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Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Updated: November 28, 11:03 AM ET
We don't trash your sport, NASCAR bashers, so don't trash ours

By Ed Hinton
ESPN.com

Some years ago, then-Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson and I were sitting in a watering hole in Las Colinas, Texas, talking about draftees going through their first spring minicamp.

A practice session for the Indy 500 was on TV, and at one point Johnson glanced over at the big screen and asked, "Is that stuff actually interesting?"

"It is if you know what to look for," I said. "Sort of like football. Now I could point out certain things …"

"Yeah, well …"

Enough of that. No interest piqued, I saw. No point in pointing out that Al Unser Jr. got a little bit sideways and gathered it up in a split second, and analogizing it to Emmitt Smith regaining his balance and peeling off another 20 yards.

Just last year, I tried to draw a football analogy to Chad Knaus, crew chief (i.e., coach) for Jimmie Johnson, the NASCAR driver. Knaus waved a hand dismissively.

"Stick to racing analogies," he said, meaning he neither knew nor cared anything about football.

Guys like that you can understand. They're obsessed with their own sports, as professions.

But Jimmy Johnson never bashed auto racing when we spoke, and Jimmie Johnson's crew chief never trashed football. They just didn't care, in a passive sense.

The ones I don't understand are you proactive haters and bashers and trashers of auto racing, especially NASCAR as America's most visible form.

Why must you e-mail here, and barge into the ESPN Conversation after any given NASCAR story, to mouth off that NASCAR isn't a sport, that there's no skill involved, and that it's followed only by dumb people?

If you don't like it, why not just ignore it? Why such vitriol? Why are you so angry? Have you considered seeking counseling for this?

What has NASCAR ever done to you?

Have you ever been attacked by a NASCAR fan? Even bothered by a NASCAR fan?

Do they harass you on the streets, preaching to you? Do they ask you for spare change to support their cause? Do they knock on your door and push propaganda tracts on you? Do they want to enter your house and convert you?

Jessica Simpson
See what you're missing, NASCAR bashers? Jessica Simpson is a fan, and she's proud of it.

Has somebody driven a car into your living room and revved the engine? Do you have neighbors who keep your walls throbbing 'til the wee hours with NASCAR engine noise on their sound systems?

Does NASCAR place unstoppable pop-up ads on your favorite Web sites? Does Brian France pre-empt your favorite prime-time programming on all channels to deliver addresses on the state of NASCAR to the nation?

To borrow a little from a Lewis Black comedy bit, do hooded commandos invade your home in the evenings and place Dale Earnhardt Jr. stand-up cutouts in your children's bedrooms, chanting "Jun-ior! Jun-ior!" as they go about their evil work?

Fact is, the only invasions of your life ever attempted by NASCAR could be easily repulsed with one touch of the channel changer or click of the mouse.

ESPN has five channels and a Web site, all running 24/7. That's 840 hours per week of television programming alone. So you're telling me that a few hours a week of NASCAR programming, and a few columns and stories, send you fleeing to the hills in terror?

Do you have the same violent reactions to bowling? Bull riding? Bass fishing?

In the Conversation after a recent NASCAR column I wrote, someone commented, "Start covering a real sport like hockey and I will start giving ESPN credibility again."

Well, (a) why were you reading about auto racing in the first place, if it's not in your definition of a real sport?

And (b) just as auto racing seems like cars going around in circles for no apparent reason to you, hockey seems like mass confusion to me. I've been trying since childhood to understand what "icing" is. The only way I know they've scored is when players throw their arms up. Attending a game live, I was told to watch for the red light on top of the net. Oh. That made it a lot more interesting.

Yet I once took issue with an Atlanta columnist who was forever bashing hockey as "flatball." There are people who understand it and like it, and that's their privilege.

Another comment after my column warned, "Don't ever compare a NASCAR driver to Vince Lombardi."

Does that imply, "I know where you live," or what?

(Besides, I didn't compare Jimmie Johnson to Lombardi. I compared the No. 48 team to Lombardi's Packers with regard to the effort it takes to three-peat as champions.)

How many times do I have to say this? Webster -- not I, Webster -- defines "sport" as: "1. A source of diversion: pastime."

I still don't know how the American definition of sport narrowed to "games played with sticks and balls," but it has, and it is incorrect.

Whenever you say NASCAR -- or the World Series of Poker, for that matter -- isn't a sport, you are simply wrong, by the most definitive arbiter of the American language.

And when you stereotype NASCAR fans as "toothless" and "dumb" -- many of you still use language that strong -- you exhibit cultural bigotry, and I for one think you should be edited in the Conversation. I know many NASCAR fans who are engineers, lawyers, physicians, bankers, university professors …

It's not like your coverage of basketball, baseball or football has been displaced by NASCAR. You have a gazillion games and analysis shows, and huge portions of this Web site.

And what NASCAR fan has jumped into your conversations and trashed your sport?

Once, as purely a defensive tactic to get a Kentucky basketball fan out of my face, I made a rational counterattack.

"Cars going around in circles? I don't get it!" she said, unsolicited, after she asked what I did for a living. "It's absurd!"

"Well, when you think about it, what would extraterrestrials find more absurd than a bunch of guys in cute little shorts bouncing a ball and then throwing it at a basket?" I asked.

Some student of anthropology once told me there are prehistoric evolutionary connotations when a bunch of men hunker down and raise their rumps at the leader as a signal of obedience to him. You hear that explanation, and you'll never view an offensive line getting set in the same way again.

The point is, you can find something absurd about any "sport," depending on your perception.

From colleagues among sports journalists, I've heard lines such as, "Even I can drive a car."

Yeah, well, I can throw a football. Just not like Brett Favre.

I can dribble a basketball. Just not like Kobe Bryant.

I can sing. Just not like Andrea Bocelli.

I, too, can drive a car, but I'm not ignorant enough to think I've got the lightning reflexes, the unsurpassed eye-hand coordination and the physical endurance (in 140-degree heat for four relentless hours) of a Jimmie Johnson.

I read where the NASCAR bashers think drivers cannot train and practice as children and youths, so there's no parallel with Little League, high school ball or college. That's absurd. Virtually all of today's top names started in youth racing programs no later than age 8. Jeff Gordon started racing quarter-midgets at age 4.

All the elements you bashers claim are absent from NASCAR are there. It's just that you haven't bothered to investigate. That's your privilege.

Just don't air out your ignorance, intolerance and cultural bigotry in public. That's all we enthusiasts ask: Live and let live.

Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at edward.t.hinton@espn3.com.