The Frontstretch: Voices From the Heartland: Nextel/ISC/NASCAR; From Tiananmen Square to Talladega by Jeff Meyer -- Thursday May 3, 2007

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As I mentioned at the beginning of last weeks Top Ten List, Brian France and few other NASCAR party officials recently spent a week in China to "discuss possible projects with government, sports, and business officials in Beijing".

The more I thought about this, and especially after the FRN's (France's Republic of NASCAR) punishment of Tony Stewart, a couple of things crossed my mind.

First and foremost was; where is the outrage? And secondly; perhaps NASCAR is returning to its real roots after all!

Now I consider myself to be like most true racing fans out there, in the light that I put my pants on one leg at a time, although I did once manage to achieve "2 legged" status by jumping off the bed whilst quickly slipping my jeans over both feet and pulling them up before I hit the floor. (Before attempting this yourself, there are two important things you should consider that, looking back, I wish I had. One is the height of the ceiling fan from the top of the bed and the other is to use sweat pants. Sweat pants do not have zippers.) At any rate, being like most other normal people, when I think of China, Tiananmen Square is one of the first things that come to my mind.

Tiananmen Square, in the capital of Beijing, for you younger, apathetic or just plain unlearned fans, was the site of massive student uprisings against the communist government of China in 1989. The government's response was brutal in the form of beatings, censorship, imprisonment, exile and even execution of hundreds, if not thousands of people.

The one single image that most people remember from that time is what Time Magazine dubbed as "The Unknown Rebel". Also known as the "tank man", it is a photograph/video of a lone protester standing in the path of four advancing Red Army tanks. When the tanks moved, he moved as well. Eventually he was pulled aside by crowd members who were worried he would be crushed or shot. To this day, the true identity and fate of that man is still in question. Some reports have him hiding in mainland China while still others report that he was executed some days later.

While I was researching the events from those days some 18 years ago, the similarities of how the communist government of China dealt with it and the way NASCAR is/has been run is truly quite amazing and inescapable.

It is well documented in NASCAR history that any attempt to organize the participants into any semblance of a union was instantly and vehemently quashed by the France family. People were threatened and people were banned.

"But," you say, "that was over thirty years ago! Surely, in today's enlightened times, NASCAR does not employ such tactics to keep the FRN intact." Think again my friend!

Consider the recent developments with Tony Stewart. Stewart had the audacity to skip out on post race interviews after finishing second in a recent race. Later, saying in essence that he was very frustrated at the time and didn't want to say derogatory things about NASCAR, especially in the heat of the moment, not to mention on their own turf.

Later that week, Tony DID exercise his right of freedom of speech on HIS OWN RADIO SHOW and DID say some things that FRN Party Officials did not like. Never mind the fact that what he said WAS based in fact, as any fan with half a brain and even other drivers have confirmed. That left the Party Officials furious! Tony Stewart, to the delight of millions of fans, had become the NASCAR equivalent to the "tank man".

Someone had finally stood up and said what needed to be said. Not just anyone, but someone who happened to be a two-time Champion.

While the world may never know the true fate of the real "tank man", we do know the fate of Tony Stewart. Before the No. 20 team was even allowed to unload the car at Talladega, Stewart was hauled into the Party Headquarters to have a "chat". While an actual beating is very hard to confirm, (who knows what goes on in there?!) the evidence of threats and "re-education" were clearly there when Tony emerged.

“It’s a little tender for me to sit down right now,” said Stewart. “To be honest, the group that I spoke with this morning is a group of peers that I trust. If they tell me the stuff is out there, I believe them. I should have went to them instead of just saying it out in public. That’s frustration that’s been building up with all these debris cautions.”

If you don't think Tony was forced to say those remarks, you are naïve! (That's Evian for you dyslexic purified water drinkers!) Consider the fact that the NASCAR Party Officials stood and watched to make sure Stewart touted the Party line to eager reporters who were waiting for Tony to emerge.

In China, many high ranking officials who had sorta sympathized with the students during the uprising in 1989 were given similar "re-education" talks and only after officially "changing their opinion" were they allowed to live any sort of normal lives.

Another result of the 1989 student uprising was the immediate censorship and cessation of all international press reports by the Chinese communist government during that time.

In the United States of America, in April 2007, one writer who was commissioned to write a story for a nationally known monthly sports publication was forced by the powers that be in the sport (at the behest of those holding the purse strings) to re-write the article when it did not portray them to their liking, or risk losing his job. No, they didn't send a couple of goons around to his door, but they did threaten to pull all two million dollars worth of advertising from the magazine and online publication if it wasn't done (and done right!) Fortunately for me, they (or anyone for that matter) don't pour two million into this publication so they can kiss my butt if they don't like what I write!

I could go on expounding upon the many more similarities between NASCAR and the communist government of the Peoples Republic of China, but by now I should hope you get the point. The one point I haven't touched on that I mentioned earlier is the outrage or lack thereof that NASCAR is even attempting to deal with a communist government where human rights are questionable in the first place.

