NASCAR: The Ultimate Representation of an American Dream

Still reassuring yourself by saying “the Big House” as the biggest stadium in the Western Hemisphere after the recent fiasco against Spartans? What I am going to talk about might disappointing you because “the Big House” is nothing compared to the largest speedway in the world. As a matter of fact, the majority of NASCAR tracks in the US are larger than “the Big House”, and the largest one among them, the grandiose Indianapolis Motor Speedway, once attracted roughly 400,000 spectators, is practically four times bigger than the highest capacity of “the Big House”.

Aerial view: Indianapolis Motor Speedway Dwarfs “the Big House” (link)

Apparently, from those comparisons and stats, you have already successfully conjectured: the protagonist here is NASCAR. In fact, apart from introducing the history and development of NASCAR, what I am going to argue in this blog post is that: NASCAR (forget about football and baseball) is the actual and genuine “Ultimate Representation” of  an American Dream

Before going on to my argument, a bit taste of the origin and development of this crazy American sport is obviously necessary. The origin of NASCAR was, interestingly, dishonorable. Let us go back in time to the America in 1920s, when the prohibition of liquors was still in place. At that period of time, speed cars were used for bootlegging. If you had the honor to get on a stock car with a bunch of bootleggers, or “the moonshine runners” since they bootleg the famous “Moonshine” whiskey from Canada, you would have a chance to gallop in the Appalachian Mountains. In order to outrun the police, those bootleggers actually became addicted into the modification of stock cars so that they could transport their valuable goods securely and rapidly to their customers. Thus, even after the decriminalization of liquors in the United States, those initial bootleggers started to compete for the sake of speed and trophies, instead of whiskey and bills, in the Daytona beach, Florida, which was a famous destination for informal speed car racing.

Near the end of 1940s, here came a visionary guy known as Big Bill France, who was one of the drivers in the informal beach race. He not only organized an unprecedented meeting of all the drivers and other people who involved in the race, but also established the official standard rules for the unorganized beach racing. NASCAR, which stands for the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, was officially established on the spot. Big Bill was then became the perfectly justifiable chairman and founder of NASCAR. Since then, NASCAR rapidly grown into one of the most influential sport in the United States. No matter how popular the MLB or Michigan football are, they certainly can never break the record of the number of attendance in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway of a NASCAR Sprint Cup series.

The former Gasoline Station, ran by the founder of NASCAR – Bill France at 1930s, is still operating today as an entertainment venue during game days. (link)

At this point, you may inquire: how is NASCAR, a sport that originated from bootlegging, can be the “Ultimate representation” of an American Dream? All right, before going into that question, let us first watch a recent commercial named as “heroes” published by NASCAR:

What is interesting about this commercial is the use of kids talking about their dreams. Linking to the sport of NASCAR itself, the integral message this commercial wants to convey to its audience is the “Dream”. This reminds me of the old-school “American Dream”, which was defined by James Truslow Adams as “…the dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” NASCAR is somewhat an epitome of an “American Dream”. Unlike those typical American sports such as football, baseball, basketball or even ice hockey, NASCAR is distinguished as an only individual sport among them. The fact that the achievement of an individual is ultimately praised and exaggerated in NASCAR reflects part of the pursuit of an American dream – that is, the exercise and growth from “weak” to “strong” of an individual. That’s why that commercial deliberately titled as “heroes” and the subjects are entirely little kids.

Another aspect that makes NASCAR as a representation of American Dream is the underlying values embedded in the sport. Again, here is another impressive commercial that could help me explain this point:

This commercial links the exercise of individual to the sport of NASCAR. Comparing to the last video, this one is more like a complement – a complement of the process for an individual growing from “weak” to “strong”. The dramatic depiction of exercising is ingeniously linked to the value of NASCAR – becoming stronger and more powerful through paying out time and energy. Again, this is in consensus with the “American Dream” defined by James Truslow Adams.

Last but not the least, the risks of NASCAR makes it more like a life-and-death ancient Greek duel instead of a mere sport pastime for the participants. Crashes and accidents are commonplaces in a NASCAR game. Despite the fact that there had been so many fatal accidents that NASCAR have presented many safety measures since the last couple of decades, the association apparently haven’t put safety as its priority – they still occasionally publish footage of crashes on its official YouTube channel as attention-drawers. In fact, the origin of the word “Automobile” was the combination of the Greek word “Self” and the Latin word “movable”. The extended meaning could be: “we each propel ourselves toward the life and destiny of our own choosing.”  Thus, the value of “risk-taking” embedded in NASCAR interestingly coincide with the value that people held in pursing an American Dream.

Next time when you explain the concept of American Dream to your international friends, forget about the definition from James Truslow Adams; just let them watch the Indianapolis 500 and tell them that is the most concentrated version of an American Dream.

Practicing and exercising for years, beating a bunch of elite rivalries, risking life, getting praises from hundreds of thousands of spectators, and, most importantly, receiving a trophy plus a kiss from a gorgeous lady. If this is not an American Dream, then what else is? (Bill Elliott: winner of the Budweiser 500 in 1985) (link)

One thought on “NASCAR: The Ultimate Representation of an American Dream

  1. I really liked the way you suggested NASCAR as the ultimate representation of the American Dream instead of the usual answers: football, baseball, and basketball. Many people don’t give NASCAR, and racing in general, the respect it deserves as a sport. Just because drivers are sitting in a car doesn’t mean that it doesn’t require athletic ability. Your second commercial did a good job of showing the training that NASCAR drivers must go through behind the scenes to become more competitive drivers. Also, there is a whole lot more to NASCAR than the average sports fan can imagine. Along with physically driving the car, the sport requires tremendous mental ability. The only thing I disagree with in your post is when you said NASCAR is distinguished from other sports because it is an individual sport. Contrary to popular belief, NASCAR is a team sport. Each driver relies on his or her pit crew to rotate tires, change the car’s oil, and fix damages to the body of the car as fast as possible to get the driver back on the track. Another part of the pit crew’s job is to make sure the car is as competitive as possible before every race. The driver also relies on his or her crew chief to coach him or her throughout the race.


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