Professor Karyn Rybacki believes that NASCAR race weekends provide modern humans with a link to our medieval past. And she’s not just talking about the smell of 1,000 port-o-johns in the North Carolina sun.

Rybacki likens drivers to knights from the days of yore and says that modern fans are like the throngs of commoners who traveled many miles to make merry before jousting competitions. "Instead of the horse," she said, "you have horsepower."

The similarities first struck her when she received a grant to attend the Daytona 500 to study fan behavior. (We are fairly confident she did not find any.) Rybacki noticed that the beer, sausage and turkey legs served at concession stands were similar to the fare served at medieval festivals. "It was almost like being thrown into a Renaissance fair without the medieval costumes," she said.

Rybacki points out that Dale Earnhardt Sr. was called "The Black Knight." And let us not forget "The King" Richard Petty, "The Rainbow Warrior" Jeff Gordon and "The Clown Prince of Racing" Joe Weatherly, just to name a few more.

We’ll even throw in a few track nicknames that sound like medieval battlefields: Thunder Valley (Bristol), The Monster Mile (Dover), The Magic Mile (New Hampshire) and The Glen (Watkins Glen).

Brian Vickers is down with Rybacki’s theory.

"There’s something about being in danger, and the athletes being in danger, that has appealed to humans for centuries," he said.

Nascar’s Roots May Go Way Back [The Wall Street Journal]