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The Yellow Stripe · Bryan Davis Keith · Monday October 15, 2012
When one thinks of NASCAR racers making stupid comments in press conferences, there’s no shortage of names that come to mind: Harvick, the Busches, Stewart, these names easily roll off the tongue. Then there’s the heat of the moment stupids such as Kevin Lepage insisting he did nothing wrong by merging into traffic at Talladega or Todd Bodine abdicating all responsibility for his actions at Daytona.
But Jeff Gordon, that’s not a name that ugly remarks are typically associated with. Somehow, he got away with a big-time whopper at Charlotte. When asked if he would handle a head injury in the same way as teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., who pulled himself out of a Chase-worthy race car to deal with a concussion, Gordon told the media, “No, I wouldn’t. That’s why I say we all play a part in this. If I have a thought at the championship, there’s two races to go, my head is hurting, and I just came through a wreck, and I am feeling signs of it, but I’m still leading the points, or second in the points, I’m not going to say anything. I’m sorry.”
It doesn’t matter that the finishing school-polished Gordon prefaced his remarks by stating, “Honestly, I hate to say this.” And it doesn’t matter that Gordon’s remarks are utterly ignorant of every shred of athletic health science that has been produced the past decade (though that doesn’t make them any less uninformed).
What matters is that Gordon, being the teammate of Dale Earnhardt Jr., cast aside the reasoned judgment of his teammate to make a personal statement about his competitive nature. For crying out loud, this is Jeff Gordon—the standard-bearer for politically correct, the one who chants that teams come first—remarking that his competitive streak would trump both science and common sense. That he would not do what his teammate did, even if it was the right thing in terms of safety, health and career longevity.
Even if that statement is true (and I have a very hard time believing that the father of two on the downward slope of his career would really be climbing back into a race car with his head messed up), Gordon is the last driver that should be making the type of statement an 18-year-old rookie that doesn’t know better would.
For one, Gordon, as much of a veteran as he is, has been remarkably blessed over the course of his career to avoid injury. He’s had his share of violent wrecks. Pocono in 2006 saw the sheet metal ripped from the driver’s side of his roll cage, while his tremendous impact at Las Vegas in 2008 threw a radiator hundreds of feet and prompted the track to install more SAFER barriers. He’s been fortunate enough to emerge unscathed in those incidents.
However, the same can’t be said for teammate Earnhardt, who even before his recent concussion problems suffered through a harrowing wreck in 2004 in a sports car race at Sonoma. That episode left him burned and forced to give way to a relief driver for two weeks while in the thick of a campaign that saw Junior win six races, including the Daytona 500. To date, that season is still the best he’s had in Cup racing, even if he finished higher in the standings in 2003.
But even more important than that, Gordon is a four-time champion and one of the most experienced and respected figures in the garage today. His words, whatever they are and whether or not he specifies that they are about him and not the sport at large, carry significant weight. Let’s not forget that it wasn’t but a few years ago that a young Denny Hamlin lamented the fact that NASCAR listened to a driver like Gordon, but not a new gun like himself.
Now, that same Gordon is running his mouth that he is so competitive, so flawed (his conclusion stated, “That’s not the way it should be. It’s something that most of us, I think, would do. I think that’s what gets a lot of us in trouble.”) that he would go old school. Not in the sense that he’d trade paint or go for the win in lieu of points, but that he’d play through blacking out or smoke a cigar while driving around at 200 mph.
I will get a ton of email this week about how I’m making a mountain of a molehill to write a column. There will be those that praise Jeff Gordon for proving a competitor above all else. There will be those that remark how Gordon’s comments were hardly a slight to teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.
But the reality is this; anyone that’s been a competitor, from the amateur soccer player that scarfs down ibuprofen and double tapes his sprained ankle to keep playing, to the professional race car driver that’s endured two hard crashes in six weeks, has a big-time instinct to tough it out and play on. Those soccer players end up on the couch for months with an ankle fracture. And those race car drivers are taking their lives in their hands. Even if today’s cars make death less than likely a consequence of a major wreck, repeated head injuries have a way of making retirement years a lot less enjoyable.
