I fully appreciate that NASCAR isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Or perhaps more appropriately, it’s not everybody’s bottle of root beer. As a fan I find myself defending NASCAR regularly. The naysayers claim that the discipline is literally “just a bunch of cars going around in circles” and the majority of these folk will be beyond convincing otherwise; a lost cause. But the more open-minded may take note and potentially be swayed to think more highly of what is one of the biggest forms of motor sport in the world.
Recent events in Daytona however, have given weight to the arguments against this form of racing; not only is it “just a bunch of cars going around in circles” it’s also “too dangerous”. Around thirty spectators were treated for injuries – some serious – following a last-lap pile-up in the Nationwide Series last weekend when Kyle Larson’s car became airborne and crashed through the catch-fencing, sending debris towards shocked onlookers. It’s a cliché but it truly was a miracle that nobody was killed.
Motorsport is dangerous. It always has been and it always will be. It is, to a degree, part of the sport’s appeal, particularly for participants. We shouldn’t forget however, that the danger doesn’t pose a threat to just the drivers behind the wheel. Buy a ticket to any event and your ticket will warn you that “Motorsport is Dangerous” and while cars are racing, nobody there is 100% safe. That said, the efforts to improve safety should never stop and without doubt NASCAR will be looking at the crash in Daytona and taking what happened very seriously indeed, as well as perhaps searching for alternatives to catch-fencing.
The Americans do sport very well – this can hardly be denied. They seem to have the ability – and money – to take a sport and make it bigger, louder, more accessible and altogether more appealing. NASCAR is no exception. It’s not “just be a bunch of cars going around in circles”, it’s up to 40 hairy, scary V8 beasts roaring around at close to 200mph within inches of each other. No pricey telemetry. No complicated aerodynamics. (Virtually) No brakes. No other form of motor racing can offer racing as close and unpredictable as NASCAR. Take that same race in Daytona for example; after 100 laps the top 20 were covered by two seconds. Two seconds! All twenty of them separated by the same gap you should be leaving on the motorway, three or four abreast and rubbing fenders. With 15 laps to go Tony Stewart was in 21st…he won the race. How can that not be appealing to anybody who has even an ounce of petrol in their veins?
The sport’s roots are just as intriguing. Unlike Formula One and the majority of European motor sport – born from the passion of wealthy enthusiasts – NASCAR has illegal booze to thank. The racing stemmed from the modified cars of moonshine runners and their attempts to out-run the law as well as each other.
Perhaps this is why there seems to be a certain lack of steward’s enquiries following on-track incidents – not necessarily a bad thing. NASCAR drivers tend to settle things their own way. Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon for example, had full scale fisty-cuffs towards the end of last year when Gordon ended Bowyer’s championship hopes by deliberately crashing into him. Gordon was eventually fined $100,000 but not before Bowyer hunted him down in the paddock and fought his way through Gordon’s pit crew along with his own.
I’ll understand if you don’t rush off now to find some NASCAR to watch; for those used to European style racing where the drivers turn right every so often it can be a difficult sport to grasp. But if you do find yourself with ample opportunity, I urge you to give it a try. You never know, you might like it.