My Brain on NASCAR: Time to study up for the RAT

col-cathyelliottIt is an awful feeling, and in the manner of grim surprises since the beginning of time, you never see it coming.

I was having a casual conversation over lunch the other day about fairly nebulous NASCAR topics, what I would consider general-knowledge questions.

We discussed the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season so far, the next few races, whether or not Tony Stewart is happy with his retirement decision, when in the world Chase Elliott will get that crucial first win, anything and everything about Dale Earnhardt, Jr. … in other words, the usual.

“So,” said my friend. “Where is Junior in the points right now, anyway?”

That’s not a hard one, right? I opened my mouth to respond, and realized I had absolutely no idea what the answer was. No clue. Air in the head completely unhindered by the presence of any relevant information whatsoever. Stumped.

Behold my personal Trojan horse. Bearing its warriors with names like Doubtus, Uncertainus and Second Guessius, one simple question knocked me right off my own horse, formerly known as High.

The survival schmoozing mechanism sprang quickly into action; how could I save myself? Could I possibly bamboozle my way out of this? “Somewhere in the middle of the field” would have been an option … yeah, right, for my mom, maybe. I should know better; I am expected to know better.

So in a misguided but well-intentioned effort to somehow avoid complete and utter public disgrace, I took the road less traveled and opted for the truth, admitting that I couldn’t remember. The fan on the street could have answered this question, but I could not.

For a person who, at least hypothetically, is supposed to know what she is talking about, there is no sicker feeling than being asked a question you don’t know the answer to. For me, it could be compared to being suddenly plunked down in the middle of an operating room, handed a scalpel and some scrubs in an unflattering shade of green, and asked to perform heart surgery. (Either that or trying to drive in Atlanta; they’d be pretty similar experiences for me on the scale of terrified confusion.)

Long story short, I would feel totally lost.

How frustrating. Society has come up with a list of clever names to describe these periods of forgetfulness we all experience, like “”brain fade” or “senior moment,” but the fact remains that sometimes when your turn rolls around, you simply draw a blank.

While this is good when playing a heated game of Scrabble and can get you out of some of those sticky spelling jams, in real life it usually has the opposite effect. Either way, it wins you no points.

In this case, I called in the cavalry, AKA Google. As of April 5, Earnhardt was ranked 25th in the driver standings, with no wins, no top fives or top 10s, and two DNFs. His average race finish so far this season is 24.5. His current ranking with fans is 1. Go figure.

Life is full of tests. Students are required to meet certain standards in subjects like reading, writing and my old nemesis, math, before they can be moved up to the next grade level. It seems we are constantly scored, reviewed and evaluated.

They run standardized tests on the cars, right? They’re used to measure things like air flow and tire pressure.

So maybe what we need is an equivalent standardized measurement of the people whose job it is to inform other people about those cars, and about the men and women who drive them. It could be used to measure our NASCAR knowledge levels, in much the same manner as the SAT evaluates critical thinking skills.

It wouldn’t even require a complicated acronym. We could go with something simple, like the Racing Aptitude Test, or RAT.

I’ll keep you updated on my progress. For now, I need to sign off, as I have a busy day ahead. I need to check out NASCAR.COM, listen to some NASCAR radio on Sirius channel 90, and read the 2017 NASCAR media guide cover to cover.

Plus, my new copy of NASCAR for Dummies Who Think They Know More Than They Really Do has just arrived, so I have some major studying to take care of.

I think I smell a RAT.

Cathy Elliott is the former director of public relations for Darlington Raceway and author of the books Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR; Desktop 500; and Darlington Raceway: Too Tough to Tame. Contact her at cathyelliott@hotmail.com.

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