Not to be a complete carpetbagger or anything, but I have news for all you Southerners out there: Auto racing is not a sport.
Judging by the attention NASCAR receives from newspapers around Virginia, the Commonwealth's sports fans would argue that point. On the Internet, NASCAR's official Web site is part of the online ESPN Network, right alongside sites for the NBA, NHL and ABC Sports. Somehow, while I wasn't watching, auto racing gained acceptance as a sport.
I don't know why. Since I hail from Boston and care relatively little about cars, I must confess that I don't quite understand the allure of watching people drive in circles for hours on end. I can't even tell who's winning. I am, however, perfectly willing to concede that this activity could be enjoyable for some folks. I'm just not willing to concede it qualifies as a sport.
I don't deny that a whole heap of strategy goes into NASCAR and its less popular auto racing brethren. And it's obvious there's plenty of testosterone-fueled competition. But that alone does not a sport make. Chess has strategy and competition.
The foundation for any true sport is some level of athleticism. You don't have to be Deion or Michael or Tiger, but you have to use your body - with whatever amount of dexterity you can muster - as your primary tool. In other words, you can't sit in a car for a couple hours making God-knows-how-many left turns.
That's why golf is very much a sport. It may not involve running, like most other sports, but it certainly involves deliberate physical exertion. Granted, NASCAR drivers deal with all sorts of bodily stresses stemming from the G-forces inherent in moving at almost 200 miles per hour, but they are passive recipients of that strain.
I won't even complain about the fact that everything not nailed down has been slapped with an official sponsor. (Why hasn't anyone noticed that the Winston Cup, the biggest circuit in auto racing, is named for a tobacco company?)
I will, however, make fun of NASCAR culture. It's almost impossible to resist: I remain aghast at the thought of having NASCAR Winston Cup Illustrated make good on its promise to "present the people of NASCAR and their lifestyles in a slick, full-color format." And Jim Rome hit the proverbial nail squarely on the head with his observation that practically every NASCAR driver seems to be named Dale, Darrell, Ernie, Kyle or Ricky.
But jokes like that help everyone laugh off NASCAR as harmless entertainment for consenting adults, instead of recognizing it as an insidious trend that is warping the minds and risking the lives of America's youth.
Or maybe I was thinking of professional wrestling.