Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Two Sides of Christmas

Either from boredom or just to create one more headline, the folks at the Associated Press hold a little (under 200 votes) election every year to name the Male and Female Athletes of the Year. There's no big cup or a load 'o cash involved. Maybe they get one of those fancy fountain pens, but I'm not sure.
This year the award went to Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR champ the last four years running. He edged out tennis king Roger Federer and World's Fastest Human Usain Bolt.
This brings up the question: Are NASCAR drivers really athletes? I mean, more than the average teen capable of three hours straight in front of the latest video game? I have my doubts, which are based on the following premise: You could take a pro tennis player and turn him into a competent driver in MUCH less time than it would take to peel off all the advertising from a stock car driver's ensemble and proceed to make him a tennis player. And, yes, I'm including the time it would take for the tennis player to learn to speak "American Southern", a NASCAR must..

I don't think I'm breaking new ground by noting that Christmas has two sides. There's the religious side, and, for lack of a better term, the celebratory side. Economically, it's no contest. The sale of Christmas presents overtook religious observances in their importance to the GDP long ago. Entire boards of directors have to rouse themselves from drowsily presiding over giant corporations and actually pay attention to sales figures during November and December to see if there will be any problem with the annual bonus plans or whether collateral commercial damages make more layoffs necessary.
I never worked at a business that depended much on Christmas, but I suppose if it wasn't this season that's so crucial, it would be another one. After all, was it the retailers that made things the way they are? OK, maybe it was, but no one's forced to show up at "doorbuster sales" at 4 A.M., right? And just because someone says that handguns and ammo make great stocking stuffers, that doesn't make it a fact, right? Not to mention that we don't have to listen when someone comes up with yet another lame parody of "The Night Before Christmas" aimed at unloading stuff bought in error, do we?
The religious side of the season is fine, though sometimes there's a creeping use of religion for commercial purposes, like Glen Beck's tearjerker creation ""The Christmas Sweater" and a thousand other things that can't be prohibited. At church, the speakers (non of them paid) make an effort to be original, but that's a tough assignment. Perhaps we should just get our religious side moving by attending a performance of "The Messiah", then just doing something humble but useful for someone else, perhaps for someone a little removed from the list of the usual list of suspects.


Blogger Diego Jara said...

Funny blog. What does Zach think about the atheletes in nascar? This year I didn't participate in either side of christmas. No gifts to give or to get but I did go to the ward choir sacrament meeting.


6:16 PM  
Blogger Zack said...

Unfortunatly my Dad (like most people) thinks that just because HE can drive a car that it is easy or simple or even teachable to race a car. Just because I can hit a golf ball doesn't mean that I could ever TRY to compete with Tiger Woods. Which is REALLY boring to watch by the way. "lets see how few times Tiger needs to hit the ball".
Racing a car at the top level of any series, including Nascar, is like playing chess while arm-wrestling a body builder while competing on "Dancing with the stars" while writing a dissertation on particle physics, while painting a Faberge egg, while running a marathon, while crossing a tight rope over the Grand Canyon with a mistake in any of these tasks resulting in death or serious injury, all the while someone is beating on your head with a ball peen hammer. AND you have to figure out a way to get someone else to pay for it, b/c noone can afford to do it themselves.
When I was 18, Jake and I went to Des Moines to watch the Ruan Grand Prix which was a Trans Am race, a minor racing series in the US. One of the great all-time professional quarterbacks, Walter Payton was, after his retirement from football, also competing in the race. Now I'm sure that noone would doubt his athletic ability or fitness but for all his gifts he could do no better than finish 14th in a field of about 20 cars. F1 drivers heartbeats during a race usually hover around 120 beats per minute and it stays there for up to 2 hours. G forces on the body are non-stop with up to 5 Gs pulling on your head at all times. And g forces only subside at top speed which is usually right when you have to hit the brakes again and the 5 Gs are back. Not only are race car drivers athletes but you have to BE an athlete just to get started. Just ask 6 time world rally champion Sebastian Loeb about his years as part of the French Olympic gymnastics team.
The fact that Jimmy Johnson has won 4 Nascar championships in a row is nothing short of astounding. In an era where Nascar constantly fiddles with the rules to purposly keep the racing close, he consistently wins and finishes high up in the order.
Olympic sprinters have to do one thing, run fast. Tennis players do a little more, run back and forth and hit the ball. Jimmy probably plays tennis to stay fit just so he can race.
Here's an assignment: go to any indoor Karting track. Spend one 20 minute session trying to follow one of the fast 10 year olds and see if you are not drenched in sweat, have black and blue ribs, and need assistance getting out of the kart b/c you are a wet noodle.
For more information and your entertainment, here is a demonstration.


Granted this is F1 but a Nascar stocker has its own specific skill set to drive fast and its just as difficult if not more so.

12:54 PM  

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