Racing’s message lost due to useless controversy

Nigel Kinrade/NKPPhoto

By Caleb Whisler, Staff Writer

Following the social media debate about “Tape Gate” with Chase Elliott, NASCAR needed the focus to be about the on-track product instead of the off-track debates. Unfortunately, this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was highlighted by misconduct in inspection and political issues.

With “Tape Gate” behind, Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway looked like it was going to be a “normal” weekend, but by the time qualifying rolled around shortly after 5:00 pm ET, the narrative had changed.

Joey Logano and his No. 22 Team Penske Ford was unable to make a lap during Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying due to being unable to pass NASCAR’s Laser Inspection System (LIS) after four tries. Teams are constantly trying to push the limits to the thousandths of an inch. Pushing the limits in NASCAR means more speed. Unfortunately, teams push the limits a little too far.

This is not the first time a team was unable to make a lap in qualifying due to issues at LIS. In 28 races, there have been 12 qualifying sessions with at least one driver not making a time in qualifying.

Because NASCAR has streamlined inspection penalties to be on race weekend, Logano had to sit out for the entire final 50-minute practice session of the weekend at New Hampshire. Logano had to put on his fire suit, go towards the end of pit road, and sit in his car while other teams were making adjustments to their vehicles.

Logano became an example to other teams by becoming the first driver to have to miss an entire practice session due to inspection penalties. After his penalty was served, Logano told reporters that “it was a joke” and that it “makes the sport look dumb.”

Many drivers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., echoed the sentiment from Logano that something else could be done instead. However, NASCAR’s mentality with holding cars on pit road is “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime” when it comes to inspection.

Unfortunately, the biggest issue of all came before the running of the ISM Connect 300. Before the race comments were made from Richard Petty and Richard Childress regarding National Football League (NFL) players taking a knee and standing in solidarity during the national anthem as a sign of protesting social injustice in the United States. The protests come in light of comments made by President Donald J. Trump on Thursday night at a rally in Alabama.

“Get you a ride on a Greyhound bus when the national anthem is over. I told them anyone who works for me should respect the country we live in. So many people have gave their lives for it. This is America,” Childress told USA Today.

“Anybody that don’t stand up for that ought to be out of the country. Period,” Petty told The Associated Press. “If they don’t appreciate where they’re at … what got them where they’re at? The United States.”

The comments made by Petty and Childress were picked up by CNN, FOX News, and other outlets. President Trump even mentioned the comments of the owners in a Twitter firestorm shortly after 7:00 am ET. The comments made by two owners does not necessarily reflect the entire population of NASCAR

In addition to the thoughts of Childress and Petty, former NFL coach and NASCAR team owner, Joe Gibbs, had this to say about the protests:

“I think for us, and obviously I can’t speak for everybody on our race team, but for us, so much has been sacrificed for our country and that flag, and I think we really feel that heart to heart, most of the people that I kind of feel like that are with us, and so I think for us, it’s just a big deal for us and to honor America.  So that’s the way we look at it, and I think I’m proud of the way we’ve represented ourselves, and I’m proud of this sport, too.  I think this sport has a certain way they look at things.  I really appreciate that.”

Majority owner of Richard Petty Motorsports, Andrew Murstein, spoke opposite of Petty:

“We are all proud Americans who have lived through world wars and turbulent times. While I respect their thoughts, and personally I think it’s the wrong time to kneel, I wouldn’t fire someone for expressing their feelings. I would sit them down and say, ‘It’s the wrong thing to do that and many people including myself, view it as an affront to our great country. If there is disenchantment towards the President or a few bad law enforcement officers, don’t have it cross over to all that is still good and right about our country. The flag isn’t a flag of a few people: It stands for all of America. Yes, there are problems here— but they are nothing close to the problems in North Korea and other parts of the world.’ We must come together as Americans and respect everyone and everything— especially our flag, which is the still the symbol of the Untied States, the greatest country in the world.”

On SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president and chief racing development officer, had this to say:

“I think it’s something that we’ve always talked about in the industry as a sport, if you look at our history, we’ve always as a sport demonstrated a respect for the American flag and the freedoms it represents,” O’Donnell said. “We celebrate the servicemen and women who have sacrificed to be part of that. That’s part of the sport. From our standpoint, we view ourselves as a sport and want to continue to celebrate the flag but respect others’ opinions.

“But going forward, that’s where we stand, and we’ll leave it at that and hope people can contribute or look at NASCAR as something to tune into on a Sunday and enjoy a sporting event.”

In 2016, Brian France, chairman and chief executive officer of NASCAR, endorsed Trump alongside Chase and Bill Elliott, David Ragan, and Ryan Newman. Trump claimed that it was an endorsement. However, NASCAR quickly responded saying that the statement was a personal endorsement, not the endorsement of the sanctioning body.

This is not the first time NASCAR has been involved with a hot political topic. In 2015, NASCAR was placed between a rock and a hard place when it came to the issue of the confederate flag following the fatal deaths of nine African-Americans in Charleston, South Carolina. France called the flag an “offensive symbol” and pledged that “we will go as far as we can to eliminate the presence of that flag.”

