“More power! More power! More power! Ease off the gas, break, find the apex, look at your exit, more power, more power!” my instructor Rob yelled over the roar of the Corvette zo6. I had just completed a turn on the racetrack on a chilly December morning at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Arizona last year. I have never been much of a racing enthusiast; I have always found it more interesting to play soccer, football, or basketball despite my dad’s urges to discover the beauty of racing. When my dad signed me up for a 2-day course driving a stick shift Corvette zo6 at Bondurant last year, I knew I was in for a treat. I admit I wasn’t thrilled to be going to Bondurant; I just learned how to drive stick shift and wasn’t very confident in my ability to drive a car with a manual transmission. Instead of trying to convince my dad to get me out of the course, I held my tongue because I knew it was extremely important to him that I do this. Although I was initially told this trip was meant to make me a more skilled driver, in retrospect, it might have also been my dad’s way of showing me how difficult it is to be a racecar driver and instill in me respect for the sport.
There is so much more to racing that the average sports fan will never understand unless they get behind the wheel of a racecar. Because most sports fans don’t see the physical or mental side of racing, they automatically assume it’s easy and doesn’t require athleticism. I can tell you from experience that driving over one hundred miles per hour on a road course, shifting gears, following my racing line, trail-breaking, apexing turns, and constantly thinking one turn ahead is physically exhausting, not to mention mentally draining. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for NASCAR drivers going about two hundred miles per hour on a track with more than 40 other cars.
Anthony Trollope, author of British Sports and Pastimes, would argue that NASCAR is, in fact, a national sport. According to Trollope, one aspect of a national sport is that it must be ingrained in the nation’s culture. What’s more American than competition while driving a car manufactured by Ford or Chevrolet? Nothing.
Another requirement in Trollope’s argument is that the sport needs to be created or popularized in that country. NASCAR was both created in America in 1948 and has certainly become popular nationwide. Wherever you go in the United States, you are bound to find die-hard NASCAR fans.
Trollope also argues that the sport must be accessible to the majority of people, whether they are participating or spectating. Although NASCAR, the Sprint Cup Series specifically, is the highest level of racing in the United States, automotive racing can be seen at many different levels; Racing fans can both participate and spectate in events ranging from go-karts to drag racing. There are always opportunities for fans to get involved in racing, whether it be at a local racetrack, spectating a national event, or even watching televised Formula One races overseas.
Another reason why NASCAR is a national sport is because it doesn’t discriminate based on gender; both men and women compete against each other in the same series. Danica Patrick has led the way for women to get more involved in the predominantly male sport of racing.
Additionally, Trollope would argue that NASCAR is a national sport because of the sense of community that it fosters. The racing community is an extremely tight-knit group of people. Whenever racing fans meet, they have an immediate connection over their favorite drivers and race experiences. This community is different from other communities in the way that racing is truly a way of life, unlike any other sport I have seen.
At this point you might be thinking to yourself, “Even if NASCAR is a sport, it can’t be considered a national sport because its fans are all Southern rednecks.” If this were the case, Trollope would agree because racing wouldn’t defy regional differences in culture, which is a requirement to be considered a national sport. While NASCAR certainly started out as a regional sport and remained that way for most of its existence, it has recently drawn popularity from all over the country. With many iconic drivers, like Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart, coming from regions outside the South, the sport has developed a growing national audience.
Before I attended Bondurant, my brother and I would always rip on racing. We would commonly say, “How is driving in circles a sport?” or “There is nothing athletic about racing!” Reflecting on my beliefs before I completed my high-performance driving course, I realize I didn’t count racing as a sport simply because I didn’t have respect for what drivers do, which was based on my lack of understanding of the sport. Just as the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving did for me, I hope this post provides you with more insight into the world of racing and allows you to become more educated about the sport.