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Loving the Need for Speed

A Morehouse College Student's First NASCAR Experience
By: Ayron Lewallen
March 11, 2017 - 4:53am

HAMPTON, Ga. – The drivers whizzed around the track at lightning fast speed. The sound of the roaring engines filled my ears and kept me alert and interested in the environment around me. As the day progressed and began to warm up, my interest and perception of a foreign sport began to change.

Three hours away from Wichita, Kansas, my hometown, is located the Kansas Motor Speedway in Kansas City, Kansas. I have traveled to Kansas City numerous times, but never had I encountered the speedway other than driving by en route to my destination. I also visited Daytona Beach, Florida, last summer and stayed at a hotel directly across from the Daytona Motor Speedway, but I never imagined myself attending an event there.

Prior to arriving at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday, I always thought the sport was boring. Who wants to sit for three hours and watch cars zoom by at 200 miles per hour almost 200 times? However, I found the sport to be fascinating during my Sports Reporting class’ visit to the Atlanta Motor Speedway to observe the Xfinity Series race as a part of NASCAR’s Opinion Leader Initiative.

The fast pace of the sport thrilled me the most, and observing drivers almost collide with people near the garages was frightening as well. Attending the race hungry and running on less than four hours of sleep was not a wise decision, but where I lacked, three meals at the track within a six-and-a-half-hour period made up.

During the pre-race driver instructions, the motor sports company teased a video highlighting the rules and regulations for drivers. With my lack of knowledge in the sport, the video did not resonate with me and I was left confused. Lauren Houston, senior account executive of Multicultural Development Initiatives, gave some advice to assist in following the race we were to watch soon.

“If you know nothing about NASCAR, pick a car and follow it throughout the race,” Houston said.

Simple advice that was almost elementary was essential to following the race with minimal understanding of the motorsport. To prepare for the race, my class at Morehouse College had watched numerous YouTube videos, many focusing on fan favorite Kyle Busch. I chose to watch his Nos-decorated car circle around the track 163 times as he was the only familiar name on the track, a good choice as he won the Rinnai 250 race.

Diversity within NASCAR is increasing as more drivers and fans of other races are becoming involved, however, the mindset of some white fans remains stagnant. Many fans outside the speedway tailgated in RVs decorated with Trump and Confederate flags. As a group of black men, we were greeted by stares from white attendees and asked if we played football, further perpetuating stereotypes white people have harbored for years.

NASCAR has been dominated by white men since its inception in 1947, but many African-Americans such as Wendell Scott served as trailblazers early on. Experiencing a predominantly white sport for the first time with a large group of black people who had also never experienced the sport was empowering and uplifting. Most of us may never see another NASCAR race again; however, I have picked up a new-found interest in NASCAR, an invaluable benefit gained through the experience.