Every week something new is happening to keep the audience on the tips of their toes. Drivers battle for the lead, crash, fight each other, sometimes even fall in love. There are insane comebacks, dominating performances, and heart-stopping accidents. The way the points are set up ensures that the season long championship comes down to the final race of the season. Every track has something unique about it that makes for an enticing race.
There’s Daytona, the birthplace of the sport where speeds are constantly above 200 miles per hour and drivers race together in huge packs. Tiny Martinsville, where the only way to pass on the half-mile track is to move someone out of the way. And the rolling hills of Sonoma, where cars weave through turns both left and right. (See, it’s more than just left turns!!!!!!).
NASCAR is the most insane sporting league on the planet. And I hope that I’ve convinced you to give it a chance. If not, feel free to check out my column on the sport every Tuesday. I might just convince you yet.