I consider myself a tolerant person. To each his (or her) own, I say.
And following that logic, I consider myself a fan of all types of auto racing. Yes, I like some forms more than others, but I appreciate it all and can watch it all and enjoy it all over the course of time.
And while I used to think that some types of auto racing were more difficult than others, that it was harder – say – to drive a Formula One car at tenth-tenths through the streets of Monaco than to handle a midget on the high-banked dirt oval at Belleville, Kansas, I have since changed my mind after actually going racing myself and discovering, in my own little world, that it’s just plain hard to do.
The drivers I have come to admire and appreciate the most are the competitors in a series that races in all sorts of different conditions in all sorts of different configurations. I used to think, for instance, that the CART Indy car drivers were the cat’s meow because one week they would be on a super speedway, the next on a road course, the next on a short oval and the next on a street circuit. The only thing missing from the national championship, I thought, was a round on a dirt track at – say – the Indiana State Fairgrounds or maybe the miles at Springfield or Du Quoin, Ill.
The drivers who race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup these days are a pretty versatile group. They have to go from the high-banked, restrictor-plate, flat-out-balls-to-the-wall Daytona Speedway to the short, tight, relatively flat Phoenix International Raceway to the even shorter and tighter Bristol Motor Speedway and then, later in the year, to the up-hill-and-down-dale, right-turn-left-turn, gear-up-gear-down Watkins Glen International and they do it all with speed and style and panache.
Yes, watching the Daytona 500 unfold last Sunday was maybe not the riveting sports spectacle that we all had anticipated (not really knowing how the Gen 6 cars were going to behave, for instance), but it was amazing to watch and appreciate the skill, daring and particularly the concentration of all those drivers rocketing around and around that race track at 200 miles an hour and not one of them making a false move. It really was – cliche time here – poetry in motion.
So it was both surprising and disconcerting to come across a Facebook entry from retired sports car racer Bill Adam that basically dissed the entire 43-car field on Sunday. Wrote Adam:
"Amazing race cars...", "the best drivers in the world....". Are these comments directed towards McLaren, Red Bull or Ferrari? Are they about Vettel. Tom Kristensen, or......??? Nope. All were just uttered on the NASCAR broadcast......
"So let me get this straight.........these drivers and cars ALL run flat out, all the way around the Daytona speedway, in this long follow the leader procession and the only time they have to lift off the throttle is to come into the pits. And this is racing ???? Give me a break !!!
"I WILL agree that they are amazingly boring, and that the drivers are the best drivers on the Daytona track - at this moment. Sad......Bill Adam."
As I said, I’m a tolerant guy. I believe in freedom of speech. People can say what they want. I do it all the time; it’s how I make my living.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t shake my head on occasion and wonder where some of these people are coming from.
Yes, some of the things Darrell Waltrip said last Sunday were a bit over the top – but so what? It was the Daytona 500, stock car racing’s biggest day. Does anybody really think ol’ Dee Double-ya’s gonna say something like, "And look at these cars, the greatest race cars in the world – except fer Formula One cars, of course. Or sports cars. And there’s Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch and Dale Jr. and they’re the greatest racing drivers in the world – oh, maybe not as good as Sebastian Vettel, but they’re tryin’ jest as hard."
Give me a break.
Bill Adam has a wonderful road-racing curriculum vitae. He's a member of the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame and is about to debut as a colour commentator on Sportsnet’s coverage of the IZOD IndyCar Series this summer.
If anybody should appreciate the skill needed to be a top racer, and the hyperbole that tends to leak out of any announcing booth attached to any racing series just about anywhere, it’s him.
That Tony Stewart was the only one of the 43 NASCAR stars to go over to the hospital in Daytona and visit some of the fans who were injured in that Nationwide deal last Saturday should come as no surprise.
Stewart went to the Halifax hospital Sunday night and stayed for about two hours.
