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April 22, 2010 3:23 PM   Subscribe

Last season, attendance fell some 10%, and empty seats have pockmarked this year's races... average viewership of Sprint Cup races on network television has fallen a remarkable 25%... this year's broadcast of the Daytona 500 was the lowest-rated Great American Race since 1991. NASCAR: A Once Hot Sport Tries to Restart Its Engine.
posted by twoleftfeet (107 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Solution: go the Mario Kart/Death Race remake route with traps and power-ups.
posted by brundlefly at 3:26 PM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


That's no surprise, their business is cyclical.
posted by Kattullus at 3:29 PM on April 22, 2010 [48 favorites]


Every since I was a little kid, I've thought that it was pretty uninspired that car racing lacks the loops and jumps of even the most basic Hot Wheels track.

I don't know if it would work with stock cars, but I know F-1 type cars could do it.
posted by paisley henosis at 3:35 PM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Not sure how they can call them stock cars either.
posted by Talez at 3:42 PM on April 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


NASCAR Coach Reveals Winning Strategy: Drive Fast
posted by memebake at 3:59 PM on April 22, 2010


I used to love stock car racing, grew up a passionate fan of it.

Since it became an overtly politicized sport I haven't given a shit and since Bush v. Gore, I haven't watched a single race on TV.

Hint to NASCAR -- your short term success from linking your brand to the GOP cost you loyal, long-term fans.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:02 PM on April 22, 2010 [9 favorites]


Talez: Not sure how they can call them stock cars either.

Yeah, it seems like if they really were normal, stock, assembly line cars you could buy at the dealership that that would make the whole thing a lot more interesting, too.
posted by paisley henosis at 4:02 PM on April 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


Stock Toyotas would be a slam dunk to win. Pedal to the metal all the way.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:07 PM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Kind of a thin article.
posted by everichon at 4:10 PM on April 22, 2010


Yeah, it seems like if they really were normal, stock, assembly line cars you could buy at the dealership that that would make the whole thing a lot more interesting, too.

Yes, it would get interesting right about the time everyone's airbags deploy when they bump each other, their tires lose grip in the first turn, and they all die in the crash because they have no racing safety gear. That is, assuming that the top speed limiters are not still in place, preventing them from going fast enough to call it a "race."
posted by The World Famous at 4:11 PM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's an interesting article, but I want to find a Time web designer and punch him in the neck for all the links in the middle of text like "(See pictures of NASCAR's nation of fans.)" It breaks up the flow of the text and interrupts me enough to make it difficult to just read the article.
posted by fatbird at 4:12 PM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yay!
posted by gurple at 4:14 PM on April 22, 2010


I think their success is waning not because of any link to the GOP, but because they keep screwing with the rules and the cars.
posted by wierdo at 4:18 PM on April 22, 2010


Kind of a thin article.

Here's a thicker one.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:24 PM on April 22, 2010


Talez: Not sure how they can call them stock cars either.

The SSCA (Sports Car Club of America) has a Showroom Stock class which is exactly this. Well, not exactly - they need certain safety modifications, but nothing that affects performance.
posted by foonly at 4:26 PM on April 22, 2010


You know why I stopped watching? Two reasons:

One, they jump around between over-the-air channels and paid channels, and I (like many people trying to save money these days) no longer have cable. Why should I get wrapped into something I can't see through to the finish?

Two, I have seen too much vintage British Touring Car footage, and there's no better racing than that in my opinion.
posted by davejay at 4:29 PM on April 22, 2010


Oh, and three: I don't care what sport you watch, when the same person wins over and over and over, it gets old.
posted by davejay at 4:30 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


when the same person wins over and over and over, it gets old.

That may be true for you, but I don't think it's true generally. Golf suffers whenever Tiger Woods isn't competing, and basketball was never more popular than in Jordan's heyday.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:33 PM on April 22, 2010


YouTube British Touring Car footage courtesy of a Top Gear retrospective
posted by davejay at 4:36 PM on April 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Operating machinery is not a sport. QED
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:39 PM on April 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah, it seems like if they really were normal, stock, assembly line cars you could buy at the dealership that that would make the whole thing a lot more interesting, too.

Yes, it would get interesting right about the time everyone's airbags deploy when they bump each other, their tires lose grip in the first turn, and they all die in the crash because they have no racing safety gear. That is, assuming that the top speed limiters are not still in place, preventing them from going fast enough to call it a "race."


And your point is...
posted by Splunge at 4:40 PM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Operating machinery is not a sport. QED

Seriously. Using a lever to place a sphere into a distant hole is not a sport.
posted by The World Famous at 4:43 PM on April 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


Operating machinery is not a sport. QED

Totally with ya. Using a machined wooden pole to propel a leather ball is not a sport.

Some say that racing isn't a sport because there are no balls involved. Personally, I think we just disagree on the type and number required.
posted by davejay at 4:45 PM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Another American business model based on permanent growth suffers from shrinking economy.

Amazing.
posted by Xoebe at 4:52 PM on April 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


So archery is not a sport?

Regatta?

Horse racing?

Skydiving ?

Luge ?
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:53 PM on April 22, 2010


Synchronized swimming?

Uh... Nevermind.
posted by Splunge at 5:02 PM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Luckily, the recent StartCraft2 post has given me the vocabulary to express my thoughts on this subject. I used to say the problem with NASCAR was that when you watched it all you saw were cars going in circles and not the true execution of skill. Sure, there are in-car shots, but you loose something switching to them. Now that I've spent far too much time watching StarCraft2 commentary videos on YouTube, I realize that I'm looking for the words micro and macro. Sports that are fun to watch let you see the micro at the same time as the macro. You can see the perfect moment of applied skill at the very same time you can see who is winning. Fundamentally, NASCAR can't give you this. Shifting gears distracts you from seeing a car speed ahead. In other sports, when you see someone do something awesome you see it in the context of them pulling ahead—the micro doesn't distract you from the macro.
posted by ifandonlyif at 5:04 PM on April 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


Yes, it would get interesting right about the time everyone's airbags deploy when they bump each other, their tires lose grip in the first turn, and they all die in the crash because they have no racing safety gear.

It certainly would.

There is a highway close to here, and on that highway is a gas station with NASCAR branding. It opened a couple of years ago, and it closed about four months ago. The windows are boarded up with plywood sheets. Every time I go past it, I get a Happy Thought.
posted by JHarris at 5:09 PM on April 22, 2010


You can see the perfect moment of applied skill at the very same time you can see who is winning. Fundamentally, NASCAR can't give you this. Shifting gears distracts you from seeing a car speed ahead. In other sports, when you see someone do something awesome you see it in the context of them pulling ahead—the micro doesn't distract you from the macro.

I can't believe I'm defending NASCAR here (I'm a Formula 1 fan). But here goes: As with any other sport/competition/what-have-you, if you watch reguarly and are sufficiently familiar with what's going on, you can see the skill applied without the camera switching to a micro view of it happening. You can see the gears shifting, the tires wearing out, the handling dynamics changing, the steering being fluid or sloppy, and a million other things, without having to have a camera in the car - in exactly the same way that a Baseball fan who watches a lot of baseball can tell the difference between a good hit and a lucky hit in a way that a newbie cannot.
posted by The World Famous at 5:10 PM on April 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


NASCAR has done their damnedest to 'equalize' the sport - these days you're basically all driving the same car, the minor differences are pretty insignificant. You have cars you can only tell apart by the stickers on them going around in circles, every now and then bumping into each other and causing a crash.

This is basically the slot-car racing of your youth, and as most kids found out- slot car racing is fun at first, but it gets pretty boring over and over again.

I much prefer road racing, of just about any sport - BTTC, Rallye, heck even F1 beats NASCAR - The cars turn both directions in every race, and for most of them, they still bear some resemblance to the car you can go in and buy. Yeah, no F1 cars in showrooms, but at least Ferrari and the like use the technology in their production cars. NASCAR is just now getting around to the idea that fuel injection might work.
posted by pupdog at 5:14 PM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I ask this seriously and without condescension, because goodness knows I enjoy my own perfectly silly things far too much:

Is there evidence (I know there is a stereotype) that there is a lot of overlap between NASCAR fans and pro-wrestling fans?

This story, in summarizing the ways fans object to the way aggression, violence and nastiness personality has been drained from NASCAR, reminds me quite a lot of the article linked through this post, which hypothesizes something-or-other about the way the very meaninglessness of professional wrestling makes it a safe vessel into which fans can pour their own excitement. The NASCAR article pretty much 'fesses up to this without pretense:
The look of the car also turned off NASCAR loyalists, who root for carmakers as well as drivers. "It's a cookie-cutter car," says Chuck Nagy, a metal-fabrication specialist from Niagara Falls, Ont., who drove to Bristol for the race. "It's hard to get too excited rooting for a decal."
posted by Western Infidels at 5:16 PM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't know how anyone can prefer stock car over F1 or rally car racing or whatever. NASCAR seems to be the dullest motorsport out there.

