I've been holding back a lot of venom on the world of NASCAR, but after this weekend I simply have to let it out. I guess Jimmie Johnson is winning his third straight championship or something, because ESPN just won't shut up about the guy. The culmination of all this hoopla came when I saw the network's NASCAR guys saying that Johnson's third straight championship puts him in the same class as Tiger Woods and Roger Federer as far as dominant athletic accomplishment is concerned. Now I've already commented on the whole "world's best athlete thing" and the feats of both Eldrich and Rog, but the comments about Johnson have honestly put me over the edge.
This stuff honestly baffles me. There are many things that get lumped into the world of sports without really warranting it, existing more as competition than as an according-to-Hoyle sport. I define a sport as athletic competition that defines clear-cut winners and losers without the help of a judge. There are several athletic competitions that use judges, and to varying degrees the argument could be made that they qualify as a sport. Gymnastics for example, requires so much athleticism that it is the closest you can be to a sport without actually being one. The grace, stamina, strength and agility that make gymnastics as grueling a competition as it is are pretty much beyond the shadow of a doubt, but the fact that a judge decides who wins disqualifies it as a sport in my book. The same can be said for skateboarding, figure skating and diving, along with a handful of other competitions that need judges to decide a winner.
I know what you're probably thinking, that by that criteria, bowling and poker are sports. Wrong. The other thing that makes a sport a sport is a test of physical aptitude. While bowling is a game that requires a lot of skill, the more or less athletic you are has pretty much nothing to do with how good you are. The same goes for poker, albeit to an even lesser extent. Sorry, but if you can be a total fucking slob and still compete, I can't very well consider your competition a sporting event. At least bowlers have to physically throw a bowling ball every frame, with poker not even coming close to being a sport considering that all you do is sit there and play cards. As far as I'm concerned these are the two easy distinctions: competitions that have judges, and competitions that require no physical ability.
There are of course, exceptions that perfectly extol the fine line that exists between sport and competition, and for me they are horse racing and auto racing. If you concede that the only auto racing that can garner more than a handful of people to watch it is NASCAR, then it is NASCAR and horse racing that bring us to this impasse. Horse racing features nothing but athletes, the problem is they are not human. Horses like Secretariat can be considered great athletes as far as I'm concerned, and the jockeys that ride horses are performing a difficult athletic feat as well. That being said, I think that horse racing, with its clearly defined winners and losers and athletic prowess on display, is in fact a sport. The world of NASCAR on the other hand, has no business in this conversation. I've heard so many arguments that drivers are athletes, that it takes a lot of endurance to what they do, that being in the position they're in at the speeds they race at for 3 or more hours is about as athletic as you can get.
Well I'm not fucking buying it. Similar to poker players but closer to jockeys, NASCAR drivers still aren't athletes and thus lose any shot their races have at being considered an athletic competition. Making left hand turns and trying not to crash not only make for some of the most boring television that can possibly be endured, but pressing pedals and using a steering wheel don't require any amount of athletic ability. Bowlers do more when they throw the ball at the pins ladies and gentlemen. The only thing that NASCAR has going for it is the fact that there is a clear cut winner; it's the guy whose mechanics build the fastest car. That's who wins these races folks, the guy with the best mechanics and crew members. If the best drivers were the ones that won all of the races, they could drive until they were sixty and continue to dominate NASCAR indefinitely. Wait, how old are some of these assholes anyway?
Now the fact that NASCAR is not a sport is what got me talking about it initially, but I'd also like to inform you about the other things that suck about this godawful American tradition. I mean I suppose it was inevitable that when you live in a country that invents so many things and has enhanced the experience of being alive as much as Americans, we were bound to slip up at some point. They can't all be the light bulb and rock 'n roll folks, we were destined to release our version of the Edsel (shit, we invented that too!) and I contend that it is the pointless burning of gasoline that is NASCAR racing.
Oil prices going through the roof? Too bad, you'll have to continue to not only watch with utter helplessness as gas rates go up and down like a 13 year old's penis, but also witness rednecks burn fuel like it's rainwater so less important rednecks have something to get drunk to on the weekends. Seriously, I think one of the reasons NASCAR is enjoyed by so many people is because it's one of the few things on TV you can watch while absolutely shit-faced and not really miss anything. If you've had too many beers and turned your vision into a broken Viewmaster, you can still assume that what you're seeing is cars going around in a big circle. And don't worry, if you're so full of beer that your back teeth are floating and really have to go to the bathroom, you're not going to miss a game-winning home run or a 98 yard touchdown run, you'll just miss a car doing exactly what it was when you left. You know, being driven in a circle, the same thing it's going to do for the rest of the race.
"I watch it for the crashes!", some redneck in Nowheresville shouts. That's great. You're the same guy that is let down by America's Funniest Home Videos if someone doesn't take a wiffle-ball bat to the groin. Watching a competition to see people fuck up would be like watching the Superbowl for the fumbles. How exhilarating! And how do you select your favorite driver? I like Ohio State and the Detroit Tigers because I grew up close enough to both to go watch them live. I doubt that Johnny McRedneck gives a shit where the driver is from, but more likely picked his favorite driver because he got into a fight after one of the races, brilliantly punching a guy wearing a helmet that is designed to withstand a crash at over 100 miles per hour.
Not only that, but NASCAR is the acme of consumer culture, turning the car and the driver's uniform into the advertising industry's version of a punk kid's leather jacket. If I buy an OSU shirt, that's the only thing I'm proclaiming, that I'm a fan of the Buckeyes. A Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan is trying to show Junior some love, but ends up being a billboard for the National Guard. Wait, I guess that's another way to select your favorite driver. If you like Coors Light, Jack Daniels, Skoal or stuff that Dupont makes, you can be a fan of the guy who drives that car. Be careful though, if another company can make a more expensive whore out of your favorite driver, he will jump ship. Before you know it, your National Guard jacket and hat could be turning into an ad for Scott's fertilizer. Then again, maybe you're cool with that.
In summation, not only do I hate the fact that NASCAR is considered a sport, but I hate everything it stands for. I think of the handful of people that read this blog, I may have offended a few. If you can challenge any of my assertions I welcome the argument, until then we'll all be on pins and needles until the Daytona 500, which kicks off the NASCAR season and is like playing the Superbowl in week one of the NFL. Incredible.