The Frontstretch: NASCAR And Clements: When Nobody Is Right, Everyone Is Wronged by Amy Henderson -- Thursday February 28, 2013

Go to site navigation Go to article

NASCAR And Clements: When Nobody Is Right, Everyone Is Wronged

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday February 28, 2013



Every story has two sides. That’s one of life’s truths — along with the truth itself, generally lying somewhere between those two sides. Often, one side makes itself heard before the other, and opinions get formed without knowing the rebuttal. Or, speculation and empty rumors abound until both sides are heard, and then there’s a judgment call about whom to side with on the issue. It’s a little like a court of law: the prosecutor outlines the case and the defense gives their version of events before the jury gets to decide which one is more accurate, and to choose who’s right and who’s wrong.

Except it’s not always black and white. Sometimes nobody is right, and everybody is wrong.

That happened this week in NASCAR. On Wednesday, the sanctioning body announced that Nationwide Series driver Jeremy Clements had been suspended indefinitely for words spoken during an interview. Immediately, the speculation began. What had Clements said? Was this punishment because of his openly questioning the legitimacy of Danica Patrick winning the Daytona 500 pole? Who was the reporter? Had that reporter tattled to NASCAR on Clements? The questions made the social media rounds, along with some unfounded rumors that included the statement on Patrick, equally unfounded threats toward another driver, and probably at least a dozen more theories, some serious, others in jest.

The rule itself is black and white: NASCAR’s rulebook forbids any public statement ‘‘that criticizes, ridicules or otherwise disparages another person based on race, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, age or handicapping condition.” And they have certainly taken action on violations of that policy in the past. In one respect, the rule is no different than any of the hundreds that specify what may or may not be done on a race car.

Jeremy Clements has been put on indefinite suspension and while he admits his remarks were wrong, perhaps NASCAR went a bit too far with the punishment.

Unlike the rules that govern the cars, though the actual infraction isn’t black and white. A race car is legal or it’s not, but rules that govern humans aren’t so simple. NASCAR confirmed Thursday that Clements’ suspension was the result of a racial slur he’d used while talking to the reporter in question. Clements later confirmed that in an interview with ESPN’s Marty Smith but denied that the slur had been directed at anyone. Furthermore, Clements maintained, the comment had been made off the record. Unfortunately for the driver, it was also made in the presence of a NASCAR representative.

In the interview with Smith, Clements said, “When you say ‘racial’ remark, it wasn’t used to describe anybody or anything,” Clements said. “So that’s all I’m going to say to that. And it really wasn’t. I was describing racing, and the word I used was incorrect and I shouldn’t have said it. It shouldn’t be used at all.”

Clements declined to say the exact words for which he was suspended (and you can’t blame him, he’s already been punished for saying them once). Based on his admission, though you can probably make an educated guess about the type of word in question. (Editor’s Note: It was for saying the “n” word, confirmed in a report Friday morning by the reporter, MTV’s Marty Beckerman.)

Clements was right — the word shouldn’t have been used. Period, end of story. There’s no place in today’s society for racial slurs. We’re not in the nineteenth century, folks. Using words of that nature is ignorant and speaks to a lack of sophistication. There is no excuse for them in any conversation, ever. It’s wrong. It just is.

But NASCAR isn’t really right here, either. Should Clements have been penalized? Yes. People of all races find racial slurs offensive, and if the reporter or the official was offended by it, that’s perfectly understandable, even if neither was of the race specifically being degraded. But indefinite suspension (which, incidentally means a minimum of two races and mandatory counseling) is a little over the top. Had it been said on the record, published and had NASCAR found out about it by seeing it in print, that might have warranted their reaction. If it had been directed at a person, then it would definitely warrant it. But off the record and never published? The sanctioning body should have fined Clements, maybe sat him one race. Instead… indefinite suspension? What would they do if it had been published and/or directed, ban him for life?

Plus, I want to say I think that NASCAR would have done the same if the driver in question had been a big-name driver for a big-time team. But I can’t quite say it. Not that I think any of them are running around spouting bigoted remarks left and right, but what if a superstar did let one slip? What if it were someone like title favorite Elliott Sadler, who is one of the series’ biggest stars, driving for its biggest team? I want to say I think they would react in the same way. I certainly hope they would be consistent… but I can’t quite say, with 100% certainty, that I think they would. So if they are, indeed, making an example out of a small team with an extra-large penalty to make a point, well, shame on NASCAR.

But the implications in this mess are so much bigger than one driver’s comment to one reporter. It could potentially impact the way drivers and media interact and how the drivers are portrayed to the fans through those interactions. Media members are acquainted with people throughout the garage, and off-the-record conversations aren’t uncommon by any stretch. Will drivers now be afraid to have these conversations? Will they become more aloof? That impacts race fans because it could change the way drivers are portrayed. If drivers only speak in carefully controlled situations, to avoid any possibility of making a mistake and saying the wring thing, they give the impression that they’re nothing more than sponsor-operated automatons — an impression that some fans already have of many drivers. If drivers have to fear repercussions for every conversation, soon they won’t say anything of substance at all.