Yes, it would get interesting right about the time everyone's airbags deploy when they bump each other, their tires lose grip in the first turn, and they all die in the crash because they have no racing safety gear. That is, assuming that the top speed limiters are not still in place, preventing them from going fast enough to call it a "race."

People make racing modifications to their cars all the time, adding racing tires, seats, etc. And the drivers would obviously have to take corners more slowly.

I suppose the problem might be that the races would just go to the best tuner, not necessarily the best driver. And there certainly are races where people race tuned cars, but they don't get nearly the ratings of NASCAR.
posted by delmoi at 5:16 PM on April 22, 2010


Seriously. Using a lever to place a sphere into a distant hole is not a sport.

Totally with ya. Using a machined wooden pole to propel a leather ball is not a sport.

So archery is not a sport?

Regatta?

Horse racing?

Skydiving ?

Luge ?


Is.

Is.

Is.

Isn't.

Is (for the horse).

Isn't.

Isn't.

See if you can figure out the pattern.
posted by Mental Wimp at 5:20 PM on April 22, 2010


"Who among us doesn't love nascar?" - Maureen Dowd

At least put in some right-hand turns.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:23 PM on April 22, 2010


NASCAR's drop in ratings has to due with a number of factors.

1 - The drivers all appear to be cut form the same, bland beige cloth. Stock car racing used to have a variety of different personality types and the drivers were individuals. This is not the case any longer (or at least recently).

2 - The general decline in the economy has negatively effected everything. The opposite of a rising tide lifting all boats.

3 - NASCARs recent growth was due in large part to people who had no prior knowledge of car racing. A given percentage of those people will become bored once they "figure it out" and stop tuning in.

4 - A small percentage of the drop can also be attributed to older, "traditional" NASCAR fans leaving because of their perception that things have gotten "too corporate" (read bland) and that the races are not as good as they used to be.
posted by Relay at 5:25 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe all those auto-racing fans are ending up at MLS games? I mean, it's a little more interesting (isn't it?)
posted by Lukenlogs at 5:31 PM on April 22, 2010


RE: the ovals (the never ending left hand turn).

Americans tend to drive on big wide freeways, often very close to each other. There are right hand turns but they tend to be gradual and more or less beside the point. The real skill is how you negotiate the traffic, anticipate what's coming up and otherwise not lose your momentum. I always thought the NASCAR ritual did a fairly good job of approximating this, just as the European motorsport rituals tend to be more about twisty narrow roads defined by the surrounding landscape demanding all manner of tricky maneuvering.

Operating machinery is not a sport. QED

Let me know when there's a thread discussing Aussie Rules Football. I'll be happy to weigh in with my full mass of complete ignorance.
posted by philip-random at 5:34 PM on April 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Is there evidence (I know there is a stereotype) that there is a lot of overlap between NASCAR fans and pro-wrestling fans?

Put it this way. I figured out for myself that wrestling was fake roundabout age nine, the same age I decided stock car racing was the rat's ass.

Am I a still NASCAR fan? Not particularly. I tend to pay attention at the beginning of the season when it's the only game in town for a month or so, then focus on F1 and the sports cars for the balance of the spring-summer, then come back to NASCAR again in the fall when it's the only game in town again. That said, I'm familiar enough with it to catch the essential nuances and can, in the right mood, enjoy even a comparatively dull event (just as I can enjoy a pitching duel in baseball).

Why is NASCAR suddenly hurting in terms of popularity? Other than the points already made (poor economy, driver blandness etc) I certainly HOPE it's connected to the greed-based decisions made over the past decade or so to increasingly ditch the good-ole-boy heartland of the south-east in favor of megabucks elsewhere. Taking away Darlington's Labor Day date (the Southern 500 for 54 years, from 1950-2004) was particularly sleazy.
posted by philip-random at 5:46 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Aussie Rules Football isn't a sport. It's a symptom.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:48 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


People make racing modifications to their cars all the time, adding racing tires, seats, etc. And the drivers would obviously have to take corners more slowly.

You don't seem to be understanding the term "stock." And you might not really understand what it would look like in terms of diminished speed to watch actual stock Chevys, Toyotas, and Fords drive around a NASCAR track "more slowly." It would be amusing for about 20 minutes, and then it would be ridiculous and uninteresting.

(And no, people don't put racing tires or racing seats on their road cars very often. They put fancy road tires on and expensive seats that are not racing seats, yes. But "racing seats" means tearing out all but the driver's seat and replacing that one seat with something that has little or no padding and a 5-point harness. Not many people do that. For an illustration of this, watch this video, starting at about 1:40. The Porsche? Not a race car. No racing tires, racing seats, etc. The Lambo? Likewise: No racing tires, racing seats, etc. The Aston is a racing car: The windows don't open, it has no A/C, the seat has no padding, it has no carpets, no sound damping, no stereo, etc. A racing car doesn't have a regular gas tank - it has a safety-protected fuel cell. People really don't do that to their road cars. Sure, I have a neighbor with a spec. Miata that has a removable steering wheel and the whole 9 yards, but he doesn't drive it on the street much, and it's a pretty serious anomaly.)

See if you can figure out the pattern.

Hmm. I was going to guess that the ones you deem to be sports are the ones that are competitions. But then I got to your pronouncement that luge - an olympic sport that is extremely athletically demanding and is the same type of competition in terms of objective and deciding who the winner is as olympic swimming or running - is not a sport, and I lost you. What is the pattern, other than your own preference and whim?
posted by The World Famous at 5:49 PM on April 22, 2010


Ban power steering and then it'll be a sport.
posted by stavrogin at 6:01 PM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ban power steering and then it'll be a sport.

They didn't used to have power steering. And power steering does fail occasionally (but it doesn't really make it more interesting, because the rest of the driver's race - in NASCAR, at least - is spent just trying to avoid the wall, rather than passing or jockeying for position). I can't speak for NASCAR, but Formula 1 is extraordinarily physically demanding - much moreso than many other sports. People who say that motorsport is not a "sport" either aren't basing it on a metric of physical exertion or they don't know what they're talking about.
posted by The World Famous at 6:07 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


or they don't know what they're talking about.

I guess it's a sport thing. Normally intelligent people suddenly take a ready-FIRE-aim approach to discussion.
posted by philip-random at 6:14 PM on April 22, 2010


Data point on the NASCAR/wrestling thing: I have a few friends who love wrestling, and think NASCAR (and other auto racing) is pointless. I personally think wrestling is stupid pageantry, but until recently I enjoyed NASCAR (and still enjoy other motorsports.)

In its own way, auto racing is a lot like watching people amped up on adrenaline play chess while sitting on an open rail car. To succeed requires consistency and discipline and strategy, and surviving the war of attrition until the end, when someone shouts "check" and all bets are off. Picture trying to balance an egg on the tip of a pyramid. Now picture trying to do that again and again, faster than the other guy.

Is it always fun to watch? No. Nevertheless, if you understand what's involved in doing it, it can be truly captivating and heart-pounding. I'm sure this is as hard for some people to understand as it is for me to get worked over a bunch of guys running back and forth with a ball, throwing it at a net, or trying to cover a long, long distance to get a ball in a hole in the fewest strokes.

So we're all going to hate each other's sports, and that's okay-fine. Now, how about all this rooting for the whole thing to go out of business? Do you really hate all these nameless, faceless people that much just because they enjoy and profit from a sport you don't respect? That's a lot of hate to be carrying around.
posted by davejay at 6:29 PM on April 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


Oh, one more thing: auto racing has something for the participants that a lot of other sports don't have: fear. I can tell you firsthand that no amount of driving on the street or playing video games or driving go-karts will prepare you for the sheer terror you'll feel the first time you hit a racetrack at all, much less slide through a corner over 100mph -- and these guys do this lap after lap, day after day around 180mph. You have to have some respect for that.

I couldn't find it on YouTube, sadly, but once I saw a staged demo of a person driving 55mph in the pace car on a NASCAR track, being passed by someone going 180mph in a track car, and you really don't understand the speeds involved until you see something like that (or experience it firsthand.)
posted by davejay at 6:34 PM on April 22, 2010


I've taken a few laps in a proper racing go-kart. Nowhere near the top speeds of a NASCAR vehicle but, in terms of power-to-weight ratio, probably higher performance. The thought that comes to mind is ROCKET SHIP.

And then you come to a corner.

First few laps, you're just getting a feel so you take them carefully. Then some other guy hurtles past you at better than twice your speed, so you pick it up a few notches and HOLY SOMETHING OR OTHER, the grip's there but man, it takes time to find the nerve to even remotely do it justice.
posted by philip-random at 6:56 PM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


The guys in the pit perform difficult physical maneuvers in perfect synchrony at top speed.

