Auto racing -- I don't get it

I suppose having been born in Indiana and grown up in Georgia, this post is going to qualify as blasphemy, but…

I do not get the appeal of auto racing. I suppose if you’re a driver, that can be quite a thrill. And if you’re an automtive engineer or mechanic who gets to work on these things and be involved with the latest developments in automtive technology, that can be pretty exciting. What I really don’t understand is the appeal of spectating. It’s just a bunch of cars driving around and around on an oval track. Unless there’s a crash or something, you’re just sitting there watching the same thing over and over again saying, “Ooh, fast car go in circle.” Yet I know of a lot of people who are really into it. Can someone explain this to me?

Sure. They watch hoping for a crash.

My dad used to be a pit photographer and now he announces stock car racing for a track in upstate New York. My life is filled with memories of being dragged out to the track to watch the races. The best I can tell you is that it’s kind of like any sport, where the more you watch it, the more you learn about each racer, the more exciting it gets.

My dad usually has us quiz him about racers to prepare for a race and he’ll have all kinds of trivia at his fingertips, their wife’s name, their nickname, their favorite band…when you get to know them personally and know the rivalries of racing teams and all that…it gets intriguing.

I’m not saying I love auto racing, but coming from a family where it’s a big deal, I can see how others DO.


Let me see if I can try… It’s kinda hard for me to put into words…

It’s not just a matter of “fast cars going around in circles” There is ALWAYS something going on on the track, whether it be passing at the back of the pack, passing at the front, or, even more exciting, a car going out of control or causing an accident (though, there is always the prayer that no one ends up hurt with this one) And because of the cars going at the speeds they are, watching the passing is often a “heart in the throat” moment… Imagine trying to steer that beast, moving sometimes at upwards of 200 mph, around another car doing the same speed and trying their damnedest to keep you from getting by them. Not like passing grandma on I-75, that’s for sure! And when you have a driver that you like (Go Tony Stewart! :D) that just adds a more personal element to the whole event. Because then you have someone out there that you’re rooting for, someone that you’re hoping you can pull to victory on your will alone.

I’m not saying that every race is exciting from start to finish. There are many that I’ve gotten up and gone on the computer rather than watch because they’ve gotten so BORING (mostly due to regulations that NASCAR, as a sanctioning body, have put on the cars, IMO) But when you’ve got a good race - lots of passing, lots of lead changes, lots of action in the back of the pack - it’s more the potential of what danger might be that keeps me glued to my chair (or screaming in the stands on the rare occassion that I can be at the track) than anything else. And the respect for the guys racing those machines - because I know it’s something I could never do.

Probably not much of a help, but I tried! :slight_smile:


Ah, here’s the problem. My senses have been dulled by my experiences on the 101.

I’m not a big fan of NASCAR and racing cars around oval tracks. It seems like they put the car into overdrive and floor it for 300 to 500 miles.

Now Grand Prix racing is something to watch. It’s a sight to see and hear a Formula car going from highest to lowest gear in a few short seconds while breaking from over 150mph to 25mph to negotiate a hairpin turn only to accelerate back into triple digits all inside of 15 seconds.

But to me, ralley car racing is really it. It’s more of driver and navigator against the road and the clock. The cars look much more like those you see on the roads every day (they are not!) so it’s easier to relate to them. Also the skill level required to keep those things painted side up is pretty high.

kind of a hijack here…but when I was four or five, my dad would take me to Raceway Park on the Southside of Chicago every once in a while and he would take Pit photographs. I would sit with him and he’d have me pick the winner before the race even started. Three races in a row (over the course of a year or so): I picked two guys that were killed on the track and the third was taken off in an ambulance.

The next time when I went with my dad he said, “Maybe you shouldn’t pick the winners any more”


I know when I’m bored during racing season, I will watch the first 15 laps and the last 15 laps just to watch the crashes. I don’t think this is sick, because I would never race cars. Everyone knows there is going to be a crash.

I also know the die-hards are crazy. I live a half hour from Daytona Beach. I cannot drive on the local interstate because of the “race week” traffic. I also know that my brother-in-law is paying 150.00 a ticket per day to watch these races. This is what he is paying, yet complains because his wife buys his daughters too many shoes!!!

I have always looked upon this sport as a redneck sport. the same thing as mud-bogging, and “shootin’ critters.”

I once heard a comedian saying it was just a bunch of hicks turning left. yes, I find that amusing.

I find it rather ignorant of you to try to distill all of auto racing down to cars driving in circles. With logic like that, I could say that I don’t understand football; I don’t get two teams running up and down a field, or that I don’t see a point to basketball; it’s just a bunch of guys trying to put a ball in the hoop, or that all sports involving running (hurdles, cross-country, sprints, marathons, ect…) hold all the same qualities. It is just a tad bit of an oversimplification.

I believe the auto racing you are referring to would be NASCAR, the historically southern auto racing series with races mostly on oval tracks. Granted, this type of racing can be a little tedious to watch, but there is far more to it than “fast cars going in circles.”

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of NASCAR, but I do enjoy many other series of racing, from Formula 1 to various forms of SCCA and sportscar racing. Each offers something different as far as types of cars, tracks, competition, and highly skilled drivers. A lot of these NASCAR drivers aren’t your run-of-the-mill redneck, trailer trash, rusted camaro driving, inbred, hicks. They actually are a lot more skilled than they might appear at first glance; many of them compete in others forms of racing other then NASCAR. I can see how the uninitiated might not understand or enjoy racing. I guess it’s just not your cup of tea.

I once saw a comedian perfectly (IMO) explain why people watch auto-racing: “Why do people watch auto racing? Because they dream of seeing what they wish they could see on the highway. They want to see the guy who passes everyone crash.”


