the real american pastime?

in a time when all of us are inundated with content from every direction, is there anything that a majority of people follow or are interested in? There’s the Internet, newspapers, magazines, television programs, radio stations, all there for the picking. And then there’s sports (which, of course, have their information passed on through those previously discussed mediums). baseball is commonly referred to as “the national pastime”, but probably hasn’t held that title for real in quite a few years. football, specifically the nfl, is probably more likely a candidate. basketball and hockey, the last two of the “four major” sports, have strong followings, but are definitely not the majority.

sports are something that allows humans to identify with one another fairly easily and in a public manner. you don’t necessarily know that your neighbor is a pascal programmer unless you ask, or he happens to be in the same pascal programmer’s club that you are. but with some glances at their house, attire, or vehicle, you can probably tell what sports, or sports teams, they like. so here we come to the question of the day – what is the real national pastime?

i’m here to tell you that it might just be auto racing. specifically, nascar‘s winston cup series. from a spectator perspective, no events have as many on-site viewers as their events do. some college football games have 100,000 individuals in the stadiums, but the average racetrack houses that many in the grandstands, plus all of those individuals who’ve parked their winnebagos in the middle of the track and are sitting proudly in their lounge chairs on the roof for three days. look around you, if you’re in the states. do you see any nascar materials floating around? perhaps a sticker on the car window next to you? perhaps a hat with a single number on it? t-shirts? jackets? I could go on.

as the commentary-ist happens to live in the northeast quadrant of the united states, he realizes that much of the news about nascar is not prevalent here. the south, midwest, and much of the western portion of the country have their sports pages dominated by this during the 30+ weeks that the cars are making their lefts (and some weeks rights, too!) around the various tracks. it seems like the northeast is full of closet fans who are scared that if they wear their ricky rudd t-shirt to mow the lawn on saturday afternoon, then they won’t be given a reservation at “chez whatever” that night. quite unfortunate, i must say, especially when pointed out that the northeast has a very high household income level, which obviously makes its inhabitants good marketing targets.

and that brings us to possibly the “coup” that nascar has over the other “major” sports. its appeal to female fans. not only are women a much better audience to advertise to, strategically, but they tend to form an affinity towards a driver or two or three that the men don’t always form as quickly. nascar is a product of marketing genius, with its sponsorships directly responsible for the purchase of auto parts, travel, salaries, etc., and all of these brands seen on the jumpsuits, hoods, and roofs (rooves?) of the autos are so recognizable by the average consumer, they represent a boon for a company once their driver gains some popularity.

nascar seems to strike the right chord with fans because of two things: its “every man” feel, in that most of us have the ability to drive a car, while we don’t all have the ability to throw a fastball 90 miles per hour, kick a field goal in overtime, dunk a basketball, or score a hat trick. the second, and possibly more important, is the “real” feel that its drivers convey. they don’t come off as snotty, obnoxious kids who have too much money to play with, and seem to geniunely be concerned about their sport at all times, as well as the other drivers.

perhaps the “good ol’ boys”, as the drivers in nascar are unfortunately referred to by the untrained eye, are a better measuring stick for your kids to look up to. the seem to know how to stay level headed while being on the front of every box of kellogg’s frosted flakes, or having flames put on the side of your sponsors’ delivery trucks because of you. and perhaps one day more people would admit to watching and event like yesterday’s great race at darlington, south carolina, and you’d have callers flooding sports-radio talk shows just as they do for the latest news on a big trade in major league baseball.

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