Sounds like a description of many sports to me.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:00 PM on April 22, 2010


The World Famous: "Ban power steering and then it'll be a sport.

They didn't used to have power steering. And power steering does fail occasionally (but it doesn't really make it more interesting, because the rest of the driver's race - in NASCAR, at least - is spent just trying to avoid the wall, rather than passing or jockeying for position). I can't speak for NASCAR, but Formula 1 is extraordinarily physically demanding - much moreso than many other sports. People who say that motorsport is not a "sport" either aren't basing it on a metric of physical exertion or they don't know what they're talking about.
"

No matter how physically exerting it is the power is all machine-generated. If it's a sport it's not a particularly athletic one.
posted by aerotive at 7:12 PM on April 22, 2010


No matter how physically exerting it is the power is all machine-generated. If it's a sport it's not a particularly athletic one.

Bingo!
posted by Mental Wimp at 7:23 PM on April 22, 2010


No matter how physically exerting it is the power is all machine-generated. If it's a sport it's not a particularly athletic one.

Is downhill skiing a sport? There is a lot of physical exertion, but the power is all machine-generated, supplied by the lift in the form of gravitational potential as you ride to the top of the mountain.
posted by Mars Saxman at 7:33 PM on April 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


No matter how physically exerting it is the power is all machine-generated. If it's a sport it's not a particularly athletic one.

1. this definition of "athletic" doesn't really stand up to any dictionary definitions I can find.

ie: athletic adj. Of or befitting athletics or athletes. Characterized by or involving physical activity or exertion; active: an athletic lifestyle; an.

2. by this definition, you're also ruling things like downhill skiing where the athlete's aren't exerting the power so much as responding to gravity. Yes, it takes effort to carve a turn. It also takes effort to turn a steering wheel, work brakes etc ... for 500 miles in 90 degree heat (track temperature in the hundreds) ... and so on.

Denying that race car drivers are athlete's (because the technology is supplying all the power) is like denying hip-hop is music (because samples are supplying all the beats and loops). It might be your opinion based on some thought ... but it doesn't really stand up. And it tends to be insulting.
posted by philip-random at 7:33 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I still watch NASCAR casually, but I don't follow it like I used to, and for one reason: "The Chase". When they changed the point system to make a pseudo-playoffs system, I stopped caring. It pissed me off even more when the NHRA followed suit a few years later.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 7:52 PM on April 22, 2010


A small percentage of the drop can also be attributed to older, "traditional" NASCAR fans leaving because of their perception that things have gotten "too corporate" (read bland) and that the races are not as good as they used to be.

Exactly. The biggest auto racing fans I know -- here in the home of NASCAR (North Carolina) -- are fans of local and regional stock car racing circuits, not NASCAR.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:01 PM on April 22, 2010


Why has car racing failed?

Two words.

Chris Economaki(Shitty example of his greatness)
posted by pianomover at 8:08 PM on April 22, 2010


No matter how physically exerting it is the power is all machine-generated. If it's a sport it's not a particularly athletic one.

Racing puts more stresses and strains put on the human body, and for a longer sustained period of time than any stick and ball sport produces. By a country mile. A driver has to overcome those stresses and strains while controlling something that has the power of a WW II fighter plane and the directional stability of a lawn dart.

They have to coordinate hand and feet movements to the fineness of a watch repairman or a brain surgeon - and I mean that literally: to the millimeter.

True, that is a level of coordination of, say Willy Mays making an over the shoulder running catch or Michael Jordon a clutch free throw, but there is a cruicial difference: If a race driver is off by a small fraction, they don't get to take another free throw or or say, "Ah shucks. I dropped the ball." They die.

Racing isn't just a sport, it is the sport.
posted by Relay at 8:48 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


1) They grew really fast with the hot economy
2) They abandoned the southern fans
3) They outlawed personality

That's all. Also Baseball can't be a sport because it's just guys running in circles.
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 8:52 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


1) They grew really fast with the hot economy
2) They abandoned the southern fans
3) They outlawed personality

Exactly Cyclopsis Raptor
posted by Relay at 8:53 PM on April 22, 2010


Racing puts more stresses and strains put on the human body, and for a longer sustained period of time than any stick and ball sport produces. By a country mile. A driver has to overcome those stresses and strains while controlling something that has the power of a WW II fighter plane and the directional stability of a lawn dart.

Absolutely right. Anyone that thinks that any level of professional racing is not a physically demanding one or not requiring a very high level of athletic ability is clueless and utterly and hopelessly wrong. There isn't even any debate to be had - effectively and accurately controlling any sort of capable race car is impossible for any length of time without high levels of stamina and physical conditioning.

It is enormously demanding, and I have had 15 - 17 year old drivers training harder than Olympic hopefuls several years older than them (at the same Gyms), with my drivers still needing more work before the physical demands of the car isn't affecting their performance. And this is at the first step in perhaps a 5 or 6 rung ladder before the big leagues.
posted by Brockles at 9:08 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


"You want to make love to me because I drive the Monster and wear this costume."
posted by infinitewindow at 9:49 PM on April 22, 2010


Racing, at the top level, has *nothing* to do with the driver. The driver has to be strong, fast, and smart -- but *any* strong, fast, and smart driver will do.

Racing -- CART, F1, NASCAR, NHRA -- has is decided by the car. Put Lewis Hamilton in the fast car, and Michael Schumacher can't beat him. The few tenths the driver will buy you are nothing compared to the car. When did Schumacher lose the F1 championship? When Ferrari sucked.

NASCAR, at least, is trying (and failing) to take the car out of the equation.

This is why Lewis Hamilton won the F1 Championship in 2008, and wasn't in contention in 2009 and 2010 -- his car didn't have it.

If you wanted to decide the best driver, the answer is simple. You enter X cars, and X drivers over X races and you rotate what cars the drivers are in over the season. The best driver, over the seasons, will make his car just that much better -- despite what car he's actually in. A good driver will take the 4th fast car in a given race and finish 2nd, while a bad one will take the fastest car in the race and finish 3rd.
posted by eriko at 9:49 PM on April 22, 2010


The day it stopped bein' about moonshine was the day it stopped bein' badass.

The day it started bein' about Tide was the day it started sucking without reservation.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 10:06 PM on April 22, 2010


The interesting thing about the TIDE sponsorship is that it was based on market research which revealed women were big NASCAR fans, a situation that continues to this day. I haven't got access to exact figures but I did hear once that female viewership was one area where NASCAR's numbers exceeded pro football.
posted by philip-random at 10:17 PM on April 22, 2010


As for when (if) NASCAR jumped the shark, I just fall back on my standby for every sport. Sometime in the 1970s. Technology just got out of hand after that.
posted by philip-random at 10:19 PM on April 22, 2010


I like watching NASCAR but man, the season is just way too damn long. Then you've got the Nationwide series or whatever they call it (second tier racers, but many top tier racers compete because it can mean another winner's check), and you've got a confusing mess that waters down all the talent and excitement. Not to mention the sheer amount of dead-weight drivers who consistently finish in the last ten, if at all. (Kyle Petty still doesn't have a ride, does he?)

Too many races, too many drivers. Expansion is what is killing NASCAR. NFL football is dealing with the American recession as well, and they don't seem to be having any problems.
posted by bardic at 10:29 PM on April 22, 2010


I've never been a big NASCAR fan, simply because, since I first became aware of NASCAR in the 1970's, it has seemed to me to be a hugely manipulated form of "racin'," to borrow one of my ex-brother-in-laws colloquialisms. As I said to him in 1974, "If a 500 mile motorsport race is ever decided on the last lap, it's a fixed game from the start." I still think that is true, and the fact that most NASCAR "races" are "decided" in the last lap, or two, isn't so much a "feature," as a flat out "bug" in my books.

But the recent nosedive of NASCAR is attributable to a finite number of bad decisions/"innovations" insofar as I can see:

1) The Car of Tomorrow is a dog, and simply a means of reducing costs to NASCAR teams. There is nothing "Tomorrow" about the COT. It's engine is a 2 valve per cylinder throwback to 1960's carburetor based, push rod engine technology, with the track by track inclusion of "restrictor plates." The COT chassis is heavily biased to left turns, and includes allowances for "innovations" like "tire stagger" first used in the early 1960's. It's a completely crap vehicle, from the ground up.