If there’s ever been a time for race cars drivers, Hendrick-affiliated or otherwise, to use their heads and bite their tongues, it’s with regard to questioning a response to head injuries.
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What you are really putting Jeff down for is being honest. If you don’t think there have been lots of drivers that have driven with head injuries through the years then pass that thing over here.
I will point out the most obvious case – Dale Earnhardt Sr.. I think there is little doubt that he did. I remember him saying that he felt “woozy” before one race.
If you want to create an issue then why not talk about a points system that doesn’t allow a driver to be injured. As for Jr. he had a concussion after the test prior to the chase starting. Why aren’t you asking why he didn’t say something then. I know why, because he still had a chance at the championship. It wasn’t until the second hit at Talladega, when he knew his shot at the championship was a longshot that he raised his hand and spoke up. We will never know what he would have done if he’d been in the same position as Johnson who was in the same wreck but was still second in points.
While I admire Jeff Gordon’s drive to win, I agree with you here. As a veteran of the sport, his words carry weight. Younger drivers hear what he says and do as he says. I hope the question caught Gordon a little off guard and he answered without really thinking the issue through. The impact of multiple concussions has left many an athlete with health issues once their glory days have passed. Drivers need to know this and make smart decisions based on their long-term well-being.
The problem appears to be that Gordon has the drive and desire to win and be the best vs. being considerate, kind, cautious, (add your own politically correct word here) that current wimp men are supposed to be these days.
It’s good to see that a guy can take a licking or two and keep on ticking rather than crying ouch due to some alphabet (ADHD, LowT, OCD, PTSD, etc.) ailment.
As far as I’m concerned this issue was resolved the minute he got back to his motor home after his remark…His wife either…read him the riot act
and told him he will be getting an MRI after each race.. wreck or no wreck… OR she bought a baseball bat and an
higher life insurance policy to “move things along”! Trust me…no married woman with two young children is going to let her husband play “tough guy” on her watch!
Gordon has always hated Earnhardt. All you have to do is look at any restrictor plate race and see how Gordon will not work with him.
Has anyone asked what would happen if the 88 got dizzy during a race? It is not just him that gets hurt, but other drivers.
Gordon is just a frustrated movie star trying to stay in the limelight.
All you tough guys out there – come through a fire like Sonoma and get back in a race car – then get back to me. If you are a firefighter you can talk – the rest not so much.
So you are saying he should have lied to set an example for young drivers coming into the sport?
Just one person, please answer the most relevant question: Why didn’t Jr say something after the Kansas test wreck?
I have two words for you… Muhammad Ali. Yeah, he was The Greatest. Today, a victim of Parkinson’s disease, a disease that has been linked to head trauma from activities such as boxing. Being tough won’t save you from permanent brain injury and disease.
I’m not saying he should have lied; I’m saying he should have said “Yeah, I’d want to climb back in the car and win a championship, but I’m smarter than that.” Hopefully that’s not a lie.
Bill B…that is the $100,000 question! And…I think in Gordon’s honest statement we have the answer! It’s great Junior “came out” and admitted his injuries…it would have been much “greater” if he would have done the responsible thing after his hit at Kansas. I wish him a speedy recovery…but praise and acclaimations I can’t extend! Drivers don’t want a drugged up peer on the track with them…but it’s ok to drive with an injury that can cause big trouble behind the wheel of a car??? (on or off the track) Makes no sense to me!
I am not disagreeing with your overall point, but I think Jeff was being honest. Unless the issue was so debilitating that he couldn’t drive, he’d have soldiered on. And much like Jr his position is secure. Now look around the garage at some drivers with less secure contracts and sponsorship, they would be even more apt to drive because they’d be afraid if they vacated their seat they’d never get it back.
Now look back through the history of the sport. As you go back in time the safety equipment was less sophisticated. Now, how many drivers have sat out specifically for head trauma through the years? There is no way you are telling me that concussions weren’t much more prevalent in the past and that drivers (especially those in the top tier) didn’t drive with those conditions.
This is nothing new. It’s just the first time someone has voluntarily admitted they had a concussion.
A profound column. Many young athletes who hold Gordon in esteem will most likely continue to play hurt to their detriment. Gordon is a spokesman for the young, and should therefore monitor his mouth more closely.
