We want drivers and fans to be safe. We want action that is anything but safe. It might sound hypocritical, but deep in our hearts, we know it to be true.
Talladega concerned some drivers. Kyle Busch says it was “pretty dangerous for all us drivers.” That may have been true. He also said it “wasn’t very exciting.” That is false. For fans, watching drivers inches apart at up to 200 mph, where disaster is only a sneeze away, is pretty damned exciting.
Personally, it is the threat of a wreck that is more exciting than the actual carnage. The boys and girl are doing something I do not have the ability to perform nor, to be honest, the courage to attempt. It appears to be dangerous and, according to Kyle, that is because it is.
We want the danger. Yet, we also want to see Kyle climb out of his Xfinity car unscathed at Daytona. We wanted to see Dale Earnhardt, Adam Petty, and Kenny Irwin Jr. step out of their wrecks. We want to see the crushing hits in the NFL, but it appears their helmets cannot prevent the devastation of long-term brain injuries. We want the fights and the hard hits of the NHL, yet the mounting evidence of long-term head trauma has brought rule changes to make the sport safer.
Does reducing the danger also reduce the excitement for the fans? It has to. Hall of Famers Sprague Cleghorn, Eddie Shore, Rocket Richard, and Gordie Howe would have had to play differently to avoid lifetime suspensions in today’s NHL. Some used their sticks, some their elbows, and some just beat the crap out of their opponents. Seeing a receiver take the hit just as he receives the ball, slamming straight to the ground or doing mid-air flips upon impact, is a great visual, but it has to take a toll on the human being involved. Does anyone remember Lawrence Taylor’s sack of Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann that broke the pivot’s leg in two places? Pretty amazing. Pretty devastating. For safety sake, change is required, change is happening, and more change is coming.
Deaths have happened in most sports, but very few at the highest level. Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians died in 1920 after being struck in the head by a pitched ball. Bill Masterton of the Minnesota North Stars struck his head on the ice and died in 1968. In football, AFL players Howard Glenn and Stone Johnson died in the 1960’s due to neck injuries. Chuck Hughes of the Detroit Lions suffered a fatal heart attack in a game in 1971. Then there is professional boxing. Then there is motorsports.
Joe Weatherly, Fireball Roberts, Tiny Lund, J.D. McDuffie, Neil Bonnett, John Nemechek, and Carlos Pardo remind us that we cannot build more durable humans, nor dismiss the heartbreak of their loss. Pit road is safer, yet only after the Southern 500 in 1960 cost the lives of mechanics Paul McDuffie, Charles Sweatlund, and official Joe Taylor. We lost crewman Randy Owens at Talladega in 1975. Yet, we liked the excitement of those old cars, the open faced helmets, and the speeding down pit road. We still do, but not at that price.
If NASCAR gets too safe, might it cause fans to wander off seeking new distractions, new outlets for their thrills and emotions? It could. It may have already taken place to some degree. I love watching the action at Daytona and Talladega, watching those who can do what I cannot, or will not, even attempt. I watch what I enjoy, and often we can not say exactly what it is that caused us to lose interest. I loved hockey, the hard-nosed 1960’s, the violent 1970’s, and the grace and majesty of the 1980’s, but it is rare to find me sitting through an NHL game today. Many once loved NASCAR; they had it bad and could not get enough of it. Today, the tracks no longer even release attendance figures and grandstands are being torn down. Sports of all kinds are trying to increase the “fan experience,” all but admitting the action on the field is no longer enough.
Saturday night should be enough. It is Daytona, the Firecracker 400 as it was known until 1989. A race that has meaning, a race that has tradition, a race that has high speeds and, yes, a race that has a measure of danger.
May our Hot 20 and the rest provide us with excitement and, despite our barbaric nature, a safe event.
1. KYLE BUSCH – 3 WINS (452 Pts)
No new rules to slow down the cars at Daytona, and Kyle isn’t happy about that.
2. CARL EDWARDS – 2 WINS (510 Pts)
Has run good at Daytona, has run bad, but has never won there.
3. BRAD KESELOWSKI – 2 WINS (506 Pts)
Tried out an IndyCar at Road America, and plans to run Indianapolis…some day.
4. JIMMIE JOHNSON – 2 WINS (469 Pts)
Daughters cannot listen to team radio…because sometimes daddy says bad words.
5. KEVIN HARVICK – 1 WIN (562 Pts)
Sixteen races, 13 Top Tens. Some have more wins, no one has more points.
6. KURT BUSCH – 1 WIN (527 Pts)
Formula 3000 is just one step below F-1…and could be in Kurt’s future come December.
7. JOEY LOGANO – 1 WIN (493 Pts)
If Tony and Denny had crashed on last Sunday’s final lap, guess who would have won.
8. MARTIN TRUEX JR. – 1 WIN (469 Pts)
Tony, Tony, Tony…but did anyone notice Martin finished fifth? Did not think so.
9. MATT KENSETH – 1 WIN (430 Pts)
He did not have Chris Osborne as his eyes in the sky in February. He will on Saturday night.
10. DENNY HAMLIN – 1 WIN (421 Pts)
With Tony Stewart behind him at Sonoma, Denny thought for a second he was Ron Thornton.
11. CHASE ELLIOTT – 473 PTS
Good talent, good car, equals good results.
12. DALE EARNHARDT JR. – 413 PTS
Newman, McMurray, and Junior battled on the track, only to face de-feet in the sky.
13. RYAN NEWMAN – 402 PTS
14. AUSTIN DILLON – 400 PTS
I am trying to remember how his Daytona race finished last year. So is he.
15. JAMIE MCMURRAY – 398 PTS
If a pissed off Stewart is a motivated Stewart, does that make Jamie his personal Tony Robbins?
16. KASEY KAHNE – 385 PTS
If you think Kasey’s season sucks, please consider Clint’s situation.
17. RYAN BLANEY – 382 PTS
New rule change locks even unchartered teams into Chase races…but they have to be Chasers.
18. A.J. ALLMENDINGER – 365 PTS
Damn rolling tire.
19. TREVOR BAYNE – 361 PTS
You might remember that he has won at Daytona before.
20. KYLE LARSON – 355 PTS
Do you remember when everyone was gushing over Kyle and Trevor?
30. BRIAN SCOTT – 205 PTS
Sometimes holding down 30th gets you recognition…at least for this week.
32. TONY STEWART – 196 PTS (1 win)
As Kyle did before him. Now cue the Jaws theme.