I call myself The Fantasy First-Timer, and that’s true as far as it goes. I’ve never played a down of fantasy football before, so I’m a total first-timer when it comes to all of this stuff. But you might be tempted from the name to think I’ve never played fantasy sports before, and that’s not quite the case.
It was fantasy NASCAR, and I was awesome at it.
The year was 2007. I’d become a NASCAR fan two years earlier, kind of by chance. See, my dad and my grandpa (my mom’s dad) had been together for President’s Day weekend in 2005, which happened to be the weekend of the Daytona 500. My grandpa, who was a fan, turned the race on, and my dad sat down beside him and really watched a race for the first time – with his father-in-law there to explain the backstory, the rivalries, the personalities, that make 40-odd cars on a track into high-octane drama. From that point, my dad became a NASCAR fan. The next weekend, I was home from school, and when my dad turned the race on – Las Vegas that weekend, I’ll never forget it – and I sat down next to him, the process repeated. Suddenly my dad and I were superfans, and the fandom was something we shared, trading observations on races and drivers every week. (Incidentally, my Kyle Busch fandom dates from that first race. He was a rookie, younger than I was, and driving the wheels off almost everyone else in the field. He finished 2nd that day, in the second race of his first full-time season. I hitched my fandom wagon to his daring racecar and haven’t looked back since.)
So back to 2007. We’d been fans a couple of years by that point and had gotten really into it. I was eagerly awaiting the season’s start at Daytona. And about a week before that, I got an email from my dad. I wish I still had the email, because it was a classic. As I remember it, the subject was “Bogan Racing”, and the entire email said, “I signed us up for this, now you have to pick our team for Daytona.” The link to the website and the login information was probably in there too, but that was it. In two sentences I’d just become a fantasy race team co-owner.
Quick note here – the name Bogan Racing came about as an amalgam of my dad’s name, Bob, and my name, Megan. I only recently learned that “bogan” is an Australian derogatory term meaning something like “white trash”. But you know what, that’s not entirely inappropriate for a NASCAR team, so I’ll still stand by it.
The league had a straightforward setup. You had a salary cap and had to pick five teams each week to fill out your roster. You could choose new drivers every week, there was no trading or ownership, but you could only spend the amount of your salary cap. Each driver was worth a different amount of money, and that amount changed week to week based on performance. And your salary cap would change too, based on the performance of your team. So if you had a driver that cost you $100 in Week One, and his value increased 5% for Week Two, he’d cost $105 for the next week – but your cap would also have increased by those $5 that week, and if you chose a different set of drivers you had $5 more to spend.
I immediately took this way too far (as I’m sure you’re starting to sense is my way with things). I had a NASCAR magazine whose preseason issue ranked each driver for the season with projections for how they’d do at each track. I input all that data into a spreadsheet. Then I cross-referenced it with the salary for each driver. Then I created new columns for each driver’s qualifying position. As I went along, I also logged each driver’s finish every week, so that for example in July, when the series returned to Daytona, I had each driver’s past finish at my fingertips as I decided on my next team configuration.
I don’t have plans to create a league-wide spreadsheet to help me fill out my fantasy football roster, but maybe I should look into that. It took time to set up and maintain, but it was easy to create team combinations at a glance once all that data was in. It turned out to be a very powerful tool…
Nah. That would be insane. Right? (Please tell me that would be insane.)
My partnership with my dad was simple. In football terms, my dad was the owner – he’d fronted the money that got us into the league – and I was the general manager – I did the analysis and made the roster decisions on a week-to-week basis. He approved those decisions, but mostly he was rubber-stamping whatever my research had led me to choose. We did decide early on on a philosophical strategy for these decisions: namely, that we were fans first and fantasy owners second. We would pick Kyle and Kevin (Harvick, who my dad was rooting for back then) almost every week, and fill in around them with the best scrubs we could afford. And equally as important – maybe even more important – there were some drivers we would never choose, no matter how good a bet they might be at a particular track. We would rather have a down week, relatively speaking, than ever have to root for Brad Keselowski. (I don’t think he was racing yet then – it would have been Carl Edwards in 2007 – but Special K is such an epic asshole that he retroactively proves my point much more clearly.)
And we were successful at it. I wouldn’t say we lit our league on fire, but it was a national league and we were competing against an entire nation’s worth of Junior fans (Junior sponsored the league, or at least lent his name to it). Our top-100 finish at the end of the season was pretty respectable, if I do say so myself. And we won two tickets to any racetrack on the circuit, which is how we got to go to Bristol the next summer. Sadly, the league folded after that 2007 season, and we never really found one with rules we liked after that, so that one season was my only foray into fantasy sports.
But there are lessons from my success there that I plan to adapt for my next go-round as a fantasy owner, that I think will translate across the leagues from auto-racing to football-chasing. Three in particular jump to mind:
- Numbers are your friend. The league-wide spreadsheet is probably too complicated an idea to be feasible (I’m telling you, please convince me this is insane or I will end up spending all my time trying to do it), but fantasy ownership, done well, takes research. I liked having options to play with each week depending on track performance. It took planning each week, but it paid off. I’d like to structure my fantasy team in the same way, so that I can bench an RB with a bad matchup in favor of somebody who’ll perform better. It will take weekly monitoring of the data, but that’s what successful fantasy ownership requires.
- Scrubs are the answer. Every team has superstars, and they get to be superstars because they are (almost) always going to perform amazingly. But Bogan Racing didn’t win on the strength of Kyle Busch’s performance. He was great week-to-week, but so were many other top-tier guys. Bogan Racing won based on David Gilliland’s performance. He was often on our team because we could afford him, and he was reliably good for a top-20 finish at a reasonable price. Making the right value picks was how we set ourselves apart. That’s a strategy I’d like to use again. Sure, I’d love to have an all-star team every week, but only one owner can draft Aaron Rodgers, and if I get him, by the time the draft snakes around to me again, Todd Gurley will be gone. Knowing and picking the right mid-level guys is the answer.
- Yes, you can be a fan and a fantasy owner. I never did have to root for Carl Edwards to win at fantasy NASCAR. I can put together a fantasy roster without a single Seahawk on it too. Sure, my team might be marginally better some weeks if I had the option of having Russell Wilson out there, but I can be pretty good without him AND still sleep at night knowing my loyalty to my Bruins is unshakable. (Have I mentioned that I hate Pete Carroll? I’m sure I’ve made that clear, but I can’t underline it enough.)
So there you have it, the legacy and lessons from my one season as the co-owner of Bogan Racing. I don’t think tickets to any stadium in the NFL are a prize I can win this time around, but I’ll settle for just the pride of dominating my league.
Or I’ll finish in last place. I guess we’ll see which it turns out to be.