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Minter: Silencing Is Not Golden In NASCAR

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, July 27 2010

Bill France Sr. was big enough to accept some criticism of his actions. (Photo courtesy of ISC Archives/Getty Images)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

The rumors were flying this past weekend that NASCAR had fined some of its top drivers as much as $50,000 for comments series officials considered detrimental to the sport.

Then on Monday, the Associated Press reported the same thing. Although no sources were quoted directly, the story matches the word passed from those in the know at the Brickyard to those who want to know these things.

The AP story pointed out that the fines, assuming they really were imposed, are in line with other professional sports leagues’. The article even cited the NBA’s decision to fine Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert $100,000 over a letter to fans that criticized LeBron James.

I don’t know too much about the NBA. I do follow NASCAR pretty closely, and I know that a large part of the appeal of the sport to fans is the openness and honesty of its major players.

If you don’t think driver and car owner criticism of the sport has been around for years, then read Greg Fielden’s “40 Years of Stock Car Racing”. One incident that comes to mind from a recent reading of that four-volume series is from the 1966 Dixie 400 at Atlanta. That’s the race where Junior Johnson showed up with a cheater Ford that was nicknamed the “Yellow Banana” for its color and its unique shape. The front end was lowered, the roof narrowed and chopped and the rear end jacked up in the air, giving the car the shape of a banana.

Smokey Yunick showed up with an equally tricked-up Chevrolet, and both cars passed inspection while others with lesser infractions were sent home.

NASCAR and its officials were roundly criticized. But instead of fining the critics, NASCAR founder Bill France admitted the rules enforcement had been flawed and vowed to clear up some of the gray area in the rule book.

It’s a chapter of racing history that the current leadership of NASCAR could benefit from studying.

The approach that the leadership of today is taking with fines for comments not considered favorable is indeed putting the sport on the “slippery slope” to borrow a phrase from the AP article.

NASCAR spokesperson Ramsey Poston replied with a request for the current leadership’s view on unfavorable comments by stating, “I won’t comment directly on the issues of assessments, but I will say that it is the sanctioning body’s obligation on behalf of the industry and our fans to protect the sport’s brand. Any action taken by NASCAR has nothing to do with the drivers expressing an opinion; it’s focused on actions or comments that materially damage the sport. We have specifically discussed this in meetings with teams, drivers and stakeholders.”

But what seems clear at this point is that the NASCAR media corps and the fans who rely on that group for their racing information had better take everything they hear from drivers with a grain of salt.

Is a driver who is subject to fines really going to speak his mind? Most of the drivers I know, while wealthy, are still mighty dollar conscious. I certainly will be wondering whether I’m getting the truth when I hear a driver speak on a controversial subject.

I’ve never been a fan of “Have at it, boys” as it applied to settling disputes on the race track. I would like to see more true emotion displayed, as NASCAR officials have said they’d open the door for.

But if these fines up to $50,000 really were imposed, as it looks like they were, that door has been slammed.

With the sport already reeling from declining ticket sales and slumping TV ratings, the last thing NASCAR needs is more negative news.

The fallout from this episode may well eclipse that which came with the COT, the wing, changing rules and race dates and other NASCAR decisions that haven’t sat well with its fans.

If Big Bill France could admit that he and his crew made mistakes at Atlanta back in ’66, maybe the current leadership can do the same, and all of NASCAR can move forward again.

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

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, July 27 2010
5 Comments

5 Comments »

  • Marc says:

    ed g… Ah yes, it’s the old “they won’t give me a rulebook” ploy, if I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a thousand times.

    Newsflash you’re incorrect any fan, including you can have your very own precious rulebook, you just have to open the wallet, just at drivers and team owners do. And BTW 99.9% of it is arcaine technocrap, really booring stuff, it in no way would satify you, at least not in the sense you are apparently looking for.

  • Terrell Davis says:

    Over the years I have spoken with numerous drivers “of the record” that have criticized NASCAR. They would not go “on the record” because they knew, and have said as much, that NASCAR would retaliate with some sort of bogus penalty or otherwise make it harder for the driver or team to compete.
    “You don’t bite the hand that feeds you” was the way one prominent driver put it.
    NASCAR is ruled by a monarchy not a democracy. Drivers, crews and teams, for the most part understand and accept (reluctantly) the order of rule.
    The problem with NASCAR today, among other things, is that those who rule aren’t as savvy and talented as those who ruled in the past. Brain France, unfortunately, can’t fill his dad or granddad’s shoes.
    And as far as fining me 50,000 bucks for comments detrimental to the sport…better make that around 50 bucks, cause that’s about all I have. Minter might pick up the remainder of any fine.

  • Sal says:

    The ‘other sports’ that fine players do so openly. They announce the fines, what they were imposed for, and how much they paid. Nascar does it behind closed doors, pretends it’s all open and up front. The hypocracy is offensive.

  • Richard in N.C. says:

    There are many in what passes for the NASCAR press corps who are credibility-challenged, and some who would probably choke if required to write something about NASCAR that is not negative.

    There is a distinct difference between speaking the truth and making unsupported allegations because they make you popular with the media.

  • ed g says:

    Just some thoughts:

    1. $50,000 fine for people making millions annually is not even a slap on the wrist. What the drivers fear is what the consequences may be for on-track rulings after they have been warned to shut up by the fines. Less than legitimate inspection failures, speeding penalties, sent to the end of the line, black flagged for loose car parts, etc. have all been used as punishments for other matters and the drivers all know it.

    2. NASCAR doesn’t even make its rulebook available to fans, so looking for any openness in this matter is wasted breath.

    3. NASCAR has always had a plantation mentality toward drivers. Big Bill told more than one driver that if they did not like the way he ran things, they could go back to changing oil at a filling station. He threatened to shut down his speedways and plow them up in response to an attempt to organize the drivers for more money and better treatment. Other than being a little more subtle, nothing has changed.