We take you out of the driver’s seat and look at NASCAR from a cultural perspective
By Brendan O’Meara
NASCAR has more in common with the Grateful Dead than with any other major sport in America. Like the Deadheads who followed the band all over the country from venue to venue, vagabonding from city to city, so too do NASCAR diehards. It’s the reason NASCAR has such a huge following. It’s not so much about its history as it is about the devotion to supporting drivers and the subculture.
It’s undeniably tribal. A sizable chunk of NASCAR fans with more wanderlust than Gandalf the Grey put their homes on wheels and park at the tracks to take in the race for 36 weeks.
No other sport is as mobile as NASCAR, and that extends beyond the baroque fury of the stock cars themselves. Sure, other sports teams travel to each other’s stadiums, but what other sport moves its entire catalog of teams to a static environment? The answer is unequivocally none (besides, of course, other motor sports leagues), when you consider the extent of the move. Golf and tennis players move, but they don’t have the degree of cargo. Maybe Serena Williams does.
The Food is Cookin’
The tailgating also ranks second to none. When people haul in Airstreams and RVs, the extent of culinary acrobatics on the infield of a track rivals any restaurants. No doubt this piqued Mario Batali’s interest.
Batali, a restaurateur, chef and talk show host, authored the cookbook Mario Tailgates NASCAR Style. It’s in no way ironic either, though his lapidary way of speaking and somewhat condescending delivery would suggest this is an ironic book—but why waste the time and the publisher’s money? Clearly this means something.
Fan Flags Fly
These NASCAR fans fly the flag of their favorite drivers, too. You’ll still see the No. 3 waving from the masts at a race and they’re not rooting on Austin Dillon. That No. 3 flag is a memorial to Dale Earnhardt Sr. and by extension those fans are rooting for Richard Childress Racing and Dillon’s No. 3 car. In this case, some of the loyalty bleeds from the previous driver to the incumbent.
No matter what track it is, the NASCAR fanatics are truly a nomadic subculture. Some, no doubt, follow the entire circuit for 36 weeks of the year (more if you include the All-Star Race and the off weeks).
To those on the outside NASCAR’s racing product can be, at times, repetitive. But when you fold in the vagabonding aspect, the wholesale mobility of the athletes and the fan bases, you soon find that the actual racing is but the capstone of the pyramid: the part that gets the most attention, while there’s so much more to experience beyond the speeding cars.
Bring your NASCAR pride to Dover International Speedway Oct. 2 to 4 when the Sprint Cup returns to the Monster Mile. Purchase your tickets today!