From a fan's perspective, NASCAR is undeniably intriguing. The raw power of hearing the engines rumble gives the races an animalistic
nature. The only comparable events are rodeo
, or perhaps bullfighting
, though I have never witnessed the latter.
However, rodeo and bullfighting are sports. NASCAR is not. Allow me to explain.
The essence of sport is competition -- individuals or groups, playing against each other in a contest. If you win, congratulations. If you lose, you should try to improve. Thus, the champion is determined by natural selection.
NASCAR, however, is not a sport. The governing body of NASCAR believes that it is better for winners to be penalized down to the level of those they defeated, or similarly, that losers should be improved deus-ex-machina style.
This, NASCAR believes, will make races very close. If no car goes too much faster or two much slower than the median speed, then the races will be "competitive."
That is a logical flaw. For instance, a competitive baseball season does not mean that every team finishes with essentially equal records. A competitive baseball season means that some teams do very well, some do very poorly and the others win about half their games. Same thing happens in football, basketball, hockey and any other real sport.
Here is an example of NASCAR's anti-competitive behavior:
There are four major auto makers who operate in NASCAR -- Dodge, Pontiac, Chevrolet and Ford. Owners fund drivers and their crews -- often more than one team the same race, a fact that is also worryingly anti-competitive -- and the owners/drivers/crews mutually decide which auto make they will use.
In the beginning of the 2001 season, the Dodges were slow. There's reason for this -- Dodge hadn't been a part of NASCAR for the last 20 years or so, and likely their engineers needed to get up to speed. One would think, then, that Dodge would light a fire under their butts to improve. But no; NASCAR beat them to the punch. In late July, NASCAR decreed that Dodge cars would be allowed a larger air dam on their front bumper, which redirects more air upwards atop the car and thus increases downforce, which makes the car go faster and handle better. Chevys, Pontiacs and Fords were not allowed this improvement.
This would be like making Babe Ruth use a whiffle ball bat so that he wouldn't hit so many home runs.
Think the non-Dodge teams weren't pissed? Here's what Robert Yates, owner of a few Ford teams, told the Indianapolis Star:
"They see Dodge putting a lot of effort into this and maybe not quite getting there, so they give them a nudge. It just shows again that the cars we're racing aren't totally stock anymore, and so NASCAR can step in and give somebody a little help. But then they can pull it back as quickly as they put it in."
By saying "not totally stock," Yates means that the cars aren't unique. The original theory of stock-car racing was that the racing cars would look similar to cars that regular people would buy. So, if you loved to buy Ford cars, you could watch a race and root for the cars that looked like yours. But, in NASCAR's desire for homogeneity, that's all lost.
Does this really matter that much? Yes. Since NASCAR has set a precedent for tinkering cars whenever they feel like it, who's to say what they won't do? At the Pepsi 400 in 2001 -- the first race at Daytona Beach after Dale Earnhardt's horrific fatal accident -- his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., won seemingly with ease. Many reasonable people theorized that the race was fixed, that letting Dale Jr. win would be a fitting tribute. NASCAR vigorously denied this ... but isn't NASCAR like the boy who cried wolf? If NASCAR can tweak cars, then can't they tweak outcomes?
I have no idea if the Pepsi 400 was fixed, but I sure wouldn't be surprised if it was. Why? The same reason I am unsurprised when WWF matches are fixed. Neither have legitimate competition, and neither are sports.
Other forms of motor racing, such as Formula 1, don't share NASCAR's silly policies, and they most certainly are sports.
In the past, I have heard other allege that auto racing isn't a sport because it's just cars going around in circles. This is a ludicrous belief. The common population has neither the coordination nor the endurance to compete in high-level auto racing. Trust me. If you tried, you would quite literally die.