We’ve already seen drivers penalized for Twitter comments that NASCAR thinks are unfavorable towards them. Just last week, Brad Keselowski got called to the carpet for stating something that’s been said by plenty of people, just not in a USA Today feature. So, maybe next time, a driver won’t say anything at all of substance. And 43 shallow, empty drivers in every series (36 in trucks) will drive fans away faster than any boring race ever will.

Now, is there a level of trust between NASCAR drivers and the reporters that cover the sport regularly? Yes, and drivers don’t have to live in fear of those reporters running to NASCAR with off-the-record words. But a NASCAR official overheard this one, and that was where the trouble began. Sure, they’ll still talk away from NASCAR’s eyes and ears, but will they always have one eye looking behind them in the garage? Maybe they’ll have to, and that’s a shame.

So this incident is one that could, potentially, have some longer-term repercussions within the sport, ones that could even reach the fans. It has nothing to do with political correctness gone too far. Racial slurs are simply wrong, whether you’re feeling PC or not. You can be interesting, and really quite un-PC and still not resort to using words of that nature. It’s not really a fine line here. What was said was wrong and never should have been said.

Clements was wrong to use the word he used in any conversation, no matter who it was with. If he’d been in a soundproof room with his best friend, he shouldn’t have said it.

But NASCAR wasn’t right in reacting so strongly, either. A hefty fine and a one-race sitting down would have gotten the point across just fine. Maybe he should even take the sensitivity training that NASCAR outlined. But two weeks (and it could be much more, if NASCAR so chooses) seems excessive given the context of the remark.

The bottom line here is that words have power. This one had the power to make NASCAR penalize a driver. It also has the power to be hurtful and cruel, and that kind of word says something rather unsavory about the person who uses them as well. But NASCAR also sent a message to drivers, media, and fans with the punishment, and it wasn’t necessarily the one that should have been sent. It also may or may not be the one that would have been sent to a higher-profile driver, and that’s not ever someplace there should be a question.

When all is said and done, Clements was wrong to say the word he said. NASCAR was wrong to react so strongly given the context in which it was said. And if drivers have to start fearing that they could be overheard and punished for off-the-record comments (or Twitter posts, or Instagram photos…) and they clam up as a result, that hurts their fans and sponsors as well. Outspokenness should, for the most part, be encouraged at every turn by NASCAR, but they don’t.

If you were watching a courtroom drama right now, someone would be reading the verdict. Someone would be right and someone would be wrong and that would be that. But this isn’t a TV show, and there’s no winner. Everyone was wrong… and nobody was right.

Connect with Amy!

Contact Amy Henderson

The Frontstretch Newsletter, back in 2014 gives you more of the daily news, commentary, and racing features from your favorite writers you know and love. Don’t waste another minute – click here to sign up now. We’re here to make sure you stay informed … so make sure you jump on for the ride!

Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … A Return To Richmond, Post-Spingate And Quick Hits
NASCAR Mailbox: A ‘Normal’ Saturday And A Valuable Lesson
Beyond the Cockpit: Tony ‘The Sarge’ Schumacher
Open Wheel Wednesday: Controversial Moves, Long Beach Crowds, and Being a Fuddy Duddy
The Frontstretch Five: Pleasant Surprises of 2014 So Far
IndyCar Driver Profile: Takuma Sato
Beyond the Cockpit: Tommy Baldwin on Owning His Team, Hall of Fame and the Number Seven


©2000 - 2008 Amy Henderson and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Bad Wolf
03/01/2013 02:39 AM

Sticks and Stones.

Is this really what Nascar has become?

Bill B
03/01/2013 06:53 AM

Bad Wolf,
It’s what the world has become.

Yes Amy, drivers may clam up. Everytime a person opens their mouth in this PC era, each word is scrutinized. Step over the line and something that you say is magnified and can change your life. The best course of action is to keep your mouth shut.

Ky Boy
03/01/2013 07:54 AM

If the statement wasnt on video, then it is way wrong to suspend him. Give him a fine and tell him to shut up. The kid owned up and apologized, let it go.Besides, only a couple people even know what was said! Pure BS

03/01/2013 08:24 AM

Getting sicker and sicker of nascar. Next thing they will require is political party preference. pc sucks.

03/01/2013 08:42 AM

In every article I’ve seen on this so far only the drivers name has been given. Why not the reporters name, the NASCAR official who just had to run and tell and begin this climb from molehill to mountain. Why aren’t they being named? Everything out in the open? That sure would be new for NASCAR.

The spanking of BK was the same spanking drivers, teams, owners, have lived with for years. It’s the NASCAR control game it’s how they’ve always operated. Maybe, just maybe, NASCAR should just listen for a change. Maybe what BK had to say could have been taken as constructive criticism instead of just criticism.

The Clements punishment was a pile of over kill.

03/01/2013 08:43 AM

It’s Kyle Busch’s fault!

If we just had more drivers like that one that drives the 48 car. That would really PACK the stands.

