Bryan Davis Keith · Tuesday September 6, 2011
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?
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?
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.
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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.
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