Jan 20, 02:31 AM
This time of year, the racing media hangs on to the news bytes about testing at Daytona and upcoming paint schemes like they are curly bits of glittering wool from the Golden Fleece. After all, the summations of the previous racing season have all been done; and everyone is still speculating and deliberating their predictions for 2006 (all classic off-season column fillers, to be sure).
So imagine then, when news hit the wire about Tony Stewart's two accidents at this year's Chili Bowl in Tulsa, OK. Headlines screeched 'Tony Stewart flips wildly in two different wrecks; arm in cast', and fans of the Home Depot driver collectively gasped for air.
The racing news columns and message boards lit up like Chrome Illusion paint under the lights of Bristol. And, as any exciting news byte always does, opens up the melodrama of rabid debate. 'Should NASCAR drivers be permitted to participate in other forms of racing?' became the issue of the moment.
I have come to believe that the reason debates over many issues in racing (and life, for that matter) are so rousing-to-the-point-of-hysteria is because it's a little bit of one side, and a little bit of another. Nobody is all right, and nobody is all wrong. If only life were so clear cut and easy to define.
Yes, Tony Stewart flipped in the Chili Bowl. And Dale Jr. caught on fire at a Le Mans Series event in 2004. And after participating in a Race of Champions America (ROC) event in 2002, Jeff Gordon took a few laps in a car driven by rally-sprint driver Marcus Gronholm, which rolled more than once (which Gordon allegedly found quite humorous). With very little research, it is easy to turn up lots of times that a driver from one racing series dabbles in another.
I would like to point out, though, that I have read other reports about drivers having accidents that weren't racing related. Remember Bill Elliott's spill over a garden hose that resulted in a broken knee-cap? In 2004 Jack Sprague broke his heel on his left foot cleaning out his rain gutters.
Let's not forget Stanton Barrett, a driver who chooses to get himself blown up and dropped off of buildings as a part-time stuntman in movies directed by such Hollywood luminaries as Steven Spielberg. (I wonder what Barrett spends in life insurance?)
Should NASCAR, as some folks think, have it written into drivers' contracts that they can't participate in any sort of racing but NASCAR? This thought is usually punctuated with, 'remember, they are responsible to owners and sponsors that pay them very well for what they do'.
That may be true. But isn't most every employed person in America responsible to someone else; whole families sometimes? There are millions of men and women who aren't sponsored by Fortune 500 companies, but are mighty valuable to their spouses and children none-the-less. Imagine if it were ever decided, though, to require them to sign contracts that prohibit them from sky-diving, bungee jumping, smoking, or any other risk-taking activities? I believe there would be something of an outcry, don't you?
It is hard to sort out, isn't it?
I will tell you one thing, though. Let's presume NASCAR does decide to put the screws to any driver racing in other series.
Would you want to be the one to tell Tony Stewart he can't race somewhere else? One curl of that lip accompanied by the narrowing of those dark eyes and the oxygen would leave my body, and the blood drain from my veins. Nope. I will leave that job for somebody else.