2) NASCAR's management has flopped, big time, in getting the fan base through the economic downturn, including the fight-for-life of the major American car companies. There just aren't "MOPAR guys" or "Chevy guys" or "Ford foxes" any more. Nothing that runs on NASCAR tracks on Saturdays or Sundays has any relation to the fuel efficient, iPod friendly, GPS equipped people haulers in the remaining Detroit showrooms. You never see the paint scratched, oil dripping, bug encrusted race machines from Saturday and Sunday, unwashed, in dealer showrooms on Wednesday, like you used to, unless you're a non-NASCAR fan of Brumos Racing or some such, in which case, you can still take your kid down to the Porsche dealer, for free, and see the real race machines, and smell their "aura," and maybe talk to some guys who were going 200+ mph last Saturday, and dream, still, with your kid, that it could be you and him/her doing that.

3) The last 20 million NASCAR fans that have been drawn to the races were not there for the 40,000+ horsepower that always shows up at a NASCAR green flag, but for the people that used to get really hyped at hearing 40,000+ horsepower. The crowd that filled the big tracks in '07 and '08, were never "real" NASCAR fans (and yep, I'm fully aware of the "No True Scotsmen" bullshit), they were "friends" of NASCAR fans, who went to 1 or 2 big races, and saw Daytona or Talledega, and checked off "NASCAR experience" on their life logs. They've heard the big roar of a starting lap, and they've gotten sunburned (or nearly so), and they're still tellin' the stories to their more refined friends back in NYC or Chicago.

It's pretty clear what NASCAR needs to do, to get real race fans back in the stands, in droves:

1) Shoot the COT. That dog won't hunt, never hunted, was never wanted.

2) Let engine builders join the 21st century. 4 valve heads. Variable valve timing. Fuel injection. Variable intake geometry. Electronic engine management. Red lines beyond 10,000 RPM.

3) Thin the technical rule book, and let team managers figure out how best to push 3400+ pounds of showroom shaped "stock" car around a generally circular track, for some announced distance, on some announced dates, at the highest speeds that they can pay a driver to drive.

4) Quit managing the whole damn race, in all the races, for some bullshit "excitement" on the last, meaningless "laps."
posted by paulsc at 10:31 PM on April 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is why Lewis Hamilton won the F1 Championship in 2008, and wasn't in contention in 2009 and 2010 -- his car didn't have it.

Dude, are you from the future? Because the 2010 F1 World Championship is only a few races old and Hamilton's car has so far won two of the four races, the last one a 1-2 (although it was Button not Hamilton winning these races in that car).
posted by daniel_charms at 11:06 PM on April 22, 2010


If you wanted to decide the best driver, the answer is simple. You enter X cars, and X drivers over X races and you rotate what cars the drivers are in over the season. The best driver, over the seasons, will make his car just that much better -- despite what car he's actually in. A good driver will take the 4th fast car in a given race and finish 2nd, while a bad one will take the fastest car in the race and finish 3rd.

This system that you're proposing has actually been brought up several times before (by people quite high up in the F1 hierarchy), but the consensus has been that it would be an utter failure. Why? Because, first of all, you would have X drivers in X cars doing X crappy races because would be completely unfamiliar with how the car they're currently driving behaves on the track. It would not be a test of skill, it would be a farce. Second, it would make the thing way too confusing for the viewers. "Who's that chap driving the red and blue car?" - "I haven't got the slightest." - "This is rubbish, let's watch something else." Third, it would make the manufacturers unhappy. What's the point in developing a fast car if the driver doesn't know how to drive it (see above)? And last but not least, it would make the sponsors extremely unhappy because they will not get much in return for their investment: what's the point in spending more money on a team if the said team's cars are just as or even less likely to be on screen than some other team's cars? Brand recognition will suffer because, again, you can't tell which guy is in which car and how fast he will be. And if the sponsors leave, there'll be no money in the sport and without the money, there will be no sport.
posted by daniel_charms at 11:38 PM on April 22, 2010


There was a great post on Jalopnik some months ago about to rescue NASCAR from itself.

It boiled down, basically, to using real production cars straight off the dealer lots again as the basis for the race cars, using different TYPES of cars in some races (a 500 mile race where it's all b-segment hatches, for example), leveraging episodic tv as a revenue stream, and using a variety of course configurations and surface types.

Oh, and the important bit: letting the engineers cheat a bit again, just like the 60s and 70s legends used to do...
posted by MarchHare at 12:05 AM on April 23, 2010


If archery is a sport I suppose luge would be a sport too if they huffed it to the top of the course. So close.
posted by Wood at 12:18 AM on April 23, 2010


Single-car race series have been tried in the past, often times by a manufacturer who finds themselves with an outdated-before-it-went-on-sale supercar (hello XJ220 and M1) or wants some extra publicity. The problem is it's kinda boring for the spectators.

People are tribal and like to "belong" to a team. People generally don't go to baseball games to just see the game, they go to see "their" team and cheer them on. Likewise, people like to be able to adopt a car manufacturer based on a car they own or some other completely arbitrary peccadillo.

And they like for their to be differences, both obvious and subtle. They like their baseball team to wear particular colors (obvious) and have a particular strategy (defense, big sluggers, whatever). This is true on the track as well. People want to see Fords that are Fords, Chevys that are Chevys, etc. And they like for the manufacturer to have a strategy or secret weapon, whether it's an amazing engine, awesome aerodynamics, durability, whatever.

Unfortunately, stickers aside, to any but the most ardent fan, all Nascar racers look alike. All do about the same thing with the same power...it's boring. I mean, look at davejay's historic footage above. Tiny Minis competing with giant Galaxies and holding their own. That's exciting! Knowing at the end of the straight the Ford is going to be 100 yards ahead and at the end of the curvy section the Minis will have clawed back into contention. That's awesome.

And anyone who doesn't think top racers are athletes has never driven a race car (or motorcycle) at anything approaching race speed.
posted by maxwelton at 3:11 AM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


3) Thin the technical rule book, and let team managers figure out how best to push 3400+ pounds of showroom shaped "stock" car around a generally circular track, for some announced distance, on some announced dates, at the highest speeds that they can pay a driver to drive.

The trouble with this is that it'd rapidly become a test of which driver could withstand the greatest acceleration without becoming unconscious. As with F1 there need to be tight technical rules or the cars can be made to greatly exceed the physical abilities of the drivers, at which stage you either a) stick with human drivers and watch people die or b) swap to all-robotic cars. I'm all for the latter, but I don't think the general audience is ready for it yet.
posted by overyield at 5:05 AM on April 23, 2010


I don't know a thing about NASCAR, but, as maxwelton has pointed out, single-type race series have always tanked. If there's an iron law of car racing, it's that one. Even the 24 Hours of Le Mans went almost belly-up in the early '80s when it seemed that every car racing was a Porsche.
posted by Skeptic at 5:29 AM on April 23, 2010


How about factoring in the cost of being a NASCAR race-going fan? If you're from out of town the trip cost, the (jacked up for that week) hotel cost, the ticket price not including food and beverage, and of course the souvenir buying binge could put one person well past $1000 just to see the Daytona 500.

(And want to add more excitement? Run the Daytona 500 back on the beach and old US-1 like the good old days! Things get interesting as the tide comes in.)
posted by Ron Thanagar at 5:46 AM on April 23, 2010


Having grown up watching Racin' in the South, I totally lost any interest whatsoever in Nascar once they rule-changed and sponsored themselves away from the action. The only good racing action I've seen from them in the last several years was a couple of years ago when they actually let the Grand National/Busch/Nationwide series drivers put on the rain tires and windshield wipers at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.

No, the drivers didn't know what to do in the rain, and it resulted in a bunch of crashes, but it certainly was a good start in the right direction.
posted by rhythim at 6:13 AM on April 23, 2010


I can't believe I'm defending NASCAR here (I'm a Formula 1 fan). But here goes: As with any other sport/competition/what-have-you, if you watch reguarly and are sufficiently familiar with what's going on, you can see the skill applied without the camera switching to a micro view of it happening. You can see the gears shifting, the tires wearing out, the handling dynamics changing, the steering being fluid or sloppy, and a million other things, without having to have a camera in the car - in exactly the same way that a Baseball fan who watches a lot of baseball can tell the difference between a good hit and a lucky hit in a way that a newbie cannot.

No, not exactly the same way. I grew up following neither baseball nor racing. As a young adult in the 80s I started following both. From just watching each sport, though, I can say that I got a whole lot more of the nuance of baseball than I did of racing. In particular, the part of your quote that I bolded- the only way I ever understood any of that was if the announcer pointed it out. I never got the knack of being able to see that stuff for myself.

The most exciting thing in racing is a crash. The second most exciting thing in racing is a maneuver that nearly leads to a crash but is expertly accomplished. But you can watch a race for hours and see very little of that sort of thing. Frankly, it got boring for me.

There is a arguably a lower level of constant suspense in baseball, but whether they result in a run or not, the most exciting plays are just easier to understand in baseball. A good catch, gutsy baserunning, a well-executed throw to the plate are all more exciting to me than a good pit stop, a daring pass, a.... hmmm... a good gear shift? I run out of things to get excited about quickly with racing.


