Ron’s a Nascar fan. I am not.
Okay, that’s a bit too black-and-white. Ron likes the racing, because he appreciates the skill it takes. (For those who say, “All they do is turn left for 500 miles,” I used to think the same thing, but a couple of spins around the Nürburgring disabused me of the notion that driving a race car isn’t an athletic activity. As for the turning left part, they do it in extremely close quarters at ludicrous speeds, so their spatial awareness and reaction times have to be excellent, all while fighting a car that’s got a mind of its own. Too right those drivers are athletes.)
Meanwhile, I’ve been in the living room reading while enough races were on the TV that a fair bit of what’s going on has impinged on my consciousness – enough that I understand the basics of the sport, watch the crashes and pit stops, and have a favourite driver (Martin Truex Jr.) – but not enough that I’d ever sit down to watch a full race.
Although if Truex is contesting for the win, I’ve been known to get pretty exuberant for the last few laps. ‘Cause shouting at the TV helps, right?
What neither of us likes is the brand-namin’, warmongerin’, military-worshipin’, martyrbatin’, God-fearin’, Bible-thumpin’, ‘Murican redneckery that goes along with the sport.
So when the Nascar season restarted after weeks of being dark due to the pandemic, I didn’t expect much. A big chunk of its fan base is made up of the idiots who have been protesting lockdown measures, so I expected the stands to be full.
I was wrong.
Not only are the stands empty, team members and broadcasters are wearing masks and (mostly) social distancing, and interviews are either conducted remotely or with a tech holding a microphone on the end of a long pole for the drivers to make their replies instead of sharing a mic with the interviewer. The invocation and national anthem are also remote, and the commentators either maintain a solid six-foot distance, or are in completely separate studios.
Is it perfect? Fuck no. I’ve spotted more than one team member with their mask not covering their nose, and I just know social distance isn’t being maintained on the pit box or by the crews before they don their helmets and go over the wall. Plus there’ve been a fair number of elbow bumps in evidence – better than a high-five, sure, but still problematic.
But it’s way more than I would have expected. Which was probably a little unfair of me.
See, some years back, the pastor giving the pre-race invocation started off by saying, “For those of you that are not praying people, please take this opportunity for reflection and meditation,” and I almost fell out of my seat. I expected him to be booed, but the crowd didn’t even react. I was so impressed I tracked down both the pastor and the National Guard … division? chapter? unit? (I have no idea how that works) … to which he belonged, and messaged them to say thanks. The replies I got were were appreciative and inclusive, and before that race, if you’d asked me if it was a conversation I’d ever have, my response would’ve been an overwhelming, “Hell no!”
Here’s the thing: whether we like it or not, sports figures have a huge amount of influence, and Nascar fans are of a particularly rabid variety. Given that the races take place in a different state each week, this sport has a long reach. And at the moment, even though it’s hardly perfect, they’re at least trying to use it to do the right thing.