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Patrick Hruby

Atlantic Sports Roundtable: Who Cares About Dale Earnhardt Jr.?

When Dale Earnhardt Jr. snapped a four-year winless streak two weeks ago, it was huge news in NASCAR Nation -- and a hey-how-'bout-that blip everywhere else. In the Atlantic Sports Roundtable, we ponder the question: is stock car racing a niche sport, or are NASCAR know-nothings a bunch of effete cultural snobs?

Patrick Hruby:  ... I like sports. A lot of what I do for a living involves writing about them. I've covered the Olympics, NBA halftime acts and professional foosball. Nevertheless, I'm stock-car illiterate. Don't follow, hardly watch, only know what the most casual, SportsCenter and/or PTI fan knows. And I knew absolutely nothing about Junior's losing streak. Zilch. Didn't know it began before the financial crisis. Didn't know it was the talk of auto racing. Didn't know how badly fans wanted him to win—or, as ESPN.com's David Newton put it, "in NASCAR this is as close to a national holiday as it gets. There will be Earnhardt fans so hung over on Monday that they probably won't get to work. Tuesday might be a day off, too" ... if stock car racing's biggest star could go 0-fer for the equivalent of two Congressional terms without the rest of us noticing, what does that mean for the sport?


Hampton Stevens: ... let's be real. About half of this country has a strong cultural bias against NASCAR. The sport is loud, gaudy, aggressively patriotic, overwhelmingly white, male, and Christian with working-class, rural Southern roots , and—oh, yeah—is built around adoration of the internal combustion engine. In short, NASCAR is everything that blue states hate about red ones. A certain class of urbanite snob will even use the phrase "NASCAR fan" as an insult meaning something along the lines of "stupid redneck," in the same way they might use "Wal-Mart shoppers" as a slang for "poor, overweight, and unfashionably dressed." That's not a racing thing. No one talks that way about fans of, say, IndyCar or MotoGP. Only NASCAR gets that kind of scorn ...


Jake Simpson: ... People from the so-called blue states—including the vast majority of online sportswriters—don't have a problem with NASCAR's qualities. They just don't see any reason to care very much about the sport (and I use that term loosely). There's no center of higher education sponsoring cars or drivers, no openly gay or Asian or Middle Eastern or Jewish or Muslim participants in NASCAR. It's insular, and insular is on the way out in the "we allow gay marriage" states. And from where I sit, that's the way NASCAR fans want it. I'm a native New Yorker whose idea of heavy-duty car repairs is changing my oil or checking my tire pressure. Of course I don't get motor sports. But instead of trying to make an inroad into the blue state sports fan base, NASCAR, its drivers and its fans generally sneer at me for being elitist and offer some version of "A Southern man don't need him around, anyhow" ...

Read the full article at The Atlantic online