One last difference in racing as opposed to team sports is this- fandom is a cult of personality. In racing (and golf, and tennis, bowling, etc.), you root for a person, not a team. Yes, there are superstars in team sports, and some people follow a given team simply because of that star. But there are a great number of fans that will be a fan of a team simply because a link to the team's home city. My Buffalo Bills suck. Even when they didn't, they never managed to win the big game at the end. But I will be a fan for life. I am linked to the team through the place of my birth.

When Rusty Wallace left NASCAR, he was my favorite driver. Once he left, though, I felt no connection to the sport. Once his personality was gone, there was no cult for me to belong to.
posted by Doohickie at 6:58 AM on April 23, 2010


Racing, at the top level, has *nothing* to do with the driver. The driver has to be strong, fast, and smart -- but *any* strong, fast, and smart driver will do.

That is completely and totally untrue. You know not of which you speak. The driver is a very, very important part of the package and their talent and ability is directly related to how well the car will go, and also how well it will (or sometimes can be) be developed.

It is completely naive to think that there is no driver element in any racing. It's as important (more so) in F1 than it is in NASCAR.

Oh, and the important bit: letting the engineers cheat a bit again, just like the 60s and 70s legends used to do...

That still happens - every day - in every single level of motor racing. Don't fool yourself that it doesn't.

The trouble with this is that it'd rapidly become a test of which driver could withstand the greatest acceleration without becoming unconscious.

Not so much with a 3400lb car. That's just a hideous pile of lead that pretends to be a racing car weight. What it would be is just a test of who has the most money. That model has been demonstrated throughout racing history and most regulations are to prevent massive cost (after safety, of course) by allowing parity of competition within the purview or intended performance level of the series. Spec series (even those with different chassis manufacturers competing) have proven successful many times.

It's not the amount of rules that is the issue. It is the style of rules and how you police them. NASCAR can't seem to leave the teams alone long enough for them to race. The 'yellow flags' and political tech inspections make it (to an industry person) laughable. How are you supposed to compete if you can't control whether you are in favour enough with the organising body to be allowed to build the lead you have worked so hard to make without a 'caution' period to let everyone else catch up?

As someone mentioned above, any race that is 500 miles long and is decided in the last few laps (more than once every few years) is a stage managed fix. NASCAR is WWF (or whatever that wrestling soap opera is called these days) and it is killing the sport and people are turning off from it.

They found something that worked and drew crowds and created massive interest in the 1960's and stayed with it. They haven't (even with the pathetically named 'Car of Tomorrow', which is more 'Car of almost exactly the same as it was before') done enough to allow the sport to develop and continue interest. It has stagnated technically for decades and so has become less and less relevant to the concept it was created for. A total shake up and complete change of plan needs to be lined up, or it will die as a very expensive dinosaur long out of it's time.
posted by Brockles at 7:26 AM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


They overexposed the product, pure and simple. Miss this week's race on the generic 1.5-mile tri-oval? No worries...There's another race on a generic 1.5-mile tri-oval next week. And the week after that. And after that. They seem to race 56 out of 52 weeks a year.

And, if there isn't a race on tv, there's umpteen "This week in NASCAR" shows scattered all over the dial. And then there's the abomination SPEED channel has become following FOX's purchase of the network. It's now practically the NASCAR channel, complete with NASCAR game shows.

And you can't go shopping anywhere without seeing the product strewn all over the place. NASCAR today resembles Garfield in his heyday. You can't escape the product, or its banality. Squeeky-clean, managed-to-a-fair-thee-well, white boys in their logo-encrusted suits, smiling out at you from product after product. You just can't escape NASCAR.

There's nothing special about the actual racing, either. Bumper-to-bumper cars going round and round and round. No real dicing or, y'know, racing. They aren't the fastest cars. They aren't nimble. They handle like drugged elephants. The entire formula seems to result in a sort of anti-race car, actually. And the COT just made all that official.

And don't even get me started on the marketing department creation called "The Chase".

I'm a HUGE auto racing fan, thanks to growing-up in Indianapolis. I love most all motorsport, and I used to enjoy NASCAR, back when they raced actual (sort of) stock cars. Back when they let a dominant car dominate. The leader has lapped the field 5 times? I guess everyone else needs to do better at the next race. Today, though, should a car start dominating, there's suddenly a "debris on the track" yellow. It's not racing anymore.

There's become a big debate about the racing being an entertainment product. This is true. It's a product. However, once you start down that path, you can quickly lose track of what made that "entertainment product" so popular in the first place. And that's what has happened to NASCAR. They've driven-out the spice and action of the actual racing and replaced it with a simulacrum of racing. It sort of looks the same, but it's missing the soul of the racing that attracted people in the first place.

If you want to see what "stock car" racing really can be, look no further than German Touring Car, British Touring Car, Australian V8 Super Car, or SCCA TransAm. Or, if you want REALLY stock cars, the SCCA VW Jetta TDI cup is great fun.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:29 AM on April 23, 2010


single-type race series have always tanked. If there's an iron law of car racing, it's that one.

Absolutely not true. Not even close. Single-type race series are enormously successful and have been for decades across the World. The ones based on street type cars haven't lasted so well, but several manufacturers (Renault and VW spring to mind) have produce multi-year road-car style programmes that have been enormously successful, created huge interest and continued for a good few years after the product cycle of the cars involved was over.

Allowing multiple manufacturers to compete is a far better model, but you need parity of marketing and similarity of car models, or the regulations become difficult to allow equal competition. BMW has, for years, struggled to compete equally with the only rear wheel drive car (for many years) that would run rings around the poxy front wheel drives without a significant weight penalty. The size of that weight penalty is very hard to judge, and hence someone always feels hard done by.

It's a tight rope, maintaining parity while allowing diversity, and you have to have an extremely good and well respected organising body. NASCAR is totally the wrong organisation for that kind of thing. I think only a total change of concept would work, at this stage.
posted by Brockles at 7:35 AM on April 23, 2010


Believe it or not, in Nascar races they do occasionally turn left. They toss in a couple "road courses" every year that aren't on ovals. I wish they did more.
posted by zsazsa at 8:37 AM on April 23, 2010


I think they made a mistake in "sexing up" the product with phony redneck charm. People liked the genuine redneck charm.

Anyone who generalizes that only the last few laps matter isn't paying attention. It's like any marathon style race- you have to endure long enough to get there. There is strategy in hanging back and letting the leader do all the racing so you are fresher when the last lap comes.

Or who generalize that "it has to be fixed if it always goes down to the last lap" has never watched ... any other race. (Even though there is no clock in racing, it might as well have one since you can't stop until it's over.)

Yeah, I'd like to see actual stock car racing. But that isn't NASCAR and hasn't been for a long, long time. It is an enjoyable car race, however.
posted by gjc at 9:22 AM on April 23, 2010


It is completely naive to think that there is no driver element in any racing. It's as important (more so) in F1 than it is in NASCAR.

Back when Michael Schumacher was the THE dominant force in F1, I heard it said that there were a good dozen drivers who could take the same car he was driving and be within 3 percent of his lap times ... and that extra 3 percent he brought to the table was worth the $50 million plus salary Ferrari was paying him.

The higher the level of motorsport, the more critical every little margin. This, to me, is the real fascination.
posted by philip-random at 9:23 AM on April 23, 2010


DERAIL: There's a temptation on here to try to be very inclusive with the word sport, maybe because of the many art vs. not-art debates that have appeared in the blue lately. But unlike the nebulous definition(s) of "art", "sport" has a pretty specific definition:

Sport - an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others. (Oxford English Dictionary)

So the thing that differentiates sport from other forms of competition is physical exertion. While many of us like to mock various sports for their perceived lack of activity (baseball, golf, luge, skiing, etc.), you cannot escape the fact that success in these endeavours is largely based on physical ability. More rotator cuff speed will give pitchers a faster throw. A powerful hip and spinal rotation gives Tiger an amazing drive. Great sprinting ability, although short-lived, is fundamental for world class lugers. And I'll challenge any of you to find someone who isn't a power lifter to squat more weight than a world class downhill skier. At high levels of competition, all of these physical characteristics are vital for success.

This physical exertion aspect is missing in NASCAR. Yes, drivers have to contract certain muscles to withstand the G forces, but this puts it in a grey area at best. I'm not an expert so correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think physical factors are ever the main difference between winning and losing in NASCAR.

I can respect it as a competition that requires great coordination, skill, and strategy, just like how I respect chess, Go, and a million other forms of competition. But it's not a sport.
posted by Chomskyfied at 9:33 AM on April 23, 2010


Absolutely not true. Not even close. Single-type race series are enormously successful and have been for decades across the World. The ones based on street type cars haven't lasted so well, but several manufacturers (Renault and VW spring to mind) have produce multi-year road-car style programmes that have been enormously successful, created huge interest and continued for a good few years after the product cycle of the cars involved was over.

