Why not all stereotypes about NASCAR fans are true
By Quinton Saxby
Don’t let Ithaca’s cosmopolitan allure fool you. This territory belongs to NASCAR fans.
Professor Stephen Mosher, Ithaca College professor of sport management and media, explains, “Ithaca is in the middle of NASCAR country.”
NASCAR is well-established as a part of the culture of Ithaca—if not within the city itself, then certainly in the surrounding region. Go anywhere other than the Commons, and you will encounter a contingency of fans that are well-aware of the history and the significance of NASCAR as a sport.
Mosher knows that NASCAR’s history is part of its appeal, he said, “Getting involved in NASCAR brings us outsiders into a mythology that has embedded itself in the psyche of a large portion of the American population. NASCAR’s history emerged from folk-tales and reality. Moonshine runners would put their cars together to evade the police.”
And what could be more rebellious than driving fast cars? NASCAR is more American and laden with testosterone than anything encountered in football, baseball or virtually any other sport.
Mosher states it plainly: “NASCAR’s fast, and it’s loud.” Ricky Bobby, Will Ferrell’s caricature of all that is stereotypical of the NASCAR aesthetic, might have a similar ideal.
Of course, the sport (and indeed it is a sport, regardless of the opinion of detractors) has aspects of a remnant of a time past, and Mosher believes it is a dying tradition. The NASCAR culture may be the last vestiges of the Wild West, and its slow decline could be part of a larger trend of the state of modern-day American sports. Professor Mosher knows that sports have always been an expenditure dependent on the whim of the populace.
“Sports are nothing but discretionary money,” he said.
But regardless of the economic climate, NASCAR’s appeal is still broad-based and pervasive.
The commercialization of NASCAR is a relatively new phenomenon that is a product of external economic forces. These forces encroach on the rustic, rebellious appeal of America’s single-minded obsession with fast cars.
“The businessmen are trying to make a dollar off it,” Mosher said. “NASCAR was never just about making money. It was about making money in a thrilling, illegal way.”
As Mosher said, the present state of NASCAR has as much to do with American mythology as with a distinctly American obsession with stock cars.
NASCAR attracts a large contingency of rebels and technicians that other sports don’t quite have. Modern stock car racing offers excitement that can’t be found at a baseball game. Going to a race is a unique experience. Professor Mosher argues that it is an event that cannot be matched.
“It was the loudest experience I’ve ever been to. It’s like living through an earthquake for two hours. It doesn’t televise well but it is frightening.”
Senior Matt Magnani, a sports media major, emphasizes that there are indeed stereotypes, but that he has not had too many encounters of people who feed into them and completely shun NASCAR. Instead, he admits that there is definitely value in this American tradition, although he might have some difficulty in seeing it.
“I’ve heard from people’s experience that actually going to NASCAR is a whole lot of fun, and the atmosphere makes it more of a sport because personally I can’t stand watching cars just going around aimlessly in a circle,” he said.
Its prevalence on television has had both positive and negative effects.
“It’s attracted a lot of ignorant fans,” Mosher said, but he does qualify this by acknowledging the depth of technical knowledge exhibited by NASCAR fans.
“For the hardcore NASCAR fans, they already have that knowledge,” Mosher said. “They know stuff beyond ‘Why the hell isn’t my blinker working?’ They love their cars and they treat them with the respect they deserve.”
Such an attitude shows that the ignorance might be on the other end of the argument. NASCAR fans and NASCAR drivers have tradition and technical knowledge, something certainly lacking in a modern day, liberal and politically correct atmosphere.
Senior Corey Jeffers, computer information systems major, thinks that it is not surprising that NASCAR is popular in the region and that its popularity may be merited.
“When I was younger, I thought about how stupid it was, but later on I found out they were using rocket fuel,” Jeffers said.
And as for its place as a sport?
“In every sport, there is a lot of repetition.”
Jeffers was also quick to note that Ithaca’s values may veer to the more conservative end of the spectrum, and therefore finding a large population of big NASCAR fans is not too surprising.
The stereotypes might still be in attendance at a race, but Mosher warns the cosmopolitan and more liberal-minded to be cautious in passing judgment. NASCAR is advanced engineering, and fans will certainly be sure to let you know.
NASCAR does have a rural and down-to-earth allure, but such a connotation does not necessarily bring about the stereotypes that a quick glimpse at the culture of NASCAR will bring to you.
As with any sport, there is an aspect of devotion that some may find unappealing. With NASCAR comes a culture of advertising and hero-worship, and NASCAR advertising is pervasive; we are more than likely to find NASCAR logos pasted on the latest beef jerky packaging, among other distinctly American products. Go anywhere other than Wegmans and you’ll find it. Mosher argues, “Go to Tops. You’ll see No. 3 and No. 8.”
The stereotypes are based on perceptions that NASCAR is a distinctly rural and masculine phenomenon. From the outside, others may judge, but Mosher warns those too good for the sport to be careful.
“People sit in judgment of NASCAR because of the stereotypes that come with it,” he said. “Go to Watkins Glen. You’re going to encounter Bubba and he’ll be drinking his Bud Light or his Miller Light, all of that is true, but if you start talking to him about the pitch of the rod, all of a sudden he’s speaking in Greek or advanced calculus. Bubba knows more than you do,” Mosher said.
NASCAR might just be the most advanced and intricate American sport tradition that is out there.
As voiced by Mosher, “It’s rocket science.”
Quinton Saxby is a senior English major who loves to watch Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. E-mail him at [email protected].