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February 22, 2013 9:57 AM   Subscribe

My fiance likes to watch the Daytona 500 every year and likes to make a day of it. NASCAR and racing is all pretty foreign and weird to me. Help me!

As per this comment, my fiance has a thing where once a year he wants to watch a bit of NASCAR, the Daytona 500 specifically. It really is a once a year thing, he doesn't watch any racing at all otherwise, apart from the "Duels" that qualify drivers for the race. He likes to make a whole day of it, have it be a bit of an event and he would like me to be a part of this. It is once a year and it matters to him, so I would like to give him that and be able to participate/understand so that it is something we both do.

The problem is tha I have next to no experience with NASCAR. It just isn't something that I was exposed to, and the first time I ever watched a NASCAR race was last year'd Daytona 500 with him. We watched the Sprint Cup last weekend and I more or less enjoyed it. We watched the "Duels" yesterday so I'm getting more familiar with the drivers and am at least recognising some of the cars. I also have been trying to read up on how NASCAR works and a bit of the history etc. but frankly I still feel like I have a huge hole in my understanding of this sport. It feels like there is so much I don't get...

Things I don't understand:
- the whole Gen6 car thing.
- why the different cars even matter since they all have to be made to such specific requirements and shape and everything. There can't be much differnece between them!
- the whole "points" system
- how the hell they get the new tires on but you never see them add nuts on to what I would presume are bolts attaching the tire to the car. My fiance said "They glue the nuts on" but how do they even get it on enough to have the bolts be able to start being threadded by their big drill things? (yes, my use of technical terms is staggering...)
- Why don't more crashes happen? They are going so fast and they are so close to each other, and all the announcers keep talking about is how hard these "new cars" are to control.
- Michael Waltrip is gay... right? I have zero issue with his being gay (if he is) but he stands out to me. I'm just curious since the little bit of NASCAR I have watched seems pretty macho, plus I (possibly incorrectly) always understood NASCAR to be a something enjoyed by a more conservative audience.


So: What can you tell me about NASCAR that will help me enjoy this yearly event? What should I be watching for? What types of things can I do to help me better appreciate this? What are the types of things NASCAR fans do during races that I/we could do to make it more fun?
posted by PuppetMcSockerson to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Are you watching this on TV, or going to the track?

If you're watching on TV, I've always loved watching the pit crews working. I don't know much about NASCAR. I used to sometimes watch it with my dad and we'd both look out for shots of the pit crews. Because we are giant nerds.

Can't help with the rest, but that's always been a highlight for me.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:01 AM on February 22, 2013


Sorry, I should have specified. We're watching it on tv.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:03 AM on February 22, 2013


Does your fiance know that you don't know about this? If he doesn't, I'd tell him - him teaching you about things as you watch could be great fun for him.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:04 AM on February 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Michael Waltrip has been married and has children. That doesn't prove he's not gay, but I think you're mistaking Southern for gay.
posted by jabes at 10:05 AM on February 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


I (possibly incorrectly) always understood NASCAR to be a something enjoyed by a more conservative audience.

This may be generally true, but I'm reliably informed that there are are a fair number of gay NASCAR fans too. If you were there in person, you could listen to the drivers talk to their pit crews and whatnot on a scanner. I think you can do this if you're not there in person as well (streams, maybe?)
posted by jquinby at 10:07 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


They don't crash much because the drivers are very good at driving those lumbering beasts of a vehicle. But really, it's a car race. They drive in circles counterclockwise for 500 miles at Daytona. The first one to finish wins. Relax. If you literally are watching one race a year it's not worth stress and effort to worry about the details.
posted by COD at 10:08 AM on February 22, 2013


"Pit Stops" has a surprisingly thorough Wikipedia article - here's the section on NASCAR Pit Stops.

Here's an article that goes into more detail about the lug nuts on the wheel. Basically the nuts are glue to the new wheel with something like weatherstrip adhesive. When they put the new tire on, the studs pop the nuts off the wheel, but they are supposed to stick to the end of the stud. Then the tire changer uses a pneumatic tool to drive the nut down the stud.
posted by muddgirl at 10:14 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


To clarify re muddgirl's answer there are no threads on the first bit of the stud so it slides into the nut to hold it and make sure it sets right.

According to HowStuffWorks

"When the new tire is placed onto the car, the five lug nuts are already attached to the wheel by an adhesive. The studs are long and have no threads for the first three-quarters of an inch. This ensures that the lug nuts do not get cross-threaded, making it easier for the tire to be positioned. [emphasis added]"

See also.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:17 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


- the whole Gen6 car thing.