I suspect that we do not share the same definition of "enormously successful". Yes, there have been long-lived single-type series that, in particular, have often served as a stepping stone for young drivers into higher leagues, but even those series have never gained more than a small following of dedicated motorheads. They certainly have never held the mass appeal of the top Formula series, WRC, IRL, NASCAR, or even WSCC, and DTM and other European stock car series.
posted by Skeptic at 10:51 AM on April 23, 2010


I suspect that we do not share the same definition of "enormously successful". Yes, there have been long-lived single-type series that, in particular, have often served as a stepping stone for young drivers into higher leagues, but even those series have never gained more than a small following of dedicated motorheads.

Yes, you're right. A highly successful series in racing is not one that necessarily attracts the most viewers - it's the ones that attract the best fields and spectators. It's the ones that keep the people here to see the headlining race interested in the sport as a whole by having a varied selection of racing types with interest. If F1 was the only race worth watching, it'd not be able to attract as many paying spectators - these are the people that come back to races that aren't F1 supports and create the kinds of crowds and public interest that ensures the sport has some kind of structure. Having only F1 is kind of pointless, as it will become scrappy and dreadful if there is no ladder or schooling/progression potential to groom drivers, engineers, designers and mechanics. The sport as a whole depends on the entire ladder, and so success is not purely on how the top echelon gets TV figures.

Any series that attracts crowds (and many single make series have done that) and even sometimes outweigh the draw of the nominal main event is a success in racing. It attracts spectators, drivers and (possibly most importantly) sponsors to allow the racing to occur. Without cost effective and interesting lower formulae, F1 would either lose the majority of it's shine, or simply become significantly less interesting to the viewer. After all, if you aren't the pinnacle of anything any more, you're not quite so impressive, are you?

That is why your statement: single-type race series have always tanked. If there's an iron law of car racing, it's that one. is flawed and shows a complete lack of historical awareness of racing as a whole. Besides, whether or not you agree on the level of 'success' isn't all that relevant, as the statement that 'single type race series always tank' is factually wrong.
posted by Brockles at 11:12 AM on April 23, 2010


Thorzdad wrote: "They aren't the fastest cars. They aren't nimble. They handle like drugged elephants. The entire formula seems to result in a sort of anti-race car, actually. And the COT just made all that official."

Yes, they are 1960s era muscle cars. I think that's what they're supposed to be, hence the "Car of Tomorrow" being essentially the same thing rehashed.

Chomskyfied wrote: "This physical exertion aspect is missing in NASCAR."

I don't think you've ever driven a car without power steering for several hours at high speed. Neither have I, but I have driven cars without power steering, and requires some physical exertion at nearly rational road speeds, much less irrational road speeds. I can only imagine how much work it is to keep one of those RWD essentially straight line cars they use in line when turning.
posted by wierdo at 11:34 AM on April 23, 2010


No matter how physically exerting it is the power is all machine-generated. If it's a sport it's not a particularly athletic one.

and

This physical exertion aspect is missing in NASCAR.

So, a few years ago, some co-workers and I went to the local indoor professional (not kiddieland) go-kart track. Not shifter karts, so we're not talking crazy speeds, but certainly enough to do four-wheel drifts around corners. The plan was to drive two 14-minute races, then go get some lunch.

We all jump in for the first run, and off we go. Fourteen minutes later, every one of us is limping back to the staging area, all complaining of the pain in our bodies. Not our backs and necks, like you'd expect from G-Forces, but our biceps and forearms and chests and hands, from trying to wrestle the karts around the track. Mouths are dry, throats are sore, and we're all sweating despite the space being air-conditioned. Everyone agrees we should go eat now and do the second run after lunch.

All through the meal, people are rubbing their arms, even the guys and girls who work out regularly and are physically fit. After an hour, half the team elects to skip the second race, because they're not physically up to it; the rest of us get back on the track, but can't come anywhere near our first-run times, because our muscles are still exhausted.

Now, I go-kart often enough to keep my upper body in shape, and my times are getting better, but you'd better believe I still get out of the kart with a dry mouth, a sore throat, covered in sweat, every time. I encourage you to get out there and have the same experience, and no sandbagging -- don't just putter around half-assed, get out, and claim you're in good shape. Go to a good place, with competitive karts, and try to run as fast as you can. Then come back here and tell me it isn't athletic.

I think there's a valid comparison between racing and drumming, physicality-wise: anyone can putter around in a car, and anyone can kick out a half-assed beat, without putting up an effort -- but doing either activity at the extremes of what a human being can accomplish (which is what professional racers and drummers do) is hard, and it only looks easy because we're watching trained athletes do it.
posted by davejay at 11:34 AM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, and the WinstonSprint Cup racers once had a way of eliminating the car and determining who was the best driver: IROC.

It was pretty neat, at the time, watching some of the top drivers race each other in essentially identical cars. The field stayed together not because of caution engineering, but because it wasn't really possible to get that far out in front unless the other drivers were completely off their game.
posted by wierdo at 11:37 AM on April 23, 2010


This physical exertion aspect is missing in NASCAR. Yes, drivers have to contract certain muscles to withstand the G forces, but this puts it in a grey area at best. I'm not an expert so correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think physical factors are ever the main difference between winning and losing in NASCAR.

(Disclaimer: My response is based primarily on Formula 1, and I assume that much of it translates to NASCAR, though perhaps not as extremely.)

You're wrong - in part because your definition of "physical factors" is artificially restricted, apparently, to pure muscle strength, without inclusion of reflexes, coordination, concentration, endurance (both in terms of duration and sheer punishing conditions), and the sheer physical ability to do all of those things, lightning fast and laser precise, at the same time. The physical exertion, fitness, precision, and ability required to drive a racing car at a world-class level is many orders of magnitude beyond the "powerful hip and spinal rotation [that] gives Tiger an amazing drive," and far beyond the physical ability of world-class lugers, world-class skiers, and world-class baseball players.

As an illustration of the extent to which the driver's physical exertion and condition affect the outcome of the race, it is pretty widely accepted that the revolutionary thing about Michael Schumacher was that he brought a level of physical fitness, training, and physicality to the sport that had it had never previously reached. He was the fittest, strongest driver that F1 had ever seen, and his physical exertion was what put him above the other drivers. I would posit that that is also the primary reason why he has not dominated so far in his comback this season. Sebastian Vettel wasn't winning races last year and dominating the field this year because Red Bull builds the best car (they buy their engines from Schumacher's team, after all, and Schumacher is driving for the team that dominated the grid with both of its drivers last season). It's because Vettel, as a driver, has a greater combination of physical strength, endurance, focus, reflexes, and sheer physical talent than the other drivers. Kobayashi didn't stun the world in his first two F1 races ever last year when he came in at the end of the season because the Toyota car he was driving, which had been the worst car on the grid all season, suddenly became a better car. It was because he had a level of raw physical and mental talent that made that crap car do things nobody thought it could do.

Just as you "challenge any of [us] to find someone who isn't a power lifter to squat more weight than a world-class downhill skier," I happily challenge you to find someone who isn't a professional racing driver whose body can endure lateral and longitudinal G forces of 4-5 G or more a few times per lap for 50 or so laps - an hour an a half or so - without losing consciousness after the 2nd or third turn. Find someone - in any sport - whose neck is as strong and can endure as much, for as long, as an F1 driver's. It's not just that they "have to contract certain muscles to withstand the G forces." It's that a normal human being cannot withstand Formula 1 level G forces without losing consciousness, let alone execute precision control inputs at 200+ miles per hour while enduring those forces - not just to survive, but to win.

A Formula 1 driver experiences G forces on every lap that exceed those that astronauts experience. And while they are experiencing those G forces, they are laying in an un-padded carbon fiber tub, at cockpit temperatures that average 50 degrees celcius (122 fahrenheit). There are no time-outs. There are no periods, quarters, or times when the athlete can rest. The closest thing that a driver gets to a "break" during the race is during a pit stop, which lasts in the single digit seconds, and still requires total concentration to get out at the right time and avoid a fiery death.

You compare racing to "chess, Go, and a million other forms of competition." So, yeah, it's like chess with a few modifications: Hang the chess players upside down and require them to hold themselves onto their chair using just their legs. Now swing them and hit them in the upper body every 10 seconds - hard - with a heavy rubber bat. Require them to hold an angry chicken in one hand - if they let go they immediately lose and are dropped on the floor upside down from their seat. When they move the pieces, they are required not only to make moves that advance their strategy, but to do so with precision, placing them exactly in the center of each square. If they place a piece more than a millimeter off from the center of a square, their move doesn't count and they lose a turn. Also, scream in their ear the whole time and pull their head back and forth constantly with ropes. And make it a race. And give them a team of 50 additional people, several of whom need to be in peak physical condition and be able to precisely and quickly lift significant weight, run a fixed distance, and then return with a different weight, having replaced a part on a car in less than a second - any one of whom can make the team lose by screwing up of just not being fast enough.

