The Psychology Of NASCAR
As a race fan, the most important decision we can make is what driver to root for. Last week, I called this decision equal parts job interview and psychology experiment. This is because the decision of who to root for in NASCAR carries deeper significance than the teams we root for in other sports. In pro football and pro baseball, for example, we see ourselves as part of a larger community of fans when it comes to the teams we cheer for. In NASCAR, however, we see our favorite drivers as extensions of ourselves, so we choose wisely.
Our selection of a favorite driver goes far beyond talent; rather we need someone we can identify with. I cheered for Bobby Hamilton for seven years, and looking back I think it’s because I saw him struggling to fit in much the same way I struggled to fit in every day as well. During the 90s, millions of young race fans rooted for Jeff Gordon because with his youthful appearance and flashy colors he reminded them of that cool older cousin who drove a fast car as opposed to the elder statesmen who tended to populate the sport. To this day, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. remains popular because he still acts like that good old boy we went hunting or rode four wheelers with. In fact, you almost never hear a fan say they picked a driver because of his talent; it’s almost always because of his personality.
Not only do we see our drivers defy death on Sunday afternoons, we see them express themselves (and get away with it) in ways we wish we could. From Tony Stewart’s fiery rants to Brad Keselowski’s buzzed championship celebration to Carl Edwards celebrating his wins with the fans in the stands, we all wish could embrace that devil may care attitude in public as well. In fact, a few years ago when Denny Hamlin bumped Kevin Harvick out of the way on pit road at Bristol, a friend remarked to me that seeing that makes you wish you could get away with that in real life. When our drivers express themselves in such a way, it is as if we see ourselves acting that way too, if only for a moment.
With all that being said, our favorite NASCAR drivers aren’t just extensions of ourselves, they are extensions of our personalities as well. When we don their hats and t-shirts, put their stickers on our trucks or decorate our houses with their memorabilia and die-casts, we are letting the world know that we identify with this driver in a way that goes beyond their talents behind the wheel; we are allowing them to be an extension of ourselves and our personalities as well. This deep connection to our psyche reflects a passion that is truly unique and emblematic to the world of NASCAR.