University sophomore Claire Antelman said she could imagine what her dad would say if someone challenged the status of his favorite sport: “It’s not a sport – it’s a way of life.”
Diehard NASCAR fans like him and 75 million others nationwide are gearing up for this Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, V.A., and the new NASCAR season.
Though 17.8 million people watched the 50th running of the Daytona 500 in February, according to Nielsen Ratings, the sport’s popularity has yet to leave the starting line at the University.
Antelman said she has a few friends and co-workers who like NASCAR, but most others seem uninterested.
“I have joked around about starting a NASCAR club,” Antelman said.
Sports management teaching specialist Eric Brownlee worked at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, where many of his students were NASCAR fans, he said, which contrasts with most of his Minnesota students’ interests.
“I don’t think I’ve had one tell me they’re very interested in NASCAR,” he said.
Brownlee said Minnesotans often pass up NASCAR because it’s hard to experience in person.
“It’s definitely a market that’s untapped,” Brownlee said. “There’s not really a big NASCAR track here.”
But Antelman said she’s been to races at Michigan International and Chicagoland speedways, and plans to go to Daytona in the summer. For her, the races were intense.
“It’s really fast paced,” she said. “You can feel your body shaking because of the incredible power of the cars.”
Brownlee said he noticed a party atmosphere at the race he attended with some of his University of Louisville students.
“It’s not just an event where there’s tailgating before the event,” Brownlee said. “There during the event, while the event’s going. There’s tailgating after. People stay there all night.”
The sport’s drama also drew in University sophomore Teddy Thompson.
“I actually paid attention to the drama between the drivers,” Thompson said. “Once you understand the intricacies, it becomes a lot more interesting than guys just driving around.”
Sports management sophomore Chris Eckes said, however, that his major qualm about classifying NASCAR as a sport is that he thinks it doesn’t take any physical activity.
“You can talk about reflexes all you want,” Eckes said. “But at the end of the day, it’s the abilities of the car that wins.”
But Brownlee said a sport must have rules, competition and physical exertion, and NASCAR has all three.
“To be able to drive one of those cars is not as easy as it looks,” Brownlee said. “It takes split-second reaction time.”
Even NASCAR’s intensity still might not be enough to make fans out of more University students.
“I don’t think anything could make me a NASCAR fan,” Eckes said. “If I want to go watch cars drive, I’ll go stand on the sidewalk.”