Formula 1 is like golf if the golfers were required to wear Haz-Mat suits full of hot air, run as fast as they can the whole time (with their running speed being factored into their score), carry a 150-lb backpack, and get run over by a truck if they hit the ball into the rough or a hazard. NASCAR is about the same, except that the backpack could weigh a little less, they could run a little slower, and instead of getting hit by a truck, they could just be hit in the head with a baseball bat when they end up in a hazard.

Formula 1 is like baseball if the pitcher fired a ball at MLB speed and skill level every two seconds and the batter had to hit each and every ball fair for an hour in order just to finish the game.

American Football? Nearly all of the time for each game, even for the most involved players, is spent standing around waiting to do something - not even having to concentrate on anything, plan anything, think about strategy, or do anything other than just stand there and wait. If that's a sport (based on physical exertion), racing is a sport.

When you say that physical exertion is the dividing line that makes one thing a sport and the other not a sport, and then you say that, based on that definition, Golf is a sport but that motorsport is not, yeah, you're wrong.

Again, the following numbers are based on F1, but they are significant to the discussion of whether the physical exertion of, as you say, golf or baseball, are present and significant to the competition in motorsport:

- The Lateral G-forces exerted on a driver can be as much as 4.5 G, which means about 25 kg on the neck.
- The Longitudinal G-forces exerted on a driver can be as much as 4.5.
- Acceleration to 1G, braking up to 4.5G, cornering up to 3G.
- An F1 car can brake from 185kph to stand still in 3.5seconds and 80 metres (rate of deceleration 4G).
- The heart rate can reach 170 - 190 BPM on the starting grid.
- During a Grand Prix, the pulse rate of a Formula 1 driver hovers around 160 beats per minute, and has peaks of over 200.
- Blood pressure can increase up to 50% while racing.
- F1 Drivers loose approx. 2-3 litres of water during a race.

The sensitivity of a top-line Formula 1 driver is so finely developed that he can feel a change as tiny as 0.5% in front-rear aerodynamic balance. He can sense a difference in the car's behaviour if its front ride height is altered by as little as 1mm.
Throughout the race, a driver aims to keep his engine RPM within a band of 2000rpm (where maximum power is produced). He can judge his pace so exactly that, on a clear track, he can repeatedly achieve consecutive lap-times within a range of 0.2 second.


(Source)

And that doesn't even take into account the physical exertion and athleticism of the pit crew. Under your definition and metric, wouldn't it be a sport if it just consisted of a timed event where a guy had to pick up a wheel and tire, run a fixed distance, install the tire, and then run back to the starting line within a few seconds? Because that's what at least eight of the guys on the team do, and their performance, including their physical exertion, can lose the race for the team. If the field goal kicker on an NFL team is playing a sport, so is every member of the pit crew on a racing team.

If NASCAR is not really a sport, it's not because of a lack of physical exertion or because physical exertion doesn't make the difference between winning and losing. Some people say that NASCAR is rigged like professional wrestling and the rules keep the athletes from actually competing. If that's true, then maybe it's not really a sport.
posted by The World Famous at 11:44 AM on April 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


Re: the physical demands of world-class racing, read this, and this.

According to the second of those, F1 drivers learn not to blink their eyes - they flutter them instead - because they travel 250m in the time it takes to blink.

Also, watch this, because it's awesome.
posted by The World Famous at 11:50 AM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


the rest of us get back on the track, but can't come anywhere near our first-run times, because our muscles are still exhausted.

I remember racing in a "fun" kart enduro a few years back. It was mid-race and I was just starting my second stint at the wheel (in enduros, two or more drivers share the kart over a period of a couple or few hours). There was a kart maybe fifty yards in front of me and I was instantly after it, gaining maybe five yards a lap. So after ten laps, I was right there, riding his ass, looking for a way past ... but then something happened. I started to feel fatigue. Arms and neck in particular, all over in general (including my brain). My finesse started to fade ever so slightly, both my ability to put the kart EXACTLY where I wanted it and to THINK straight as to where I should put it.

Suddenly he was pulling away from me, maybe three yards a lap, then five or ten, then he was out of sight. On any given lap, I was a faster karter than he was (or maybe my kart was just faster than his) but in the end, he was stronger than I was, so a far more effective racer. He eventually lapped me.

Seriously, if there's not athleticism involved in all of this, what should we call these factors?
posted by philip-random at 12:48 PM on April 23, 2010


I acknowledged that I was not the expert, and have been duly corrected. Yes, there are tough physical demands on a NASCAR driver. Yes, the physical aspects can win or lose a race. And therefore yes, motorsports are sports. Your description of racing was informative and entertaining to read.

The physical exertion, fitness, precision, and ability required to drive a racing car at a world-class level is many orders of magnitude beyond the "powerful hip and spinal rotation [that] gives Tiger an amazing drive," and far beyond the physical ability of world-class lugers, world-class skiers, and world-class baseball players.

However, I think this statement goes a bit too far. You obviously know a lot about motorsports and have an appreciation and respect for what the sport requires. That's fine. But are you really suggesting that world class drivers are "many orders of magnitude" better than other world class athletes in all of those aspects? If this were true, any world class driver can give up their sport and become world-class at the aforementioned sports on a whim (given enough practice, of course). That's a pretty bold statement, but one that's probably not very accurate.

Thanks to you, I now acknowledge the physical exertion required for racing. But don't underestimate the judgement, precision and coordination involved in putting a ball that is subject to wind forces and uneven terrain near a hole hundreds of yards away, or steering a sled down a frictionless track at over 100km/h, etc. The notion that there exists a whole class of athletes that are "many orders of magnitude" more precise than Tiger Woods is a bit absurd.
posted by Chomskyfied at 12:51 PM on April 23, 2010


The notion that there exists a whole class of athletes that are "many orders of magnitude" more precise than Tiger Woods is a bit absurd.

I don't think it's absurd (I'm not sure it's the case) - but that's also not what I said. I said that "[t]he physical exertion, fitness, precision, and ability required to drive a racing car at a world-class level is many orders of magnitude beyond the "powerful hip and spinal rotation [that] gives Tiger an amazing drive." I stand by that. That doesn't mean that any F1 driver could step out of the car and be competitive as a pro golfer (Rubens Barrichelo is reputed to be an avid golfer with a 10 handicap). But the measure of how "sports-y" one sport is compared to another isn't really whether athletes can cross over. Michael Jordan is a very good golfer, but the fact that he can't compete on the PGA tour doesn't mean golf is more of a sport than basketball.
posted by The World Famous at 1:32 PM on April 23, 2010


Well, one argument that physical strength is not a factor is that Danica Patrick can keep up with the top men. In no athletic sport can a woman keep up with the top men, whether it's tennis, soccer, swimming, or track and field. I'm not saying that to disparage women's athletics, but rather to emphasize that physical prowess is a minor aspect of autoracing, in spite of descriptions of how grueling it is to operate the machinery.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:48 PM on April 23, 2010


Well, one argument that physical strength is not a factor is that Danica Patrick can keep up with the top men.

One of the criticism's levelled against Danica is that she isn't as physically strong as the other drivers and suffers from lack of strength, but her weight advantage helps her in some races. Witness her artificially high finishing results on ovals (less physical and more weight critical events). Put her at a street course and she struggles more. She rarely keeps up with the top men.

Having said that, Danica trains very, very hard and is in pretty decent physical shape. She is far fitter than a lot of athletes (male and female), so this doesn't really help your point. 'Just because she is a girl and does kind of ok' doesn't mean that fitness isn't an issue.
posted by Brockles at 2:11 PM on April 23, 2010


Really? You would say that the precision of a whole handful of NASCAR drivers (whatever number you consider to be world class) is many orders of magnitude above that of Woods? I guess there's no point in arguing, but this is pretty absurd to me considering that Woods is surely an extreme outlier in the precision department.

The crossover argument wasn't meant to comment on how sportsy a sport is. I was just pointing out the implications of your hyperbolic description of drivers. If, as you say, drivers are so much better in so many ways by such a large gap ("many orders of magnitude"), crossover into the world class domains of other sports should be no problem for them. I doubt this is true, because world class athletes are fine tuned for their own sports and are extreme outliers in the qualities that make them successful.

