In the last several decades, NASCAR has risen from just a “racing forum” to one of the biggest sports in the United States. It’s a billion-dollar company packed with racers who have become celebrities and who can pack tens of thousands of fans into huge stadiums and draw nice ratings for their races. Whether it’s a small race in Chicago or one of the major Cup battles at Daytona, NASCAR attracts fans from all walks of life. Whether someone is a serious car buff or just enjoys the spectacle, NASCAR has become a mainstay of US culture. From video games to movies, its influence is huge and it still attracts scores of followers.
Like any sport, there’s a lot about NASCAR that may confuse non-fans. Too often, it’s dismissed as “just driving” when there’s a lot more to it than that. There’s also how the fanbase is talked of in very cliche ways. It’s not helped by how the movies love to popularize the idea that only “redneck hicks” love to watch it when the sport even has its own network.
Then there are the misconceptions of how tough it can be and whether or not it even counts as a sport. Even Formula 1 fans have some wrong ideas about how NASCAR really works and the myths continue to abound and are mistaken as fact. Here are 20 NASCAR myths fans know are not true.
20 It’s Going Out of Business
Much has been written on how NASCAR is on the decline lately. Attendance is down and ratings are sinking as the last Daytona 500 drew a 5.1 rating by Nielsen, its lowest rating ever. Read most any racing blog and talk of “NASCAR is sinking” is constant. Of course, other sports have been hit much the same and it’s hardly the first time NASCAR has had such issues. While ratings have slid, they still remain strong, with millions tuning in to the major races. The loyal fan base is still there and there’s even been a bump in merchandising. Also, NASCAR is embracing new rules and fresher talent—as well as a boost in popularity overseas. The sheer number of sponsors alone shows that NASCAR can still go strong for a while.
19 The Fastest Car Wins
A major misconception of any racing format is that the fastest car always wins. Ask anyone in NASCAR and they’ll agree that it doesn’t matter if you have the greatest speed machine ever created, it does no good if the person behind the wheel can’t handle it right. The guys who end up in the winner's circle are rarely the guys whose cars had the best horsepower stats. They’re the ones who were smart in staying behind the pack to increase drag time, who can pinpoint the exact moment to make a key pass and move and take advantage of another driver’s mistakes. There’s a slew of strategy involved in NASCAR as the pack of cars means that the fastest car rarely ends up the winner.
18 The Winners Get the Biggest Purse
This myth is understandable because it seems purely logical. It should be a natural belief that the winner of a race ends up with the biggest prize. They get the trophy, the champagne bath, and bragging rights and thus, one would expect them to have the biggest purse. Instead, often, the guy in second or even fifth place ends up earning far more money for a race than the guy who crossed the finish line first. The keys are the sponsorship deals and the celebrity status of the driver. For example, Jeff Gordon would earn more than Kurt Busch due to how much bigger of a star he is. Most of the time, a racer can count on a bigger trophy but not a bigger check than the guys he beat.
17 Safety Measures Mean Fewer Accidents
The safety issues of drivers have long been a major issue with NASCAR. The tragic loss of Dale Earnhardt in 2001 pushed the organization to adopt new safety rules and measures. These include the HANS device for better head protection and more durable sidewalls. Non-NASCAR fans would assume this cuts down on the number of accidents. Instead, according to Deadspin, while safety has gone up, reckless driving has actually increased. There are still some bad accidents and it appears drivers think the new measures mean they can be more daring. NASCAR still emphasizes safety but the idea that accidents have lowered thanks to the measures just isn’t true.
16 Cheating is Commonplace
Let’s be frank: there is cheating in NASCAR. Saying there isn’t is like saying there’s no cheating in any sport, which is totally ridiculous. There have been cases of drivers using illegal engines or tires to get an advantage and more than a few questionable moves pulled on a track. However, it’s nowhere near as common as non-fans believe it is. NASCAR has doubled down on rules and regulations that force teams to have cars sculpted from the same mold to ensure everyone is on an even field. They’re also far harsher in terms of penalties for cheating, with massive fines and docked points that convince drivers it’s not worth the risk. A few guys may try things but cheating is now an exception in NASCAR instead of a rule.
