Is It Time To Tame Talladega?

This weekend, I was looking forward to watching the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races in Talladega. After all, Talladega is known for its steep banking, restrictor plates, drafting, high speeds and lots of beating and banging between drivers which usually makes for NASCAR racing at its finest. 

As I sat and watched the Nationwide race on Saturday, I found it to be unremarkable by Talladega standards. Watching the drivers, battling it out to the checkered flag was exciting however, during the restart of the green-white-checker an unfortunate chain reaction caused ten cars, including Eric McClure’s, to wreck. Eric’s car slid out of control and collided head-on into the inside SAFER barrier wall of the track. 

At first, I thought it was a routine racing incident with all the cars scattering in many directions. The network narrowed in on a few drivers until their window nets were down and each driver exited their cars frustrated or angry. After a few moments, it was obvious something wasn’t the same with Eric’s situation. His car had undertaken a lot of damage and there were safety workers and medical technicians near his race car but he was still inside. After literally removing the top of his battered car, Eric was eventually assisted from the car, put on a stretcher, placed into a helicopter and taken to a local hospital. He is said to be in stable condition and is remaining there for additional observation through Sunday night. 

Twitter immediately became a firestorm of commotion with drivers, spotters, crewmen, journalists and fans using it as a platform to express their anger over “safety” concerns. Throughout the night, I found no apparent compromise of opinion, although there was formidable passion shown by everyone. As I considered these opinions, there seemed to be two focused areas of blame.

One point of view centered on the fans’ perspective in craving a need for excitement. Over the past few years of racing many of us fans have stated that our overall experience has been boring and therefore, the product of racing is not as good as it needs to be to balance our monetary cost and investment of time in the sport. After years of ‘x-game action sports’, hyped video gaming, and burning candles at both ends, we have a need for action 24/7/365 and our complaints to the governing body of NASCAR is to keep that ‘high’ excitement level or we dare not spend any more money on the sport.

The other point of view for blame was toward the sanctioning body of NASCAR for making changes to quench the fans’ thirst for more excitement by bunching up the cars in ‘packs,’ thus making it more likely to have wrecks and putting the safety of the drivers and crew into jeopardy. The perspective here is that for the purpose of keeping seats filled at the track, driver safety is becoming less important than gratifying fans to keep them engaged in the sport.

There seems to be a lot of blame with no accountability owned by either side. No one wants to admit the possibility that our thoughts, opinions, or persuasive abilities could lead to something like this Eric McClure incident that could result in serious injury. It seems to always be someone else’s fault.  

Official Rodney Wise waves the Caution Flag
Photo – Getty Images
Let’s face it, ‘throw the shoe’ for a caution is terminology that many of us have said when we’re bored. But at the same time, when we don’t want a caution for our specific driver, we argue with NASCAR about some seemingly phantom debris caution just to make things exciting by bunching up the field.

So by the end of the Sprint Cup race, I sat back in reflection of the race and tried to dislodge the plank out of my eye as I contemplated whether I wanted to complain to NASCAR about the speck in theirs. I’m as guilty as anyone else in wanting excitement while watching a sporting event; but I also know what it feels like when someone changes your sport in order to gratify the fans and not the participants.

Years ago I use to play Volleyball. I loved the teamwork and camaraderie between opponents, I loved the action and I loved winning!  But, in 1999 the sanctioning body decided to make a major change in the sport. Instead of scoring the game only when you serve the ball, gaining offensive points, they decided to score rally points, resulting in a points benefit to either the offensive or defensive sides on each play. The changes in the rules were to make it more ‘spectator and television friendly’ – I hated the idea. I felt true fans would enjoy the game as it was originally intended. Besides that, I had a powerful serve with mediocre accuracy. Under the old rules, I was an asset to my team, but under the new rules I would have to take ‘heat’ off my serve or become a liability. Appeasing the fans had taken away a large component of enjoyment for me as a participant of the sport.

The comparison here is that the sanctioning body had to make a change to make the spectators happy because their attention span could not handle the game as it was being played. However, as an athlete, I had to adjust to changes in rules and change the way I competed in order to continue in the sport. But where the comparison ends is that the changes made by the Federation of International Volleyball did not have to take into account the health and well-being of me as an athlete. Whether my serve honored a point for my team or the other team, my safety and the safety of my teammates and opponents was never in jeopardy.
As I listened to Tony Stewart’s media interview after the cup race, I think his sarcastic answers were in reference to the same emotion as I am feeling from this past weekend. With this realization, it is my opinion that NASCAR’s governing body immediately sit down with the drivers, owners, and crews of this sport that we all love and discuss changes taking driver safety into consideration. Not only are you owners and athletes, but you are also ‘fans’ of your own sport. So, as a viewing fan, I’m willing to trust that collectively you will make the RIGHT decisions.

Continuing on the current course certainly holds the potential of adversely affecting someone’s future, with possible serious injury or worse. The incident this weekend with Eric McClure made it apparent that safety needs to be a serious consideration and without it, whether we are willing to admit it or not, any harmful consequence will be a direct result from all of our actions.   

2 Peter 2:21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them (NIV)

By Guest Blogger – Susanne Bowyer

2 thoughts on “Is It Time To Tame Talladega?

  1. You make a great point Sheri, I think all NASCAR fans are closer in agreement than disagreement on this point! No one wants to see any driver be injured in this sport. Also agree with Susanne, that we live in a world of technology and if anyone wants consistent action-packed visuals in their life, it's available at the touch or click of a few icons anytime of the day. Another aspect that is affecting what viewers expect to see is the onslaught of Reality TV, where suspense and drama are played to the hilt. IMO, without realizing it, that's what some are looking for from the reality of on-the-track racing. Then when NASCAR does orchestrate (whether they actually do this is debatable) a well-timed caution, everyone is up in arms about that! Let NASCAR, the drivers, owners, manufacturers and Goodyear sort this out, trusting they are fans of the sport too! Sure we need to give feedback as guidance, but certainly not as demands. Going back to agreeing more than disagreeing, we want the same, but not by sacrificing safety of our drivers.

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