Despite living in the South for approximately 99% of my life, I had never watched a NASCAR race until yesterday.
Of course I was familiar with much of its trappings - the lingo, the macho swagger, the ever-present logo soup on every surface. Many of the drivers' names were familiar too - Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin. So when my girlfriend and I sat down to watch the Daytona 500 yesterday, the whole thing had an air of familiarity.
Apparently, I picked a helluva race for my first viewing experience. The track at Daytona was recently repaved at the cost of $20 million, making it 3-cars wide and smooth enough for the kind of pushing/drafting seen at tracks like Talladega and in movies.
Since two cars bumper-to-bumper go faster than just one, all of the drivers had to find a buddy (or "dance partner" as the announcers kept saying, which I thought was amusing.) And since it's a freaking 500 mile race, the drivers had plenty of time to be diplomatic with one another - right up to the final laps. I have to admit, I was pretty excited when things turned into a free-for-all during the last lap.
Early in the race, I decided to root for Trevor Bayne, a 20-year-old from Knoxville for whom yesterday's race was only his 2nd start in the Sprint Cup. As an unexpected bonus to my first NASCAR experience, my driver actually won.
In order to enjoy a sport, I need to be able to over-think it. I have to understand what makes it different from other sports, where its points of contention are. For years I naively assumed "cars going left" would never hold my intellectual attention. I'm glad I was wrong. Next race is on Sunday.
UPDATE 2.21.11 11:55am - The House voted last week to continue to allow taxpayer money to go toward sponsorships of NASCAR teams, despite Planned Parenthood losing it's $330 million in public funding. I do not support this. [via The Stranger]