Four Left Turns and a Whiff of Deer Jerky

NASCAR is coming, they say. It’s gaining momentum, they say. It’s going to surpass baseball and basketball to become our second most popular sport, they say. It’s the sport of the people, a sign of a populist, red-state uprising against the Northeast liberal elite, they say.

(Who are “they”? Strawmen? Of course not! How dare you even bring that up?)

Well, I’ve got some sour news for NASCAR nation. If the biggest annual event in your “sport” is delayed two-and-a-half hours for pothole repairs, you don’t actually have a sport. You don’t even have a fucking hobby.

Can you imagine if the Super Bowl got delayed for that long to fix the turf? Or a gaping hole opening up in the Boston Garden’s aging parquet floor mid-game? Yesterday’s Daytona 500 proved with crushing finality that NASCAR is a nothing more than a punchline to a bunch of Jeff Foxworthy jokes. But the hole in the road is only the latest piece of evidence that we can all stop paying attention to this ridiculous pastime.

We’ve been hearing for years from pundits and fans that NASCAR is on the rise, taking over, the sport of the new millenium. (Of course, we’ve been hearing the same thing about soccer since Pele played for the New York Cosmos. Maybe things will finally pick up this World Cup cycle!) But no event this unwatchable, this riddled with basic conceptual blunders, can ever become as mainstream as baseball, football and basketball.

To wit:

  • Even during events with no mid-race road repair, action is constantly stopped for crashes, pit row incidents and other mishaps. The drivers can even get out of their cars and relax for a while.
  • NASCAR’s biggest event is also their first event of the season. They’ve tried to rectify the ensuing lack of suspense with a manufactured playoff system, but no one cares about it. The PGA has tried the same thing, to similar fan disinterest.
  • By its very nature, stock car racing limits the performance capabilities of its participants. Unlike Indy Car racing, where the goal is to go as fast as you possibly can, NASCAR uses restrictor plates and a series of regulations to cap speeds. It would be like the NFL placing a weight limit on offensive linemen, or Major League Baseball banning any pitchers who can throw above 95 miles per hour.

The NASCAR propagandists are everywhere, including the sport’s Wikipedia page, which claims, “professional football is the only sport in the United States to hold more viewers than NASCAR.” This type of claim is common, as the propagandists love to cherry-pick attendance and TV ratings stats to make their sport seem more popular than it is.

2009 attendance

MLB (regular season) – 73.4 million
NBA (2008-2009 regular season) – 21.5 million
NHL (2008-2009 regular season) – 21.5 million (this can’t be a good sign for the NBA)
NFL (regular season, not counting games in Toronto or London) – 17.1 million
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series – 4.8 million

Of course, NASCAR has far fewer events than any of the other sports listed above. But that’s exactly why you can’t take their bravado seriously. Of course they’re going to draw more eyes per event when they only hold one event per week, whereas baseball, for instance, averages about 90 games a week.

2009 TV ratings

Super Bowl XLIV – 45.0
2009 World Series – 11.7 (average)
2009 NBA Finals – 8.4 (average)
2010 Daytona 500 – 8.0

That looks all well and good for NASCAR, until you remember that viewers only tuned in once for the Daytona 500, as opposed to six times for the World Series and five times for the NBA finals. You’ll notice I omitted the ratings for the thrilling 2009 Stanley Cup Finals — I don’t want our Canadian readers to come down from their Olympic high just yet.

Moreover, NASCAR TV and attendance numbers have been in decline for the last few years. NASCAR has hit its ceiling as an American pastime; it will never climb higher than it’s already been. Which is fine. People like it, let them enjoy it. Just stop trying to tell us that it’s taking over. There was a time when we were all going to have Segway scooters too.

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Filed under Sports Has AIDS, The Dilemma

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