15 It’s Hard to Join
Many sports have some serious rules on who can join and drafting is the best way for a guy to get in. NASCAR doesn’t have that and it seems like they must have some major rules for a guy to join. Instead, it’s downright easy. First, a driver has to get a reputation on the junior circuit with some wins. They can then apply for the Touring series which can lead to bigger jumps to the main roster. The biggest issue is finding the right sponsors for the car and the connections to break out. Obviously, being a great driver is always going to be the make or break for a career and yet getting a foot into the door in the sport isn’t as difficult as some think.
14 Swearing Is Constant
Even a normal driver on a normal street is prone to road rage. A calm person can erupt into major cursing just by being cut off. It’s natural to assume that in NASCAR, with cars going 200 miles an hour and the competition tight, drivers must curse up a storm in a race. The truth is that NASCAR specifically prohibits that and will even fine guys for any serious swearing. The reason is that often drivers will be heard on their mikes by the viewers thanks to NASCAR’s various broadcasts. The last thing NASCAR wants is something breaching FCC rules in a race and getting them in trouble. Thus, no matter how wild a race is, a driver has to ensure their mouths are clean.
13 It Was Better in “The Old Days”
If NASCAR has anything in common with other sports, it’s a fanbase that likes to complain a lot. Veteran fans will complain that the sport is too commercialized today and lacks the charm it once possessed. To hear them tell it, NASCAR was ruined by becoming such a huge industry. However, the “old days” can seem rather boring to newer fans. The classic races were dominated too much by the same guys with such things as a race won by 14 laps. Today, it’s hard to see a race won by more than one lap and the wins are far more spread out to make it more exciting. The fact is, today’s NASCAR does provide better thrills than the “old days” did.
12 The Same Car is Always Used
A typical NASCAR machine gets more of a workout in a single day than most cars do in an entire year. That is a lot of wear and tear and yet somehow, non-fans think that racers use the exact same car for every race. The reality is that the biggest stars have a few copies of the same model ready to go for each event. A few of the rookies may use the same car more often but they get overhauled between races so that they're almost like something brand new. NASCAR racers have been careful not to get too involved in their cars and it’s rare a single vehicle is used in every race in a season but rather versions that look alike.
11 It’s No Different Than F1
Oh boy, does this one drive NASCAR racers and fans nuts. Somehow, the idea has grown that all racing organizations are the same and that there is no difference between the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500. Any racer can tell you there is, in fact, a world of difference between a NASCAR ride and an F1 vehicle. The dynamics of the cars are completely different as NASCAR machines are bigger and require a totally new way of driving. The rules are also not alike and the tracks for NASCAR can be a lot longer. That’s without mentioning the rivalry between the two organizations. Claiming that NASCAR and F1 are just the same is a sure way to prove one is not a real racing fan.
10 They Penalize For Off-Track Issues
Sadly, this is one myth some might prefer to be true. In other sports, such as football or baseball, if an athlete was to be apprehended by the law, it’s a major issue. It would, no doubt, lead to suspension or, at best, being benched for a bit. Logically, one would assume that a NASCAR driver got a vehicular infraction, they wouldn’t be let behind the wheel of a car for a long time. Instead, NASCAR has no real rules to penalize drivers for off-track issues. Scott Wimmer lost his driver’s license in 2004 but was allowed to compete in the Daytona 500 like nothing happened. Contrary to opinion, NASCAR doesn’t seem to care if a driver has a run-in with the law.
9 You Don’t Have to be In Good Shape to Do It
It’s easy to dismiss what NASCAR stars do as just driving cars and the idea that “anyone can do that” is quite prevalent. More than one TV host has gotten behind the wheel of a NASCAR machine and quickly discovered how hard it is handling such a monster. Dehydration is a constant as there are no drink breaks when you’re going hard in a race. There’s also how common it is for drivers to literally sweat off a few pounds in a race. Throw in that they’re handling massive G-forces in cars that can reach 100 degrees in temperature and it proves that being in shape is a must for NASCAR. Indeed, one can see drivers hitting the gym as much as football players to remain in top form.
8 It Ruins the Environment
Given that the entire sport revolves around racing dozens of cars for hours on end, it’s all too easy to slam NASCAR as one of the most environmentally unfriendly organizations on the planet. True, they burn thousands of gallons of fuel and countless tires worth of rubber for every race. However, it’s been proven that the Daytona 500 creates a much smaller carbon footprint than the Super Bowl or World Cup events. NASCAR has also begun the Green Project which recycles cans, tires, and oil every year. Stadiums have begun embracing solar power and several teams are also recycling up to 95 percent of their cars. The truth is that NASCAR is far more pro-environment than a lot of sports out there.