Recent events and comments have continued to infiltrate and support the stereotypes of being “rednecks”, a “white man’s sport”, etc. These stereotypes taint the efforts of the “Drive For Diversity” program implemented in 2004. As NASCAR looks into bringing new sponsors into the sport, this weekend will taint those efforts.

As NASCAR heads to Dover International Speedway for the first elimination race of the playoffs, the focus needs to be one the racing and an effort to help unify the country. According to the official statement released by NASCAR, that seems to be the goal:

“Sports are a unifying influence in our society, bringing people of differing backgrounds and beliefs together. Our respect for the national anthem has always been a hallmark of our pre-race events. Thanks to the sacrifices of many, we live in a country of unparalleled freedoms and countless liberties, including the right to peacefully express one’s opinion.”

With the 2017 playoffs being two weeks old, there has been no talk about the quality of the playoffs. As NASCAR heads into the final eight races of the season, NASCAR needs the focus to be turned to the quality of the on-track product instead of the off-track noise polluting the air. Across all three national divisions, NASCAR will have a solid crop of champions to be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

This is also the perfect opportunity for NASCAR to capitalize on this issue by promoting the “Drive for Diversity” program. The preconceived notion of NASCAR deters many potential fans and sponsors away from the sport. When people hear that NASCAR has a diversity program, it comes to a surprise. Why? The sport does not promote it as well as they should. This program has seen drivers like Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez graduate from the program and be successful. We have seen drivers like Darrell Wallace Jr. graduate from the diversity program, but be unable to find the sponsorship to continue on in NASCAR.

At the end of the day, the message of racing is being lost due to useless controversy that does not pertain to the on-track product.

5 Comments

  1. Al Torney

    September 25, 2017 at 4:56 pm

    I cannot understand why everybody dances around this subject. NASCAR is a white man’s sport But not by intent. Everyone regardless of race, ethnic, and whatever is welcomed to participate. This has been the way since the organization was founded. Auto racing as a whole in the US is a white man’s sport. Again not by intent. Auto race teams are private contractors. They are not hired by racing organizations, promoters race tracks or anyone else. Go to any race track and scan the grandstands. There are very few minorities in the grandstands. Visit the pits at any race track. Again very few minorities. In other words minorities do not support or participate in auto racing. It is their choice. I am not talking drag racing in this blog.
    Being a fast runner, being able to hit a baseball, shoot a basketball or catch a football will not get you to drive a race car. What will get you in a race car is money. You buy, or build, a race car and you take it to the track and races. It’s as simple as that. If you can’t afford it you don’t race. Now how do you make it to the big time if you don’t race at the lower level? What owner is going to give you a chance in a big time ride if you have no experience. There is no high school or college that has an auto race team to try out for it get a scholarship.
    The hard truth about any auto racing is one of economics. There are a hellava lot of folks out there who would love to race but simply can’t afford it. This is what makes auto racing so different from stick and ball sports. There’s a big difference between the cost of a bat and ball and a race car.
    It is not fair to ask NASCAR about why there are not more minorities in the sport. Nor to accuse them, their participants or fans of being racists. In fact it is downright stupid. And me and countless others are sick of it. He has a confederate flag he must be a racist. I thought profiling is wrong. Huh! Oh yeah!
    Want to know why minorities don’t support Racing ask them? Could be they don’t like watching cars go round in circles or maybe it’s economic.

    • Jackie J

      September 26, 2017 at 11:50 am

      Very well said. I couldn’t have stated it better if I tried.

  2. Al Torney

    September 25, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    About the flag. You go to a sporting event and buy a ticket and sit in your seat. If you don’t want to stand for the National Anthem that’s your prerogative.

    You go to that same event as an employee of the participating team and things are different. Your employer has certain standards of behavior. Get to free with your speech with your boss and watch what happens. Well it applies here. It’s up to the boss what is allowed. The right or wrong of it doesn’t really exist. It’s one’s own opinion. It’s quite simple ” you work for me and play by my rules”.

    If it’s one area NASCAR fans stand out in it is their patriotic fervor. We love and respect the flag, the anthem, the military and the United States. And we do not approve of anyone who doesn’t feel the same.

  3. Jackie J

    September 26, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Amen! Thank you for saying what needs to be said.

  4. Sb

    September 27, 2017 at 8:04 am

    Petty and Gibbs and Childress have every right to demand certain behavior from their employees when they are official representing the company. No argument. Those decisions should be handled internally. By speaking publically, it gives the impression that they speak for all of Nascar, which they don’t. There is room for many opinions, and not all of them are expressed by those 3 organizations. I find it distressing when I see people in the stands chatting, digging in coolers, or otherwise not being respectful of the anthem. Do you want to ‘fire’ them too? I was offended when I saw people standing for a Lee Greenwood song as if it were the anthem! Not the right thing to do. So many opportunities for many opinions.

    EDITOR’S NOTE: As the owner/editor of Kickin’ the Tires, I support a person’s right to protest; however, I think the message is lost and fans are turned away by political showmanship during a sporting or entertainment event. The message, in my opinion, gets lost and angers people wanting to enjoy a respite from the daily grind. Additionally, I look at those kneeling and ask, “Have you done anything to resolve the problem besides getting down on your knees?” How about participating in a meaningful dialogue in the community or reaching out to those in need or guidance? Don’t just make a statement, make a difference in the world — Jerry Jordan

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