With a tip of the hat to Hunter S. Thompson for the name, it is far past time that I finally open up the Sports Desk here on KoHoSo.us.
I have been following [NASCAR] for a long time. I know, it’s a very tough and open, top racing series. I just love the American spirit of racing. It feels just great to get involved with that. Obviously, it will be very challenging and great fun for me. – Kimi Räikkönen as quoted by the Finnish newspaper, Turun Sanomat.
At the time I am writing this, it has not been determined if the 2007 Formula One World Driving Champion is actually going to come to America to race in NASCAR. However, that is irrelevant as to why I posted the quote above (credit for bringing it to my attention goes out to Autosport.com writer Pablo Elizalde).
Despite an overall downturn in interest as measured by television ratings and track attendance — especially with NASCAR pulling the “daily double” as it continues to alienate long-time fans while doing nothing to entice new ones — there is still something that none of the major racing series in North America can kill with their cookie-cutter tracks, cookie-cutter drivers, and cookie-cutter TV coverage. With all of the bad press and the foul mood of a significant portion of the fan base, a unique element remains with our special brands of motorsports.
“The American spirit of racing” as Räikkönen put it is still very much alive and well even in the depths of the most boring NASCAR race at Fontana, the half-talented fields of IndyCar, and the shortened divisions of the NHRA. It is almost inexplicable to outsiders whether they be non-fans living in the USA and Canada or those observing us from overseas and below the Rio Grande.
It is an obsession that explains why fans of all three major types of racing in North America keep beating themselves like irrepressible masochists no matter what idiotic decisions happen in Daytona Beach, Indianapolis, Pomona, or at the television broadcasters’ headquarters in New York City and Bristol, Connecticut. It goes beyond those that simply love speed, machinery, and human daring. It is much deeper.
“The American spirit of racing” has to do with an absolute pure joy of the competition and the people it brings together. It involves folks that often sacrifice many hours of hard work and money knowing full well they cannot win but still have the drive to participate and compete. For front-runners, it involves showing up to race whether the purse is one thousand dollars or one million. For fans, it is watching groups of people just like them from modest backgrounds do what many of us can only dream of but all with tools that most of us could buy at the local auto parts store.
Yes, that does not fully apply to our top levels of American racing where expensive computer design simulators, seven-post shakers (a machine that puts an actual car through a simulated drive on any track without actually taking it there), and hours upon hours spent in expensive wind tunnel machines rule the day. However, it does apply to all of those small, local tracks all across the country where every North American driver starts out. The atmosphere that washes everybody with their influence sticks with most drivers and fans all the way up the ladder to the top. It is an almost endless feeling of optimism and togetherness that perhaps only international club soccer can match with its singing and chanting…yet even that is not quite right as, in racing, a Jeff Gordon fan can easily get along with a Kyle Busch fan sitting next to him while I cannot imagine the same happening with, for one strong example from Scotland, Rangers and Celtic.
Fans and drivers alike are all happy to be there, swap stories, and catch up on news about friends and families. They even commiserate about how things now just aren’t as fun as “the good ol’ days” while still having a smile on their faces. Best of all, this all takes place in the only sport where, if the winning team is stinking up the show and beating the brains out of everybody else, the crowd’s attention turns to somewhere else in the pack where there are two drivers racing wheel-to-wheel for a lower position…all easily seen by all in attendance thanks to whatever it was that made most racing fans in the the USA love oval and strip racing over road courses (probably that American penchant for never paying for anything it can’t see except for God).
I am very glad Räikkönen sees that in our brand of racing when he could so easily be a “typical European” and look down his nose at everything American (especially oval racing and, even more so, “redneck” oval racing). He certainly does not need the money or the fame. He obviously just loves to race and, I can only guess, wants to be involved in something that is a bit closer to the fan base than his current endeavor, the World Rally Championship (which I believe is the true home of the best drivers in the world no matter what NASCAR and Formula One say about themselves).
If he comes here to race, I hope that most NASCAR fans will embrace Räikkönen despite being a “foreign interloper” who will certainly get his share of ribbing for his accent, endless puns about where did the Finnish man finish, and having a last name with dots in it. After all, he is embracing us and our way of doing things and, apparently, for all the right reasons. We should show him the same courtesy and be thankful he is one of the few famous foreign drivers who realizes that there are still some very special and fun things about America, and our racing scene is definitely one of them.