Eye of the Hurricane

February 16, 2009

NASCAR and football

Filed under: Uncategorized — tranquilo1212 @ 1:09 pm

Even though I grew up in New York, I am anything but typical. I listen to country music, follow the bull riding tour and enjoy the rodeo. And yes, I like NASCAR. Now, I don’t know all the ins-and-outs of auto racing, and I’m kind of new to following it (past 3 or 4 years or so), but I will say that for all you pundits out there, there’s a lot more similarities to the great American game than you’d like to think. And it goes beyond both making Sundays into holidays all year long.

For one thing, the tailgating at both these events is unrivaled, except maybe for some amazing concert events here or there. But going beyond the fans, a lot of strategy is involved in both. How is there strategy to driving in an oval 200 times, you ask? Well, let’s just say that to keep the drivers maneuvering in the right direction, a whole team must function at top shape.

Before the race, the crews of each driver fix up the car so that it runs faster or handles best for the particular track. We all know that all stock cars run fast, but an extra fraction of a mile could be the difference in a fraction of a second for the checkered flag at the  end of the race. On top of that, some tracks have banked turns, some have longer straightaways, on some the asphalt gets wrecked more quickly than others by intense racing. The crews must figure out how to make each driver’s car handle best for the particular track, or else he will lose control and either crash, fall behind or spend too much time on Pit Road getting in-race adjustments. And whatever the crews do, it must be in the legal parameters of NASCAR racecar guidelines, or else the team and driver will be penalized. Thus, there are similarities  to the amount of pre-race preparation as exists in football (minus the film study, perhaps).

During the race, the driver can’t always see all that’s  going on around him, especially with cars rolling two and three deep bunched together. For this, the spotter is important. He or she sits high up with a great vantage point of the track and his or her driver (and good binoculars). The spotter can radio the driver, letting him know when he can make a move for better track position, who’s gaining on him, what’s going on in the driver’s blind spot (we all remember that from driver’s ed, right?) and other such matters.

While the spotter is somewhat similar to an offensive coordinator in the booth, the crew chief is both that and a quarterback for the team. In football, the quarterback drops back and makes reads and decisions. Well, it’s hard to make reads going 170 mph with cars speeding next to you, so the crew chief will inform the driver of what measures he can take to advance position and keep others from doing the same. The driver must act with his car, of course, but often crew chiefs will see where the car is and how far into the race it is and call the game effectively, urging the driver to push the action at certain times or maintain position at others (especially early in the race). This is similar to coordinators not running the two minute drill midway through the first quarter. Crew chiefs have good positioning to see what’s going on, and through this they make reads. They also help determine when the driver should pit for reinforcements and fuel. Some teams like to gamble more to keep track position, but if the car runs out of gas, the team will fall to the back of the pack. These are just some examples of the incredible stategy needed in NASCAR, strategy that rivals that of football in my opinion, even if the pigskin gets more of the glory.

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