Avid fans defend NASCAR

By Andy Seifert

Nicole Brozovic seems like a normal University student, but she has a horrifying secret: She’s a NASCAR fan.

“None of my friends watch it with me,” Brozovic, a junior in education, said. “My boyfriend didn’t like it when he heard about me liking it.”

Brozovic may seem alone at the University, but in the general population she’s not. She enjoys the second-most-watched sport on television behind pro football. It’s a sport with considerable market value, including a $2.4 billion network deal and a 75-million-fan base, according to the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing’s Web site.

At this year’s Daytona 500, more than 200,000 spectators were on hand. By comparison, 68,206 attended this year’s Super Bowl.

Yet despite its overwhelming popularity, NASCAR fans still say their sport is misunderstood. Diehard NASCAR fans are harassed by four claims that they dispute in defense of their sport.

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Claim #1: NASCAR is a “hillbilly” sport.

“The people who watch NASCAR are no longer restricted to the South,” said Harold Trammel of Philo, Ill., who has watched the sport since the ’60s. “It’s no longer a beer-guzzling guy sport.”

Statistics support Trammel’s assertions. Once a sport that was dominated by southern drivers and southern racetracks, NASCAR today finds that only 38 percent of its fan base is from the South. People from the Midwest and Northeast make up 24 and 20 percent of its fan base, respectively.

NASCAR has continued, in the past 10 years, to race in other areas of the country.

“They are looking really hard and saying, ‘Where am I going to put my next track?'” Trammel said. “So we now have a track outside of Chicago, in California, Kansas City and Las Vegas.”

Claim #2: All they do is “drive around in circles.”

NASCAR fans have heard this argument as to why their sport makes for boring television. But Brozovic and others say there is more to the sport than 43 cars meaninglessly puttering around.

“It comes down to who’s your driver,” Brozovic said. “Who’s banging into who, who’s losing a tire, what happens in the pits. There’s a lot more than just driving around in circles.”

Stefine Fishburn, senior in ACES, said being at the track was exhilarating as a spectator.

“They’re so fast that you can’t even see them when they drive in front of you,” she said.

Trammel said that just because stock car racing looks elementary, it does not mean any other sport displays a complexity that dwarfs NASCAR’s competitiveness.

“Somebody goes to a football game. What is that? Pushing and going up and down 100 yards,” Trammel said, with a grin.

Claim #3: NASCAR is purely for guys.

“NASCAR does a really (good) job making sure their drivers are visible,” Trammel said. “They know the female fan base is growing. And they grow off the relationship to the driver.”

Brozovic is no exception to Trammel’s statement. Her favorite driver is Kasey Kahne, the 26-year-old Dodge driver. Brozovic doesn’t try to hide the reason she started cheering for Kahne.

“I started liking him his rookie year and was like ‘Oh, he’s a cute driver!'” she said. “When I go to the track, I see girls that go for the drivers because they’re cute.”

Fishburn is not one of them. She grimaced when asked if she likes her favorite driver, Kevin Harvick, because of his appearance.

“Have you seen him without his hat on? He’s not exactly gorgeous,” she said.

Whether or not the good looks of the drivers attract women, females represent 40 percent of the viewing audience, a fact NASCAR hasn’t overlooked.

NASCAR has made females a priority in its marketing, producing new NASCAR-brand clothing that just hit the market, including swimsuits, shoes, purses and shirts. If that wasn’t enough, book publisher Harlequin has scheduled 19 NASCAR-themed romance novels to be published next year.

Fishburn even said the older drivers play a role in the sex appeal of the sport.

“The image of the older men as clean-cut, but still like a cowboy, appeals to the older women,” she said.

Claim #4: The only reason to watch it is for the crashes.

“I think that people who watch it for the wrecks are like the people who want to watch the bone-crushing tackles,” Trammel said.

NASCAR fans argue that it’s not just the crashes that make the sport exciting but also the competitiveness, the personalities of the drivers and the profound idea of driving 200 mph, three inches from one another.

“There’s something about teeter-totting at the edge of existence,” Trammel said. “It’s like watching somebody bungee-jumping. It’s a sport that’s alive.”