7 It’s Cheap
Here’s another wild misconception about NASCAR: the idea still holds that it’s somehow less expensive than other sports. Now, it is possible to get reasonable-priced tickets for some of the smaller races in far areas like Chicago or California. But to get the big ones like Charlotte Motor Speedway can cost a lot. After all, those cars cost roughly $400,000 per week to sponsor. And that’s without payment for crews and the sheer overhead of these massive stadiums. NASCAR does make a lot off of merchandising to help offset costs but the stadium owners decide how high ticket prices can be. While it can be affordable for some events, a NASCAR trip can still hit the wallet hard.
6 Only White Males Love It
It’s still a major misbelief that women aren’t into cars. The fact is many women can outdo the guys in terms of their gearhead knowledge and skill. The demographics show that females make up a huge part of NASCAR’s fan base. Indeed, the crowds at events can often seem evenly divided between men and women. Of course, the number of rather handsome male drivers does help attract a large number of female fans and helps NASCAR break out more. But the rise of female racers like Danica Patrick is also aiding in getting younger women and little girls into the sport. Dismissing NASCAR as just “a guy thing” is a truly backward mentality.
5 It’s Only Big in the South
To be fair, it did once seem that practically every major NASCAR player was from the Southern States. The Pettys, Earnhardts, Waltrips, Yarbouroughs, and more certainly count. Today, it’s far rarer, though, as major stars can come from California to Indiana. Likewise, it used to be that races took place mostly in the Southern states of Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina. Now, NASCAR has expanded all over the nation and is drawing huge crowds everywhere from Chicago to New York. The fan base has also grown from the formerly Southern crowd to all walks of life. That’s not to mention NASCAR capturing fans from Europe and Asia, as well. Dismissing NASCAR as “a Southern thing” no longer applies.
4 You Need a License
This one is rather amazing. One would assume that making your career driving means you have a major driver’s license. Yet many NASCAR drivers do not, in fact, possess legal driver licenses as they're not a requirement for the organization. It should be emphasized that you do need a special permit for NASCAR and obviously, you have to prove you can handle the pressures of driving on those tracks. However, it’s astonishing that, if many NASCAR drivers were to get pulled over in real life, they wouldn’t be able to produce a legitimate license for the police. That doesn’t stop them from cutting loose on a track, though.
3 It’s Just Driving Corners
Probably one of the bigger misconceptions for non-NASCAR fans is what it entails. It’s still quite easy for a newbie to watch a race and complain that, “It’s just about driving in circles.” That’s like dismissing basketball as “guys running back and forth on a court after a ball.” It also leads to the foolish idea that “anyone can do that.” These “simple circles” are done at over 200 mph while competing against other cars just inches away from a solid wall. Any minor change in pressure or speed can not only cost a race but create a dangerous situation. Even most fans don’t understand how much goes into a race to make it more than just “taking the turns.”
2 The Drivers Aren’t Athletes
If you want to really anger a NASCAR driver, tell them they’re not an athlete. It’s easy to dismiss them as doing nothing but driving when the reality is these men need far more focus than in other sports. Baseball and football players are able to take breaks and get some rest. There’s no half-time in NASCAR. These guys are going full-tilt for hours on end in a machine that can cause a massive disaster with the slightest misstep. They need to be focused and far more alert than in other sports. You drop a ball in another game, it’s just embarrassing but if you make a mental miscue in NASCAR, it can be the end.
1 It’s Not a Sport
This remains a baffling myth for NASCAR fans. Webster-Dictionary defines “sport” as “a contest or game in which people do certain physical activities to a specific set of rules and compete against each other.” Thus, it’s right there that racing counts as a sport. After all, if curling can be an actual Olympic event, surely race car driving counts. They have pages in the sports section, a massive fan base, and even their own network. Car driving being dismissed as just some event rather than a full-scale sport is one myth NASCAR just can’t seem to shake. If the X Games count as a sport, racing should have the same respect.
Sources: MSN, Washington Post, and Wikipedia.