NASCAR is not a sport

The beauty of NASCAR is that the fans put in more physical activity than the “athletes.”

Gentlemen, start your engines! Ah yes, the calisthenics of professional auto racing.

The movie “3” debuted Saturday on ESPN, profiling the life of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt. It is unfortunate that the network has chosen to show its own movie while Saturday night presents some great matchups in both pro and college basketball.

What a glorious sport, with all of the excitement of cars going around, and around, and around, and Ö around. The beauty of NASCAR racing is that the fans put in more physical activity than the “athletes.”

Have I forgotten that NASCAR racing is the United States’ favorite sport? No. Unfortunately, racing fans, your beloved NASCAR is not a sport. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines a sport as “a source of diversion; physical activity engaged in for pleasure.” This definition is too broad to be applied to the modern sports world. Under this definition, the world of sports would span every activity from football to footsie (fall 2012 on ESPN 8: “The Ocho.”)

An online dictionary provides the better definition of “an active diversion requiring physical exertion and competition.” NASCAR, without a doubt, is competitive but requires more of a mental than physical exertion. Drivers only need to be in good enough physical condition to fit in a car and not have a heart attack behind the wheel. Anyone can drive a car around a track for a couple hundred laps.

Yes, they drive at very high speeds, but it isn’t that impressive. It’s like highway driving. You get out on the road and start cruising at 60, 70 or 80 mph, and it just feels normal and comfortable – the “highway hypnosis” factor. All the drivers do is put the car in gear, push the pedal, steer and collect a check. It all comes down to money and last names.

The Petty, Waltrip, Labonte and Earnhardt families have been able to produce multiple NASCAR drivers. The reason isn’t that they have racing in the genes or they have the innate ability to drive a car better than 99 percent of the world’s population. It all comes down to money and who has the dough to fund a racing team.

NASCAR is a private club run by rich men. Corporate sponsors are tagged all over cars, racetracks and even the drivers. Even the title they play for is a corporate sponsor. What used to be the Winton Cup is now the Nextel Cup. NASCAR is so corporately driven, it couldn’t even put its foot down and name its championship after one of its legends. The races are just one big cocktail party for the moneymakers, and the drivers are just hurrying back to join the fun.

As for ESPN, the days of televising everything that sweats are over. NASCAR is a pretty far reach into the sports world. It is time for a move toward depth over breadth in coverage. With satellite and digital cable, the Speed channel is available to serve the needs of gear-heads and race-loving rednecks everywhere. Or ESPN could just debut ESPN South (also serving Wisconsin).

Next week’s debate: Better mullets – hockey players, NASCAR fans or the Canadian government?

Mike Durkin welcomes comments at [email protected]