All right, five bucks says you can't name the four major professional sports venues in Nashville.
The Coliseum? OK, that's one. The Gaylord Entertainment Center? Uh-huh. Those are the gimmies. You got two more.
Greer Stadium? Yep, even though it's a stretch. Keep going.
Try the Nashville Superspeedway.
OK, so it's not technically in Nashville (it's in Wilson County), butlet's be honestthat's not why you didn't think of it. You didn't think of it because, face it, you're prejudiced. That's right. Biased. Intolerant. Narrow-minded.
You, my friend, are a sports bigot.
It's OK, really. You weren't born that way. It was probably the influence of your family. It usually is. Maybe it was your Uncle Joe, the one from New York City or some Yankified place like that where they think they know everything and don't have any use for people different from themselves. "NASCAR isn't a sport," he may have told you once. "That's just driving."
Or maybe it's old-fashioned peer pressure. That's a big culprit too. Your friends think NASCAR is nothing more than prolefeed for the great unwashed masses, the kinds of folks who have never heard of National Public Radio and listen to that Toby Keith guy sing about putting boots up people's asses. The kinds of people who drive pickup trucks and think George Bush is an all right fella. You know, not your friends' kind of people. You go along with your friends, of course, because when it comes to matters of culture and taste, your friends know best.
Or maybe it really is just you.
Whatever the reason, this summer you can really and truly expand your mind, get out of your comfort zone, celebrate diversity or whatever the latest feel-good bumper sticker slogan is in a way you've never imagined: Get out to the Nashville Superspeedway and check out some stock car racing.
On Saturday, June 12, NASCAR will be returning to the Nashville Superspeedway with the Federated Auto Parts 300, a night race, a nice twist that only adds to the fun. A ticket'll run you anywhere from $32 to $125, which may seem a little steep, but you get a lot of bang for your buck.
From start to finish, there's a never-ending buzz at a NASCAR racethe speed, the noise, the actionthat you won't find in any other pro sports venue. Not in football, where the countless television time-outs poison every game with chronic momentumus interruptus. Not in basketball, which has become little more than a glorified slam-dunk contest broken up only by bouts of piss-poor foul shooting. And certainly not in baseball, where the biggest thrill is speculating about which players are hopped up on steroids and which ones wish they were.
Hockey games come close, but they too wax and wane. A volley of dead-bang shots to the net will be followed by minutes of watching the puck go up and down the ice and back again with little effect on the final outcome.
Intellectually, you wouldn't think that watching cars whiz around a circle over and over and over again would be very exciting. You've probably had no problem surfing right past a race on television, a medium that just can't do the sport justice. But go to a race, where the action comes right at you and then zooms right past you before you can blink an eye (only to do it again in a matter of seconds), and you get sucked in before you even realize it. Try as you might to avoid it, you're hooked, because it just doesn't let up. The speed, the noise, the energyit's a major rush.
True, NASCAR has the dreaded "yellow flag," but even when a race is under caution, there's still a lot to see because the race continues. Should the leader make a needed pit stop and risk his lead? Should someone further back skip the pits to move up in the standings but chance running out of gas on the final lap? Should the pit stop be limited to just two new tires (saving valuable time) or should the driver bite the bullet and take all four (for better performance)? The strategy is endless. Auto racing is the only sport where intermissions aren't intermissions at all.
You also don't have to really know anything about it to enjoy yourself. There's pretty much only one rule to know and you already know it: The driver who crosses the finish line first wins. Everything that happens in a race has something to do with that. The driver in first place is trying to stay there while the other drivers are trying to replace him. It's like the playground game King of the Mountainbut with million-dollar automobiles sponsored by giant corporations.
Speaking of which, if the in-your-face corporatization of NASCAR puts you off, that's understandable. It can be a little much. The best thing to do is ignore it, the same way you ignore Name-of-Giant-Supermarket-Chain Sacks at Titans' games and the Name-of-Major-Financial-Institution Save of the Game during Predators' broadcasts. Besides, whatever sensibilities you might have about the corporate presence should be assuaged by the fact that the Nashville Superspeedway, unlike some other local sports venues we could name (hint: the first two you thought of), was built with private money only. Corporate money, sure, but not your money. That's good for something, right?
No? Well, how about this: Go to a race to strike a blow for gender equity. Seriously. For all the talk and hype about women's sports, the fact is that the best women's basketball player in the world will never be better than the best men's basketball player. The same goes for the best women's tennis player, the best women's golf player, the fastest women's runner, and so on, because success in those sports is determined primarily by physical athleticism, a trait that men have in superiority to women. (And, might I add for the benefit of those of you ready to write a scathing letter to the editor about what a chauvinist I am, it's pretty much the only such trait.)
Auto racing, though, is different. Physical athleticismwhile a requirementis not the heart of the matter. It's the car, the pit strategy, the proficiency of the crew and the skill of the driver that determine success. That makes it a level playing field, gender-wise, which makes auto racing the most likely venue for a woman to eventually triumph in a traditionally male-dominated sport. The number of women drivers in auto racing is still small, but it's growing. Become a race fan now, and you'll be on the ground floor of history.
So what do you think? Are you game? Ready to get a little culture? Want to see why NASCAR has become the No. 1 spectator sport in America? If it helps, just consider it a way to broaden your personal horizons. You may be surprised at how much you like it. Who knows, maybe you'll find a driver you're particularly fond of and you'll stick a decal of his number on your car's rear window. Maybe you'll go the extra mile and add a decal of Calvin peeing on a rival's number. Or not. You've got a reputation to uphold, after all. Just head to the race and see how things go from there.
Oh, and take some earplugs with you. It's loud. Really, really loud.
The Federated Auto Parts 300 isn't the only race on the Nashville Superspeedway schedule this summer. The speedway will also host the Firestone Indy 200 race on July 17 (tickets run $47 to $125) and the Toyota Tundra 200 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race on Aug. 14 ($30-$110).
To get there, take I-40 East to exit 235 (state Route 840), then go 10 miles to exit 65. Turn left at the top of the exit.
Call (866) RACE-TIX for details on all of these events or go to www.nashvillesuperspeedway.com.
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