I’m often asked why I love NASCAR. Most of the time it’s from a person with an incredulous look of either despair, disgust or out right confusion on their face. I get it given my circumstances: I grew up in England and moved with work to New York City in November 2001. I’m a football (soccer) loving Brit working in advertising. I’m not, let’s be fair, the natural demographic for the great sport of NASCAR.
The questions I get, more often than not, come in the guise of a challenge. It’s a“You really waste three to four hours of your weekend time watching that (insert your own bad word here?)
“NASCAR’s not a real sport! It’s like WWE. All those drivers do is mash the gas and turn left. Anyone old fool could do that. Talladega Nights (the movie) is an accurate portrayal of the sport. I could be Ricky Bobby.” Yadiyadiyada (as they say.)
Indisputably NASCAR drivers do turn left a lot across the course of a 36-race, 10-month schedule – the longest in all professional sport. No argument here on that; but it’s simplifying the point so much it’s almost insulting to those who follow the sport week in, week out. It’s the same as saying football is just 22 giant specimens of manhood smashing mindlessly into each other for 60 minutes and hoping someone catches the ball in the end zone.
Like anything in life, you’ve got to take some time to truly get it. Spend some good quality moments with NASCAR before you bash it without the knowledge to even remotely back up your points. Let go of your inhibitions just for one New York minute. Realize the ability the 43 Cup drivers need to have on courses that range from half mile paperclip shaped flat tracks to the six story high 33 degree banking at Talladega. And understand how closely matched most of the best cars are – this year more than ever. How hard it is to actually win a race.
And to those who say it’s not a real sport, that’s abject nonsense. I’ll hit you with some old school insults just to confirm your ignorance and say “piffle”, “poppycock” and “codswallop” at you.
Ernest Hemingway, who experienced some life, had it right when he said: “There are but three true sports—bullfighting, mountain climbing, and motor-racing. The rest are merely games.”
Cup cars are safer than ever. Drivers are climbing out of tremendous wrecks with little more than bruised egos after ferocious hits at ridiculous speed. But Eric McClure’s vicious Talladega wreck and subsequent time on the sidelines shows just how dangerous NASCAR truly is.
What the naysayers and critics also miss is that NASCAR is an institution: a sport with roots in super fast modified American cars and illicit moonshine, where hard work is anything but a dirty word. A sport in which integrity, character and discipline still matter—where only the truly great drivers become champions. Even with the Chase format you can’t luck your way to a championship. You’ve got to go out and grab it with a vice like grip and not let go until you’re hoisting the wavy silver trophy at Homestead Miami.
I love that NASCAR is now an indelible part of me, part of my identity, who I am. It’s part of my ritual; Sundays is about going to church and watching NASCAR. In the future I may not follow it with quite the zest I do now, but I know I’ll always be interested. Sport has a habit of getting under your skin. That’s what’s great about it.
At races, I talk to the sort of people I’d imagine some of my Manhattan friends would run a mile from. You know what? That’s exactly the situation where I’ve always ended up having awesome conversations.
NASCAR rules—let me tell you, folks—and it rules with the throaty roar. No less than an authority than Richard Hammond, a presenter on the global BBC TV phenomenon Top Gear, who drove some hot laps at Texas Motor Speedway (as well as the honorary pace car) described the car as a shouty dragon, like nothing else he’d driven. He of all people would know.
For me, my love for NASCAR has mostly been about the amazing experiences I’ve had working in the sport: standing on pit road with Bobby Labonte’s crew with two of the best friends any man could hope for, the national anthem at the Great American Race, the Daytona 500, driving eight hot laps and 160MPH+ at picturesque Pocono Raceway; talking for half an hour to Doc (RIP) and Rose Mattioli on pit road afterward.
I’ve seen a kid in a remote lake town in Guatemala you can only access by boat wearing a Dale Earnhardt Jr. T-shirt; then written what, in my humble opinion, is one of my best ever columns only to be insulted massively in the comments section. I’ve shot ads with Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray, Elliott Sadler, Jimmie Johnson and even old Jeremy Mayfield (but we won’t talk too much about him.)
I’ve even had a fan I’d met for all of two minutes on the edge of the first turn at Charlotte Motor Speedway, prior to the Cup Race, give me the signed cap of my favorite driver straight off his head – just because I was a big fan. If that doesn’t speak volumes about NASCAR I don’t know what does.
And finally, this past Sunday morning I had the privilege and pleasure of co-hosting the epic Carey and Coffey Show) the two-hour ESPN Radio broadcast show has become something of a staple in my life after first being asked on as a guest analyst back in 2008. Last year I transitioned over from appearances every 3-4 weeks to a regular segment each and every Sunday.
I can honestly say I don’t even see it as part of the NASCAR job – it’s more a chat with a couple of old friends about a sport we all love minus perhaps the occasional outlandish opinion and the odd derogatory phrase. Doing the show in its entirety was fantastic, even interviewing Frontstretch’s own managing editor “Bowlesy”. I’ll admit I was a little nervous at first but I quickly settled down and hopefully got into the rhythm of things. By the time the show was over I was ready to do it again. Massive congrats, too, to my girl Stephanie for reading the NASCAR news (for her radio debut). Thanks Matt and Jay, good times my friends. Good times.
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