The NASCAR Non-Fan's Racin' Survival Guide
A Partial Change-of-Tune on Auto Racing
Recently, I wrote a hub for this very site detailing my four least favorite sports to catch on television. Chief among my bottom-of-the-barrel list was auto racing in general and NASCAR in particular. Last weekend, I journeyed to the auto racing Mecca that is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the annual NASCAR Brickyard 400, and while I stand by a good deal of what I said in that earlier post, I’ve been munching on some of those spiteful words since the final lap. And those words are tastier than that new Burger King sandwich Tony Stewart’s been hawking for the past few weeks. I was wrong... sort of.
Let me start out by saying that I still believe auto racing is the most ridiculous waste of time television has to offer this side of a Blossom marathon. There’s little else on the tube that can cure insomnia as quickly and effectively as a Sunday race, HD or no, but the stockcar set is more Jekyll and Hyde than perhaps any other sporting event. What is entirely unwatchable at home becomes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, tire-scorching spectacle in person, and it doesn’t let up until the winner crosses the finish line.
I never thought I’d say this willingly, but if you have a chance to attend a NASCAR race, go for it. The ticket prices lean a little too far on the side of ridiculous, but you won’t miss the cash the minute the first engine starts. You need only prepare yourself a little with this racing novice’s brief primer before you make the pilgrimage. Buckle up and read on.
The first surprise you’ll come across as you stroll through the ticket gate of a NASCAR race is the initial sight of the people you’ll be sharing the bleachers with. Don’t be alarmed. You haven’t accidentally wandered onto the set of an adult movie. It just happens that race fans happen to be the most comfortable half-naked humans around. Well, outside of a Girls Gone Wild taping, anyway. You may wonder, as did I, what exactly possesses a person to wake up and decide he or she is leaving the house in little more than sunglasses and a smile, but it won’t take too long to get accustomed to it. The skin show is commonplace and no one cares about the near nudity and unacceptable attire choices, no matter your body type.
And get ready for every type of body you never thought you’d see, or ever wanted to. I saw more shirtless fat men than on any season premiere of The Biggest Loser. Truly, nothing says “NASCAR race” like a beer belly glistening in the Indiana summer sun. The more obese and hairy you are, the better it seems. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. To top off the look, I suggest a ragged old pair of flip flops, some cut off jeans and a Lemmy Kilmister ‘do. You’ll fit right in.
It’s especially worth noting that going shirtless is apparently mandatory for a dude’s first NASCAR outing. My friends were relentless as they beseeched me to remove my newly-purchased Tony Stewart t-shirt. They said it’s all about tradition and that I shouldn’t be ashamed to go as topless as drunk chicks at a Metallica concert. They must have asked me a hundred times to lose the tee before I finally relented. In case you were wondering, yes, this was indeed a new record for such a request. The previous record for someone asking me to take my shirt off was zero, proudly held by everyone else, ever.
After giving in to their entirely heterosexual demands, I made my way back to my seat, feeling exactly how you do when you have that dream where you’ve inexplicably shown up at school in the buff. I was embarrassed, but sat shirtless in the searing sun, showing off my own flab to the hundreds of other not-exactly-underwear-models in our section. Perhaps sensing my hesitance and discomfort, a couple of kind ladies next to me patted me on the shoulder and offered me two pina colada jell-o shots. Now, we were talking.
Drinking and Driving
Possibly the best thing about a NASCAR race is how quickly it turns into a veritable binge drinking seminar. By about the 10th lap, the stands look less like a sporting event and more like the dumpsters outside the Betty Ford Clinic. By the end of the race, our bleachers were filled with more crushed Coors Light cans than John Daly’s hotel room floor. It’s a good thing I happen to really, really like beer.
The ladies who gave me the jell-o shots were merely contributing to my already-screaming-for-help-liver, as my friends and I had spent at least nine of the last 12 hours of our lives downing drinks like we were back in college. We were already drunker than Lindsay Lohan on a Tuesday, and the race wasn’t even halfway finished.
This too, is entirely acceptable behavior at the Brickyard. Feel free to smuggle in all the alcohol you want and quaff the good stuff at your leisure. There’s always the chance some big, hairy guy is going to ralph his whiskey sours all over you, but them’s the breaks, man. Sometimes you have to take the potentially awful with the totally awesome, so don’t get bummed if you happen to be barfed on.
I will say that there’s something liberating and distinctly free-feeling about being shirtless and drunk with thousands of other shirtless and drunk people. For a few moments, my baseless hang-ups about my personal appearance disappeared almost altogether into the hazy ether of that sweltering summer sun. Cheers to that, if nothing else.
Don't Forget the Sunscreen
For those averse to even the slightest beginnings of a hint of a tan (myself included), attending an outside race can be quite a dangerous prospect. We of the pasty complexion had best be packing some sun block of at least SPF six million before taking our seats. Trust me on this one. By the end of the day, I looked like the main course at Red Lobster.
After recuperating for the last couple days and covering myself in Solarcaine, I still look like a melanoma patient. The back of my neck appears as though I fell asleep on a space heater and my ample schnoz is covered in more blisters than a hooker's...well, you know. Sorry about the semi-graphic imagery, but it hurts just typing this.
Take it from me, get yourself to the drug store for some sunscreen long before you hit the track. There’s absolutely no protection from the sun, so unless you fancy a week of cold showers and feeling like you’ve just shaved your chest with a cheese grater, heed my warnings posthaste. You’ll thank me later; hopefully with skin grafts and a box of chocolates.
My final NASCAR tip may not cover everyone who reads this, but a special acknowledgement to the general coolness and understanding of the Indianapolis Police Department is definitely in order. It’s not very often where people whose blood alcohol content approaches a fatal coma can hob-nob with the fuzz. Going on last weekend’s experiences, I would say the difference between a pleasant exchange and a public intoxication arrest is a mutual love for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. The general debauchery we indulged in at the track was met with a hearty laugh in lieu of handcuffs, and for that we were more than grateful.
An outgoing friend of mine made pleasantries with more than a few passersby, a couple of whom were our very own Indiana “boys in blue.” Instead of ordering us to move along or taking us into custody, they stopped their duties long enough to snap a photo of me pretending to be arrested. It was hilarious and capped off a day that would be better remembered had I not partied like it was 1999 for the previous several hours.
I may not recall all that much from the actual race, and the hideous sunburn I received would cause a sane person to think twice before buying bleacher seats, but one thing is certain: I’ll be back next year, ready to wade through the mulleted, drunken, half-naked masses once more.
If that’s not great TV, I don’t know what is.
Posted July 27, 2010