Saturday, August 15, 2020

Fanatics On and Off the Racetrack

With the NASCAR racers roaring into town for the Coke Zero 400 at the end of August, now seems like a great time to look at the rapid fanaticism devouring this country.  NASCAR fans know all about that.

At a recent presentation, I received a first-hand view of such blindness.

My talk was about problems NASCAR has faced and overcome.  I concluded by explaining that the racing organization still has many concerns, such as finding sponsors and reaching out to a wider audience, but will likely survive them as it has done in its previous 72 years of existence.

When I was done, a gentleman in the front row loudly disagreed with me.  He insisted NASCAR was on the upswing and would continue to endure.  He was extremely passionate, so much so that he had ignored the fact I said the said thing.  He also ignored all the statistical studies that show attendance at races had fallen nationally before COVID, TV viewership is down and that, overall, car racing has lost some of its public interest, a fact not helped by the mandated empty seats at races because of the virus.

This person had no interest in mundane facts.  He had grown up in NASCAR; therefore, it was the best sport and could only continue to expand.

Substitute the name of any religion for NASCAR (which is a religion for some fans), and you can see the same kind of thinking that fuels world conflicts.  Facts don’t matter.  The reality of science doesn’t matter.  Only belief matters.

Armed in such a matter, an Islamic believer can slice off the heads of Coptic Christians.  An Evangelical in this country can support the worst elected president in anyone’s history at the expense of life, liberty and economic stability.

During my talk, I pointed out that the 2001 death of Dale Earnhardt, the face of NASCAR, nearly killed the sport.  My friend in the front row insisted that the death of his father in a 1957 race was just as devastating.

No, it wasn’t.

By 2001, NASCAR was a national sport.  Dale Earnhardt was an international know figure who made millions every year by selling merchandise bearing his name and car number to adoring fans. He had accumulated $300 million at the time of his death and was the most recognized figure in car racing.  His death while racing was a devastating blow to the sport.

In contrast, a racer’s death in 1957 was a family tragedy.  It didn’t merit more than a mention (if that) in any newspaper.  Cable TV didn’t exist then.  Today’s 24-hour coverage of sports was unknown and unimagined.  Racing was a minor sport, which gained national attention only briefly with the Indianapolis 500 in May.  NASCAR was unheard of; Daytona International Speedway wasn’t even started yet, much less the Daytona 500.

To my friend, though, the deaths were comparative.  Facts have no bearing on that narrow thinking either.

He went on to object to my explanation of how much drivers are paid to compete in the Daytona 500.  I know the figures; more than 15 years ago, when I worked for the company that owns race tracks, we did a financial analysis of the winnings.  My friend only knew the announced payments.  That doesn’t include sponsorship money, endorsements etc.  The real amount is many times the listed totals.

As author Bob Pockrass noted in his article on payments to NASCAR drivers, “Look at a NASCAR box score after a race, and it lists pretty much all the essential data. Where a driver starts and finishes and how many laps completed can give fans an idea of how the driver performed.  And then, at the end of the line, is how much money the driver ‘earned’ for that event. That amount doesn’t really tell how much a driver really made for the race.”

For example, in 2019, champion Kyle Bush was listed as winning $17.8 million along with $1.7 million in endorsements.  However, in 2012 Forbes magazine estimated actual income of the top drivers then:

  1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.—$25.9 million
  2. Jimmie Johnson—$23 million
  3. Tony Stewart—$18.7 million
  4. Jeff Gordon—$18.1 million
  5. Carl Edwards—$13.7 million
  6. Kevin Harvick—$13 million
  7. Danica Patrick—$12.9 million
  8. Kyle Busch—$12.5 million
  9. Kasey Kahne—$12 million
  10. Brad Keselowski—$11.4 million

There’s no correlation to “winnings.”  And that was 8 years ago.

Again, facts and studies mean nothing in the face of self-interested passion.

My fiend’s stubborn resistance to knowledge is nothing new.  In this country, it’s commonplace to pretend there are no facts and to rely on emotion-tinged beliefs.  That’s why elected officials can deny Global Warming and say they don’t accept evolution, condemn mail-in voting while requesting the mail-in ballots. Facts don’t matter.  Decades of research can be ignored in order to maintain beliefs.

Such ignorance fueled ISIS and its murderous attacks in northern Syria and Iraq.  It feeds the emotions of conservative Christians determined to take over American society and force out dissenters.  It fires the NRA and its hell-bent determination to arm everyone, regardless of the number of people who are killed.  It also leads to voting for someone as ruthless and incompetent as Trump.

Such passion can only be doused with real facts based in solid, replicated research.  Facts aren’t sexy, but they are absolutely necessary to bank passions and provide the base for supported decisions.

That’s true for zealots and NASCAR fans alike.


Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers such as Bold Venture Press.  He can also be followed on Twitter.