Despite being a champion stock car star, team owner and speedway owner, Stewart is still a short-track racer at heart. At local speedways, fans go down to the pits after the races to chat with the drivers and to drink beer and even help load up if some of the car owners don’t have a lot of help.
It’s a community feeling that you don’t get at the big league racing events.
Stewart knows of this and appreciates it. As well as racing at NASCAR events, you’ll find him behind the wheel of a midget at the Fort Wayne indoor races in January, at the Chili Bowl in Tulsa, with the World Outlaws sprint cars at Volusia County in February and half a dozen times during the summer, including at the Brantford-area Ohsweken Speedway in July, and when he’s in that environment he’s not Tony Stewart, great big important NASCAR driver, he's just another face in the crowd.
He might got out and win the race but when he’s in Victory Lane he thanks the fans for coming out and the guys he’s raced against for letting him do it and he’s just down-home natural. When he got out of his car after he won that race last Saturday in Daytona, the first thing he talked about was the crash and his concern for what might have happened to people in the grandstands – his people.
Those folks might wear the T-shirts and buy the souvenirs and cheer for the Martin Truex Jr.’s and the Greg Biffles and the Joey Loganos but they are not "their people."
But they sure are Tony Stewart’s people and that’s why he was at the hospital and the others weren’t.
For years, tickets to sporting events had a little disclaimer printed on the back about how the holder accepted the risks associated with attendance. In fact, I have an old ticket stub around here someplace from Maple Leaf Gardens (Leafs vs. Red Wings, 1952) that has a message like that on it.
One winter, some fan sitting up behind one of the nets got a puck in the mouth and sued the living daylights out of the NHL, the Gardens and the Toronto hockey club. There hasn’t been anything on the back of hockey tickets since except advertising.
There have been suggestions that NASCAR and the Daytona Speedway will fight lawsuits launched by some of the fans who were injured last Saturday when parts of a racing car and a wheel flew into the grandstands. Apparently, on the tickets they held, they were reminded that the sport of auto racing is dangerous and to keep their heads down. Or words to that effect.
If NASCAR doesn’t quietly try to settle out of court, they’re foolish because they’ll lose. Maybe not immediately, but at some point. Better to get it over with quickly before it gets out of hand.
Humpy Wheeler has been quoted as saying that Charlotte Motor Speedway, which he used to run, settled for between $10 million and $15 million with the families of three people killed in the 1990s when a wheel off an IRL car flew into the stands and hit them.
This is nowhere as serious, in that nobody was killed. But 28 people required medical treatment and nearly 10 of them were still in the hospital Wednesday, so their injuries sound somewhat serious. If NASCAR is smart – and I think NASCAR is very smart – they will reach agreement first with the two or three who are most hurt and then pay off the others on a sliding scale.
When I say it’s inevitable that they’ll have to pay up, let me tell you a little story. It is the way things work in the United States of America.
I have a friend we’ll call Bill (not his real name and, in fact, not even close). Bill was working on a barge in a river in northern New York one January day about 10 years ago when the local power authority opened a dam without telling anybody and the barge my buddy Bill was on was ripped from its moorings.
Bill was thrown into the river and it’s just by the grace of God he was plucked out of the frigid water. Hypothermia was setting in and it took about two days in hospital for him to thaw out and get some colour in his cheeks.
On the third day, he was feeling pretty chipper and another friend of ours, a lawyer, dropped in for a visit. The conversation went something like this:
"Bill, if you want to sue for negligence, I guarantee you will win. If you want to settle for $100,000, I can have a cheque for you by next Monday afternoon. However, although it will have to work its way through two or three courts and will take about a year, I can probably get you at least $1 million. Your choice, but I take 10 per cent regardless."
Bill thought for a moment and opted for the latter. Just over a year later, the power company cut him a cheque for $1.2 million and he’s been living happily ever after ever since.
NASCAR should get in there fast before my pal Bill’s lawyer starts laying out the options for people in Halifax hospital.