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Know Your NASCAR – If you're going to act like it

by Cathy Elliott
Friday, May 02, 2008

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Cathy Elliott
It is an awful feeling, and in the manner of grim surprises since the beginning of time, you never see it coming.

I was having a casual conversation over lunch the other day about fairly nebulous NASCAR topics; what I would consider general knowledge questions. We discussed the NASCAR Sprint Cup season so far, the next few races, the Chase, what in the world Tony Stewart will ultimately decide to do, anything and everything about Dale Earnhardt, Jr. … in other words, the usual.

"So," said my friend. "Where is Junior in the points right now, anyway?"

Okay, that's not a hard one, right? I opened my mouth to respond, and realized I had absolutely no idea what the answer was. No clue. Air in the head completely unhindered by the presence of any prescience whatsoever. Stumped.

Behold my personal Trojan Horse. Bearing its warriors with names like Doubtus, Uncertainus and Second Guessius, a single simple question knocked me right off my own horse, formerly known as High.

The survival schmoozing mechanism sprung quickly into action; how could I save myself? Could I possibly bamboozle my way out of this? "Somewhere in the top 10" would have been an option … yeah, right, for my mom, maybe. I should know better; I am expected to know better.

So in a misguided but well-intentioned effort to somehow avoid complete and utter public disgrace, I took the road less traveled and opted for the truth, admitting that I couldn't remember. The fan on the street could have answered this question, but I could not.

For a person who, at least hypothetically, is supposed to know what she is talking about, there is no sicker feeling in the world than being asked a question you don't know the answer to. For me, it could be compared to being suddenly plunked down in the middle of an operating room, handed some scrubs in an unflattering shade of green along with a scalpel, and asked to perform heart surgery. Either that or trying to drive in Atlanta; they'd be pretty similar experiences for me on the scale of confusion.

I would feel totally lost.

How frustrating. Society has come up with a list of clever names to describe these periods of forgetfulness we all experience, like ""brain fade" or "senior moment", but the fact remains that sometimes when your turn rolls around, you simply draw a blank.

While this is good when playing a heated game of Scrabble and it can get you out of some of those sticky spelling jams, in real life it usually has the opposite effect.

Either way, it wins you no points.

One comment you still hear from time to time when discussing NASCAR is that the drivers are too young. They haven't paid their dues, people say. Everything has been handed to them; real silver spoon stuff.

Call me crazy, but I'm thinking the Rick Hendricks and Jack Roushes of the world know more than I or any of the rest of us about what makes a great racer. Most of the guys currently racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series started competing when they were four or five years old. All the major NASCAR teams have driver development programs to teach their drivers anything they haven't learned, and reinforce what they already know. They are qualified and well-educated.

(Also, Mr. Hendrick and Mr. Roush would most likely be able to remember the answers to such questions, if they were asked. Unlike some people I could mention.)

Life is full of tests. Students are required to meet certain standards in subjects like reading, writing and my old nemesis, math, before they can be moved up to the next grade level. It seems we are constantly scored, evaluated and reviewed.

They run standardized tests on the cars, right? They're used to measure things like air flow and tire pressure.

So maybe what we need is an equivalent standardized measurement of the people whose job it is to inform or entertain other people about those cars, and about the men and women who drive them. It could be used to measure our NASCAR knowledge levels, in much the same manner as the SAT evaluates critical thinking skills. It wouldn't even require a complicated acronym; we could go with something simple, like the Racing Aptitude Test, or RAT.

I'll keep you updated on my progress. For now, I need to sign off, as I have a busy day ahead. I need to check out NASCAR.com, watch "NASCAR Now," listen to some NASCAR radio on Sirius 128, and read the NASCAR media guide cover to cover.

Plus, my new copy of "NASCAR For Dummies Who Think They Know More Than They Really Do" has just arrived, so I have some major studying to do.

I think I smell a RAT.

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