Two for the Road is a hangout for mystery writers Tammy Kaehler and Simon Wood to chat, reminisce, gossip, speculate and argue about all things motorsport.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Getting the NASCAR Thing

by Tammy Kaehler

I thought I’d follow up from our conversation last Friday and talk a little about why people like NASCAR. I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest fan, and I certainly prefer other kinds of racing to it. But as our Friday commenter Steve Ufelder (also a racing mystery writer, in two senses of the word!) pointed out, in NASCAR there’s a lot more passing and just as much skill required. The difference is in the vehicles.

People always say, you don’t really get NASCAR until you attend a race in-person. Television doesn’t really convey the magnitude of the story. I have to agree. I went to a race last year in Fontana—a big track, which isn’t my favorite, but it’s nearby—and on the very first lap at speed, I understood.

See, with sportscars and open-wheel cars, there’s a lot of downforce. Those cars are built to find grip on the track and create downforce with wings and inlets and body panels. When you’re watching open-wheel, prototypes, or sportscars race, they look like they’ve got grip all the way up until they’ve broken loose—there’s not much time between the car being stuck to the track in a corner and the car spinning because the wheels no longer grip. The difference with stock cars (NASCAR) is that by the time they’ve broken loose, they’ve been looking like they should break loose for a long, long time.

Put simply: stock cars just shouldn’t be driven that fast or that hard!

That’s what really hit me when I saw a race in person. The full field of 43 cars roared by, hitting close to 200 miles per hour, with less space between them than I’d leave between parked cars, and I thought, “Good grief, there is just NO WAY those cars should be going that fast.” Every one of the 43 cars in the field is probably a fraction of an inch from being out-of-control at all times. Usually for three or four hours over 400-500 miles. In a hot cockpit. With reduced visibility.

The job of every racecar driver is to drive the car at 10/10ths, to take the car to its limits, to the edge of its capabilities—and keep it there, without going over the edge and wrecking. Stock cars are simply bigger, heavier, and more technologically simple than the sportscars I prefer—but I’ll never claim those drivers aren’t every bit as skilled as those in other series. I’m still not sure I get the appeal of watching NASCAR on television, but seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling the race in person is pretty awesome.


  1. The reason why I watch on TV if we're home on the race is because it's fairly predictable on when to watch. Which is also why NASCAR has maxed out its ratings - unless they just let Fox get the whole season (nobody does a better racing broadcast).

    You watch the first 20 laps to see the basic setup for the day.
    Then you have about 90 minutes to do what you want- nap, read a book, write your book.
    Then come in for the last 20-50 laps when most excitement is.

    Finally another reason why NASCAR on TV is no longer very exciting is Jimmy Johnson. He's had success but he's boring. He's never had a point where you wonder "how did he drive the car through there". He's never pissed someone off enough to wreck him. He's never had a car so beat up that you can see the wheels on the side of the doors, 3 laps down and made you think "you know he might just catch up" - something Kyle Bush made me think in April at Texas.

  2. Mark, I totally agree with your time management schedule! I check in at the start and then typically have it on quietly while I do laundry, dishes, cleaning, or whatever around the house. And then I pay attention if I care about who's in contention at the end. Certainly Jimmie's dominance has made it boring, I'll give you that. And I agree Kyle Busch makes it exciting ... I just dislike KB so much that it's hard to wholeheartedly agree with you. :-)

  3. Tell us how you really feel, Tammy. :-)