Why People Like Auto Racing

Dale EarnhardtIt’s Memorial Day weekend, so there are auto races.

Some time ago, my brother-in-law told me that people only watch auto races for the crashes. I thought that was just ridiculous. I don’t watch auto races for the crashes. In fact, one reason that I’m put off on racing is the possibility of crashes and death. I don’t like that. The world is already too filled with death over stakes a hell of a lot more important than which car can travel 500 miles a few seconds faster than another.

I don’t know all that much about auto racing. Nonetheless, I do think it’s interesting watching the drivers position themselves. And there is all the strategy about pit stops. And if I know enough about who’s driving, I can root for someone. It’s not exactly dull.

But what do I know? My brother-in-law is a fan of auto racing. And I’m not. And it was only when I realized this that I understood that he was right: the vast majority of the people who enjoy auto racing, enjoy it because of the crashes. Because if you just enjoy watching the cars go around, you’re like me: you don’t enjoy it that much.

This shouldn’t come as a shock. Dale Earnhardt’s death is credited for increasing the audience of auto racing. It could just be a coincidence, of course. But one thing is for sure: his death didn’t cause people to abandon the sport, even though I would think that would be the natural reaction.

But enjoy the races. It’s Memorial Day weekend, after all.

0 thoughts on “Why People Like Auto Racing

  1. I have a handful of relatives on my dad’s side that are really into auto racing, particularly NASCAR. I was curious to know what the appeal of NASCAR is, so I asked them about it. For them, at least, it certainly isn’t the crashes. In fact, they scoffed at the idea of watching it just for the crashes in much the same way that die hard hockey fans scoff at the idea of watching hockey solely for the fights.

    If you think about it, it really is ridiculous to watch auto racing just for the crashes. Even though there are crashes in every race, they’re not very frequent. You’d have to spend a lot of time watching cars drive in circles before you’d get to see any cars wreck. It just seems kind of pointless. It might be one of the appeals of watching auto racing, but I don’t think it’s the only one.

    Even after discussing this with my relatives, I still don’t completely understand the appeal of watching auto racing. I can understand the appeal of sports as spectator events, but watching cars drive around in circles just seems boring to me. But to each his own, I guess. To me, auto racing is kind of like golf in that it is probably much more fun and exciting to actually take part in than to watch it.

    When I was younger, my dad had a job working for an apparel company, and several of his clients were NASCAR teams. He got to know a few racers on a first name basis and join their teams at races. He says that it’s really exciting to watch races from inside the pit. From that vantage point, you get to see a lot that you don’t see on TV or from the stands. For example, you get to see the inner workings of a pit crew, including everything from their communications with the drivers to how they orchestrate a pit stop when their drivers come in for one.

    Perhaps seeing a race in person would be a different experience, but I still think it would be boring to watch from the stands. If you are a big fan of NASCAR, then at least you can watch all the positioning and pit stops on TV.

  2. I’m a NASCAR fan and I wince at the crashes. The people your brother-in-law refers to are sometimes dubbed casual fans. They’re the folks who like socially acceptable excuses to get drunk on Sundays. They also like the campiness of auto racing–the overblown patriotism, the ridiculous paint jobs, the fact that several of the competitors are competing in giant billboards for the alcoholic beverage they happen to be drinking, the southern accents, the goofy redneck fans in their ridiculous campers on the infield, etc… I’m more drawn to the technical prowess, strategies and the underdog factor (bad teams never win the Super Bowl, but NASCAR’s biggest races–the 4 at Daytona and Talladega annually–employ technical safety devices called restrictor plates that have the side effect of drastically evening the playing field.)

    I’ve been to races as both a fan and a reporter. The latter allowed me to interview drivers, teams, crew members and witness the action from the pits. It is a pretty spectacular experience. But, if done right, the fan experience is remarkable, too. I’d recommend going alone or with diehard fans because it’s too noisy to have a conversation. Get seats up high where you can see the whole track (inexplicably, these are generally cheaper than trackside seats–at least on the back side of the tracks), bring binoculars and rent a scanner, which doubles as hearing protection. The scanner allows you to listen in on each driver’s radio comms with his/her pit, crew chief and spotters. You can also get the radio broadcast of the race–in case a yellow comes out and you don’t know why. Going to the race in person is essential to get the full picture of what is happening. I’ve spent entire races tuned into one (not well known) driver, with my eyes fixed on his car the entire time and my ears inside his helmet. Once I understood the sport at that level, I was hooked.

    Unfortunately, unlike football, basketball and baseball, televised auto racing is absolutely inferior to being there in person. It’s hard to do much outside of follow the leaders on t.v… Of course, you do get slow motion replays of the crashes on t.v. You don’t get that at the track. Notice that unlike NBA arenas, NFL stadiums and MLB ballparks, there are no jumbotrons at the racetracks. NASCAR is not competing with television to deliver a better experience. They don’t need to keep people entertained with highlight reels, bloopers and ads.

  3. @Mack – I can imagine being there would at very least be an overpowering experience. Of course, I’m a wimp. It might all be too much for me! Really.

  4. Edgar Alverson – Thanks for the insights. The scanner sounds really cool. I like the technical side of sports. That would certainly make the experience much greater for me.

    I would tend to disagree with you about other televised sports. Well, some anyway. I don’t think it works for finesse sports, and that clearly would include auto racing. The one sport I know pretty well is tennis, and it is horrible on TV. You just can’t see what the players are actually doing. I would say the same thing about baseball, but I don’t understand it as well. Basketball seems to work on TV. And I don’t understand why people watch football at all.

    A longtime beef of mine with sports fans is how trivial their interest in the games are. Most seem to just watch in the way that people play slot machines: they get a kick out of the big events. And I think that’s at play in auto racing too.

    I have this feeling about all spectator sports that the vast majority of people who enjoy them have little appreciation for the skills of the participants. Of course, you could say that about anything. Most people who read novels have little understanding of the art; they just want to find out how it ends.

    For the record, I admire the auto racers. The sport requires skills that I only have the vaguest understanding of. And I’m very pleased that over my lifetime the sport has become so much safer. I recall reading that in 1960, one-third of all auto racers ended their careers in a fatal crash. And that may be one aspect of liking crashes: in the vast majority of cases these days, no one is harmed.

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