Fall­ing rat­ings show grow­ing dis­in­ter­est

The McGill Daily - - Sports - Sean Sokolov Sports Writer

Mo­tor sports have their ori­gins in France; the first of­fi­cial com­pe­ti­tion be­ing a race from Paris to Rouen. Over the next few decades, mo­tor races boomed in pop­u­lar­ity as ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy al­lowed for faster and more re­spon­sive ve­hi­cles. Land speed records were bro­ken fre­quently in France and Bel­gium, where some of the great­est early ad­vances in au­to­mo­tive in­dus­tries would oc­cur.

To the mod­ern mind, how­ever, there is per­haps no na­tion as associated with the car as the U.S.. Ford (and its pro­duc­tion line) have changed the way the world trav­els, set­tles, and lives.

The birth­place of uniquely Amer­i­can mo­tor sports is in the sands of Day­tona Beach, a pro­vin­cial cor­ner to­wards the north of Florida, with flat sands that stretch on for miles—hard packed, mean­ing you can drive on the beach. It was here that Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for Stock Car Auto Rac­ing (NASCAR) be­gan.

NASCAR, as well as over­seas coun­ter­parts such as For­mula 1, are rad­i­cal in that they have since their very con­cep­tion chal­lenged con­ven­tional no­tions of what sport is. It is an en­gi­neer­ing com­pe­ti­tion as much as it is a sport; each team is in charge of build­ing their own car. Gone is the ath­leti­cism of mus­cle and ten­don—in the au­to­mo­bile, horse­power and re­flex rule all.

In its phi­los­o­phy of steel, gas, progress, and speed, NASCAR seems like a relic of mid­dle cap­i­tal­ist glory, born from the heights of Amer­i­can in­dus­tri­al­ism. It re­lies on the myth of end­less in­no­va­tion—faster, stronger, bet­ter. But does that stand in today’s Amer­ica? NASCAR may have lost some of its shine. The cov­eted 18-35 de­mo­graphic has largely grown up in a world limp­ing from oil crises and eco­nomic re­ces­sions, all with a back­drop of a de­clin­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor, and very real cli­mate con­cerns. As more peo­ple move to cities and rely on pub­lic tran­sit, the au­to­mo­bile may be los­ing its sta­tus as a cor­ner­stone of the Amer­i­can way of life. Per­haps we have out­grown NASCAR, as re­cent view­er­ship fig­ures demon­strate; the rat­ings of NASCAR con­tinue to plum­met at an alarm­ing rate. Its view­er­ship has gone down by 50% since a peak in 2005.

De­spite its cur­rent de­crease in in­ter­est, NASCAR is valu­able in that no other sport has pushed the bound­aries so far, while re­main­ing some­what main­stream. If today’s Amer­ica is los­ing in­ter­est in NASCAR and its prom­ise of progress, what can come next? Will there be a sport so symp­to­matic of a post-in­dus­tri­al­ist, late cap­i­tal­ist coun­try, as NASCAR em­bod­ied the prior era so fully?

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