Carl D.
03/01/2013 08:45 AM

Kudos for a very insightful column, Amy. You brought up issues that go beyond “what did Clements say and was the punishment fair?”. I too wonder, if a big-name driver had been overheard saying the same thing, would he have been suspended as well?

We could spend weeks debating what is offensive and who gets to make that decision. The bottom line here is that Nascar has an obligation to maintain a positive image and spends a lot of PR money to that end. Nascar has laid out their behavior expectations and drivers have to follow them or face the consequences, or go to work somewhere else.

Where I work, we have a corporate code of conduct that deals with this sort of thing, as I’m sure most businesses do to some degree. Employees (and contractors) are expected follow these rules or they get suspended and counseled, or terminated if deemed necessary.

And Bill B. is right…. this is what the world has become.

Sue Rarick
03/01/2013 09:33 AM

Bill B is totally right. As a musician every interview question I get has a very PC answer I give. Truth and honesty has given way to being ‘correct’.

03/01/2013 10:00 AM

As a long time fan(since 1958)it is terrible what nascrap has become. I used to attend 5-6 races but have now terminated any races other than tv. It has become a great stage for “social engineering” and as such has lost it’s somewhat “bad boy” feeling. You watch, JJ and his likenesses will finish off what little is left of the sport I used to eat, live and breath. Even the writers are starting to spout the PC sermon!!

03/01/2013 10:09 AM

Welcome to nas$car’s world. While I’m not condoning what Clements said, the reaction from the baffoons at Daytona was way over the top. And isn’t off the record supposed to be a private conversation. But per usual in today’s world tattle tales and snitches are rewarded.

03/01/2013 10:33 AM

Whatta ya wanna bet he let the term ‘n***er-rig’ slip when referring to repairing something.

Wayne T. Morgan
03/01/2013 11:20 AM

Think about this, the people in thr U.S. bad mpouth the POTUS all the time and no one is carted off to prison or finned. What gives NA$CAR the right? Freedom of Speech? What’s that?

Joe W.
03/01/2013 12:12 PM

FanBoy-2 I was thinking the same thing. I agree he shouldn’t have said whatever it was he said but an indefinate suspension seems over the top. He stepped up admitted it was wrong and should have gotten a fine and maybe a one race suspension as Amy suggested. It seems everything is so extreme now. It’s either no rules or overly harsh enforsement of rules.

03/01/2013 01:26 PM

Wonder what the pentalty would have been if Bill Lester has used that word? Or, Dale Earnhardt Jr.?

03/01/2013 03:01 PM

Not sure of the context so the penalty could be to harsh…& The world is far to Pc..But what was he thinking? ..Dosn’t sound like he’s very bright (sponsors look out) but with the way this has come about it’s story of the week …Can’t see that being in Nascar’s best interests…Shoulda took him out back ..stern lecture & move on quietly…& Thanks to some dumba_ _ reporter this kids life is a mess …& why was Martys name hidden away from this..Sure don’t think he’s the guy I’d be giving interveiws

03/01/2013 03:51 PM

50 Cent, who was at the 500, uses the word all the time. I guess the color of your skin does matter.

Kevin in SoCal
03/01/2013 04:08 PM

Freedom of Speech only applies to the government not being able to censor you. It has no bearing on a private business such as NASCAR. Its their rules and their show.
However, I strongly disagree with the suspension. Saying something was “ethnically-engineered” is totally different than calling someone a racial slur. If he insulted someone, yes that should get a suspension. But just using the word to describe something? That should be a fine and probation, nothing more.

03/01/2013 05:23 PM

First of all Amy, working in media, you should know MTV is one of the Goliath’s of Mass media. Clements was a complete knuckle head for saying an off the cuff remark for somebody that writes for MTV. If MTV had printed an article where Clement’s says one thing drivers don’t do is “date
N-word females” it would have been in every paper, blog, from New York to L.A. The complete stupidity on his part to utter those words, taped or not taped.Even if it’s true or just his belief, keep it to yourself. Nascar is a private company that goes beyond no medium to uphold an image of diverse acceptance. Clements got what her deserved.

03/01/2013 06:59 PM

Well if he did make the comment about the Princess and the Pole, we agree 100%, Nascrap has a way of trying to interest non race fans to the race Nascrap thinks the sheep might have remotely hear of THE DAYTONA 500. As for using a word in a “fixing” sorta way, get over it. Nascrap is a joke. I do smell a Carl Long deal goin’ down. And to the tattle tail Nascrap official, run to King Brian for your pat on your head and a good boy comment. Jerk. I would not blame ONE driver for not speaking to anyone if this is the type of garbage that is going to go down.

Steve K
03/01/2013 07:31 PM

Welcome to the nanny state! Why can’t we let people say what they want and look like clowns doing it? This country gets weaker by the day.


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
Fans To Decide Format of Sprint Unlimited at Daytona
UNOH and Kentucky Speedway Extend Sponsorship Agreement
Earnhardt Out For Charlotte and Kansas After Talldega Concussion
Piquet, Jr. Wins K&N East Opener

Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.