IRC NEWSLETTER, 8 FEB 2021
“Troubled by race politics, but speeding back into the US heart”
IN keeping with coverage of a wide range of sports for our growing international audience, we focus today on NASCAR, or the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, a privately-owned American auto racing company based in Daytona Beach, Florida.
NASCAR-sanctioned races have been held all across the United States since 1949, as well as in Canada, Japan, Mexico, and Australia, as a part of NASCAR’s new global initiative.
The 2021 series roars off this week with the Busch Clash, an annual invitation-only NASCAR Cup Series exhibition event held at Daytona International Speedway ahead of the world-famous Daytona 500, scheduled for next Sunday, 14 February.
Nascar races are held all over America and are between 400-600 miles long. The Daytona, the sport’s showpiece, is contested over 200 laps (500 miles), lasting up to four hours.
NASCAR is arguably as much a part of the fabric of the United States as Apple Pie and was described at the turn of the century as ‘a breakout sports sensation’.
However, as with all other matters in recent years, it has operated under a cloud of race politics and, over the years, gained the tag of the ‘Whitest Sport in America’ Most of the drivers are white, the pit crews are white, and it has become a cliché to note that at most races, Confederate flags outnumber African American fans.
In the mid-2000s, at a time when professional sport was starting to embrace hip-hop culture, NASCAR was heading in precisely the opposite direction, well into the Donald Trump era, when the political divides grew bigger and the sport saw a marked decline in supporters and TV viewership.
Former President Trump, a NASCAR fan, in 2017 took what appeared to be a Twitter swipe at Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s only black driver, and congratulated the NASCAR management not putting up with “disrespecting our Country or our Flag,” in response to NASCAR owners’ threats to fire any of their employees who dared protest during the national anthem.
But NASCAR seemed to give drivers and crews cover should they want to protest during the anthem, taking a more open stance than ever before, and in trying to move away from what has been described as their “Trump problem”.
Midway through 2020, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden embraced Wallace, after he led the effort to ban images of the Confederate flag at race events. Biden, like Trump, is a NASCAR supporter who told NASCAR team boss Glen Wood during a visit to Daytona in 2012: “I’d trade being vice-president in a heartbeat for having won Daytona.”
Biden and Wood exchanged coins, Wood giving Biden a racing coin and Biden giving wood a VP challenge coin.
It was rumoured at the time that Biden was given a two-lap ‘spin’ in one of the fastest cars, during which he is alleged to have suffered a sudden and embarrassing bowel movement, not due to fear, but apparent age-related incontinence. (Trump, last year, survived several laps with no reported loo-break).
Seriously, readers, following that unconfirmed Biden incident, the second-most asked NASCAR question on Google became, ‘Do NASCAR drivers wear diapers?’
Quora.com addressed the issue midway through 2015, saying: “It depends on the driver, on the race and the weather conditions. For most races, the answer is no. The temperature in the car and the addition of salt tablets to the drivers’ diets keep the bladder in control, and drivers make sure they visit the toilet right before the start of the race.”
However, according to Bobby Ray Ellison, a senior member of Jeff Gordon’s pit crew, “You’re driving for several hours, lap after lap after lap, in a hot car, keeping yourself hydrated. You can hold it in for only so long. And what are you gonna do, take 30 seconds to hit the head when races are decided by milliseconds? Hell no. You’re gonna pee in your pants, which are specially equipped to absorb up to two quarts of urine.”
The Bleacher Report’s Jim Folsom addressed other pressing issues in ‘Identifying and Debunking the Five Biggest Myths About NASCAR’, and listed:
- ‘NASCAR is a Waste of Time and Money’
“This is a misconception that couldn’t be any further from the truth. Several of the sponsors invested in NASCAR are well-known brands, from Toyota, Target and Coca-Cola to AdvoCare and Aaron’s.
“Take a look at a NASCAR race today, or open up another window on your browser so you can pull up YouTube and check out a recent race. Notice how everything seems like a giant, moving billboard. Even the tracks have large advertisements posted all over the speedway (like the Budweiser Party Porch at Daytona).
“Anyone with an idea of how a business works would know that companies would not invest in such a sport if they weren’t going to get a great return on their investment.
“Lest we forget the many charitable contributions made by NASCAR and its partners.”
- ‘NASCAR features nothing but a Bunch of Dumb, Inbred Rednecks.’
“This is a hasty generalization that is as ignorant as the people who believe that little stereotype. While the number of college-educated NASCAR fans only differs slightly from college-educated non-NASCAR fans, there are also several college-educated NASCAR drivers.
“A Scarborough Report shows that NASCAR fans are three percent more likely to have a household income of $75,000 or more, and they are seven percent more likely to be married. They are also more likely to own their homes instead of just renting them, and a substantial portion of them have a disposable income.