Ah, the Cruel Sport. Used to be a fan except my heroes kept getting killed (shades of jarbabyj). Saw a Hemingway quote in an article about safety in motorsports the other day, “There are only three true sports: bullfighting, mountain climbing, and automobile racing. The rest are just games.”

<slight hijack>

Which drivers, dropzone? I know there have been quite a few in the last 10-15 years… I’ve been lucky. None of my boys have been seriously hurt in an accident. But I pray every night for the ones we have lost. (JD, Alan, Davy, Neil, Adam and Kenny, to name a few. They’re driving the big track at the best race of 'em all now… and watching over all the drivers and fans to any extent that they can now.)

I’m a jinx of a different kind… at least, I was through the 90’s… any driver I rooted for either crashed or blew an engine or SOMETHING else to take them out of the race. I got to be the family joke. “Hey, it looks like Gordon’s doing good. TruePisces, root for him! Get him out of the race!” My luck changed when I started rooting for Tony Stewart! I knew I just had to find the right guy… :smiley:

We now take you back to your regularly scheduled thread.

</slight hijack>

What QuickSilver said: Formula One is inherently different from Oval Track racing. Although, to the credit of the Americans, the new Indianapolis F1 Track (which partially uses the Brickyard Oval) provided a helluva race last year. A good addition to the calender, and I think the spectators loved it as well, despite being generally apprehensive about F1, what with CART being popular and all.

I’m a fan of auto racing for reasons I cannot define. Part of me simply thrills at the words “Gentlemen, start your engines”; resonates with the pounding of the motors; soars with the speed. I love to watch the drivers battle for position, but every crash scares the heck out of me; I’m always afraid somebody’ll get hurt or killed, even though I know that’s a risk you take. Heck, I’d sign up to race, no problem, I can accept danger to myself, but I don’t like having to accept danger to people I like… and so I barely sit down at all when I’m watching my uncle or cousins drive.

I watch NASCAR and CART, as well as DIRT, btw. And the occasional enduro. And I get over to Lime Rock Park road course in Connecticut when I can.

When it comes to professional racing, there are two possible outcomes for me liking a driver.

  1. If his talent is obvious to everyone, he either starts to suck immediately or gets killed.
  2. If his talent is NOT obvious to anyone but me, he eventually becomes popular and everybody assumes I’m a bandwagoner. A few months later, he fades back into obscurity.

A quick few that come to mind:
Jimmy Clark
Jochen Rindt
Jerry Titus
Jo Bonnier
Ken Miles
Bruce McLaren
Mark Donohue
Swede Savage
Piers Courage (great names, huh?)
I could go on; it was a depressing hobby back then.

How about the MOST powerful side by side competition: DRAG RACING. Over the top class runs well over 300 MPH using about 5,000 HP!!! Yeah, I know, just a straight track, but it is also the shortest track.

There is something about making something work, soo hard, at the edge, everything has to be just right for the run to be satisfiying. This is more for the builder/driver though - but at the drags even the spectators can feel the action

Well, I think you have to know something about racing to enjoy it. As tfnb so aptly pointed out, without the details, any sport can be distilled into a meaningless, boring description.

There are so many variables in racing–every choice (in how you set up the car, in when you pit, in what you do during the pit stop) involves tradeoffs. Nearly every choice a crew or driver makes to gain in one aspect of the race will cost in others. Other decisions mean taking a chance–a chance that there will be a yellow flag within the next XX laps. Or that there won’t be. On and on. Weather, temperature, track surfaces, competitors, banking on the turns–these things differ for every race, and going as fast as these cars do, as sensitive as the cars are set up to be–it all matters. A lot.

I used to think it was a stupid redneck sport, too. But I was traveling a lot in North Carolina, on Sundays, in a car with no tape deck or CD player. Sometimes, the race broadcast was the only thing to pass the time. I got to know more of this stuff, and found myself fascinated. I’m not such a big fan now, but I participate in a Fantasy Nascar league with a bunch of other PhD students. At first they all smirked and snorted, but they’re into it now. To a scary degree.

In addition to F1 and rally, you guys forgot to mention the Le Mans Series. There’s something strangely satisfying watching prototypes AND “regular” cars race on the same track for just hours on end. The 24 hour deals are pretty interesting as well, I think there’s a hidden beauty in seeing a car making a hairpin turn, brakes glowing red hot in contrast to the dark night or a dusk/dawn backdrop.

Not a huge fan of races on the oval tracks though I don’t mind it per se. I think European races are just a little more appealing because those usually run on racetracks w/ left and right turns. No major banked turns so its just that much hander on the drivers. Speed is naturally lower but I think the turns make up for it.

I’ve been to a CART and an ARCA race at Michigan Speedway (a huge-assed oval) and it was pretty cool. I’d like to check out a NASCAR race sometime (Maybe this year, finally? A friend is supposed to have a ticket for me).

Admittedly, the sport loses something in the transfer from live to television. When you’re there, you’re kind of blown away by the whole event: 100,000-plus people; all the people camping out, the grilling, the swilling.

As for the race itself, on TV you miss out on the roar of the engines, and being able to see most of everything going on, all over the track, at once. And you can never fully understand just how fast these guys are going until you are actually there.

All of that said:



I hate the races where it’s all drafting, no passing. Restrictor plates, IMO, tend to contribute to this, because they bunch everyone together. So it ends up being a big line of cars drafting. (Do you remember just how numbingly boring and how few passes there were at Daytona last year? I certainly hope it’s better this Sunday.)

My friends (who are much more into auto racing than I am) are big F1, CART and Indy car fans. For some reason, I tend to like that less. Probably because you can only see a small part of the track, and there doesn’t seem to be too much passing. My friends consider me a philistine for liking NASCAR better.