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NASCAR's 'Boys-Have-At-It' policy is sickening

by Brian Carroccio
Monday, November 12, 2012

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NASCAR circus racing - Jeff Gordon wrecks Clint Bowyer
Getty Images for NASCAR
What some consider boys being boys, I consider sickening. 

I speak of course, about the actions of NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.  Gordon, of course, intentionally wrecked Clint Bowyer during yesterday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race in apparent retaliation after the two had come together laps earlier.  Angered by what he determined to be a travesty of justice, Gordon, who had fallen off the pace, waited for Bowyer to come around before driving into his rear quarter panel.  Bowyer turned suddenly into the wall, wrecking himself, Gordon, Joey Logano and Aric Almirola in the process. 

Now, a lot of you will say I’m sensationalizing the matter, and the incident is just no big deal.  You’ll say no one was hurt in the wreck (well, then lets have more of them), and contend that Bowyer’s rough driving meant he had it coming.  Likewise, surfing around cyberspace and social media, many of you have even celebrated the accident and subsequent brawl between the two teams for drawing attention to the sport. 

Further, you’ll see Gordon’s actions defended with the typically profound insights such as "rubbin' is racin’," or "it's checkers or wreckers," as though Moses was told those very phrases at Mount Sinai. Certainly, what you won’t see are many credentialed NASCAR media members taking the sanctioning body to task for endangering its competitors, and those who attend their races.  No, many of them, would rather focus on the great championship battle taking shape, and are encouraging the rest of us to do the same.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not going to do that. 

Rather, I’m going to call Gordon’s act exactly what it was: a visceral, premeditated action with intent to maim; an action that in my opinion, was arguably criminal; an action that NASCAR’s archaic and idiotic “boys have at it,” policy has endorsed; a policy that if the sanctioning body continues to pursue, may have disastrous consequences. 

And if NASCAR has any spine, or intelligence, they will park the former four-time series champion.  And no, I am not talking about parking Gordon for next week’s meaningless season finale at Homestead to allow him to go on vacation a week earlier.  Rather, they will sit Gordon down for an extended period of time, and once and for all bury the hatchet on this moronic “boys have at it,” policy. 

Now, before moving ahead, I believe it is necessary to briefly differentiate between contact within the framework of a race and deliberately crashing a competitor. Contact is an unavoidable part of racing. If two competitors are vying for the same piece of real estate and contact occurs (thin Al Unser, Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi at Indy) that is a part of racing. In other words acceptable contact is that which occurs in the course of the race.

But we seem to currently believe intentionally wrecking someone is not racing. Yesterday, Gordon, who had fallen off the pace, remained on the track for the sheer purpose of wrecking Bowyer.  Yes, with Bowyer at speed, Gordon took the law into his own hands by turning his car into a weapon, sending Bowyer head first into the wall, and in turn wrecking Logano and Almirola.

And given the circumstances you might think, NASCAR would feel an obligation of some kind to Logano and Almirola, and their teams.  Not only, were two drivers innocently and unnecessarily put in danger by Gordon’s act, but their teams were levied with what had to be an expensive damage bill.  Certainly, NASCAR, whose role it is to maintain order and insure the greatest possible safety of its competitors on track, feel an obligation to punish Gordon and deter such action from happening again?

They probably won’t.  If anything, Gordon will receive a cursory slap on the wrist of some kind, possibly a suspension for this weekend’s race.  NASCAR will of course, spin it and suggest they are being tougher on Gordon than they have before.  But remember, the usual precedent is to well, do nothing, at all. 

Of course, early in the 2010 season, Carl Edwards intentionally wrecked Brad Keselowski at Atlanta.  Edwards was many laps down at the time, and not racing Keselowski for position.  Cameras showed he turned intentionally into Keselowski on the straightaway sending him airborne.

