Guest column: Matt Gross on struggles of longtime NASCAR fan

Editor’s note: Matt Gross is a longtime race fan who attended Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway and has been a frequent tweetup participant. He sent me an email and I asked if I could post it to the site. Here are his thoughts:

I’ve made all of the defensive statements.

“Real race fans don’t go for the wrecks.”

“It’s more than just cars driving in circles, there’s a level of skill and strategy you have to learn to really appreciate NASCAR.”

“It’s not wrestling on wheels, it’s a real sport.”

Even now, living in North Carolina, the most common reaction I get when I tell people I’m a huge NASCAR fan is one of confusion. They always say, “You don’t seem like someone who would be a NASCAR fan.” I usually laugh it off and start explaining the reasons for my fandom, hoping that while these people will probably never become fans themselves, they’ll have more respect for the sport. I’ve been saying things like this for over 25 years, and I’m starting to think I’m the one who has been wrong this entire time.

I became a NASCAR fan in 1990 after seeing Days of Thunder. This probably isn’t unusual for where I live now in North Carolina, but I grew up just outside of Washington D.C. where NASCAR rarely even made the sports section of the paper. My dad was an executive for an international computer science company and my mom has her Master’s in education. It’s safe to say I didn’t fit the mold or environment for a “typical” NASCAR fan.

I also didn’t care. I loved NASCAR from the moment I saw it on the big screen, and I loved it even more when I saw the real thing. For over 25 years I’ve spent all week waiting for race day. I’ve been to over 100 NASCAR races. I visit the race shops two or three times a year. I have more diecast cars than I’m willing to admit, but I’m starting to think I’m not what NASCAR wants in a fan.

What I have witnessed over the past few years has disgusted me, and it’s all been done in some relation to winning the Chase. MWR’s Spingate was really bad, but in my mind not nearly as embarrassing as what we’ve witnessed in the last two versions of the Chase.

The norm of the 2014 Chase was post-race brawls. That was topped off with Ryan Newman’s body slam of Kyle Larson to get into the final round. This year has managed to somehow be worse with Kevin Harvick wrecking half the field to make it to the round of eight, and now Matt Kenseth pile-driving the leader into the wall just to try and eliminate him from the championship.

Drivers have intentionally wrecked other drivers for decades in NASCAR. I’ll admit I was in the chorus of 80,000 cheers when Rusty Wallace dumped Jeff Gordon at Richmond while racing for the lead in 1998. However, that was one of 34 races — so Jeff, as the best driver in the best car, was still able to prevail as the champion.

In this new format of three race mini-seasons, the higher stakes have pushed the sport to its entertainment base, all in the name of garnering headlines. It cheapens the experience, and makes it feel more like WWE than NASCAR.

No matter how hard NASCAR wants to try and mimic the stick and ball sports, at the end of the day it simply can’t. In other sports’ playoffs, all competitors in the event are still eligible to win the championship. This format of mini-seasons has created a situation where ineligible drivers can easily ruin the season of ones who can still win it all. Could you imagine if in last year’s Super Bowl a bitter and jaded Indianapolis Colts player ran onto the field and intentionally injured Tom Brady to make it so the Patriots probably wouldn’t win the Super Bowl? The idea is so far-fetched it’s ridiculous, but that’s what we witnessed on Sunday. At the end of the day, I blame a format that promotes drama over sport.

When I was growing up, I used to feel at home at the racetrack. It was the one place I could proudly wear my NASCAR apparel, and the only time I was surrounded by tens of thousands of people who fell in love with the same wonderful sport that captured my heart.

On Sunday, I felt ashamed and embarrassed to be sitting in the stands at Martinsville. The bloodthirst I witnessed in the stands for what was closer to a WWE move than what anyone could call good, hard racing was absolutely disgusting. I wasn’t even mad at Matt Kenseth; I just finally felt like I no longer belonged at a NASCAR race.

I’d like to make some grand statement that I’ll never watch another race, but as I sit here in my room surrounded by those aforementioned diecast cars, I know that’s not true. I’m too committed to be able to pick up and walk away.

However, hopefully in a few weeks I’ll be surrounded by fewer cars as I start to sell off the ones that just don’t mean that much to me anymore. I’ll still watch Texas — but on the DVR, and probably only a 30 minute abridged version. If a driver I like manages to still win the championship, I may even buy one more commemorative car.

But the pull of F1, a true motorsport, is getting stronger. One of these days, I’ll save all the money I’m currently spending on four or five NASCAR races a year, three or four diecast cars a year, and two or three visits to the race shops a year and head off to Austin or Montreal.

I think I’ve been a pretty good fan for these past 25 years, but it’s just getting so hard to hold onto what little is left of the sport I fell in love with in that movie theater in 1990.

