NASCAR endings now the only drawback

Published 12:00 pm Tuesday, March 3, 2009

There seems to be a fundamental rift between racing fans and fans of more traditional sports, such as football, baseball and basketball. And by excluding racing from the list of traditional sports, some bias might have been revealed.

Don’t misunderstand. It is impossible not to respect the unbelievable skill necessary to competitively drive a car—or truck or dirt bike or whatever the case may be. But the traditional concept of sport is of those played with tools less intrusive than a vehicle and played with a ball of some sort.

Some people grow up with a fascination for motors, it seems, while “ball” is the first word spoken by others. The two groups, of course, are not mutually exclusive. Plenty of sports fans enjoy NASCAR and NBA basketball on the same day.

If you’ve spent your life as a member of one group, however, learning to appreciate the sports favored by the other group can be difficult.

Such is the situation I find myself in. Long fanatical about college football and big league baseball, I feel responsible, as the sports editor of a daily newspaper in central Alabama, to learn as much about NASCAR as possible.

It hasn’t been easy. The sport simply hasn’t had much appeal for me — until Sunday’s Shelby 427 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. I began watching with about 60 laps to go and was interested — even turning up the surround sound for the “Crank It Up” feature of FOX’s broadcast — until the last caution of the race.

From what I understand, many people actually enjoy the wrecks, but not me. First, I can’t enjoy something that could turn out to be a severe injury. Also, I want to watch racing, not cars creep along at a set speed — I do that every day in my vehicle.

There are a number of aspects of NASCAR I do enjoy, however. I like the drama. The off-season maneuvering and the post-race scuffles are great entertainment. I like how funny the drivers look in their suits and helmets. I’m laughing whether they are pumping their fists after a win or shoving each other after a wreck. And I like when carefully planned strategy goes awry because the catch-can man fails to get his tool out of the car before the driver pulls off.

The often anticlimactic endings, sometimes attributable to those late race cautions, will turn out to be the next, and maybe last, stumbling block between myself and NASCAR fandom. Kyle Busch fighting from the back of the field then finally passing Clint Bowyer for the lead at Busch’s home race track was thrilling even if Busch is a less than likable character, but the last two cautions were so frustrating that I changed the channel.

I’ll try again this weekend, though, and this might just be the one that gets me hooked.