Well, the inmates are in charge of the asylum at NASCAR today.
No, I’m not talking about “payback” on the race track, which earned Carl Edwards a tap on the wrist for sending Brad Keselowski on a parasail ride at Atlanta Motor Speedway last Sunday.
NASCAR wants that sort of stuff to happen all the time now (“have at it, boys”), so penalized Edwards the grand total of nothing (which is what probation for three races adds up to be).
What I am talking about is that the drivers can do anything they want to do now – such as driving the wrong way along pit road. Hey, maybe the next time some driver gets all out of whack about something, he might just drive the wrong way on the speedway and, when questioned about it later by NASCAR, will point directly to what Edwards did last Sunday, without penalty, as justification.
Anybody who’s ever been along a pit road anywhere
knows traffic goes only one way. You don’t even think that somebody might be coming
the other way – which is why, at Indianapolis in 1973, a fireman running to the
wreck that eventually killed Swede Savage was hit and killed by a firetruck
that was going to wrong way along pit road.
But that’s all out the window, now. Not one word was mentioned about Edwards’ thumbing his nose at NASCAR and at safety by going the wrong way when he was parked following the wrecking of Keselowki.
Yes, there is a very fine line when it comes to officiating a violent, contact sport. The National Hockey League is in trouble at the moment – and knows it – over hits to the head. What was once a hard-hitting, tough, contact sport has become – as a direct result of lax officiating – one in which some of the participants are deliberately trying to injure their opponents.
Watch any NHL game now and I guarantee that you
will see at least one incident in which someone – usually a defenceman – will
line up a forward waiting for a pass with his head down and try to kill him.
That’s right, kill him. Some people will argue otherwise, but that's what's happening.
Which is why the NHL is in such a dither, trying to figure out how to curtail what its leniency has allowed to happen. This is the road that NASCAR is going down and it had better watch it.
Everybody understands the reasoning behind why NASCAR has asked the drivers to get more aggressive. It’s all about TV ratings and selling tickets, both of which have dropped off in recent years.
Auto racing, at one time, was an extreme sport. Not any more. There were more athletes putting their lives on the line at the recent Olympics (witness the fatally injured luger, the upside-down bobsled runners, the gymnasts-on-skis) than do in auto races these days and many people are finding it boring.
So, in saying "have at it, boys," NASCAR is looking to put the "extreme" back into its sport. Rubbin' 'n' racin', tradin' paint - that sort of thing.
But when someone does what Edwards did last Sunday at Atlanta – deliberately spinning out a competitor at 180 mph – it’s called crossing the line and an appropriate penalty has to be levied, which three races on probation is definitely not.
NASCAR has to have a rethink – for two reasons:
1. Le Mans, 1955. A car went into the crowd during the 24-hour race and killed the driver and 84 spectators and injured more than 100 other people. NASCAR has had two really close calls in this area – Bobby Allison and Edwards, both at Talladega. (Keselowski’s accident last Sunday wasn’t really that close.)
But at the speeds the cars are running, the “have at it, boys” mentality (as the direct result of NASCAR’s encouragement) will increase the grim possibility of this sort of thing happening and can you imagine the uproar if something as devastating as the Le Mans disaster was to take place at Charlotte or Indianapolis or Daytona?
2. The involvement of law-enforcement officials.
If Brad Keselowki had been killed last Sunday, Carl Edwards would be facing criminal charges today.
Does NASCAR want that?