Like 98% of you, I don’t follow NASCAR closely. 40 guys who only turn left, driving an American V8, with vehicle styling distinguished by faux headlights and a Ford, Chevy or Toyota sticker… How in the hell do people watch this every weekend?! Don’t get me wrong… I like all cars and can appreciate most racing, but when NASCAR is on TV, you can find me changing the channel. The extent of my NASCAR fandom was more or less from watching Days of Thunder and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby; however, that was all about to change… Last July, Toyota brought me out of my comfort zone of car shows, drift events and time attack battles, and invited me to my first NASCAR weekend in light of the Supra entering the Xfinity Series next year. Here are some notes I jotted down from my experience:
>>All tracks aren’t oval. There are 36 races in the ’18 season, but three of them have right turns and plenty of them: Sonoma Raceway (June) Watkins Glen International (August) and Charlotte Motor Speedway (September). They make up 8% of the races, but rumor has it NASCAR is hoping to add more in 2020 to increase viewership.
>>It’s a high-tech sport. While the heart of NASCAR is still a V8, don’t let that fool you with the technologies they continue to advance such as composite body panels, aero, use of carbon, incredible safety features and more. These cars are far from modified road cars but dedicated race machines with millions of dollars poured into ‘em.
>>Remember cheering for crashes in Formula DRIFT? In NASCAR, the crashes are that much more epic, and are even encouraged. I witnessed quite a few pile ups and even a car barrel rolling in Daytona!
>>NASCAR fans are like English Premier League fans. They’re extremely hardcore, dedicated, know every driver like their mama, and watch every race.
>>It’s a global motorsport. There are NASCAR series in Canada, Mexico and Europe. We’ve even seen some Formula One and Indy drivers make the switch. It was also cool to hear the story of Daniel Suarez who is one of today’s top 40 drivers in the Cup Series. He was born and raised in Mexico, but worked his way up to the top here in the States.
>>It’s f*cking fast! I had the opportunity to ride shotgun with Martin Truex Jr. who is the reigning 2017 champ. The sensation of speed, feeling the forces of the car, and hitting the banking hard without lifting, it felt like I was being launched into space! Now, imagine 39 other cars going at the same 160-200mph speeds, inches apart from each other… It’s a scary thought, and definitely made me appreciate the sport a lot more.
So, after my weekend with Toyota at the Coke Zero Sugar 400, I’ve learned not to bash NASCAR as much. It took me coming out of my bubble, but once that happened, I understood why millions of fans can find enjoyment watching it. Perhaps having the Supra badge competing next year won’t be so bad after all…