Or how I learned to love to watch people driving in circles.
NASCAR was not exactly popular among my peers growing up in the UK. Apart from the odd mention on TV I had not really heard of the sport until I became a regular reader of Motoring News. Even then, the mentions were vague and related to a sport that I had no reference points for.
Let me explain.
In the UK there is a huge ‘club’ racing scene, with many formula based classes that allow anyone that is interested to race wheel-to-wheel at a price that matches their budget.
There is a simple ‘open vs closed wheel’ split, and then ‘tin tops vs open’ split too. The open-wheelers ranged from ‘Formula Ford’ up to ‘Formual One’, with a reasonably simple progression that would allow almost anyone with talent to progress through the ranks and arrive in F1 after a few years. Many famous names made the progression. I remember seeing Nigel Mansell race in the lower series at my local track for example.
In the closed wheel classes there was, and I presume still is, many race series that would allow a talented race to progress from local racing to national (touring cars) and maybe even cross-over into prototype and sports car racing.
This does not really exist here.
NASCAR, which is comfortably the most popular motorsport in the US appears to have a progression, drivers start on dirt ovals, then move to tarmac ones. The cars are not exactly ‘high tech’ and for the majority of the races they only turn left.
The racing is incredible.
An average F1 race contains 10-12 overtaking moves, one pit stop each and almost zero personality, but is seriously high tech.
An average NASCAR race has 10-12 overtaking moves per lap and there are often more than 300 laps in a race.
But the story does not end there, the organization make changes that benefit the races, recently aero rules were amended as the newly introduced ‘wings’ were causing concern. So the rules were modified to move from a wing to a simple spoiler. The changes look good and work well, everyone is happy. If a rule change was introduced to fix the aero ‘problem’ that exists in F1, it would result in law suits.
Each car carries at least three cameras in NASCAR, a swiveling roof mounted on, a rear bumper mounted one and a ‘driver’ cam. Sometimes we even get helmet cam views. They are all HD too, something which F1 appears to be resisting for some reason. It seems ironic that low-tech NASCAR is broadcast in 1080i, whereas high-tech F1 is mired down in Wide-but-standard-definition blurry vision.
Beyond this though, the drivers are real people that are truly approachable. It is not unusual to hear an interview with a driver during the race. They are also not exactly ‘athletic’ in build. I guess that the fact that the look and act like regular people just adds to the appeal.
Nowadays I try very hard to watch the races, preferably live, where we get 101 super high-tech overlays. GPS positioning, revs/throttle/brake/speed indicators and multi-window views all add to the experience. With live timing and access to car cameras and radio transmission on nascar.com the experience is really rather impressive.
Seriously, Bernie and the F1 media could learn a lot by just watching a couple of races and getting immersed in the experience.