Nascar periodically changes the "spec", or acceptable operating parameters, of the cars they allow in the competition. One such change is occurring this year.

- why the different cars even matter since they all have to be made to such specific requirements and shape and everything. There can't be much differnece between them!

There isn't. That's kind of the whole point of the sport - drivers compete not on technical virtuosity but driving skill.

- the whole "points" system

Drivers get points for doing certain things, like leading a lap. They also receive points as a function of their finishing position. When there are 10 races to go, the points standings of the top 10 drivers (in addition to two wildcards) are reset and those 12 drivers compete for the championship (these final 10 races are called "the Chase").

"The Chase" is designed to make it nearly impossible for a driver to win a championship without winning at least several races, while also increasing excitement in the sport as football season begins.

- Why don't more crashes happen? They are going so fast and they are so close to each other, and all the announcers keep talking about is how hard these "new cars" are to control.

The drivers are tremendously skilled. Even so, many crashes occur in stock-car racing.

- Michael Waltrip is gay... right? I have zero issue with his being gay (if he is) but he stands out to me. I'm just curious since the little bit of NASCAR I have watched seems pretty macho, plus I (possibly incorrectly) always understood NASCAR to be a something enjoyed by a more conservative audience.

You are right that Nascar's predominantly Southern audience is probably conservative, but I wouldn't say more conservative than college football fans or anything. Michael Waltrip, as mentioned, has kids and was married for a long time. His voice is a little high-pitched I guess, but it's a typical Southern twang.
posted by downing street memo at 10:31 AM on February 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm far from an expert on this, but here's what I understand about NASCAR:

The cars are designed by different companies to some VERY strict specifications. They all have standardized crumple zones, roll cages, and shapes, among other things. This is a mostly a safety issue (making sure you don't make your car faster at the expense of the driver), but also serves as a way to make it more about RACING and less about paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to designers with wind tunnels. Gen6 is just the newest design specification.

The different cars matter somewhat because most of the differences are under the hood. The companies can change the engines pretty much as much as they want, and the cars will handle differently.

You don't see more crashes because the people driving them are professionals. Their jobs boil down to "go fast" and "don't crash".

As for enjoying it, pick one of the top-ranked drivers (bonus if he or she is a rival to your fiance's favorite!) to root for. Find some pit crew streams to listen to; they're really interesting. And if worse comes to worse, keep a book nearby that you can read if you're not riveted to a couple hundred laps.
posted by specialagentwebb at 10:34 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


You ask some good questions. First, I had never heard that Michael Waltrip is gay, but it does not seem out of the question to me. You hit it on the head though. NASCAR is macho. One, there are certainly macho gays, but the real issue for these guys is how you drive your car. It is life or death out there. Most of the drivers nowadays are corporate types. Gone are the good ol southern boy who would run moonshine during the week and race on the weekends. WHile it is a predominantly southern sport, it is big business now so the focus is on winning and the bottom line. So, if he were gay would not be the issue. The issue is can he handle the car at speed in a safe manner. Can he be intimidated, etc.

As for the Gen6 car thing, that is the latest incarnation of the "Car of Tomorrow" I don't recall the exact date, but a little while back racing sedans went from being "stock car" racing to being NASCAR which is the sanctioning body. Previously, the cars, within certain exceptions, had to have stock parts meaning parts any jane or joe could buy in the store. For competitive and cost reasons, they went to a universal bodied car with the only differences being the engine and the "setup" This made it more a race between drivers than cars, although having the money to spend on engines and engine development can be a big factor in winning or losing.

One issue so far this year is supply. Since the gen6 car is new this year, many teams only have 2 cars, their primary and a backup. A crash in practice or in qualifying puts the team in a risky position of having only one car. The supply issue will correct itself over the course of the year as more cars are produced.

They are all the same sheet metal shape, but there are real differences in how they all drive and handle. This comes from the setup. Each car makes different decisions on the tires including size, on the shocks and the suspension system and on the engine setup. The track itself is a big factor as well. Daytona is a super speedway. That generally means a bigger track with large banked turns that can run 3 wide. There are a few road courses and a few short tracks they run on. Drivers have specialties as do the cars themselves. Some teams excel at setting up their cars for the short tracks. Some for road, etc. Also while there are universal body shapes, there are tolerances allowed for. You can adjust your spoiler a little bit and make other small adjustments that make big differences apparently in the handling.

Your bf is correct about the tires. They glue the bolts onto the rims. The glue is not so strong as to prevent the pneumatic drill from doing its thing. There have been cases where I have seen them lose a nut.

