Getting out of Your Cultural Comfort Zone

Watching a NASCAR event on TV would never hold the pole position on my list of weekend hobbies. And, I’d rather tour Gitmo than actually attend a live NASCAR event. Peppercommer Matt Conroy had many of the same feelings before experiencing the recent Daytona 500. He’s seen the NASCAR light, though (or, at the very least, inhaled their fumes).  Here’s his entertaining guest blog on what I’d personally describe as a Lost Weekend…

One of the things we talk a lot about in the communications business, and at Peppercomm in particular, is the importance of listening – listening to our clients, our clients’ clients, media, other stakeholders. But how much of that openness do we apply to our daily lives and our cultural experiences? It’s all too easy to get trapped in a cultural rut, either because our preconceived notions are too powerful or because we have closed our eyes and ears to anything that falls outside of our comfort zone. Same music, same TV shows, same books, same old same old…

These thoughts came to me as I was flying back from this weekend’s Daytona 500 – won in exhilarating style by Dale Earnhardt Jr. after a six-hour rain delay. My good friend Brian had invited me and my buddy Miguel down to Florida for a guys weekend.”The offer sounded appealing – a few days of sun with friends, lots of cheap American lager, a house near the beach, and a chance to attend the Great American Race.

I have never really been a NASCAR guy. In fact, I’m probably more comfortable listening to Puccini than I am anywhere near a racetrack. But something just clicked for me at Daytona. Snobby Northerner that I am, I had come in expecting to be awash in a sea of Confederate flags and “IMPEACH OBAMA” bumper stickers. What I saw instead was a welcoming crowd that was very passionate about the sport, good natured and open to newbies like me. Moreover, there is simply nothing to compare with the rumble of stock cars racing two or three deep around a turn, inches from each other. It hits you right in the gut and is simply unforgettable.

We are already making plans to attend a race or two later in the season, when the scene shifts to Pocono and New Hampshire. Miguel, a soccer-mad Colombian, is probably the last guy on Earth you would expect to enjoy NASCAR, but he has become a big Junior fan as a result of Saturday’s race, while I’ve adopted Connecticut boy Joey Logano as my racer. Brian’s boy Brad Keselowski finished third, while his dad’s fave, Danica Patrick, crashed after a valiant effort.

The race has encouraged me to be more open to new experiences and to listen to what people are saying and experiencing rather than falling back on my preconceived notions. It doesn’t have to be NASCAR – I’m sure that wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea – but there is a lot of good that comes from getting outside your own skin for a while and putting your cultural biases behind you.

Now I just need to get Brian and Miguel out to the Metropolitan Opera.

8 thoughts on “Getting out of Your Cultural Comfort Zone

  1. Having a little person win a major NASCAR event would also do wonders for the sport, Matt. Do you happen to know if there are any professional auto drivers who also happen to be two-feet-tall, or under?

  2. Nice post, Matt. As a sportswriter back in the day, I covered stock car racing and drag racing. My ear drums still have not recovered. Personally, I still don’t see the interest in a “sport” that involves turning left and turning left and turning left again.

    But..what is your take on the Petty-Danica spat? Could we really see a match race between the two? This could be the greatest thing to ever happen to the sport.

    • I hear you Matt. I expected that I might find it boring, but was probably lucky to attend a very exciting race with lots of action.

      It’s funny you should mention the Danica/Petty spat. As I wrote, my buddy Brian’s dad has been a NASCAR fan for a number of years and thinks that it would be the best thing that ever happened to the sport if Danica were to actually win a race. Brian thinks she’s only still driving for the Tony Stewart team because she’s a woman, and there may be more than a grain of truth in that. She was well behind the lead pack at Daytona, but was able to at least hang in there, which is more than you can say for some of the guys.

      I’d fall more on Brian’s dad’s side of the argument. The sport suffered a bit through the recession – and it can’t rely forever on white men to carry it along. That demographic is fading. The Dale Jr. win gave them a bit of a shot in the arm. Danica winning could do even more, especially as they move half of their races to NBC next season.

      If it’s not Danica I hope we see another

  3. Nice post, Matt! I, too, never understood the allure of NASCAR. Haven’t been to a live race but always was intrigued by their business. I recently watched a 60 Minutes Sports’ clip about Hendricks Motorsports. They’re making history lately, and in 2012 hired ex-Yankees’ strength and conditioning coach Gene Monahan to train their pit crews, whom they recruit from collegiate athletic programs.

    • From what I can tell Hendrick are sort of the Yankees of NASCAR, so that makes a lot of sense.

  4. Great post, Matt.

    You should show that you are a true convert and have the theme from the Dukes of Hazard as your ringtone.