Evil Contrarian: NASCAR Is The Only Sport That Is Any Good

PHOENIX - APRIL 08: Stan Silva, driver of the #65 A&S Metals Chevrolet, drives during the Jimmie Johnson Foundation 100 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West at Phoenix International Raceway on April 8, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Yes, yes, we know. Allow us to explain what Evil Contrarian is all about.

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For a long, long time, sports fans have debated the merits of what NASCAR drivers do, and strangely, the most common criticism hurled at stock car racing is that it isn't a sport. This misses the point. The important question is this: do you like it?

Personally speaking, I am not a big NASCAR fan, but I can certainly appreciate why people like it. As in all sports, there is motion, there is competition, there are story lines, and there is drama. Had circumstances been different, my favorite sport may well have turned out to be stock car racing rather than baseball. Regardless, NASCAR is a sporting organization that takes more flak than any other.

This is where Evil Contrarian comes in. Our own Spencer Hall conceived of this exercise, in which we choose a position that's entirely indefensible and do our best to defend it. I have the honor of writing the first Evil Contrarian, and I will take the opportunity to make this argument:

NASCAR is the only sport that is any good. NASCAR is good, and all other sports are bad.

You would be very, very hard-pressed to find a NASCAR fan who agrees with this statement, much less anyone else. So please, read on as I do my best to slander each and every sport I love -- baseball, football, basketball, hockey, golf, soccer, tennis, and mixed-martial arts -- for the sake of defending NASCAR. It's okay to get angry with me. Writing it made me angry with myself.

A quick note before the madness commences: there are plenty of knowledgeable, talented writers on the subject of NASCAR. Look no further than SB Nation's own Jeff Gluck, who, as I can personally attest, is capable of making NASCAR interesting to the disinterested.

Whew. Do I have to do this? I have to do this. Let's begin.



Pictured: baseball fans being disappointed by baseball

We are staggeringly lucky to live our lives within this chapter of human history. If you’re reading this, then you are educated enough to be able to read, you have access to electricity, and you have the wherewithal to obtain a computer that cost at least a few hundred dollars. Company in the present time excluded, you are living a life more privileged than anyone in the history of the human race. The moment you forget this is the moment you no longer deserve it.

Suppose a distant ancestor of yours were to pay you a visit. If your great-upon-great-grandfather from the 15th century were to step out of a wormhole and observe your behavior, what would he say he if saw you preparing a salad or walking down the street? "You fool," he might say, "you miserable fool. Don’t you know that you live in an age of machines? You could ride in an automobile to your destination! You could use a Salad Shooter to shred that lettuce! In my time, I perform manual labor, day after painstaking, back-breaking day, so that one day -- indeed, today -- my descendants can enjoy a life free of such things. It is nice to know that my life, a life filled with monotonous toil, cruel disease, and intellectual poverty, was all for nothing."

Indeed, every time you discard modern technique and technology in favor of the ways of old, you are wasting your extraordinary fortune, a fortune brought to your feet by countless ancestors who experienced monotonous lives and premature deaths without ever having gazed upon a Hubble Space Telescope photograph, taken a shower, or licked an ice cream cone. Doesn’t that make you feel rotten?

It should. And that’s why stock car racing is one of the only sports that doesn’t serve as an insult to the men and women who made you possible. Though it isn’t ideal -- space shuttle races would be ideal -- it at least reaps the benefits of modern technology. The pistons punch bursts of flame into the artificial lungs of an unnatural beast, and the tires are jerked into a spin, sending dissipated rubber into a terrified atmosphere, and as this beast moves forward, it pushes the Earth backward, if only a little. Beneath the hood is not simply an engine, but a cathedral in which its searing, steaming components bellow songs of worship in praise of modern understanding.

Standing in stark contrast is baseball, a game devised, played, and enjoyed by bumbling ne’er-do-wells who value tradition, purism, and fundamentalism over ideas that are actually worth dwelling upon. Though we are remarkably adaptive, innovative, and ambitious creatures, human beings hold a revolting obsession with sameness.

Take, for example, the demise of artificial turf in baseball. In the 1970s and ‘80s, it was everywhere, but a wave of Sun-worshiping hand-wringing has undone the progress made by those who worked to introduce contemporary turf technology to the game, and today, only two teams -- the forward-thinking Blue Jays and Rays -- play on artificial turf. The rest of the the teams choose to dedicate small fortunes to watering, fertilizing, mowing, and edging massive expanses of ground. They do this in a spirit of tradition, the delightful fallacy being that the conditions of our great-grandfathers’ baseball diamonds were maintained by cows.

To those responsible for baseball: consider that while you believe you are respecting our forefathers, you are doing quite the opposite. If Alexander Cartwright could have built a stock car, he would have, and he would have never bothered with baseball, this miserable, glorified hybrid of billiards and errand-running.



Pictured: a football fan being disappointed by football

I used to work at a Radio Shack in Roanoke, Virginia, which to many race fans was a "pit stop" (racing term!) on the drive to Martinsville Speedway. Having recently moved to Roanoke, I was generally unfamiliar with the madness associated with the track’s annual Sprint Cup race. If I were, I would have ordered about two hundred handheld race scanners. NASCAR fans love these things, because they allow them to tune into the teams’ radio frequencies, giving them unfiltered access to the competitors involved. (One particularly popular product we offered was a scanner packaged with two noise-canceling headphone/microphone units, the idea being that one could listen to the scanner with a friend while chatting about the race with him or her via the microphone. It should be noted that the two parties involved have to sit right next to each other. It looked completely silly and was completely amazing.)