RickP, you are obviously suffering from one of the “alphabet ailments”. Either that or you’re just plain stupid.
I respect Gordon as a driver however he simply should have kept silent on the issue. I have the highest respect for Earnhart doing what he did. Maybe he decided to be Mr Macho after the Kansas crash, but the second hit in Alabama and the subsequent headaches probably convinced him to take the medical advice he was offered. As to Rick P.‘s comment, somehow I rather suspect he has never raced anything as dangerous as a Big Wheel or he wouldnt have charachterized being stupid as somehow “manly”, whatever the hell that means.
I agree with Bill B. He was being honest. A question was asked and he answered honestly to a question based on the way the sport is right now and right now – that’s what most competitors would do if they had any chance at a championship.
I know and everyone else knows this is the wrong thing to do, but until there is some way to compensate for an injury like this the competitors like Jeff Gordon will race hurt or lose a whole season to injury.
Does HE think it’s wise? No, you can see by his preface to his answer that he doesn’t, but as a competitor he is compensated for competing and punished for cutting out. That’s why you see racecar drivers racing sick after taking IVs of fluid before a race – because they want to win. Is that wise? No way – you can get pretty woozy with the flu too folks!
What’s interesting to me is that Junior made the correct call on his own. According to Dr. Punch, there’s no way to diagnose the effects of multiple concussions; Junior just felt like “something wasn’t right” with his head. It was his call, and he did what he considered in his own best interest.
Yeah, drivers in the past had less protection, but with the advances in safety and medical equipment comes the responsibility for athletes to use that equipment for their own good. Otherwise what’s the point? Had Dale Sr. used a Hans device, he’d most likely be here today. It’s on the drivers to take care of themselves.
I agree with Jeff. i couldn’t get out of the car if a championship was on the line. Why are you going after him for saying that? Everyone else it seemed said the same thing. Also don’t forget that jr kept racing until he was all but out of it.
did not agree with jeff’s statement at all, an he threw jr. under the bus! jelouse of jr.? you bet! always ,has been! and I throw rusty’s remarks ,right in there with jeff! SHAME ON BOTH OF YOU!
Wow, hell hath frozen over. People are complaining that Jeff Gordon said something that was NOT pollitically correct. Never thought I’d see the day. LOL
Quote from Darrell Waltrip:
“I know firsthand what it’s like to have a concussion and what it’s like to race with a concussion. Back in my time when we did that it was because we had to do it — our season was based on all 36 races and you couldn’t afford to miss one, so you would jeopardize your own health and safety for your team. Back in those days, you drove hurt, you drove with a concussion — you did whatever you had to do to stay up in the points and remain in the championship battle.
In Dale Jr.’s situation right now, it’s a little bit different. He’s already in the Chase, so the worst he can do is finish 12th. Realistically, he was sliding down the order before this weekend anyway and his championship hopes were starting to get dim.
If you look at the circumstances, timing-wise it all worked out well. He can get out of the car and get recuperated. A brain injury is nothing to mess around about.”
Rusty just confirmed to me what an idiot and loud mouth he is. No wonder his Nationwide car campaign failed.
This issue is really about job security. Junior has a big advantage over most of his peers. His name will always assure him ride with a top tier team. He has the luxury of stepping up and admitting his problem. Other don’t. They are fearful of being labeled as “Damaged Goods”. It would be a good question to put to the top tier team owners that if someone like say Newman, Logano, or Biffle would go the same route and have to sit out perhaps up to an entire season would their seats be assured at the end of that time? I would bet not. Its a cruel world out there. Only the strongeat survive. So there is a reason drivers keep their mouth shut when hurt.
If the Speed Channel does shut down maybe there will be less Wallaces babbling on tv.
Thinking of the number of retired drivers that suffer from dementia/Alzheimer’s should make every driver take a long, hard look at the possibilities of ignoring multiple concussions. How many former NFL players are suffering from years of ‘playing hurt’? If Nascar would allow a team to use a replacement driver in case of medical reasons, many more drivers might be willing to take the time to recover properly. They could make it much easier for drivers to make the smart decision instead of the macho one.
Ray Evernham said that after 3 concussions he retired from race driving. What does JG think of RE for that?