Gentlemen, start your engines

By Devon Jeffreys

As Kevin Harvick raced to victory in Daytona last weekend, millions of fans celebrated the beginning of their season.

Meanwhile, millions of others wondered what the big deal is. NASCAR is unlike any other sport. As many fans as it has, there are just as many people who don’t get the hype. I’m here to tell you, it’s better than you think.

I’m a big baseball and football fan. I never really got into the NBA. I’ll watch it from time to time, but I’ve only ever attended one game and it was less than fulfilling. I’m also hard-pressed to find anything good to say about the NHL because up until a few weeks ago, I thought they were still on strike.

NASCAR, however, piqued my interest a few years ago. It starts right after football season ends and with almost all the races on Sunday, it fits right into the slot that football vacated. I began watching it and became enthralled with the intensity of the sport. Who wouldn’t want to go 180 mph for a whole day with no worry about getting pulled over?

I latched on to the sport’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and followed his progress like I would a baseball or football team. The most amazing thing about NASCAR to me is the marketing. Marketing in a team sport is one thing, but in NASCAR they have to market one guy. Guys like Earnhardt, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon are set for life in merchandise sales alone.

That one guy makes or breaks his salary by the way he performs. He also has to perform to keep his sponsorship, something most athletes know nothing about. It’s one thing to have endorsements, which most drivers have as well, but sponsorships are a whole different world.

As time went on, I’ll admit I became a little bored by the sport. Once baseball season hit in April, I could watch that, and since NASCAR goes into November, football season was underway by the time the drivers made it to the chase for the Nextel Cup.
Last season, I didn’t pay much attention to NASCAR, probably because I followed the Mets from March until late October, but recently I’ve had a few opportunities to get back into NASCAR.

Last week, Flagler alumnus Scott Lagasse, Jr. came back to campus for a pep rally before he raced in the ARCA 200 at Daytona. I attended the race and, as my first live race, the sights and sounds overwhelmed me.

I got the chance to stay after the ARCA race and watch the NASCAR Budweiser Shootout. Let me be the first to tell you, being live at a race gives a feeling like no other sport can. The sound of 21 cars flying past at 180 mph is probably the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.

Now NASCAR begins another season spanning from the colds of February to the colds of November and making stops all around the country in the process. They’re back in Daytona in July for the Pepsi 400 over the Fourth of July weekend.

So before you dismiss NASCAR as “a bunch of guys going around in circles,” go to a race. I promise you won’t be bored.

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