Okay, be honest. How many of you live-sports-starved fans just watched a NASCAR race for the first time ever? Or a made-for-TV golf match?
I have several friends who enjoy watching drivers make constant gradual left turns going well over the speed limit for a few hundred miles. They’ve done their best to educate me on the lingo used in and around a track. Given this extensive training, most of the time I can tune into a race and understand more than a modicum of what the announcers are talking about when they reference things such as Dirty air, Groove, Downforce, Quarter-panel, Short pit, Slingshot, Tight, Tower, and Wave around. But for this first live event in forever, I figured FOX broadcasters would do their best to play to their perhaps mostly un-race-schooled audience. I wasn’t disappointed.
One of the first things I heard mentioned was the job of the engineers who sit in a room filled with computers away from the racetrack. If I understand correctly, their job is to analyze data about how a car is performing (handling, fuel consumption, etc. . . . important bits of data) and relay that to the driver and crew so they know what changes to make.
When I turned on that first Darlington road race, after a brief description of what the engineer crew member did, the announcer used an analogy he figured would probably appeal to the newbies tuning in. He said, “Think of this guy doing what the assistant coaches do during a football game up in the skybox. They send information down to the head coach on the sidelines based on what the other team is doing on the field.”
FOX did have to be careful to walk a fine line between explaining everything to rookie viewers and keeping their long-time race fans interested in the proceedings. I thought at one point there was going to be a lecture on, “This is a car. Here’s where the driver sits. The steering wheel pops off. There’s only room for one person in the car. Yes, every logo on the car and the driver’s suit means a company paid big bucks to place it where you can see it.” But fortunately, the dialogue was a little more advanced than that.
Conversations in many living rooms, dens and man caves, however, may well have gone something like this:
“What are you watching? That doesn’t look like a Braves game.”
“NASCAR? You mean you’re watching race cars?”
“Cause the Braves aren’t playing.”
“It’s killing me not to watch sports. Do you realize it only takes me 30 seconds to read the Sports section these days? I gotta watch SOMETHING live.”
“Ok. Who are you rooting for?”
“I have no idea.”
“I know a race driver. Richard Petty. Is he winning?”
“Could be. But I think he may have retired a couple of years ago.”
“Well, he’s the only one I know. How long does this last?”
“I dunno. Maybe three hours.”
“Hmmm. I think I’ll go social distance myself on the deck and read a book.”
“Okay. I’ll let you know who wins.”
“Oh, please do. I can hardly wait.”
The same type of scenario might have transpired for charity golf matches. Fans who had heretofore never watched even the Masters Tournament may well have been so eager for something to watch on TV that they found it fascinating to see professionals paired with amateurs hit golf balls followed by the cameras panning the sky until they landed. But even those familiar with a par, birdie, bogie and eagle might have picked up on terms such as Two-dollar Nassau, Skins Game, Round Robin (or Sixes, Hollywood), Bingo Bango Bongo, Wolf, Las Vegas, and Aces and Dueces.
And those are just the side bets during a round. Players in the know would also be aware of on-course vernacular such as, Bag rat (caddie), Air mail (to hit a shot usually way over the green), Cabbage (deep, thick rough from which there is little chance of escape), Carpet (the green), and Shank (to strike a ball that veers well off its intended course to the left or right).
Regardless of whether you were glued to the tube or merely checked in occasionally, it was a good feeling to actually be watching something happening right now. Here’s hoping these events are just the start, that fans in the stands can return soon, and the crack of a baseball bat is heard before the dog days of August become Spring Training.
©MMXX. William J. Lewis, III