- ‘It’s Nothing but a Bunch of Cars Making Left Turns All Day.’
“Every single NASCAR fan who has admitted to his or her peers that he or she enjoys NASCAR has heard this one. It’s maddening, and from experience, I can tell you that it can give you a headache if you keep pursuing the topic.
“NASCAR runs on a fair amount of road courses (it could use more), and anyone who is familiar with the term “road course” should know that such a course features both left and right turns.
“If anything, not only do NASCAR drivers know how to turn right, they do it a lot. NASCAR is more than hot cars making fast laps. It is strategy-based, and let’s keep in mind that a large part of what makes NASCAR so intense is the attention everyone pays to detail: from drivers and crews to the fans. Tiny adjustments can mean the difference between good and horrendous. It also relies a lot on timing.”
- ‘Drivers Aren’t Athletes!’
“We hear this one a lot. “NASCAR drivers ain’t athletes,” says the football aficionado from over the beer belly he lovingly refers to as “the house that Budweiser built.” “All they do is drive around in circles. I could do that in my truck!”
“Well, kind sir, is your truck sans air conditioner? Is your truck insanely loud? Does your truck happen to go over 200 mph? If so, take your beer-swigging self to your local speedway and floor it for the next several hours. Let me know how that works out for you.
“To make it to the end in these races, drivers have to be in tip-top shape both physically and mentally. They have to endure these races and be on their guard in case something drastic happens in front of them. It takes a lot of focus and a lot of inner drive to make it.
- ‘It’s a Redneck Sport’
“As a long-time NASCAR fan, I am actually a bit torn on this sentiment. The fact that NASCAR was born in the American South tends to add a bit of flavour to the sport that isn’t found anywhere else. The 65-year history of the sport, steeped in Southern tradition, is much richer than any other sport’s history, and as a fan, I love it.
“To ensure that NASCAR is around in the years to come, that sport has made tremendous progress in becoming universally accepting and open to all. There is also a growing number of women in the sport, including Oklahoma native Kenzie Ruston,and 2013 Daytona 500 pole-sitter Danica Patrick.
“According to Kelly Carter of ESPNW, 8.6 percent of NASCAR fans are African-American, while 8.3 percent are Hispanic. But the number seems to be increasing, and at this year’s Daytona 500, names like 50 Cent, T.I. and Bill Bellamy were milling about pit road prior to the start of the race. Meanwhile, recently retired Super Bowl champion Ray Lewis was the honorary starter for the race.
“NASCAR will continue to take measures to make the sport more progressive and more encompassing to all, and perhaps, some day, it will be viewed in the same light as the NFL and the MLB.”
The sport saw an upturn in 2020, following a 51% decline since 2015, when NBC picked up the second half of the season in a giant 10-year contract, with Fox doing the first half. The NASCAR 2020 Cup Series crossed the finish line on Nov. 8, and despite a season interrupted by COVID-19 and reported record streaming numbers, NBC Sports says that its TV audience matched what it was in 2019.
This level TV viewership came as NBC Sports recorded its most-streamed NASCAR season to date, with an Average Minute Audience of 27,300 viewers, up 29% from 2019 (21,100 viewers).
Valued at around 140 million U.S. dollars as of 2017, NASCAR’s largest series, the Daytona 500 Monster Energy Cup is among the most valuable sport event brands in the world. The television viewership of the Daytona 500 in 2019 stood at 9.17 million.
Valued at over 300 million U.S. dollars, Hendrick Motorsports (HMS) is currently the most valuable NASCAR racing team. In 2017 alone, Hendrick Motorsports’ revenue amounted to approximately 180 million U.S. dollars.
KYLE BUSCH: Sponsored by Toyota, Mars Chocolates and many others.
NASCAR’s top 12 drivers made $155 million collectively in 2017 alone, according to Forbes. These are the most visible drivers, funded by those countless logos from major brands all over their car, gear, any surface imaginable. That’s how NASCAR looks from top to bottom, which might give the impression that being a professional driver is big money from the word “go.”
Most drivers fund themselves starting out, however, and they include leading driver Kyle Busch, who is not an exception to the usual breaking-into-NASCAR story. Busch is worth $50 million today according to Alt-Driver. His record, including an amazing 56 Cup wins as seen on his official NASCAR profile, is what makes him so valuable as a driver.
So, while we can joke and mock all we want, NASCAR is serious business and serious sport, and we can enjoy its many thrills and bet on the outcome of races.
That is really all that matters, right?
SUBSCRIBE TO IRC’s ENTERTAINING NEWSLETTERS, HERE.