Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday April 6, 2007
Amid one of the best race finishes we've been treated to recently at Martinsville Sunday, we found ourselves treated to a growing trend that is both disturbing and utterly ridiculous. As the checkered flag fell and the race concluded, it seems that a group of fans were less than pleased with the race's outcome, namely winner Jimmie Johnson. OK, fine, the nature of racing dictates that not everyone's favorite driver can win every week; some people are always going to be disappointed. But lately, certain fans are taking it too far.
As Johnson celebrated the victory that he'd earned, cans and bottles sailed over the catchfence, raining onto the track to show the fan’s displeasure with his third victory of the season. Unfortunately, not all of them were empty; the projectiles gathered quickly and messily, creating more debris on the track than NASCAR has seen in a race all year. While unruly and unbecoming of the fan base, this isn’t the first time such an incident has happened; Johnson was showered with similar junk when he won at Indianapolis last year. Ditto, Jeff Gordon at Chicago; two examples within a list that has gotten alarmingly long over the last few years.
As best as I can recall, the bottle throwing all began at Talladega a couple of years ago, when a caution flag very late in the race precluded a duel to the finish and may have taken away Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s chance at a win. Everything from hot dog wrappers to $10 seat cushions were thrown onto the track, all but assuring that the race could not be restarted. The green-white-checker rule was added the following year, and so the trash-throwing masses turned their attentions to tossing things at race winners they didn't like instead.
The so-called “race fans” who partake in this sort of ignorant, dangerous stunt do so seemingly without repercussions. Never mind that a mostly-full can or bottle of liquid could seriously hurt a spectator, especially a small child, if the thrower could not clear the fence with the missile. Never mind that a can has the potential to cut the tire of a car doing burnouts and send it into the retaining wall, possibly injuring the driver, spectators, or crew members. What a tragedy that would be; but the garbage-tossers aren’t thinking about any of that. They’re just worried about letting go of their frustration in completely the wrong way.
Granted, it's hard to isolate the garbage-tossers in the huge crowds after a race, but there are steps that tracks could take to solve the problem. Positioning extra security in the stands in the closing laps of races where a controversial driver might win would be a start. And when a perpetrator is caught red-handed, that person's tickets should be checked and that person should never again allowed to purchase tickets to the venue, or in the case of the multi-track ownership groups, any of their tracks. If the person got tickets from a friend or as a resale, they could still be banned from buying tickets directly from the track in the future.
Is this infallible? Of course not, because there are still many ways for these pseudo-fans to come back; but it would send a strong message to these ignorant people that their actions will not be tolerated if they are caught. A message of “this childish behavior is not acceptable at our track” is a beginning to stronger enforcement of unruly fan reaction after the checkered flag falls.
Bottom line, the throwing of cans and bottles onto the track in "protest" of a certain driver earning a win reflects badly on all race fans in general. Fans of one driver get blamed for the actions of a few, simply because they are the ones who traditionally dislike the drivers who are usually the ones on the receiving end of this treatment. It isn't fair to the hordes of fans that don't act this way to get lumped in and badmouthed along with those few that have such little common sense that they actually enjoy this.
Three-year-olds throw things when they have a temper tantrum because they don't get what they want; one would hope that adults might know better. Unfortunately, there are those few race "fans" who seemingly have not outgrown throwing tantrums because they didn't get their way. They think that purchasing a ticket to a race gives them the right to act in a manner that they should be ashamed of. It's time for these people to grow up, stop the childish ignorance, and behave in a manner respectful of the race winner, who has just risked his life for four hours for their entertainment. Too bad if it didn't turn out the way you wanted; you're ruining it for the rest of us.
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