Minter: Drivers Need To Speak Up
Hampton, Ga. – For the second time in less than a year, I’ve sat in a press box at a high-speed NASCAR track and watched a car be spun around, lift off the ground, turn upside down and slam into a retaining wall and catchfence.
At Talladega Superspeedway last year, it was Carl Edwards flying into the fence, nearly windshield first, with Brad Keselowski, the driver he’d just tangled with, going on to win the race. At Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday it was Keselowski flying upside down, almost head first into the wall, after contact, apparently intentional, from Edwards.
This time it wasn’t for the win. Edwards was 156 laps down and from all indications delivering payback for an earlier incident or incidents between the two of them.
The crashes may look exciting on TV, but in person, they’re sickening.
At Talladega, fellow reporter Monte Dutton and I left our seats in the press box and went to the crash scene below where we found a handful of battered and bruised fans who looked like they’d just lost a bar room brawl. Up at the top of the stands, a young lady was lying flat on her back on a stretcher attached to a rescue vehicle. She had bled enough from her jaw to turn a starched white towel nearly completely red.
NASCAR and track officials went of their way to label the injuries “minor.”
At Atlanta, Keselowski’s car stayed out of the spectator area. Mercifully there were no injuries.
If there’s an upside to the crash at Atlanta it’s that it raised questions about the “Have at it, boys” approach to racing that NASCAR officials announced earlier this year.
Drivers and series officials spent most of the post-race news conference time answering questions about just how much wrecking is acceptable in the “Have at it, boys” era.
Is there a difference, from an enforcement standpoint, in wrecking someone at Martinsville at 90 miles per hour and putting them in the fence at Atlanta at 200? What kind of punishment, if any, can drivers expect? Will the sport continue to cater to a segment of the fan base – hopefully a small one – that shows up at the track or turns on the TV just to see bone-jarring, potentially deadly wrecks?
What all this calls for is some leadership from the garage – not NASCAR officials or TV commentators or even members of the press but veteran drivers like Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
They need to stand up and demand professional, civil behavior in the sport, and if they don’t they’re dishonoring the legacy of the people who helped bring NASCAR from the rough and tumble bullrings of the South to the national scene.
They need to stand up and tell their fans in no uncertain terms that the sport has been over-hyped. They need to spread the word to the public and to their younger peers that rivalries are good but irresponsible driving is not.
They need to tell their fans that the fact that the Car of Tomorrow is safer does not mean that a driver or fan won’t be hurt or killed.
They need to point out that NASCAR racing is about dueling for positions, with mutual respect among drivers, and strategy and doing everything possible on the track and on pit road to get the best result possible.
They need to use the media to get the word out instead of trying to spend as little time as possible with the press.
They need to explain to fans that just as motorists on the highway have to trust that oncoming drivers will stay in their lane and abide by the rules of the road, NASCAR drivers need to know they can do their jobs without worrying about a competitor having no regard for common decency.
They need to demand that something be done about the track at Talladega, where a “boring” race last year got all of this mess started.
Drivers and race teams and sponsors and promoters need to be prepared to run a race with a top driver sitting out a race as punishment.
Carl Edwards is a great guy, and has been one of the most helpful to many of us in the media over the years, but when a driver pulls a stunt like Edwards did at Atlanta he needs to sit out a race so he can rethink his and the sport’s priorities.
If he or any other driver is frustrated by pressure from his sponsors or team owners, the sponsors and team owners should back off and work on fixing whatever the problem may be.
For years, NASCAR has grown while portraying its athletes as role models and for the most part they have been.
But wrecking another driver intentionally sends a terrible message.
Demolition Derbies are amateur events that belong at county fairs or local short tracks.
NASCAR racing should be a professional sport. It’s time for its stars to step up and insist that it be that way.
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments