The problem is that after so many Sundays spent watching football, Sunday afternoon seems empty. I understand. I used to watch football avidly and have felt that loss. Finally I started to watch the car races with my husband and son. I was sure it was just a bunch of guys driving around in circles, but I was still spending time with my husband and avoiding whatever jobs I had that I didn’t want to touch. After a few weeks of watching I began to understand what was going on. After a few months I was interested and started to follow a young driver who did well. The time between the Super Bowl and Pre Season Games passed fairly quickly after that. After a few years of watching both football and NASCAR, I find that there are lots of similarities. Knowing the similarities might help you to understand and enjoy the racing.
When I look at a football field full of players I see a bunch of men wound up tight with adrenalin, their eyes wide open. That same adrenalin is visible during the pre race festivities. The drivers and crew members are often so wound up that they can’t stand still during the playing of the National Anthem. Sometimes the tension that they feel makes you think of a spring wound up and ready to pop.
Just as newcomers to football think that the only important person on a team is the quarterback, the same can be said of the driver. As true football fan knows that it isn’t so, the same can be said of the NASCAR fan. They are both team sports. The driver is out front in interviews and in advertisements for a sponsor, In the last few years there has been growing emphasis on physical fitness of the drivers and they have become healthier and stronger. They need to be to spend an entire race in a car traveling at great speed within inches of other cars doing the same. The temperature inside the race cars is quite hot and there is no way for a driver to call for time out. They have no half time and really only get to have any kind of break during pit stops. It really isn’t much of a break since they stay in the car and are planning how to gain positions as they enter and leave pit road while not wrecking themselves or another car, carefully controlling the speed of their car. A speeding penalty would nullify any gains they had made.
The driver is supported by a whole team of people. The pit crew, like the offensive line, can help the driver to get off pit road faster and gain a few seconds. A few seconds can amount to several positions on the track. The pit crews often include former football players and work out as much as most football teams. They practice to make things go smoothly on each pit stop. During the week they rehearse every possible contingency, from replacing parts, to banging out dents. They make adjustments as called for by the crew chief. Feedback from the driver can encourage the pit crew to work faster.
The coach of the race team is the Crew Chief. He sits on the pit box keeping track of everything from what happened in the past to what is happening now. He needs to elicit feedback about the car from the driver and at the same time evaluate what changes need to be made to make it go faster or to make it suit the driver better. He directs the pit crew in whatever changes need to be made and at the same time decide whether the car should come in during a caution, or try to gain positions, by staying out and then having to compete against cars that have better control and can go faster because they have new tires. The crew chief also calms the driver down if another driver seems to have maliciously cut them off, or wrecked them. The crew chief talks with the pit crew to be sure that everything goes as smoothly as possible. Just as the coach holds something up in front of his mouth so that people can’t see what he is saying, the crew chief often holds something up to prevent other teams from knowing what he is going to call.
The Spotter is high above the track on the stands, and functions a lot like the defensive line. At some of the road courses there will be more than one person and they will cover specific sections of the track. The spotter tells the driver where other cars are on the track. Since the drivers view out of the back of the car is severely limited, the spotter tells the driver if he can go into a different lane without wrecking. Sometimes the spotter from one team, will speak to the spotter of another team, to convey an apology, or to ask for cooperation. They help the driver to avoid wrecks.
In Football there are team owners, who own just one team. In NASCAR several car teams may have the same owner. The amount of sharing between teams varies from owner to owner. When “team orders” are referred to by the television announcers, it means that they suspect that one driver is allowing another driver with the same owner to gain positions or points. The reality is that the only team orders that are important is to not wreck your teammate, and that doesn’t always work. The maximum number of cars that an owner can field at this time is five. This has led to some alignment of other teams with owners. Many teams will make arrangements to purchase all their engines, or chassis from another team, which gives them a satellite team.
In Football the league officers are rarely seen other than by their representatives on the field in the form of referees and umpires. NASCAR is a privately held corporation, and there is always someone at every race, who is there to make decisions quickly. There are NASCAR officials that are assigned to each team to make sure that things are safe on pit row. Violations and penalties are enforced on the caution in which they occur. Cash and points fines are assigned on the Wednesday following a race.
So with this perspective, when the Football is all over you might find that you can learn to enjoy NASCAR. It starts with the Bud Shoot Out on February 12th. This is an all star field of former winners, and rookies of the year. It is truly a dash for cash that only pays when you win. The intensity of the teams is amazing. Then there are the races which qualify drivers for the Daytona 500 which is NASCAR’s super bowl. So there is lots of excitement available in February. Lots of excitement and fun to help you avoid being out in the cold. It sure beats cleaning the basement, attic or garage.