After the race, Edwards did little to deny the perception that he had revenge in mind.  If anything, Edwards like Gordon yesterday, confirmed he was seeking retribution with his flippant "he had it coming" type comments.  NASCAR called the two in for a meeting to air whatever differences and each driver was slapped with probationary type penalties, but no races missed.

At the time, I wrote for another publication that Edwards, should have, at minimum, been parked for a number of races.  Probation, in my opinion, was a laughable slap on the wrist that made NASCAR's message loud and clear: Our inane "boys will be boys," policy is more important that the safety of Keselowski, his team, the other drivers, and the paying customers, who were potentially endangered by a car sent intentionally skyward.  Similar to Gordon’s act, I suggested Edward's behavior was not merely dangerous, but arguably criminal.  Worse, I contended NASCAR being essentially complicit with Edward's behavior, made them an accessory in a criminal act. 

Of course, many dismissed me, but Edwards’ behavior did not change.  Later that season in the Nationwide event at Gateway, Edwards hooked Keselowski, who was leading the race, on a restart.  Keselowski spun and collected 14 innocent bystanders, who were caught up in the wreck.

What did NASCAR do?  Dock Edwards 25 Nationwide points, fine him, and place him on probation, again.  Maybe, it was double-secret probation that time?  I don't remember. 

However, the message was clear:  It's ok for 14 cars to be wrecked; it's ok for spectators, marshals and competitors to be unnecessarily endangered if Carl Edwards needs to settle a score. 

While NASCAR did suspend Kyle Busch last year for an intentional wrecking of Ron Hornaday in a truck race, even that was a laughable one-race penalty, particularly considering Busch had a history of vindictive driving. 

Further, the issue once again reared its ugly head in August at Bristol Motor Speedway.  This time it was Tony Stewart who took the law into his own hands.  Believing Matt Kenseth had wrecked him, after the two tangled, Stewart decided to vent his frustration by throwing his helmet at the No. 17 car, as Kenseth was leaving the pits.

Now, when compared to the boorish actions of Edwards and Gordon, Stewart's "helmet toss," was I suppose, relatively benign.  Kenseth was leaving the pits, and not at race speed.  Also, if drivers are going to turn inanimate objects into projectiles, I suppose a helmet is better than a 750 horsepower car.

Still, that doesn't change the problem.  Stewart's helmet could have possibly gone through Kenseth's windshield, which would have had potentially disastrous consequences.  Think of Kenseth wrecking on pit road with crew men executing a stop?

But hey, short tracks mean short tempers, right?  Apparently.

Not only did NASCAR do nothing to deter Stewart's behavior, they, if anything, reveled in the madness.  In fact, Atlanta Motor Speedway announced a promotion allowing fans, who had already purchased three Lower Champions Grandstand Tickets to obtain a fourth for $14 (if they're Stewart fans) or $17 (if they're Kenseth fans).  The prices, of course matched the numbers on the respective cars.  Classy.

And I suppose, no one has ever criticized NASCAR's promotional wherewithal.  Further, I’ve written numerous times that NASCAR is an American success story of unparalleled proportions.  And if you don’t believe me, just remember the organization regularly draws 100,000 people 40 times a year to remote locations to watch drive glorified taxi-cabs go around in circles for hours.

Nonetheless, allowing men like Stewart, Edwards, and Gordon to police their racetracks by turning turn helmets and racing cars into projectiles is a moronic policy with potentially disastrous consequences, legal and otherwise. 

And while I cannot imagine a judge of any repute finding merit in the boys-have-at-it policy, that is not my greatest concern.  And while I fear for men like Kenseth, Keselowski, and Bowyer, who seem to be somewhat slow learners, their welfare is not my greatest worry. 

Rather I'm concerned about a more innocent bystander. It could be a competitor, a crewman, marshal or a vendor at the racetrack. Maybe it’s a spectator checking out a NASCAR race for the first time, who doesn't know about the petty conflicts between Edwards and Keselowski, Stewart and Kenseth, or Gordon and Bowyer.  I fear they may pay a hefty price to learn.


--Brian

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