The Frontstretch: Drivers Should Unite Again On Talladega by Kurt Smith -- Friday November 6, 2009

Go to site navigation Go to article

Drivers Should Unite Again On Talladega

Happy Hour: The Official Journalist Of NASCAR · Kurt Smith · Friday November 6, 2009


I don’t know how many people noticed it, but I did.

It took longer to find out whether Ryan Newman was still alive after his nightmarish crash than it did for ABC to run a graphic that tickets were still available for remaining races once the red flag was finally lifted.

Did no one in the production booth question the timing of that? Or even worse, did someone think that right after millions of viewers and spectators finally exhaled seeing a driver walk away from a hideous wreck that it was an opportune time to try to sell tickets?

During the pre-race show, ABC showed Carl Edwards’ car going into the catchfence and injuring seven fans approximately a dozen times, in real time and in slow motion. Well, now we finally have a wreck more frightening than Elliott Sadler’s in 2003 for the highlight reel. You can probably bank on this, too: now that Newman is OK, his airborne crash will be shown in the promo for the next Talladega race on FOX in April.

Yet those clips worked perfectly for ABC/ESPN, who also decided to have a wives/girlfriends segment in the pre-race show before a race at the most dangerous track on the circuit. Part of the piece was wives kissing their husbands before they climbed into the race car, clearly in an effort to create a made-for-TV moment, the possibility of that embrace being their last show of affection.

But after spending all day Sunday promising that, “The Big One is coming, gonna be a wild finish at Talladega, stay tuned for the multi-car wreck!” the announcers suddenly seemed to realize that they weren’t supposed to loudly anticipate another Carl Edwards-style airborne crash while trying to spice up a broadcast of a 190-MPH freight train. So they modified their tune, repeating, “Don’t get us wrong, we don’t want it to happen, of course.”

Right… and I’m Michael Jackson’s half-sister and entitled to some of his fortune.

Remember that shot of Matt Kenseth’s pregnant wife in tears following his Nationwide race barrel roll last season? I’m sure they didn’t want to show that.

My goal in pointing this out to start my article this week isn’t to illustrate the reprehensible marketing of restrictor plate races, although it is downright sickening at times. It’s to point out that it’s the wrecks, danger, and the real possibility of a tragedy that NASCAR and the networks are selling.

Racing is a dangerous sport, and most everyone involved in it accepts that. What isn’t acceptable is a level of danger that is preventable but kept in place because it sells.

Please do not try to tell me that we can’t lower the banking at this track because it will make for boring racing like at Pocono and Indianapolis. If that’s worth a driver’s or a fan’s life to you, then Ryan Newman was right: go home, because you don’t belong here. But you needn’t worry about what I think. NASCAR welcomes fans who want calamity, and ABC’s broadcast of Sunday’s race made this obvious.

Despite the disastrous consequences involved with restrictor plate wrecks, many people promoting the sport appear OK with the risk of having a driver’s life in peril amidst a cloud of carnage and smoke at 200 MPH.

It’s not “too impractical” to reconfigure the track to make the plate unnecessary, either. If a track has the time and the millions to reconfigure the grandstand, as Talladega is doing, then they have the time and money to reconfigure the track.

No, the only reason the restrictor plate remains in NASCAR after 22 years of consistently producing the worst wreckage in big time auto racing is the morbid possibilities and the revenues that those possibilities generate.

NASCAR will attempt to enforce insane yellow-line and bump drafting rules that change from event to event, they’ll change the size of the holes in the engines, raise the fences, and they’ll put out a car with a stronger roll cage. They’ll even hold an Indian ritual blessing at the track, which for all we know could have saved Ryan Newman’s life. But as long as networks can show abominable wrecks, rave about the wild races at Talladega and count the money, there will not be an alternative to the restrictor plate.

Not unless they take a hit on the balance sheets.

If the drivers in all three major series of NASCAR banded together and informed them that they will no longer race at Talladega until the plates (or “tapered spacers”) were removed, they would have this writer’s 100% support. No one in the broadcast booths, the stands, or in the sanctioning body praising the excitement of plate racing is in the race cars facing constant danger with zero margin for error for 500 miles. Almost universally, drivers hate plate racing, and post-race interviews at plate races reveal that. Sometimes, even after a thrilling win, like with Dale Earnhardt in 2000.

