COUNTERPOINT: Commercial on wheels, not sport

Question: Should NASCAR racing be considered a sport?

There is no doubt that NASCAR is a popular distraction. It’s easily the largest and fastest-growing spectator activity in the country: Nearly 30 million viewers tuned into the Daytona 500 last week, according to Nielsen estimates. With the introduction of the country’s favorite Go-Daddy girl Danica Patrick, NASCAR is poised to take over sports programming.

Unacceptable.

Dictionary definitions of “sport” are often cited in debates such as this, but as varied editions float around offering elucidations as broad or narrow as one desires — and since I wouldn’t expect most NASCAR fans to be very familiar with the dictionary anyway — I offer my definition of sport, developed through a lifetime of battling for the illegitimacy of car racing and other competitions: A competition of speed, strength, stamina or skill dependent on the physical capabilities of the competitors, wherein there is an easily-discernible, non-subjective victor.

Ever heard of a man named Ron Turcotte? Of course you haven’t. But you would probably recognize Secretariat, the horse Turcotte rode and the one of the few to win the coveted Triple Crown.

Like in horse racing, handling a stock car racing obviously requires a great deal of skill and technical knowledge. But also like in horse racing, it’s ultimately the mechanical capabilities of the car that decide who wins and loses. You could have the best driver in the world, but without a decent car he wouldn’t win.

Secretariat is celebrated as one of the greatest thoroughbred racing horses of our time. Turcotte is a trivia question. And so it should be with NASCAR drivers. Jimmie Johnson who? All hail the Lowe’s number 48 car: athlete of the year.

The overriding presence of corporate sponsors also detracts from NASCAR’s validity. From the cars racers drive to the very jumpsuits they wear, fans are inundated with visions of Cheerios, Goodwrench and Dupont whizzing by. NASCAR isn’t a sport; it’s a three-hour commercial on wheels.

Fans of racing will argue that driving a stock car is strenuous and takes a hefty physical toll on drivers, since the cockpit of the cramped autos can reach upwards of 150 degrees and racers often lose up to ten pounds in sweat during a 3-hour race.

Know where else it gets hot? My car, during the summer in Arizona. If back sweat proved athletic prowess, I’d be athlete of the century.

“But Zach,” I can hear the naysayers whine, “NASCAR is on ESPN, the sports network!”

True enough. But ESPN also broadcasts darts, poker, bass fishing, the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the lumberjack games, billiards, cheerleading competitions and the occasional arm-wrestling tournament. Entertaining all, sports none.

Perhaps someday ESPN will pare down its programming to include only true sports. Until then, whenever an analyst starts talking about NASCAR, I’ll continue to quickly change the channel in a refusal to legitimize this ridiculous spectacle— much in the same way I do for women’s basketball. Don’t even get me started on women’s basketball.

To get Zach started on women’s basketball, send him an e-mail at zfowle@asu.edu