If you talk to some uppity sports fans, they think a typical NASCAR fan’s Sunday follows a predictable routine. They stagger out of bed with a pounding head sometime around 9 a.m. and throw on a pair of shorts that should have been thrown out five years ago, and their cleanest dirty sleeveless flannel shirt. After a pot of coffee as thick as roofing tar and a breakfast of Jimmy Dean sausage, eggs over easy and biscuits ‘n’ gravy, they hop in the ‘72 Ford pick-up to go to the store grab a half rack of Bud, beef and Vienna sausages, or maybe some Jack and RC Cola for variation, and race home quicker than you can say Dale Earnhardt to catch the National Anthem right before the green flag.
Yes, it’s not an obscure notion that holds NASCAR racin’ is a sport by rednecks for rednecks. It would be downright humorous if weren’t so shortsighted. Of yes, NASCAR has its roots in the Deep South, the favored pastime of bootleggers and such, but the sport has, and is much bigger than that.
For example, there’s the driver. Did you know that of the 39 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series that have made 10 or more starts, only nine- less than quarter- are from the South? Of the top 20, only three hail from south of the Mason-Dixon line- Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, and Jeff Burton. Now think about that for a moment; Junior may be something of a 21st century redneck, but Burton is a more cosmopolitan figure, with a bent towards politics. Hamlin? Hey, we’re talking about a driver whose sports passions outside of NASCAR are golf….and basketball! Yes, even the South is more heterogeneous than some may think.
Would you believe that out of that 39, seven are from California? Washington has given NASCAR two with Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle, Nevada has the Busch Brothers, and Arizona has contributed Michael McDowell and J.J. Yeley. The Midwest is quite well represented between the likes of Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, and Carl Edwards just to name just a few.
Big companies pour big money into researching where they should put their advertising dollar. When it comes to the fan, a snapshot of the American Nation and NASCAR Nation are pretty close. In terms of geographic distribution, NASCAR fans in general are pretty close. Predictably, the following is stronger in the Midwest and South than it is in the Northeast and West, but there’s not near the disparity some would have you believe.
In terms of income, it’s more of the same. According to Scarborough Research USA (the study I am using for the purpose of this article. Others reflect similar findings) shows that 45% earn more than $50,000 a year, compared with 47% for America in general. 31% of the US in this study make less than $30,000 a year, 32% of the NASCAR fans surveyed made less than $30,000. Across the board, there is little difference between the general population and self-identified NASCAR fans. Think NASCAR is an “old timers” sport? 46% of the U.S. is between 18 and 44, 46% of NASCAR fans are also n this age bracket.
To be fair, let’s make one thing clear: you will find rednecks everywhere. Successful comedians such as Jeff Foxworthy and Larry The Cable Guy will tell you they can draw just as well in New Jersey as they can New Orleans. Heck, if you ask this observer, Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski are more redneck than David Reutimann or Mark Martin. How about this: with Martin you have an avid weightlifter who doesn’t drink and prefers the hip-hop verse of 50 Cent.
In reality, NASCAR has always been a bit like this. Their stops have always included stops in the Northeast, and the ranks of their drivers have included non-Southerners such as Freddy Lorenzen, Alan Kulwicki, and Tiny Lund. With that said, make no mistake: if you define a redneck as the “glorious absence of sophistication,” perhaps more of us are, or would want to be a redneck than some may think. It doesn’t matter if you call South Bend, Indiana home or North Bend, Oregon.
Other articles by Jim McCoy include:
NASCAR Mythbusting: Drivers Aren't Athletes
Wanting The Best, But Preparing For The Worst With A.J.
A Fan's Take On The Quaker State 400 at Kentucky
Jim McCoy is a TV and radio sports anchor living in Oregon with his wife and three kids. Jim also moonlights as a radio play-by-play man and writes about his true sports passion: NASCAR. To paraphrase, racing is a sport, the others are just games.