POSTED NOV. 10 AT 2:23 p.m.
HOMESTEAD – The drama in football. The injuries in basketball. The success of baseball. The Miami Hurricane is there for all the sports happenings at the “U,” but seldom do we leave the realm of orange and green.
I ventured outside all things Hurricanes and into NASCAR – a world of its own unlike anything else in sports. During my day-long experience, I learned why NASCAR is the second most popular sport in the United States and attracts more fans at any one event than a Super Bowl game.
It is not a sport that can be fully understood on television.
Sure, I’ve enjoyed races on my couch before. But after stepping into Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, I realized that the NASCAR on television and the NASCAR experience are two completely different sports.
The NASCAR experience starts at 10 a.m. before a 3:45 p.m. start – and I’m not just talking about an early start on your usual grill and chill tailgate.
The entire stadium is surrounded with vendors selling everything and anything NASCAR, almost like a good ol’ county fair. Fans arrive early to display their support for their favorite driver, anticipating a glance at whomever they hope will wind up in victory lane by the end of the day.
Once I made my way into the infield and through the maze of gates, I found the ultimate behind-the-scenes experience of pit crews rushing to prepare the cars. Forty-three stations clothed in sponsor colors and logos lined pit row for the final race of the 2007 Nextel Cup Series and each one was overflowing with crews preparing to fix a car with synchronized movement at any given moment.
The pre-kickoff sideline frenzy of a football game paled in comparison to the magnitude of the preparations by each crew team with emotions stirring and hopes of winning palpable.
There are no timeouts.
During a race, you can’t call a timeout to regroup before a pivotal play as is true of other sports. Everything happens at 170 mph or faster.
NASCAR is a physical contact sport – the metal contraptions called cars just make contact more dangerous.
Don’t let the seemingly monotonous laps fool you into thinking that this sport doesn’t involve the same physicality of a pancake tackle at the 10-yard line. When attempting to pass on a tight turn with three cars riding within inches of each other, too much contact can cause a driver to not finish the race. There is no getting up and walking it off after your car has been pushed into a wall.
Unlike football, basketball or baseball, taking the lead early is almost useless in a NASCAR race. As evident on Sunday, the standings can change in a blink of an eye.
Being in the lead throughout the race, unless you have a substantial lead, can actually be more dangerous because other drivers will be constantly trying to pass.
There’s no player trading in NASCAR, only longstanding competitive histories between drivers.
In professional sports, players’ loyalty only runs as deep as their contracts permit. In college sports, there may more loyalty but certainly an expiration date on involvement with a given team.
NASCAR is filled with legends and families that have been involved with racing for generations. Mark Martin, for example, has been driving in the NASCAR Cup races for 20 years. The late great Dale Earnhardt Sr. is survived by his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is one of the most popular drivers in NASCAR.
Play callers aren’t coaches with a resume of experience; they’re crew chiefs, many of whom have Ivy League degrees.
The “sideline play calling” in NASCAR is more of a science in which crews determine the optimum balance between time spent on the car and the amount of gas or number of tires taken at a stop. One miscalculation could blow an entire race.
So if it’s more drama, success, penalties and experience that sparks your interest in a sport, catch a NASCAR race.if you can.
Stacey Arnold may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.