I had previously worked at a Radio Shack far removed from a NASCAR track, where scanners were generally only sold to conspiracy theorists who hoarded them by the dozens. When I opened the store on the day of the race, dozens of people were already waiting at the door. Since I had only four scanners in stock, most of them left disappointed. Then hundreds more came, and hundreds more were disappointed. By two o’clock, I had a standing-room-only, claustrophobia-inducing mob of NASCAR fans in my store.

I suppose some would expect me to say that this was a loud, obnoxious, tobacco-spitting group, but it wasn’t. On the other side of the counter there was a mass of NASCAR fans, peering over each other’s shoulders with uncertain smiles, each waiting his or her turn to be informed that there were no scanners left, nor were there any within fifty miles. After a while, I pulled up a stool and announced as much to everyone in the store, half-afraid that I would start a riot. But there was only a chorus of "aww"s and a collage of downcast faces, and as they shuffled out, I disregarded everything I had assumed about NASCAR fans.

They love this sport, and they want these scanners because they give them a window into the trials and tribulations of athletes who are locked inside steel machines hundreds of feet away. In contrast, while NFL broadcasts will offer you carefully-chosen sound bites of sideline chatter, imagine trying to bring a scanner to a game and tune into a coaching staff’s radio frequency. You would be promptly abducted and spirited away to one of the League’s dozen or so international secret prisons, left to subsist on mice and gruel in shared quarters with every youth group pastor who ever tried to host a Super Bowl party.



Pictured: a basketball fan being disappointed by basketball

In the distant future, when extraterrestrial radiation and/or lack of space and/or a fart-drenched atmosphere forces the human race underground, we will probably be very glad that we developed a decent indoor sport. Until then, though, all major basketball programs continue to play in stuffy arenas, even when the weather is perfectly nice.

We generally associate physical activity with being outside, which is perfectly rational because we need a lot of space in which to frolic and outside is a pretty big place. See, there’s something off-putting about indoor athletics; if you’re indoors and sweaty, you should either be doing push-ups or making whoopee, and if you aren’t, something is amiss.

Basketball is a swell sport when played outdoors, but until Kevin Durant suits up for the Winn-Dixie Streetball Showdown, I must reserve my praise.



Pictured: a hockey fan being disappointed by hockey

Well, to be honest, it isn’t overwhelmingly better. For the same reason baseball is terrible, hockey is remarkable, as its maintenance of massive sheets of ice in places such as San Jose and Atlanta is no small feat. And though no sport is as terrifyingly fast as NASCAR, hockey is a game of such quickness that it’s sometimes difficult for the hockey novice to know what is going on.

For these reasons, I will not speak ill of hockey here. It’s a great sport, but stock car racing is better because it is faster. The only worthwhile sport is the best one, and so hockey is not worthwhile.



Pictured: a Tiger Woods fan being disappointed by Tiger Woods

In this age, nearly every sport drags along a religious narrative wherever it goes. One can’t watch a golf major without the broadcast booth prattling on about tradition. Worse yet, though, is the inconsistent pseudo-religion concerning fate, or luck, or whichever irrelevant contrivance strikes the desperately bored observer.

When a NASCAR driver loses a race, a respected analyst will deal in specifics. He pitted at the wrong time. Another driver boxed him out because he had it out for him. The pit crew just wasn’t quick enough. The closest he’ll come to vagueness is to explain an inopportune caution flag with, "well, it’s just one of those things."

Now, if you have to listen to a golf pundit analyze a golfer’s unsuccessful tournament, God help you. You’ll hear that his head/heart wasn’t in it, the fates were cruel on this day, etc. Worst of all, though, you’ll hear that an inanimate object was "fickle." Sometimes the wind is fickle, and sometimes it’s the club. Sometimes, unbelievably, it’s the course itself. This golfer played the same 18 holes as the seven men ahead of him on the leaderboard, and under the same wind/weather conditions, but the Old Course, which has spent all afternoon lying there motionless, was fickle to him and only him.

NASCAR people might tell you that a particular driver’s skill set isn’t suited for a particular track, or that the driving conditions were treacherous for everyone involved, but they will never, ever tell you that inanimate objects didn’t like him.



Pictured: a soccer fan being disappointed by soccer

NASCAR and soccer are at complete opposites on the societal spectrum, which is sort of odd given one striking similarity between the two: to the casual observer, both NASCAR and soccer are very simple sports. Recently another similarity has surfaced: thanks to the vuvuzela, NASCAR and soccer rank as the first- and second-loudest sports, respectively.

Soccer joins hockey, basketball, and stock car racing as one of the only four sports that aren’t completely dreadful wastes of time, but its speed and noisiness are still incomparable to that of NASCAR.

There is potential here, though, as I suspect that a hybrid of NASCAR and soccer would be the greatest sport ever devised.



Tennis is terrible for your ankles. NASCAR is only kind of bad for one of your ankles.



Pictured: Anderson Silva being awesome and ruining everything at the exact same instant

MMA may have stood a chance against NASCAR before Anderson Silva hit the scene, but Silva hasn’t lost a fight in over four years. After winning the UFC middleweight belt in 2006, he has successfully defended his title a record seven times. In fact, he even took a brief vacation from the middleweight class to rise to light heavyweight, win a fight, and drop back to middleweight.

NASCAR can surely empathize. Since time immemorial, the pace car routinely manages to make its way to the front of the pack. But while NASCAR has adapted by disallowing the pace car from ever winning a race, UFC has been slow to take similar measures toward Silva. One obvious solution would be to follow NASCAR’s model and include Silva in every fight as a "pace fighter," the idea being that the first loser would win the fight.

Until changes are made, MMA is effectively a no-win scenario -- an expansive, pay-per-view Kobayashi Maru.



















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