Hell No, I Won't Go
For years, I too placed a stereotype on NASCAR. "That's a redneck thing! It's not even a sport. I wouldn't be caught dead at a race!" But, like I've told so many of my friends (and family), my curiosity got the best of me. It started several years ago when my team's office was located on Harris Boulevard. A couple friends took me and another skeptic to the speedway during our lunch break.
Well, if you've never been, it's quite impressive. The Lowe's Motorspeedway is the home of a mile and half track. It's seats 167,000 fans and the infield can be as exciting as the race itself. There's also a lot of money there. There are condominiums overlooking the track that cost a mint. Then there's the Speedway Club. It costs about $2000 to join, plus you have to spend at least $50 a month in the restaurant. There's also a dress code in the skybox and the outdoors section during the race (no halters, daisy duke shorts or wifebeaters allowed).
This little tour was enough to draw my attention. What won me over was actually attending an event. My best friend invited me to go to the Winston Cup race last year. The Winston is a short all-star race. There are no points given to the winner, it's strictly a money race. Meaning, the winner takes home an obscene amount of money.
Bubba, Pass Me a Cold One
Yes, there are rednecks that attend NASCAR races. But, when you go to a race, everyone is there for one reason...to see a good race. Yes, there's beer-guzzling and drunks. But, there's beer guzzling at baseball games, football games and other sporting events as well. And, I'm sure there's wine guzzling at polo matches. Let's be honest, it's just a different type of drunk. I'm sure NASCAR got its stigmatism because of its roots....moonshine runners. But, NASCAR is only one type of motorsport. There's CART, Formula One, Indy, Top Fuel Dragsters, and Rally just to name a few.
We Don't Need No Stinkin' Rules!
Like most sports, there are rules. Believe it or not, NASCAR has strict rules that drivers and crew members must follow. So, it's more than driving in a circle for four hours. There's a strategy to entering and exiting the pits and there's a strategy for driving 180mph without killing yourself or anyone else. NASCAR has officials that watch everything that happens on the track...before, during and after. They even watch the drivers to make sure they're on their best behavior.
Most of the drivers are likable. With the exception of a few young guns, they're well behaved sportsmen. You don't hear about them kicking their wives out of their homes in the middle of the night with no clothes. You don't hear about them bling, blinging and they don't wear sunglasses to the grocery store (I've even seen my favorite driver in my grocery store). They make themselves accessible to their fans, they're involved in charitable events and a most of them are devoted to their families. They love what they do and they love their fans.
Adding Color to the Sport
NASCAR is changing and making strides to diversify the sport. Bill Lester, a black man, drives a Dodge for the Craftsman Truck Series. Herbie Bagwell, a black man, drives for the ARCA series. Reggie Jackson is part owner of a Busch series car. Nelly has bought into a Craftsman truck. A black man is co-owner of the BelCar team that owns the #54 car driven by Todd Bodine. And you even see various black crew members.
And, yes, there are black fans. Besides myself and Tony, we've seen numerous black fans in the stands. I've also been to professional basketball games and there have not been black people there. If it's free, black people will be there. If hip-hop is involved, black people will be there. If 50 cent or any other foul-mouth rapper is there, black people will be there. But there's an acquired taste for racing, and black people just don't have the taste for it.
Watching a race on television is not like being there. You get an instant adrenaline rush the moment you walk into the stands. There's nothing like the sound of the engines, the smell of the fuel or the cheers of thousands of fans. I'll admit I was a bit nervous when I went to my first race. But, the fans were the nicest bunch of people I've ever met. We cheered for our favorite drivers, talked stats, clicked beer cans and didn't think about color for four hours. I really look forward to attending many more races this year. So, don't give up on NASCAR yet. There was a time that I didn't believe there were black cowboys.