We know that a walkout has been tried before, in a mini-strike that ultimately ended in a victory for the iron fist rule of Bill France as he put scabs out on the racetrack for the scheduled race in 1969. But the drivers were right to do what they did. They had been demonstrating clearly back then that the tires would not hold up and no one was listening. And that’s not even close to the dangers they face at today’s speeds in big packs.

I’m not endorsing a drivers’ union, not after seeing what powerful unions have done to the price of baseball, football, and New Jersey public schools. It isn’t necessary to form a band that will unite millionaires to strike for even more money and disgrace the image of the sport in the process. That’s something NASCAR truly doesn’t need.

But there can be a simple unified front on the part of the drivers… the guys who are in the arena, who people are paying to see, and who face this unacceptable insanity four times every year… that NASCAR will not be profiting from their efforts until the situation is fixed, until something is done to throw the restrictor plate in the trash.

Given the quotes from drivers like Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Elliott Sadler, and almost everyone else, there shouldn’t be a problem getting enough big names to sign on. Michael Waltrip is retiring, so he won’t be a voice of dissent.

Give NASCAR the prospect of a race in rural Alabama without Dale Earnhardt, Jr. participating, after they’ve done everything imaginable to help him be prominent, and that just might sober them up. It’s just like it took four years of steadily dropping ratings and attendance to stop blowing off opinions from drivers and fans. Sadly, the only way NASCAR seems to want to listen, as I’ve illustrated with the first half of this article, is if the bottom line is affected.

Bill France did not have as much to lose then as Brian France does today. It’s not going to be as easy to offer a few million dollars in rain checks for future races to fans that paid to see Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and saw backmarkers from the ARCA series instead, along with a race that would probably be mostly run under yellow.

So now would be the time to take a stand, drivers. Give NASCAR every opportunity and plenty of time to fix this problem before the next Talladega race. Don’t threaten to skip the Daytona 500. Just let NASCAR know the score now, before many Talladega tickets are sold. And watch the ticket sales when NASCAR says to shut up and race or be replaced, as the prospect of Talladega’s spring 2010 Cup event becoming a $70 Camping World East also-rans race becomes more and more likely.

The destruction-promoting networks need to get that message, too: no longer will they be able to promote restrictor plate races with the possibility of a driver or fan death. They can repeat how many times the new car is so much safer all they want after a huge crash; we know damn well the networks love the violence of plate races. It shows in every plate race broadcast: in the announcers’ chatter, the television ads, the pieces on drivers’ wives kissing their husbands before they strap in, “knowing it may be the last time.”

So it’s an insult listening to announcers act somber when a driver looks like he might be seriously hurt. Why not just come out and say “Whoa! He might not be OK! Exciting, eh fellas?” Just be up front about it—that is the selling point of Talladega. Networks want violent crashes.

Fans have been sending a loud message with their wallets and remote controls that it’s time for NASCAR and for the networks who broadcast it to get its act together.

Now, it’s the drivers’ turn.

Contact Kurt Smith

The Frontstretch Newsletter, back in 2014 gives you more of the daily news, commentary, and racing features from your favorite writers you know and love. Don’t waste another minute – click here to sign up now. We’re here to make sure you stay informed … so make sure you jump on for the ride!

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
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


©2000 - 2008 Kurt Smith and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Bill B
11/06/2009 07:38 AM

Good points but if we fans truly cared about our drivers we could also fix the issue and stop watching.

11/06/2009 07:46 AM

I agree that the wrecks are horrible but that is a byproduct of the speed – the concept of plate racing is actually quite cool. If they could simulate that style at slower speeds how awesome would that be?
Imagine a race where all the cars are equal, positions trading every lap, team work required to make a move and timing and determination to get your car in the right spot will earn you a spot in victory lane.
Ill tell ya, a gokart track that could simulate that without the risk of death would make a killing!(Off of drivers living)

The Turnip!
11/06/2009 08:06 AM

Don’t hold your breath that the drivers would somehow “band together”, a random act once in a while, but certainly nothing “organized”!

