Motor sports have their origins in France: the first official competition being a race from Paris to Rouen. Over the next few decades, motor races boomed in popularity as advances in technology allowed for faster and more responsive vehicles. Land speed records were broken frequently in France and Belgium, where some of the greatest early advances in automotive industries would occur.
To the modern mind, however, there is perhaps no nation as associated with the car as the U.S.. Ford (and its production line) have changed the way the world travels, settles, and lives.
The birthplace of uniquely American motor sports is in the sands of Daytona Beach, a provincial corner towards the north of Florida, with flat sands that stretch on for miles—hard packed, meaning you can drive on the beach. It was here that National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) began.
NASCAR, as well as overseas counterparts such as Formula 1, are radical in that they have since their very conception challenged conventional notions of what sport is. It is an engineering competition as much as it is a sport; each team is in charge of building their own car. Gone is the athleticism of muscle and tendon—in the automobile, horsepower and reflex rule all.
In its philosophy of steel, gas, progress, and speed, NASCAR seems like a relic of middle capitalist glory, born from the heights of American industrialism. It relies on the myth of endless innovation—faster, stronger, better. But does that stand in today’s America? NASCAR may have lost some of its shine. The coveted 18-35 demographic has largely grown up in a world limping from oil crises and economic recessions, all with a backdrop of a declining manufacturing sector, and very real climate concerns. As more people move to cities and rely on public transit, the automobile may be losing its status as a cornerstone of the American way of life. Perhaps we have outgrown NASCAR, as recent viewership figures demonstrate; the ratings of NASCAR continue to plummet at an alarming rate. Its viewership has gone down by 50% since a peak in 2005.
Despite its current decrease in interest, NASCAR is valuable in that no other sport has pushed the boundaries so far, while remaining somewhat mainstream. If today’s America is losing interest in NASCAR and its promise of progress, what can come next? Will there be a sport so symptomatic of a post-industrialist, late capitalist country, as NASCAR embodied the prior era so fully?