When it was merely suggested, let alone when it came to pass, that the Japanese owned Toyota, would be allowed to compete in NASCAR, it set in motion a tirade amongst millions of so called fans that continues to this day. If you all were so dead set against a "foreign" competitor from a now friendly country who was once our arch enemy, (never mind that Dodge is owned by the Germans…) where is your outrage now that NASCAR wants to deal with a Communist country? Perhaps the outrage will surface once the things in that Top Ten List start to actually happen.

Just in case I have not alienated enough people yet with this article, there is one more thing I want to say. Who ever the "peers" were (presumably drivers?) that Tony spoke with during his re-education at Party headquarters, they are all gutless cowards. They had a chance to stand up and support one of their own and make a stand at reclaiming the sport. Whoever they are, they failed miserably. I hope it wasn't one of my favorites.

Stay off the (Great) wall,

Jeff Meyer

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
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M. B. Voelker
05/04/2007 07:18 AM

People who want to yell, “Freedom of Speech” anytime someone faces adverse consequences from their speech would do well to actualy READ the Bill of Rights.

Freedom of Speech has to do only with government interference with your speech. I know that its fashionable to claim that Brian France is the ruler of an evil empire that would make every villian from Goldfinger to Cobra Commander jealous, but truth is that he has not yet accomplished the takeover of the US and the abolition of Congress and the White House.

Freedom of Association gaurantees the right of organizations to set standards of behavior for their members.

Freedom of speech does not gaurantee freedom from consequences. And it works both ways. While anyone involved with Nascar has the legal right to say, “Nascar sucks,” if they so choose Nascar has the very same legal right to say, “We no longer have need of your services.”

Nobody can expect to badmouth the boss in public and still keep their job no matter what they do in life. There’s a reason for all those sayings about “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” “Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs,” etc.

Jeff Meyer
05/04/2007 07:33 AM

“There’s a reason for all those sayings about “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” “Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs,” etc.”

Brian France, NASCAR, ISC and Nextel would do well to remember those sayings.

It is US who feed THEM! It is OUR dollar they want.

Look at the ratings, attendance, etc. there’s a reason for those trends.

Lets not get clouded vision and forget who is biting whom.

05/04/2007 09:40 AM

I was under the impression, from the Stewart interviews I saw, that by “peers” he meant NASCAR officials. He even said in one that there is a group of them that he really trusts and those were the ones he talked to. He didn’t mention talking to any drivers.

05/04/2007 12:29 PM

I find it interesting that two dictatorial powers should be meeting. Are they also giving each other tips on how to oppress any opposition or descension in the ranks?

There was an incident several years back called Credentialgate in which the media refused to sign for their credentials because of Article 4 which states that they could only film, photograph, say, or report only what was approved by NASCAR. Bill France Jr quickly backed off enforcing this and the media was able to report what was actually going on. Since then, Brian France has ensured that Article 4 is being enforced. A few journalist have lost their credentials for reporting what they saw happening. It didn’t paint a pretty picture and it didn’t go along with the official NASCAR party line. But that doesn’t get covered by One reporter lost his credentials when he asked where the missing 38 million fans were who didn’t watch the Daytona 500. Bob Dilner and Kurt Busch both lost their credentials several years ago when they criticized NASCAR.

Baseball, football, golf, hockey, and other pro sports do not control the media the way that NASCAR does. They allow criticism by the media. They allow criticism of the governing body. NASCAR doesn’t.

If NASCAR really want to be accepted as a legitimate sport, they need to ensure their officiating is legitimate. The rules need to be clear and not vague. The rules need to be available to the fans. And they need to be able to takes their lumps like the rest of the pro sports do when it comes to the media.

05/04/2007 08:31 PM

Elliot Sadler stated that he had no idea that failing to make the post race media event was a rule. I expect that most drivers didn’t know that. Of course we know that the real reason Stewart was fined is because he spoke up. This is why most drivers and team owners do not speak up strongly against the poor officiating and unequal rules enforcement. They fear the outcome. That goes all the way back to the attempted unionization. The Frances are ruthless and a driver’s career could quietly end if he/she is a back marker. The only reason Stewart will continue to drive is because he is a Champion and a popular driver for a popular team. If the truth were known, he has probably been told that fact. The love of money keeps a lot of mouths tightly closed.


Contact Jeff Meyer

Recent articles from Jeff Meyer:

Voices From The Cheap Seats: The Tale Of Two Tires
BSNews! Bruton’s Plans Extend Beyond Bristol’s Track
Top Ten Reasons Fans Failed To Show Up At Bristol Sunday
BSNews! NASCAR CEO Given "Special" Award Amidst Lavish Fanfare
Fan Coun-ci-What? Just What Is It That NASCAR Wants To Study?

Want to know more about Jeff Meyer or view his complete article archives? Then hop on over to his archive and bio page.