Pit crews have changed a lot over the years too. It used to be a bunch of the driver's drinking buddies from back home. Now they are athletes. They train daily, lift weights and are in good shape. It is really a very choreographed maneuver what they are doing. Seconds matter. Split seconds matter. There is a lot of pressure on the crew as there is big money on the line.

Crashes happen. I am not sure how often you think they should crash, but depending on the track, it can happen a lot. The results of crashes especially late in the race can have dramatic impact on the race. It affects pit (gas) strategies and can help a car that is in the top 10 but farther behind as they bunch up for the restart. Watch your first green (flag), white, checkered finish and you will see excitement as every thing is thrown out the window and they start bumping and drafting to the finish.

One of the reasons for less crashes is that the drivers all have spotters talking to them via radio which if you are at the race have the option of renting head phones and listening to them. The spotters are telling the drivers that there is someone on their left, etc. That is a relatively new thing.

The technology also helps prevent crashes. The right airflow dynamics will create down forces on the car keeping it "sticking" to the track more. Also, at a place like Daytona, being able to draft actually helps safety in some respects. When they are bumper to bumper at 180 mph that is where you learn what kind of driver you are and earn your respect from fellow drivers. That is why regardless of sexual orientation you will either have their respect or not.

As for the points system, I have a heard time figuring it out, but there are points for winning and what place you finish as well as points for leading laps during the race. Oddly, you could conceivably win the points championship at the end of the year and never had won an individual race I think.

This year's Daytona, at the start will be all about Danica. She is the first woman to qualify in the pole (#!1) position. She is a feisty driver who has earned the respect of her peers. She previously raced in Indy Car open racers. She is sponsored by Go Daddy and has done some pretty well known TV commercials for them. Super Bowl ones actually. I think it is a mistake on her part as it puts the focus back on her as a woman driver rather than as a good driver period, but sponsorship dollars are what eventually help win races.

Know too that all the drivers are in great shape. To be able to sit in 100+ degree car sweating for 4 hours while focusing on driving 180 mph and not crashes takes real talent and stones. Not only are they sweating in their race suits, I am told never to hug a driver right after a race as they are probably peeing in their suits too.

Other small things to look for include watching the drivers being interviewed. Coca-Cola has some sort of points or rewards system that pays the drivers every time they are on camera drinking a coke. My friends and I will sometimes try to do a shot for every time we see a driver take a sip of a coke.

Oh, if you don't have a favorite driver yet, I advocate on behalf of Tony Stewart or Smoke. He is a proven winner and has a very competitive attitude. Saw him throw his helmet at a driver last year during the race. He is sort of the last of a dying breed of drivers who have not gone corporate.

Last year's champ Brad Keselowski caused a small sensation last year by pulling his phone out of his suit during a red flag stop and tweeting during the race from on the track.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:37 AM on February 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


- Michael Waltrip is gay... right?
LOL.
I can honestly understand how one would think this, if you haven't been watching NASCAR over the years. He is a bit...theatrical. But, no, he is not gay.

As for watching the race...I wish I could help. It's easily one of the boringest races of the year, unless you're a fan of bumper-to-bumper racing, punctuated by a ridiculous crash that takes out a dozen or more cars. And the announcing team is always head-punchingly obnoxious.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:39 AM on February 22, 2013


Thorzdad: "It's easily one of the boringest races of the year, unless you're a fan of bumper-to-bumper racing, punctuated by a ridiculous crash that takes out a dozen or more cars. And the announcing team is always head-punchingly obnoxious."

Ah, not a fan of the super speedways...
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:44 AM on February 22, 2013


Oh my god, these are all such great answers! What you guys have posted so far as been a big help. The Coke drinking points thing is hilarious, and will be something else for me to watch for.

Please, keep the replies coming!


Does your fiance know that you don't know about this? If he doesn't, I'd tell him - him teaching you about things as you watch could be great fun for him.
He has been trying his best. He has been sending me articles and information on the goings on for the past month or so, trying to get me informed, and during the Sprint Cup and the duels last night he explained things and let me ask all kinds of idiotic questions. So he really is doing what he can to help me in this. Plus, he is making sure I have some rum and my favourite treat to munch on during the game, so there is that too. :)

As for enjoying it, pick one of the top-ranked drivers (bonus if he or she is a rival to your fiance's favorite!) to root for.
I have decided to root for Danica (because, well, I don't know... because she's a woman?) and Biffle because his name makes me giggle and his is the one name I ever seem to remember. My fiance is backing Tony Stewart and the guy in the M&Ms car.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:58 AM on February 22, 2013


With all this knowledge you've gained, don't let it all fly out the Window by picking Danica only 'cause she's a woman.