12 Replies to “Guest column: Matt Gross on struggles of longtime NASCAR fan”

  1. Not a single mention of the Kansas wreck that puts what happened at Martinsville in perspective. That “bloodthirst” you supposedly witnessed in the stands at Martinsville was a cheer for the perceived making right of a wrong. Kansas was an injustice; Martinsville was justice. Regardless of who was driving.

    The majority of the fans get it, look at the polls. The majority of drivers get it, listen to their comments afterwards. Yet there continue to be some who want to look at the wreck at Martinsville as an isolated event, which it was not.

    1. Kansas was not an injustice. It was two cars racing hard for the lead with just a few laps remaining… and the faster car ended up winning.

      If there is anyone to blame, it’s NASCAR for the ridiculous aero rules they have that makes it nearly impossible to cleanly pass the leader. It was Matt’s blocking AND the big spoilers that forced Joey’s hand.

      Martinsville was a bush-league demolition derby move that has no place in a legitimate competition, so yeah, I guess it’s fine for modern NASCAR.

      1. Joey unnecessarily punted Kenseth at Kansas in retaliation for being blocked. There were still seventeen laps left for him to get around Kenseth. Everyone knows the #20 was the #22’s biggest rival for the championship, the #22 wanted the #20 out of the Chase. Jeff Gordon and Junior both commented on Logano’s gloating about it the following week at Talladega.

    2. @amiable1

      The problem is, Kansas was hard racing for a win. Kenseth was blocking a much faster car and running him into the wall; Logano tried to pass Kenseth cleanly not once but twice, and Penske’s #22 was damaged as a result. Kenseth’s just as responsible for what happened at Kansas – if not more so.

      Using a car ten laps down and heavily damaged as a weapon is NOT any sort of “justice.” By the way, those polls you mention are heavily impacted by butthurt Earnhardt Jr. fans who are throwing digital beer cans now since they ran out of real ones.

      1. Joey went into the wall completely and 100% behind Kenseth. Like Matt said “If I can put someone behind me into a wall, then I would be really something.”

  2. Matt, I came from NE Ohio where similarly NASCAR just didn’t exist. I too fit same demographic. I became a fan instantly upon seeing #24 and this NASCAR racing. Always sports involved and stick & ball fanatic. My submersion into all things NASCAR was 150%. I watched all events related; practices, qualifying, SPEEDTV anything related that I could learn. Being female I learned the nuts n bolts of all aspects related to NASCAR racing.

    Your written words echo my beliefs and thoughts Exactly in all you wrote. I love your candor. Between PC and Knee jerk reactions from the top down, it’s been painful to watch foundation flounder. I too think it’s just broken. The lack of consistency is insulting to the fan base.

    I started seriously questioning the “powers that be” when this format started. Last year’s Chase certainly seemed fixed IMO. I am offended as a fan with the manipulated outcomes as a result of inconsistent rulings. I wish for NASCAR to get back on track in the off-season. I find that ‘ol excitement watching Xfinity racing now… This season I found myself morphing from anti Joey Logano to respecting his maturity & skills. Matt Kenseth WAS a driver I held in best regards. I’ve heard Harvick on scanners since his 1st season, never respecting or liking. His behavior/values seen by all in recent weeks is a mirror to the current state of Nascar. I want to read more of your writings. Thanks again for sharing ‘our’ perspective so well with your words.

    P.s I am abhorred with fan’s reaction to Kenseth wrecking of Logano. Drivers now seem sponsored to lie.

    1. Regarding “the lying,” as Aric Almirola stated on Race Hub, if Kenseth had just come out and said “Yeah I wrecked him,” NASCAR would have crucified him even worse than they intend. He would be forcing their hand.

  3. With all due respect, and I do respect your opinion, I don’t see where NASCAR and the chase is responsible for what happened yesterday.

    Kenneth had a choice, and he chose to pile drive Logano. Could have let him go, or just tap him, but he chose the violent way out….blame him, not NASCAR.

    I’m a big NHL fan and I see this all the time…players just disrespecting other players with hits to the head…it’s endemic to all sports, not just NASCAR.

    And F1…..really?

  4. The fans loved it. This incident was GOOD for the sport. In an era of overall decline, NASCAR needs as many eyeballs as it can get. This was real human emotion playing out. Somewhat rare in these stuffy times.

    Are these moments predetermined? Is UFC fake? Is NASCAR now rigged?


  5. I can only imagine that Goss is a Joey guy. No mention of Kansas, with Joey knocking out Matt, with Joey having no need to “win” (as most of the media is screaming about). No mention of being ashamed of what Harvick did in Dega to essentially eliminate Jr’s chances of advancing when had a chance to win (what’s the difference with what Matt did to Harvick other than the car Harvick wrecked wasn’t the leader, but the wreck prevented one of the leaders the chance to win). Goss is just a media guy with voice that uses it to promote his own agenda.

  6. People are crazy. Most of the people you talk to say NASCAR fans are complete white tradh. Get made fun of for watching NASCAR I wonder if you would feel the same if he had put Jr in the wall

Comments are closed.