The Frontstretch: Armchair crew chiefs are fun, educational, and occasionally right by Cheryl Walker -- Tuesday March 29, 2005

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As a young girl growing up in Pennsylvania, I got to experience life during the time when Pittsburgh was known as ‘The City of Champions’. That also meant that I got to listen to my brother and my father watch the Steelers, the Pirates, and the Penguins, and while doing so, they would either cheer, fight about whether the right play was made, or holler at the TV set a lot. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was learning a lot about those sports not only from the announcers, but from my two family members as well.

At bars all over our area, I am sure the same things were happening over boilermakers made of Iron City® beer, with black and gold pennants adorning the walls. Lots of bartenders had to have picked up a lot of Pennsylvania sports trivia without even trying to.

I still own a set of drinking glasses from McDonald’s that depict such Steeler football greats as Mean Joe Greene and Terry Bradshaw. (I wonder how many young NASCAR fans know that the loud wild-eyed guy in the Supercuts commercials used to be a famous quarterback?) There are some people in the Pittsburgh area that still debate whether Terry and the then football equivalent of a crew chief, Coach Chuck Knoll, ever really got along. As the shots-in-beers are still sold at bars in Pittsburgh and across the country, so the armchair quarterbacks still know it all and like to tell you about it.

Just as there are armchair quarterbacks, in racing there are armchair crew chiefs. You know whom I’m talking about: the folks that watch a NASCAR race, and know every reason why certain teams failed and certain teams won. And why one particular driver could be the next sensation, and why others just think that they are. And which tracks deserve a second date, and which ones should be cemented over and made into a mall.

Just as I learned while listening in on my brother and my Dad as they sorted out what was right and what was wrong about games in other sports, I truly believe that most armchair crew chiefs are worth at least half an ear, to learn things about stock car racing. Even if what they are ranting about while the veins in their neck distend to dangerous proportions is pure manure, they will oftentimes refer to some historical event that really did happen. So if you sort through the blarney, you can generally pick up some historical knowledge that makes you a better NASCAR fan.

Even listening to remarks that are so off-base they no longer really belong in our Milky Way can make you a better fan. How do I figure that? Well, I used to listen to some relatives of mine that were blatantly racially prejudiced. I realize now that their sometimes silly and oftentimes destructive stereotypes did what I am sure they didn’t intend: they caused me to be a very racially tolerant person. Much in part because they sounded like they were absolutely loony, and knowing that I can be so strange in the first place, I became racially pc as an end result. Listening to someone who fervently believes that Brian France is the Anti-Christ and Mike Helton the Head Demon can cause you to be a bit more tolerant about those two, at least in my humble opinion, and that’s just one small example of what listening to fervent but erroneous beliefs can bring about.

So the next time you are sitting next to one of these faithful over-the-top fans, try to be patient, and carefully listen to them. If you are lucky enough to be in the presence of an armchair crew chief who knows what he or she is talking about, then you are truly blessed, and will be a better fan when it’s all said and done. And even the less-knowledgeable ones who occasionally cause you to wince and bite your tongue can instill in you something good, even if it is to say to yourself that you never want to act like them ever, and scare away other fans more sensitive than yourself.

All-in-all listening to an armchair crew chief can be an entertaining and thought-provoking experience. I highly recommend you look one up, offer him or her a boilermaker, and enjoy a race with them someday.

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M. B. Voelker
03/29/2005 10:49 AM
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I am so homesick! I also grew up there and then and watched every Steelers game while my Dad taught me to armchair quarterback.

And it was only a couple weeks ago that I was trying to explain to some ignorant young fan that while Terry plays the buffoon for laughs he actually does know something about sports, teamwork, motivation, etc. because he was something truly special in his day.

(Why doesn’t Nascar take advantage of Terry Bradshaw when its marketing itself during football games? “I like Nascar so much I bought a team.” Football fans would pay attention. :-D

 

Cheryl is no longer a contributor to the Frotnstretch, having branched out on her own, starting CawsnJaws with her son Josh. If you'd like to see more of Cheryl's Frontstretch articles, check out her bio and archive page.