The Daytona 500 – or – why I love auto racing

I admit it freely: I enjoy auto racing. In fact, driving a race car at 150+ miles per hour is on my bucket list. I haven’t done it yet. I hope I will soon.

Auto racing is great. For those who claim that ‘all they do is go in circles,’ I say, “all football players do it hit each other and throw the ball.” It’s a sport, and like any sport, it’s most interesting once you know the rules and a few of the key players. Auto racing is actually very complex, and it’s also very dangerous.

You only watch to see the accidents.’ I admit that’s at least partially true. The way I watch an auto race usually involves having the TV on while I do something else, looking up only when the commentators get loud. But still, there’s more to it than that.

Unlike most team sports, like football, soccer, or baseball, every team gets to compete against every other team at the same time every week. You have your favorite driver and you cheer for them every race. There are 43 teams in every race. What kind of melee would it be if football were handled this way?

Physics is really important in auto racing, too. Aerodynamics is everything. There are sling-shot maneuvers and drafting, and one tiny adjustment on the shape of the rear spoiler can change how the car behaves. Then consider fuel economy, tire technology, and the tiny costs (both economic and physical) of using different materials. Mathematics abounds in auto racing. It’s amazing how a tiny strip of paint on the race track can upset a car and send it into the wall.

To be completely honest, though, I think the main reason why I love auto racing so much, both televised races and local short-track events, is because it takes me back to my childhood. My dad used to race cars, well before I was born. We always watched the televised racing events when I was a kid.

Add to that the fact that my dad fixed cars for a living. He worked at an auto dealership and had a full-blown garage at home. He was always tinkering with cars. Memories of my childhood are sparked by the smell of burnt brakes and gasoline. I love the smell of a garage. Going to the local track and smelling burning rubber takes me home.

You can condemn me if you want, for loving what is potentially the least environmentally-friendly sport out there. You can call it ridiculous to enjoy watching cars go in circles. Whatever. I retort with how dull a run-away football game can be. You know, with auto racing, you have to watch until the last lap. There’s almost never a run-away race winner. There’s no leaving early in racing.

I don’t watch the races as much as I used to, mostly because I don’t have cable TV, so can only watch those broadcast on the regular networks. That’s OK. My priorities have changes a bit. But when I can watch them, I’m glued to the TV.

Today is the Daytona 500. The ‘Super Bowl’ of NASCAR. The first race of the season is the biggest one. I can’t wait!

2 thoughts on “The Daytona 500 – or – why I love auto racing

  1. Many sports seem boring until you take the time to understand them, or even try them out yourself. I have a friend who teaches at the US Air Force Academy who loves to watch golf. Talk about a boring game to watch! She felt that way too, until she took an interest in trying to play it herself. It’s a game of finesse, and the finesse isn’t hidden behind 1600 pounds of offensive line or among a fleet of ton-and-a-half vehicles. Once you know what you’re looking for, you can see why the master competitors are the masters. A tenth of a degree of angle, fifty milliseconds of timing, an extra foot per second, can make the difference between success and failure. Or disaster.

    And then there’s endurance. Anybody who scoffs at driving around in circles should go try it for three hours straight, and see if they can even tell left from right by the time they’re done.

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