NASCAR vs. Soccer | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

NASCAR vs. Soccer 

Why left turns have outraced penalty kicks to wider American sports appeal.

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Salt Lake City is in an interesting situation when it comes to new opportunities for sports fans. On one hand, we have politicians trying to sell us a game that has never really been able to catch on in America, despite repeated tries. Meanwhile, the only businessman with a proven track record in Utah professional athletics hopes to bring in the only sport that has been able to make a popular-appeal run at the holy trinity of football, baseball and basketball. The government of Salt Lake County wants taxpayers to finance a stadium for that most international of games'soccer'while Larry Miller has built a racetrack with the goal of bringing the homegrown sport of NASCAR to the Wasatch Front.


At first blush, NASCAR seems to be quintessentially American because it involves advertising plastered everywhere and people driving cars with absolutely no regard to gas mileage. But the sport’s meteoric rise in popularity in recent years goes much deeper than that. The United States was founded by Puritans, but the country was created by rebels breaking away from a monarchy. The twin strains of Puritan and rebel still play major roles in the American psyche and both can be found side by side in NASCAR. I once covered a race in Las Vegas where the guest of honor during the pre-race ceremonies was Pamela Anderson. After she showed her cleavage to the cheering crowd, everyone paused and removed their caps while a chaplain offered a prayer. That same appeal to America’s bifurcated desires can be found when a car loaded with liquor ads wins a race and a clean-cut, well-spoken driver'most of the young ones are closer to William F. Buckley in their intelligence, comportment and demeanor than to Talladega Nights’ Ricky Bobby'steps out, kisses his wife and thanks God and his crew chief for his performance.


NASCAR is trying to get away from its Southern, moonshine-running roots, but part of the reason for the sport’s increasing popularity may be America’s increasing comfort with embracing its inner redneck. From listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd and watching Jerry Springer to making road trips to buy hunting rifles at Cabela’s in Utah County, more and more Americans are becoming unashamed of their less-refined inclinations.


Those inclinations have never included a taste for soccer. The soccer sellers are always telling us that popularity for “the beautiful game” is just around the corner in the United States, but they’ve been making this argument for as long as soccer has not been the most popular sport in our land'basically, since the invention of baseball'and their prophecies have never come true. Every generation hears that the Second Coming of Jesus and the First Coming of Soccer in America are coming soon. There will be hell to pay if either prediction ever comes true.


Don’t bet on youth soccer players to turn things around, either. We already have generations of them who have grown into adults who watch football, baseball, basketball and NASCAR. Playing a sport from the time you get bored with Blue’s Clues until you discover Pokémon doesn’t make you want to watch it as an adult.


It doesn’t help that the soccer lovers try to make us feel bad for not appreciating 90 minutes of back-and-forth resulting in a 0-0 tie the way the rest of the world does. One need look no further than Iraq to figure out that the United States doesn’t respond well to peer pressure from the other kids on the global block.


Whatever your preference, it’s nice from a fan’s perspective'if not a taxpayer’s perspective'to have the local choice of both soccer and NASCAR. However, it appears that the private sector has a better handle on the will of the people than the government that represents them. It’s likely that more Salt Lakers will be driving towards Tooele than driving towards Sandy, with the Skynyrd tunes cranked to 11 all the way.


Geoff Griffin is that annoying guy who shouts, “Play Freebird!” no matter what type of concert he’s at.

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