Brush up on NASCAR knowledge


I've never been to a NASCAR race, but I do know who Dale Earnhardt Jr. is.

And I don't know what restrictor plates, wedge or "boogity, boogity, boogity" mean. But, I'm learning.

All the girls from the office decided to get together with the guys to have a "NASCAR weekend" and to swap knowledge on one of the country's hottest auto-racing series.

I've never heard a room full of silent women in all my life. We knew absolutely zilch.

For other clueless readers out there hoping for a crash course in NASCAR (pardon the pun), I can tell you that there are several NASCAR series: The top one is called Sprint Cup, which airs on Sunday afternoons.

So, here are a few observations that might help you better understand what's going on:

1) Forty-some drivers race each other nearly every weekend of the year, from one end of the United States to the other. In between, they have to make TV appearances, sign autographs, get to the track, practice and have enough wits about them to steer their cars for up to 600 miles, wheel to wheel at 190 mph. Who said race drivers had it easy? Sounds like a lot of hard work to me. Not to mention the people behind the scenes who have to prepare the cars and get them from one event to the next in only a scant few days.

2) This I don't get. They're traditionally called "stock cars" because they were once based on cars you bought from your local dealer. But I can't say that I've ever test driven an 800-horsepower Ford, Dodge or Chevy with stickers for headlights and no working doors. Really, these "stock" cars have no air bags, no windshield wipers, no side windows and can't run in the rain. It's an interesting evolution.

3a) It's actually possible to change four tires and fill up a gas tank in only 14 seconds, but it takes an army of color-coordinated guys wearing helmets to do it.

3b) Hmmmmm, while the drivers sit within a metal cocoon of protection, the color-coordinated guys who change the tires and fill up the gas have to dodge, on foot, 40 or more fast-moving cars all looking for the same thing: a full tank of gas and four tires in 14 seconds or less. How all 200-plus guys "over the wall" survive an entire race is a miracle in and of itself.

4) Tires cost about $400 each and last a paltry 50-120 miles or so, depending on the track (shorter tracks with more corners per mile are the worst). One "team" brought 16 sets for just one car and actually expected to use them all. That's $25,000 worth of rubber. I don't know about you, but I'd be seeing the local dealer about a) tread life, b) a volume discount and c) actually putting tread on the tires, because there isn't any. There are no whitewalls or hubcaps, either.

5) There's a surprising amount of strategy for something that seems so, well, straightforward: Drive in circles for three hours. It's a perverse oversimplification that, unfortunately, is the opinion of a lot of viewers who just don't get what the fuss is all about. Did I mention that the cars race wheel to wheel at 190 mph?

6) It takes millions of dollars for one driver to race a full season and the prize money, although seemingly generous, just won't get you too far, unless you win a LOT of races. To pay your way, it takes many, many, many stickers plastered on the cars and drivers. That's called sponsorship.

7) Three distinct automakers are represented in NASCAR. Ironically, it appears that the too-nosey-for-my-liking rule makers spend a huge amount of energy and money making sure the cars actually perform exactly the same. This begs the question: Why bother having different brands? Or different engines?

8) NASCAR races are a lot like other sporting events, where you can catch the first half hour and the last half hour and still know enough to be impressive around the water cooler on Monday morning.

9) One of the governing body's functions is to look out for the safety of the drivers, so it mandates the use of something called the restrictor plate, a device used to slow down the cars, for safety sake, at faster tracks. Ironically, restrictor plates are widely blamed for bunching up the traffic and causing catastrophic wrecks that can take out a dozen cars at a time. As one driver put it, "It's not a question of if, just a matter of when."

10) NASCAR is full of mystery and intrigue. As some racing teams say, it's their job to cheat and big brother's job to catch them. However, if you get caught, life gets really miserable and even more expensive. Let's say your car is riding just ¼ of an inch too low to the ground at the end of the race. Not only do you lose (after driving the wheels off for three hours), you actually pay a fine. Could that be one of the reasons a ticket for a really good seat can cost $150 or more?

Consider the value in this: TV offers great commentary (thanks to replays), really interesting perspective (thanks to a guy named Darrell Waltrip who likes to say "boogity, boogity, boogity" at the beginning of every race), incredible in-car footage and behind-the-scenes action. And it's almost free.

Sounds like a deal to me, and a good, cheap reason to stay home with your guy on Sunday and get involved in the weekly soap opera called NASCAR. See you on Sunday.

Rhonda Wheeler is a journalist with Wheelbase Media, a worldwide supplier of automotive news, features and reviews. You can e-mail her by logging on to www.wheelbase.ws/media and clicking the contact link.

 

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