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The following is the completely falsified transcript of a conversation, which never took place between Mike and Maggie, two people who do not exist. I did not overhear this conversation, nor one remotely like it, and probably never will. The made-up names have not been changed.
Mike: “Hey, did you watch 'Lost Idol Survivor Apprentice' last weekend?”
Maggie: “Of course, I did. I never miss one. What did you think about that ending?”
Mike: “Fantastic. I never saw it coming—definitely a wild finish.”
Maggie: “I know. I’m just relieved my favorite did okay for another week. He’s looking good for the finals, I think. I was a little worried about him at first. Some of the other guys looked really strong in the early episodes.”
Mike: “Well, you know how these season-long competitions work. Some guys just like to bide their time early on and then come on strong at the end.”
Maggie: “Did you happen to see the TV ratings? They were actually higher than the numbers for the installment that aired last year on the same date.”
Mike: “I did see that. Think it means anything?”
Maggie: “Oh, yeah. It means this is a great show that people want to watch ... and these are just the early episodes. We haven’t seen anything yet. Wait until things get cranked up at the end!”
This doesn’t really sound like a conversation between a couple of ordinary, average television viewers, does it? Of course not. While hit shows become hits for a reason —something about them captures the attention and devotion of the masses—no one really gets terribly hung up on the actual numbers. We like what we like, and it is no more complicated than that.
Sounds a lot like NASCAR fans to me.
This seems like somewhat of a contradiction on the surface, as NASCAR is a sport literally driven by numbers. Qualifying speeds. Series standings. Starting and finishing order. The Top 35. The Top 12. And these things just barely scratch the surface of what is probably the most numbers-oriented sport in the world.
There is a phrase, often used in business settings, postulating that you “live by the numbers; die by the numbers.” Of course, this refers to things such as gross revenues, asset inflow versus outflow, adjustable versus fixed rates, mandatory convertibles (That’s a car I really, really need to have, right?) and lots of other cool financial catch phrases that verbally oriented people don’t really comprehend.
Sometimes this mindset can dig a whole big well of worry, which, if we allow it to, can have a detrimental effect on one of the most major areas of our lives—fun.
In South Carolina, where I live, we have a statewide lottery system. Once a week I stop by the corner convenience store and buy a single Powerball ticket. The numbers aren’t necessarily in my favor—in fact, they’re roughly 32 million-to-one against me—but still there is a chance that my single-dollar investment could one day net me 15 million bucks or more. You never know, but it’s fun to speculate.
The bathroom scale and my blue jeans—an evil and conniving couple, definitely in cahoots—sometimes inform me that I have deviated a couple of pounds from my ideal weight. (This particular number is only made public on a need-to-know basis.)
Whether this is the result of too much sodium in last night’s pad Thai, leaving the jeans in the dryer a few minutes too long, or an ill-advised second slice of key lime pie is an answer not worth agonizing over. A couple of days at the salad bar and a couple of hours on the treadmill can cut that five right back to a three. Why worry about it?
I'm hearing a fair amount of grousing lately over the fact that Tony Stewart hasn't won a race yet, although both of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates have. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jeff Gordon and defending Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson are also winless so far this season.
But let’s be realistic. We’re just getting started here. We’re not even 25 percent done with the 2008 race season yet. A single day can, and probably will, change all those numbers, turn them completely around and upside down. Then the next week, the same thing will happen all over again.
I guess the point is that whether my bank account is 50 dollars on the low side, my jeans are a little snug or “my” driver starts the next race in 31st position rather than first, numbers, like so many things in life, have a way of balancing themselves out.
This is all accomplished with, or without, my personal “worry ticker” constantly punching its buttons and running its tape to dampen my enthusiasm and foul up my fun.
It’s all the proverbial tempest in a teapot (or storm at the speedway) anyway, because in the end, only a single digit matters, and it never changes.
For fans of the sport, NASCAR is always No. 1.
Cathy Elliott is the former director of public relations at Darlington Raceway. She currently lives in Florence, S.C. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.