The Frontstretch: On Politics and History: Random Rain-Out Rants About NASCAR's White House "Controversy" by Bryan Davis Keith -- Tuesday September 6, 2011

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The two greatest passions in my life are racing and politics. Rarely do the two meet, and even in those cases where they do, more often than not readers don’t want to see the two mixed. I can’t say I blame them…who wants their source of escape and enjoyment tainted with the daily horrors of Washington, DC?

Greg Biffle made sure to let everybody know he has his priorities in the right order, political and otherwise. He’s not snubbing President Obama.

That being said, race fans would have to be living with their heads stuck in the sand to have missed the supposed controversy leading into a laborious Atlanta weekend. It revolves around having a number of drivers from last year’s Chase opting not to visit the White House, deciding against an opportunity so many champion athletes across the country are invited to. The Drudge Report even featured it on the front page, complete with an image, inciting readers to believe that their “rejection” was a grand political ploy and an indictment of the president’s unpopularity. SB Nation’s Jeff Gluck jumped down their throats with a blog posting that quickly made national waves, stating “regardless of one’s political views, the president is still the president.”

Thankfully, as he so often can be counted on for doing, Greg Biffle snapped everyone right back into shape during media availability at Atlanta. When asked about his “snub,” Biffle stated that he was disgusted by comments made that he had disregarded the President of the United States, going into detail about his sponsor obligations with 3M and how scheduling a visit to the White House just wasn’t in the cards.

“I was very flattered to get the invitation,” he explained. “I got the invitation less than two weeks ago to go and I’ve got a function that I’m obligated to be at with 3M in Minnesota that they’ve had planned for basically nine months. It’s an annual thing, but they have over one hundred-and-some of their business people and customers at that I go for two days. We arrive Wednesday morning early and I don’t get to Richmond until late Thursday night. I called them and talked about the invitation and this was very important to them because the function is designed around me and they really can’t have it if I don’t go. Unfortunately, the date conflicts with the invitation. First of all, define what rejected means. Does that mean I refuse to go? Or does rejected mean I can’t make it, I want to go but I can’t? It’s kind of discouraging to see those comments when somebody doesn’t know the circumstance.”

Biffle was disgusted, and he had every right to be. The frenzy that this turned a scheduling conflict for a number of drivers into a legitimate hot button issue was based on nothing more than inference; the president’s ratings are in the tank and NASCAR has a reputation, correct or not, for being a largely Republican community. Clearly not going to the White House is an act of political calculation, right?

Wrong.

Speaking as a government employee, I can say for certain that I have never been invited to visit the President, or the White House for that matter. But there have been scheduled events to visit directors, agency officials, etc., that just haven’t worked out. Those special occasions are honors, indeed, but there are days where deadlines can’t bend, workloads are too large, or clients have pressing needs that make dropping the work to go shake hands and accept an invite simply impossible.

That’s coming from a paper pusher. Just imagine being a professional athlete that’s the sole face of a private company, a multi-million dollar sponsorship package and thousands of employees. Visiting the President may well be an honor, but at the end of the day that distinction isn’t signing the paychecks. It doesn’t matter if it is the White House calling; if corporate is on the phone with 5,000 employees, waiting to see the driver that’s getting paid far more than they are to advertise their products and work — that has to take precedence over all else. And there’s nothing political, in truth, about saying, “I need to go to work today.”

So for both living up to his sponsor commitments and being blunt enough to set the record straight over an utterly idiotic episode of NASCAR 2011, thank you, Greg Biffle. Considering that this past weekend saw another longtime full sponsor in UPS drop down to a fraction of their previous involvement in the sport, it’s more important now than ever for drivers living the high life as the face of both huge companies and a great sport to demonstrate just how committed they are to the backers that make it possible.

Both sides of the aisle can and should appreciate that.

- – - –

By now, the Danica saga has been beaten to death, dug up, desecrated, reburied, brought back to life and is now walking the halls of an abandoned shopping mall as a zombie, but here’s an interesting note on NASCAR’s latest infatuation with the “woman of the week” in racing.

I’ve recently acquired a full set of Greg Fielden’s acclaimed Forty Years of Stock Car Racing, and am currently reading accounts of the original 1949 season of the then Strictly Stock races. Reading up on the fourth race of that inaugural campaign, a 200-lap affair at the Langhorne Speedway that saw Curtis Turner take the checkers ahead of Bob Flock, it was noted that after Sara Christian, the leading female stock car racer at the time, was invited to victory lane to join Turner… after finishing sixth.

When, if ever, is this sport going to learn that if any demographic is to succeed in this sport, be they minority, woman or rich white kid, it’s only going to come if they’re evaluated as race car drivers and nothing further? IndyCar drivers that have won one race in over half a decade of racing are not the second coming of Christ. Sixth-place finishers do not get escorted by the sanctioning body to Victory Lane.

Then again, as this little historical tidbit shows, NASCAR hasn’t learned a lesson in 62 years. Go figure.

Contact Bryan Davis Keith

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Carl D.
09/06/2011 07:59 AM
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You would think that the POTUS, being such a huge Nascar fan, would understand what a logistical nightmare it would be for a driver to attend a political soiree 10 days before the chase field is set, especially on two weeks notice. Doesn’t the President watch Nascar? Surely the Chase for the Championship has captured his attention like it has the rest of the country.

Carl D.
09/06/2011 09:10 AM
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Oh yeah… since you brought up the rain-out (in the title of your coulumn anyway), I just wanted to let everyone know that the rain didn’t hit central SC until yesterday. It was a little overcast but otherwise nice on Sunday. It would have been a great weekend to run the Southern 500 in Darlington.

Old School
09/06/2011 10:52 AM
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Great response from Biffle. Everyone knows the POTUS needed the publicity more than the drivers needed him. Just another reason for the media to create a fervor.

Annie Mack
09/06/2011 11:20 AM
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Just as a little information, having worked at the White House, I can assure you that the President wasn’t aware of the invitation, the event, or the rejection. The President isn’t briefed on commitments until the morning briefing the DAY of the event. I doubt he even knew or cared that the invitations or event was even in the planning stages. Blame the social secretary or communications department, but let’s not blame one man for something as insignificant and petty as all this.

Conelly
09/06/2011 12:50 PM
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Are these NASCAR drivers the first people in the existence of time who have ever turned down an invitation to the White House? Probably Not, Get over it and go on to something else. Write some more about that loser Dale Jr.

wcfan
09/06/2011 06:01 PM
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I saw somewhere that the drivers who could not attend this event notified the WH of reason, the story also said that the chase drivers were invited last year and some of the drivers attending this year missed last year because of scheduling and some that attended last year will miss this year.

I do not believe drivers missing this event has anything to do with politics, but some are now trying to make it so.

DoninAjax
09/06/2011 07:49 PM
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A mountain out of a mole hill, like Danica.

irvan fan
09/06/2011 08:45 PM
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This close to the end of the season, it would make more sense to reschedule this for November.