Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Why NASCAR Is Stupid

Because it is not a sports league, it’s an advertising agency. Why else would NASCAR react so hysterically because Dale Earnhardt Jr. accidentally let slip a cuss word on TV?

Earnhardt screwed up. NASCAR fined him, which is appropriate. But NASCAR also deducted points from his ranking in the drivers’ championship standings. Knocked Earnhardt out of the points lead, in fact.

That violates the integrity of the competition. It's as if the NFL got mad at Terrell Owens for taunting his opponents after (legally) scoring, so they penalized the Eagles a touchdown or a win in the standings. Earnhardt screwed up in the PR function of his job, he didn’t break the rules of racing. But apparently the PR function is top priority. What are they crowning, the champion racer or Miss Congeniality?

NASCAR exists to turn its cars into billboards and the drivers into spokesmodels. The first words out of any driver’s mouth in an interview are thanks to his sponsor, Viagra or the U.S. Army or Rockwell Automation or whatever. I used to scorn Jeff Gordon because every time he won a race, the first thing he would do afterwards was pick up a big bottle of Pepsi, and be sure the logo was visible to the viewing audience while he drank it. (Poor guy’s body temperature was about 120, he needed an IV drip, but he was contractually required to drink fizzy sugar water, which no sensible athlete would quench his thirst with.) But maybe he considers himself lucky he didn’t have to take a swig of Dupont paint.

NASCAR wants to have its cake and eat it too. It wants to be G-rated for its corporate friends, but its fan appeal is based on the rough, tough, no-nonsense image of the drivers (especially the Earnhardts). They don't really want their drivers NEVER to swear or duke it out in Pit Row, they just want to administer wrist slaps. But if I were Dale Jr. I'd be pissed.

I'm a fool to let it bother me. I don’t even know much about stock car racing, so I don’t know how Earnhardt’s penalty (25 points) compares to the penalty (two laps) they assessed Robbie Gordon, who merely caused a wreck on the track deliberately a few weeks ago.

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