Anyway, I thought you were specifically talking about precision because precision is just about the only thing that's common between the two sports. But now it seems you were comparing apples to oranges. I mean, how can you compare the "fitness" between a driver and a luger? These two athletes specializes in different components of fitness. From your description (correct me if I'm wrong), a "fit" driver is one who can endure extreme conditions and has good muscular endurance. Maybe cardio comes into play too, I wouldn't know. Meanwhile, a "fit" luger is one who has explosive lower body power and great upper body strength. I therefore don't see how a driver can be orders of magnitudes more "fit" than a luger except in his own domain.
posted by Chomskyfied at 2:18 PM on April 23, 2010


The differences between Tiger woods and a world class driver (say Fernando Alonso) isn't in the amount of precision, it's the differences if they fail to be precise.
posted by Relay at 2:45 PM on April 23, 2010


Plus the conditions that they are required to be precise under: Standing on a piece of grass with no time limits on composing yourself, and being beaten up and thrown around and sweating and uncomfortable and having your vision blurred by vibration and the rest of your body pulled around by g-forces.

I'm not defending the 'orders of magnitude' statement - I think it is a little over the top - but the athleticism involved in (for example) an F1 driver's need for precision is significantly more than a golfer's.
posted by Brockles at 3:15 PM on April 23, 2010


Really? You would say that the precision of a whole handful of NASCAR drivers (whatever number you consider to be world class) is many orders of magnitude above that of Woods?

I'm not arguing about what you're asking, and I haven't made the statement that you're calling absurd. Let me paste - again - the sentence that I actually wrote: The physical exertion, fitness, precision, and ability required to drive a racing car at a world-class level is many orders of magnitude beyond the "powerful hip and spinal rotation [that] gives Tiger an amazing drive."

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that each and every shot that Tiger takes at the Masters requires exactly the same level of precision as a turn at Monaco, and let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the entire Masters tournament compares as an event to the single race of the Monaco Grand Prix (not including qualifying or practice).

In the 1997 Masters, Tiger's score for the tournament was 270 (his best score at the Masters). So let's say that's 270 separate feats of precision athletic prowess, each equivalent to a turn at the Monaco Grand Prix.

In the 2009 Monaco Grand Prix, Jenson Button, the race winner, did 78 laps. Each lap had 18 turns. That's a total of 1404 separate feats of precision athletic prowess.

Now, I realize that the weather in Atlanta gets pretty hot and muggy. But Button's car was at least 20-30 degrees hotter than the course at Augusta gets. And if Tiger messed up a shot, the consequence is that his score suffers and he has to then compensate on the next shot. If Button messed up a turn at Monaco? That track has no run-off areas, and is a road course lined with metal guard rails on both sides, with zero margin of error. Mess up a turn at Monaco and you're lucky if you are just out of the race, and not much, much worse.

After each of Tiger's amazing feats of athletic prowess, he takes a slow walk while thinking about the next shot. Yes, there's a mental game being played, and it's stressful and very involved. It's a serious sport.

After each of Button's turns at Monaco, he has somewhere between a half a second and 2 seconds to set up for the next turn, and the setup includes the same type of physical exertion and precision that the turn itself does. And Button doesn't just have to worry about whether his opponents will have a better time than he does. His opponents will be blocking him, passing him, causing him to make corrections and changes in his line, and possibly causing him to crash.

Even if the turns and golf shots are exactly equivalent, and even if you don't take into account the stakes, speed, heat, physical conditions, etc., it's 270 to 1404. Of course, the more perfectly Tiger plays, the fewer strokes. So for Tiger, playing better means that he doesn't have to do it as many times. Button doesn't get to subtract turns from his laps if he does well. (For reference, Tiger's highest score in a major that he won was 283 in the U.S. Open in 2008.)

The crossover argument wasn't meant to comment on how sportsy a sport is. I was just pointing out the implications of your hyperbolic description of drivers.

My hyperbolic description of drivers was applied expressly only to your statement that Tiger Woods' "powerful hip and spinal rotation" are what sets him apart from them. Moreover, Tiger Woods' drive is due far more to angles, physics, and the precision mechanics of his swing than it is to his brute physical strength.

Maybe cardio comes into play too, I wouldn't know.

I'd say that any time a person participates in a sporting event where their heart rate is elevated to somewhere between 160 and 200 bpm for an hour and a half and they lose enough hydration to lose between 3 and 4 pounds of body weight during that 1.5-hour period, cardio comes into play. But I'm not an expert in cardio.

I mean, how can you compare the "fitness" between a driver and a luger?

There are some pretty well-established and easily measurable benchmarks that exercise physiologists and others in the field use to measure what they call "fitness." I have no doubt that it would not be at all difficult to measure and compare overall fitness between athletes.
posted by The World Famous at 3:27 PM on April 23, 2010


The real skill is how you negotiate the traffic

Sprint Cup drivers have spotters. I think I'd do better on the interstate with someone warning me about the crazies about to change 4 lanes in one go.

--

Sprint Cup != NASCAR & that's where the "stock car" racing really (used to?) come in. Gas guzzler V8 cars and spare parts were cheap & plentiful & you could get one, hop it up, add some safety equipment and go racing at a local 1/8th mile dirt track.

My local track isn't NASCAR-sanctioned anymore. I don't know if they even still do that, but when there was a "ladder" all the way from the local track to Winston Cup, the top-level racing seemed a bit more relevant.
posted by morganw at 4:41 PM on April 23, 2010


Kobayashi didn't stun the world in his first two F1 races ever last year when he came in at the end of the season because the Toyota car he was driving, which had been the worst car on the grid all season, suddenly became a better car. It was because he had a level of raw physical and mental talent that made that crap car do things nobody thought it could do.

Boy howdy, that. His performance was shocking, and such a great example.

Also: my favorite example of the physical strength required to drive F1, Fernando Alonso opening a nut at a party.
posted by davejay at 4:57 PM on April 23, 2010


I'm thinking if Tiger Woods had been groomed for motorsport as he was for golf (with all the necessary funding, breaks, connections falling into place) he'd be somewhere at the top of the game.
posted by philip-random at 5:11 PM on April 23, 2010


I'm thinking if Tiger Woods had been groomed for motorsport as he was for golf (with all the necessary funding, breaks, connections falling into place) he'd be somewhere at the top of the game.

Definitely.
posted by The World Famous at 5:15 PM on April 23, 2010


I just have to break in to say that I'm not accustomed to seeing a high level of discussion on Metafilter, but this is the first time I've seen about NASCAR. You have taught me something new, and I thank you all.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:11 PM on April 23, 2010


Um, not unaccustomed.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:15 PM on April 23, 2010


I'm thinking if Tiger Woods had been groomed for motorsport as he was for golf (with all the necessary funding, breaks, connections falling into place) he'd be somewhere at the top of the game.

I'm not so sure. He'd certainly be faster than the back 1/4 of a decent sized grid, but I'm not sure he'd be super quick. The skills and feel essential to the truly great drivers don't necessarily need to be there for all high level sportspeople. Valentino Rossi? Yes, a high chance of swapping disciplines. Red Bull Air Race pilots? Also a high possibility, but Golf doesn't require the reactions and natural feel that these kinds of sports do. There's no guarantee that Tiger Woods has that kind of skill - the fighter pilot reactions, if you like.

Incidentally, Nigel Mansell played off a 2 handicap at the time he retired from professional motorsport.
posted by Brockles at 7:32 PM on April 23, 2010


That is why your statement: single-type race series have always tanked. If there's an iron law of car racing, it's that one. is flawed and shows a complete lack of historical awareness of racing as a whole. Besides, whether or not you agree on the level of 'success' isn't all that relevant, as the statement that 'single type race series always tank' is factually wrong.
Brockles, you're leaving out the context of that statement. The FPP talked about NASCAR, and defined success in terms of "viewership", mass appeal and money. In those terms, single-type race series have never done well. Sure, they do please the anoraks, may be more enjoyable to watch than the top leagues, and are a good race driver school. But that isn't what NASCAR is aiming for! NASCAR pretends to compete with Formula One, not Formula Ford. In those terms, a single-type race series is bound to fail abjectedly. It invites comparison, not with scrappy semi-pro lower formulas, but with cynical marketing exercises like the Ferrari and Porsche single-type race series for millionaires and celebrities, or the damn-fucking-ridiculous Superleague Formula series.
posted by Skeptic at 2:01 AM on April 24, 2010


World Series (single make racing by Renault) regularly attracts over 100,000 people to it's events and have done for the last two years. Thats comparable to most of the NASCAR attendances except maybe the big couple of races (Daytona, etc). It also has extensive TV coverage and good viewing figures.

You claimed that single make series always tank. Tank implies that they fail. is not the case. They may not make as much money as NASCAR - Hell, the national market in every other country is tiny by comparison, so that's one hurdle - but they are successful series in their own right and in the context of their own markets.

Your point certainly wasn't presented as 'single make series don't do as well as NASCAR', but that they fail. You're still wrong about that.
posted by Brockles at 7:36 AM on April 24, 2010


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