Jeff Gordon leads the pack from the outside as drivers fight for the win in the Coke Zero 400 on Saturday, July 3.
DAYTONA BEACH, FL—“Look, Brittany, it’s Joey Logano!” I yell at my friend who is standing a mere two feet away. She gives me a patronizing glance as if to say, “Really?” and I try to take it down a few decibels. We’re at the NASCAR Sprint Cup driver and crew chief meeting that happens right before every race, the last place I ever expected to disturb the peace and here I am, causing a scene.
Joey Logano, of Joe Gibbs racing and the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota, is far and away my favorite driver. He’s young, has dashing good looks, and is an underdog fighting his way to victory.
A few months ago, the name Joey Logano would’ve meant very little to me because I, like many of my friends, had never followed NASCAR before, seen a race, or attended an event. Through the company’s Diversity Internship Program, I learned of an opening at the International Speedway Corporation, which runs 13 of the tracks where NASCAR races take place. I leapt at the opportunity to do something I knew I liked (marketing) and try something I had never experienced before (the need for speed).
Despite not knowing much about the industry, I brought with me certain preconceived notions—looming stereotypes about the fans being “rednecks.” I knew these were unfounded judgements, but nonetheless they existed in the back of my mind.
Orientation for the internship in Charlotte, North Carolina, along with a copy of NASCAR for Dummies, helped clear up some of my technical questions about the sport, but left me contemplating the ideological ones.
A few hours after the driver and crew chief meeting ended on race day, I settled into seats up in Weatherly Tower beside my mom and sister who had come down to visit for the weekend of the Coke Zero 400. It was the first NASCAR Sprint Cup race for all three of us, and we had a great time listening to the commentary, watching as the cars accelerated by in a blur and observing the legions of fans around us.
In this setting, any yelling I did was socially acceptable, encouraged even. Standing as the drivers rounded Turn 4 and feeling terrible when A.J. Allmendinger had to leave the race after his car wrecked, I discovered that somewhere between learning how to change a tire and navigating the expansive infield at Daytona International Speedway, I had become a proper race fan. I could go on and apply any previously held stereotypes to myself and when I did, I found that they didn’t exactly fit. There was no one way to categorize the NASCAR Nation besides by the intensity of competition, the dedication displayed by those involved.
The sport isn’t perfect, but it strives to reflect what people want from it. In a time of generational shifts among viewers, a faltering economy and prevailing misconceptions like the ones I harbored, it can be hard for this sanctioning body to reach out to someone whose never been exposed to racing before. However, in my case, when they did reach out, taking advantage of that chance provided an opportunity to rebel like the moonshine runners of NASCAR did so long ago, from an invisible prohibition that restricted exploration.
Misconceptions about its supporters were part of what made me wary of NASCAR, but the truth about them—the kindness and drive I witnessed—are what made me a fan.
Li S. Zhou ’12, a Crimson associate magazine editor, is an economics concentrator in Adams House.