TCU Daily Skiff Friday, February 20, 2004
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Kids boost NASCAR popularity

COMMENTARY
Russ Zimmer


NASCAR is the fastest growing sport in America. Last year the Daytona 500 was watched by almost 30 million people at home, and 180,000 people packed into the speedway — all during weather that caused many delays. Why is NASCAR so popular and what does that say about our society?

Let’s analyze an outsider’s view of NASCAR: About 50 drivers going about 150 mph around an oval track for over three hours. Straightaway, left turn, straightaway, left turn: Repeat as desired.

I don’t see the entertainment value — why do people watch?

Maybe it’s the car crashes. Those are the first things you see on the TV recaps of the big races. Crashes at that speed are especially violent but thanks to special precautions, serious injury of the driver is a rare result. Still, I have faith that people have a different reason for watching NASCAR other than for the morbid curiosity of seeing a fatal crash.

The competitors are all “blue-collar, All-American types.” They don’t have the image of being overpaid like in MLB or thugs like the NFL or NBA. They are the American dream.
Believe it or not, 40 percent of the 75 million NASCAR fans are women. Minorities make up over 10 percent of the fan base. But one demographic really stands out — kids. NASCAR, according to an ESPN poll, has increased its 12- to 17-year-old fan base by more than 12 percent since 1999. Football, in comparison, has only grown by 1.2 percent. I can relate to that and I think I’m beginning to understand.

When I was a kid I had a bunch of cheap toy cars I would race all around my house and that was pretty fun. Back then, I couldn’t watch the races on TV so there was never any motivation to see it in real life or buy any merchandise.

Nowadays, the coveted 12- to 17-year-old teenager demographic is a must-have for companies. NASCAR realized this, prompting them to drop their sponsor Winston, a cigarette manufacturer, and replace it with Nextel. It’s No longer called the Winston Cup, it is the Nextel Cup.

Kids are responsible for steering NASCAR to its current popularity and I can understand. Little boys like cars, especially cars that go “vroom!” Moms and dads watch it because it represents America. I have to say I’m kind of at odds with some of those assumptions about America.

NASCAR racers are just as arrogant and troublesome as athletes from other sports. Dale Earnhardt, the almost-mythical racing legend, was known as “The Intimidator” and pushed the rules of racing. Modern day favorite Tony Stewart has a hot temper and has yelled at sports reporters for asking questions he doesn’t like. As for the “blue-collar worker” mentality, many current drivers are just following in the footsteps of their fathers — Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the Petty family, for instance. The lack of diversity in the ranks of NASCAR is the most un-American part of it all.

I still don’t understand the allure for adults to watch cars drive in circles and I don’t have a Hemi in my Dodge, so maybe there is something wrong with me. I’m willing to accept that, so here’s to going round and round and round and round.

 
 
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