Welcome to the Frontstretch Five! Each week, Amy Henderson takes a look at the racing, the drivers and the storylines that drive NASCAR and produces a list of five people, places, things and ideas that define the current state of our sport. This week, Amy has some reasons why fans should pack up and hit the track soon.
1. TV doesn’t bring you all the action.
If you’re a fan and you watch the races on TV, you’re not seeing everything that’s really going on. While the cameras are focused on the leaders circling the track in formation, someone is fighting for position, or making an unscheduled pit stop that could change the game later or create a conflict. While they’re talking about the same few drivers who always seem to populate the conversations, someone they haven’t mentioned is having the race of his life or changing everything for someone else. What the broadcast shows is often one-dimensional. They focus on what they want to, or on what they think fans want to see. But if you want to see the real race, with its many layers and facets, you won’t get that from the broadcast on TV. Radio will serve you a little better, but if you want the whole story to unfold in front of your eyes, you’ll need to buy a ticket.
2. Check out something different.
If you’re lucky enough to live near a track or tracks that host several different types of racing, why not see what a different racing series is all about? For stock car diehards, there’s ARCA, which is a bit of a throwback compared to NASCAR, and puts on some great shows. But there is also IndyCar, which can put on a spectacular show on tracks where NASCAR is mediocre, at best. There are sprint cars also in the open-wheel category. Then there are the straight-liners at the drag strip who drive surprisingly difficult-to-handle cars at speeds that are borderline ludicrous. Again, you won’t get the full story on TV, and there might be something out there that rekindles the magic and reminds you why cars going fast holds such emotion. Each brings its own set of sights, sounds and smells, its own story. You never know until you experience it directly.
3. It’s not all about the big time.
Disillusioned with NASCAR and the big-money game it’s become? Want racers who will race desperately for the win every lap? Visit a local track. There you won’t find many million-dollar racing operations or drivers who can’t turn a wrench or two when needed, but you’ll find plenty of blue-collar racers who don’t care about points or Chases or anything but winning this week. You’ll see hard-nosed racing at its finest, and yes, some mistakes and some tempers. It’s not really about prize money, yet it’s all about prize money because lots of teams need it to make the next race. It’s about pride and the hard work it took to get there. It’s what racing once was to everyone, from fans to the richest driver on the biggest team. It just got lost in the shuffle somewhere.
4. Overwhelm your senses.
Sure, racing is about watching, but if you’re at the track, it’s so much more than a visual sport. It’s about sound: a stock car sounds angry, like a beast waiting to be released from a cage, the engines sing a song of their own, drawing you in like Sirens. It’s about scent and even the taste, sharp and slightly metallic, that hangs in the air. You can feel the cars in your very core as they drive by. It’s an incredibly sensual experience, one that you simply don’t get watching on TV. Everything you loved about racing in the first place is wrapped up in this feeling somehow. It’s worth finding again.
5. Remember why you came in the first place.
Yes the game has changed, and, at least in the case of NASCAR, there are some things that are so irrevocably and grotesquely altered that they may never be fixed. But some things don’t change: the feeling you get when the pace car pulls off the track, just before the green flag drops, the cry of 10,000 horses fighting for freedom, the people who work so hard for a chance at a race, a win, a solid performance. The same old show, week after week, on television, saps the feeling of excitement to almost nothing, but being there, being a part of it all, revitalizes. When you’re at the track, you can make the race about whatever you want – your driver, that car, this manufacturer. You don’t have to watch what someone in a production studio thinks you want to watch. You can watch the real race.