Pick an underdog - it'll make the race a lot more enjoyable for you. You can even consider Danica as an underdog!
posted by Kruger5 at 11:15 AM on February 22, 2013


There's a recent thread on Danica on the blue that you might find interesting.
posted by mollymayhem at 11:16 AM on February 22, 2013


Try and look out some information or a walk through of the pit stops. It really is the most impressive part of the whole NASCAR thing, to me. The simple tyre stops require some extreme strength, agility and skill from the guys doing the stops. I've done pit stops in a variety of sports and the amount of raw physical work they get through in the time they do it is as impressive as hell.

Here is a helmet cam that shows the wheel nuts stuck, then popping onto the end of the studs as the wheel is put on:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNJHnD9_bCc

I didn't watch the whole thing, but this sciencey look at a pit stop is impressive too. Bear in mind when you watch these that a NASCAR superspeedway tyre is damn heavy - 62 lbs with the inner tyre in them. Those guys throw them around like they're made of polystyrene...

http://www.stockcarscience.com/scienceTopics/scsTires_Weight.php
posted by Brockles at 11:16 AM on February 22, 2013


I have decided to root for Danica

Yeah, that's not going to go so well for you, I suspect... ;)
posted by Brockles at 11:18 AM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Re Danica: not to threadsit, but how do people usually pick a driver to root for? I haven't been watching long enough to have any sort of opinion on anyone, but I wanted *someone* to root for. Danica and Biffle seemed natural choices since those were the only names I know. Is there a Rocky Balboa type racer? You know, a dark horse, under dog, eye of the tiger type? I'd root for someone like that quite happily.

As I wrote this, my fiance came in to my office and showed me a video of that insane crash Waltrip had in the 1990s where his car just sort of evaporated and went to dust. And he walked away from it! Dude, he may have just earned me as a cheerleader after seeing that...
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:21 AM on February 22, 2013


I don't think there's anything wrong with rooting for Danica or Biffle. People pick their favorite driver the same way they pick their favorite anything - sometimes they're a hometown favorite. Sometimes you saw them in an incredible race and will never forget it. Sometimes their daddy was a famous driver and so you honor the son/daughter. Sometimes you follow the team manager or the car manufacturer.
posted by muddgirl at 11:43 AM on February 22, 2013


GayTona. Evan Darling. NYT on QueersforGears.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:18 PM on February 22, 2013


If Biffle makes you giggle, thank *deity* your fiance wasn't watching in the days of Dick Trickle.
posted by kuanes at 12:43 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also one guy to watch is Mark Martin. He's 54 years old and the oldest driver out there (I think). He goes to the gym daily and while he's a tiny guy, he's a HOSS if you get a glimpse of him just in a t shirt. And he's very intelligent and knowledgeable about the sport. Pretty cool guy overall. May not win, but he's got some smart driving moves. His boss is Michael Waltrip (who is not gay, but funny as hell!).

I enjoy watching even though I don't quite understand all of the strategy. But you can learn a lot from the announcers explaining things, especially before the race. With the new cars this year I'm sure they will be talking about the setup and such.
posted by MultiFaceted at 1:41 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would add that most of the drivers are part of larger teams with as many as 4 drivers in the team. While they are all running their own race, there are parts of the race where knowing who is teammates with who is really important. Sometimes a driver can block for another driver or bump draft off his teammate to create a sling shot effect past another car. For example, Jimmy Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Jr and another driver I am forgetting all drive for Hendrick Motor sports. There is also Richard Childress Racing. Richard Petty racing, etc.

An interesting thing about the announcers, and I have no idea who is doing this race, but on ESPN, one of them is Brad Daughety. Brad is a 7 foot former pro basketball player who went to the University of North Carolina and played there under Dean Smith the legendary coach. He grew up watching NASCAR and always wanted to get involved after his basketball playing days were over. He is very knowledgeable about the sport.

Don't worry about how you came upon rooting for Danica Patrick or Greg Biffle. Both are reasonable drivers for whom to root. Mark Martin IS the oldest driver still racing and he can be a sentimental favorite.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:47 PM on February 22, 2013


After the incident at the end of Daytona's Nationwide Cup race today, Danica will probably not be the big story tomorrow (or at least as big a story as she would have otherwise).
posted by imjustsaying at 3:37 PM on February 23, 2013


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