THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Auto immune? Beware the hoopla at NASCAR

Not every fan follows the herd.

I live in a baseball house. It wasn't always thus, but after I was married, it didn't take long for America's pastime to infiltrate the walls, the shelves, and the closets. I've grown quite fond of the pennants, the caps, and the signed bats. I only hope after this weekend I still live in a baseball house and not one with less dignified paraphernalia.

This Saturday, my husband is off to the races– and I don't mean the Kentucky Derby.

Before dawn, he will leave the house laden with coolers and cushions, ready to spend an entire day and night at Richmond International Raceway. He'll be protected from dehydration and sunstroke by plenty of water and sunscreen, but nothing can protect him from NASCAR itself. And that's my biggest worry.

I don't know how many tickets have been sold for the Russ Friedman 400, but even if the Raceway is full, my husband is likely to stand out in a crowd of 112,029. According to, all– that's right, all– NASCAR fans "wear obscene amounts of fan gear," and they tend to be heavy shoppers for sponsor-friendly products.  

A quick perusal of the website's photos reveals children in authentic drivers' outfits, grown men wearing hats made of model racecars, and women wearing– well, let's just say the women wear as little as they need to proclaim their favorites. 

My husband doesn't own a coconut bra with the number 18 emblazoned on the shells, nor does he have the words "beware– Stewart fan" shaved into his back hair (luckily he lacks both the inclination and the fur). No, this Saturday, my husband will arrive at Richmond International Raceway completely free of NASCAR accoutrements. But will he come home as unencumbered?

A lot of people credit George Orwell with developing the concept of Groupthink in his book 1984, but it was the French social psychologist Gabriel Tarde who first introduced "group mind" in the nineteenth century. The gist of Tarde's concept is what we refer to as a "herd mentality"; that is, the phenomenon of large numbers of people acting in the same way at the same time. It exists in the stock market and fraternities and among ethnic and religious groups. It's also very, very evident at sporting events.

Sixth-century Roman and Byzantine empires may have lacked rocket fuel, but they had their own version of NASCAR anyway. They boasted demes, well-organized sporting associations with an emphasis on chariot racing. The demes consisted of four teams: Blues, Greens, Whites, and Reds, each differentiated by the colors of the uniforms. The most dominant and popular teams were the Blues and Greens.

Chariot racing fans were insanely devoted. Like NASCAR fans, they faithfully sported their team's colors and were staunchly partisan. On January 13, 532 AD, the Emperor Justinian I, a supporter of the Blues, was watching the Nika races from his private box next to the Hippodrome. From the start, race fans, already upset with Justinian, hurled insults at the Blue team, and the chants quickly became aggressive and menacing. By the end of the day, the crowd assaulted the palace, and five day later hundreds of people were dead, half of Constantinople was burned, and the mob had crowned a new emperor, Hypatius. So how did Justinian win the day?

He sent an emissary to the Blue section of the Hippodrome and reminded them Hypatius was a Green. You can guess what happened next. 

NASCAR fans are no less avid than their sixth-century brothers and sisters. The sport may be riot-free, but fans have no qualms about provoking each other, and they happily cheer fights between drivers (e.g. Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick). This Saturday, when the insults start to fly, will my husband join in? Will the herd mentality of a hundred thousand NASCAR fans prevail on his good sense?

I believe it will. Not in a violent way, although my husband my find pleasure in loudly criticizing Tony Stewart. No, I believe my husband just might fall victim to the insidious hoopla, the overwhelming capitalism that is NASCAR. He won't come home with a bloody nose, but I fear he will come up the driveway with Dale Jr. flag flapping from his window and will happily present me with a Concepts Sport Kasey Kahne Ladies Assembly Rib Knit Striped Tank. 

If my husband falls victim to the herd mentality, there may just be a riot after all.