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Minter: Welcome To Era Of Disposable Cars

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 3 2010

Jimmie Johnson's crew went to work on his seriously messed-up race car in the garages at Charlotte last Sunday. This car was kind of saved. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

It’s been interesting to observe the way crashes are handled in NASCAR garage these days. The cars themselves have become almost expendable in the interest of excitement. More later on the drivers aboard them.

Before a car wrecked in practice or qualifying is ever dragged all the way into the garage area, a back-up car, good or better than new, is being rolled off the upper deck of a hauler.

The wrecked car is usually placed off in some corner of the garage, put up on jack stands and covered with a tarp as soon as some key parts are removed for safe storage.

Most times, neither driver nor crew chief seem terribly upset.

In a race, a perfectly good race car, the product of countless hours of preparation by skilled craftsmen, is sometimes looked upon as something too be used like a set of tires.

Sometimes a wreck does lead to a good bit of grumbling, particularly if the driver is one of those who came into the sport short on experience but packing a big sponsor. Crew members complain that those drivers are usually on the family plane, halfway home, before the wrecked car is loaded for the trip back to the shop.

It’s another situation, like many in auto racing, where young drivers can learn from Mark Martin.

Here’s how Martin explained his philosophy on tearing up his own cars and those of his competitors.

“I live by a code, and that code works for me,” he said. “It has actually worked well for some others as well. I was taught that code partially by people I raced with too. We went to Wisconsin and raced Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon with the same car. No backup cars and they only paid about $400 to win each night. You didn’t need to bend a ball joint or a tie rod or a wheel or fix a wreck. You know? You didn’t need to. There was enough maintenance to be done as it was. The guys I raced with, we had a code that we raced with and it worked well and we tore very little up and we put on great shows and great racing. It is a little different now, obviously, but I still try to live by the same code. I try to race people extremely hard, but with respect and the way I want to be raced.”

Martin’s comments also brought to mind the way the media, TV folks in particular, and even advertising types, handle wrecks.

Too often wrecking and excitement are treated as one in the same. It’s not the same.

Race broadcasters and advertisers all have shown over and over the Carl Edwards-Brad Keselowski crashes at Talladega and Atlanta.

But they’re not telling the full story.

What’s missing?

Sound.

Here’s how my RacinToday colleague Jeff Hood described the Keselowski crash at Atlanta:

“From where I sat in the press box on Sunday, I heard a bomb detonate at the exact moment I saw Keselowski’s crumpled car clobber the wall out of the corner of my eyes.”

A couple of things rushed through my mind: Keselowski’s powerful impact reminded me of Blaise Alexander’s wreck at the start-finish in an ARCA race in Charlotte in Oct. 2001. Alexander’s contact with the wall sounded like an explosion. Alexander was pronounced dead less than an hour later.

Here’s a challenge to the TV crowd – any time wreck footage is shown it should be complete with the actual sound.

Have at it, broadcast boys.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 3 2010
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