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Pedley: Final Thoughts On Racing And America

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, September 9 2011

2010 Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson presents President Obama with a framed pair of driving gloves.

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

This is America. Americans do not need to appear before government officials unless they are arrested or subpoenaed or need to renew their drivers’ licences. And the Sprint Cup drivers who decided to pass on invitations to the White House this week are Americans.

And yes, they are busy. They have cars to test and product to push. They are being paid a lot of money for those things.

No, if a driver or any other citizen of this country wants to turn down an invitation from their President to dine or schmooze or exchange gifts which will just be thrown in a dusty closet, that is an exercise in democracy.

The only real bones of contention I have are:

– The prior-commitments reason. The President of the United States found time to re-arrange his schedule to honor NASCAR and its champions. You’ve got to believe that whoever it is the drivers had appointments with on a Wednesday afternoon would understand a driver saying, “Hate to do this, and I will do my best to reschedule our meeting, but I have been invited to the White House.”

– Hypocrisy. NASCAR is a sport which has thumped the tub long and hard on the issues of patriotism in general, and the military specifically. Races and tracks are festooned with giant American flags, military personnel are often included in pre-race ceremonies and drivers meetings, and flyovers are common.

Turning down a couple-hour meeting with the Commander In Chief by the drivers – and apparently with very little prodding or even comment by NASCAR officials about that – exposes the drivers and the sport to accusations of armchair patriotism. Tony Stewart, whose team receives millions of dollars from the military for primary sponsorship of the No. 39 Stewart Haas Racing car basically, thumbed his nose at a major sponsor, his boss and, if polls are correct, 50 percent of American taxpayers.

Emails and comment boards have received a lot action on the subject this week. Some readers support the four drivers’ decision to skip the visit, some condemn it. The reasons behind the comments range from solidly logical to moronic.

And let’s be honest, the comments are politically based: Those who back the drivers’ decision to not attend a function at the Obama White House are conservatives, and those who say those drivers are showing bad form are not.

When a Republican president is elected – whenever that might be – and he invites NASCAR to the White House, the same arguments will be made by different people if some drivers opt out of attendance.

And me, I get to recycle this column and take the day off.

You’ve got to wonder what kind of equipment Richard Childress Racing will give Clint Bowyer this weekend at Richmond International Raceway.

Bowyer met with the media on Thursday at RIR and, basically, said that contract talks between team and driver have stalled out and that a move to another team next year by Bowyer is likely.

Bowyer also said again that he thinks that even though a victory Saturday night in Richmond would likely put him in the Chase, he thinks his playoff chances have been fricasseed.

An old-school reaction to all of that by an owner would be to give the driver second-tier equipment as a parting gift and they don’t come any more old-school than Richard Childress.

Then again, RC needs owner points and Bowyer has barrel-loads of pride. Whatever happens, Bowyer will be a great sidebar on Saturday.

The list of my five favorite auto racing events has been revised. Here is the new list:

1. The Indianapolis 500.

2. The Mac Tools NHRA U.S. Nationals.

3. Le Mans.

4. The Daytona 500.

5. Sebring.

Tip of the hat to ESPN for showing six hours of the NHRA’s U.S. Nationals on Monday. Every run in the final eliminations is big: Packed with drama and emotion. These guys wanted that Wally and wanted it bad.

How bad? Ron Capps’ televised interview after losing in the Funny Car eliminations was heart-shredding. He was quivering as he tried to keep it together to finish the short interview.

During a teleconference this week, Capps, who felt sure that this was his year to take home an Indy Wally, talked a bit more about his emotions after the loss the Bob Tasca III.

“When we lost to Bob Monday there in Indy – I’ve been upset about losing at Indy when I thought I had a pretty good car – I had to fight myself from throwing up,” Capps said. “It hurt so bad, I wanted to walk over in the corner and throw up my lunch.”

The NHRA is wonderful stuff. If only somebody could figure out how to package it into a live, three-hour television broadcast. I’m definitely not looking at you, Versus.

Finally…Ferrari and Audi in the GRAND-AM Series next year. Nice.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, September 9 2011
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