At least on a consistent basis!

Just way too many millionaires on the circuit, coupled with many drivers just seeking a job, and the mix is not there for any organized revolt!

HOWEVER! Always have an out of course, IF the drivers let word out discreetly, that they will do the very same thing, i.e., “single file racing”, at all restrictor plate venues! MMMMM, such as Daytona in February, maybe the NITWOKS would get wind and place suitable pressure on NA$CRAP to do something!

With declining ratings, actually in a free-fall, the NITWORKS could ill stand another yawner, particularly at Daytona!

Now, as far as NA$CRAP using these very violent accidents to “help sell tickets”, please remember, your talking about an organization that only cares about the money! NOT! the drivers or the fans, or the racing!

But in my estimation, the ABSOLUTE WORST case of advertising from NA$CRAP, was a couple of month’s ago the lead in of a NA$CRAP commercial was a picture of THE BLACK #3! How is that for sacriledge?

Using a driver who lost his life IN A RESTRICTOR PLATE RACE!

As a way to promote 2009 races! And thus ticket sales!

Does this not EXACTLY prove the point, and admit on NA$CRAP’S behalf, that this years racing sucks, and they have to go back several years to “sell” tickets to this years races?

The Turnip!
11/06/2009 08:10 AM

Hey dansmom!

So, are you saying, the stands will be filled with people all watching 43 cars at 100MPH go round and around a race track, all bunched up cozy like?

Oh, I have seen that of course, at the County Fair, it’s called bumper cars! Check it out!

Brian France Sucks
11/06/2009 08:15 AM

Restrictor plates are a tool to put money in the pockets of greedy execs from TV networks and dumb@sses like Brian France. Its the NA$CAR equivalent to a bunch of white trash getting drunk and watching the demo derby at the county fair. THIS IS NOT RACING.

11/06/2009 08:22 AM

Let me start by apologizing up front to everyone, but I, personally, like the excitement of the crashes and the wrecks. Do I want any of the drivers to ever get hurt in one of these wrecks, hell no (well, maybe Shrub – just kidding). Maybe I’m the only fan here that gets a thrill of watching a car flip end over end, or seeing a driver get t-boned on the track. Again, that doesn’t mean I want to see anyone get hurt. But after watching so many races, weekend after weekend, where the racing is so God awful boring, I look forward to tracks like Talladega, Martinsville and Bristol. Unfortunately, because of the Chase, those races have become almost as boring to watch as the ones at MIS. So if the drivers aren’t going to drive, and my apologies again to any Newman fans, but when he said that fans who like to see what happened to him last Sunday should just go home, well, I have to say to him, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson, that as a fan, I expect to see drivers race, not ride around the back of the track to avoid any kind of trouble. So to Ryan Newman, maybe he should have been actually racing last Sunday instead of being a wimp and riding around. Maybe HE should go home instead of the fans that, for what it’s worth, are looking for some kind of excitement in the Cup series. So bring on the comments that I’m sick for wanting to see ‘The Big One’ but if you are all honest with yourselves, I’m sure you’re going to agree that the wrecks in NASCAR, like the fighting in hockey or the body flipping and turning in downhill skiing is one of the reasons we all watch the sports we do. And if the drivers don’t like running on these tracks, I am sure there are 100 other guys or gals that are more than willing to get behind the wheel, taking the chance of dying while doing something they love, and odds are, they will survive and make a good chunck of change in the process. Nobody is forcing any of the drivers to run these tracks. Bring in ringers like they do for the road courses if they are scared, timid, or frustrated. Again, many, many others would love to have the opportunity to race Talladega! OK, I’ve vented and I hope I haven’t offended too many people for my love of seeing something, anything, other than single file, no passing, racing.

Bill B
11/06/2009 08:51 AM

Saying you like seeing cars airborne as long as no one gets hurt is like saying;

I like watching buildings burn down if no one gets hurt.

I like watching train wrecks if no one gets hurt.

I like watching stuff blow up real good as long as no one gets hurt.

I’ll give you credit for being honest but be honest with yourself, all those things carry a probability that someone will get hurt and that is why they are to be avoided. There is also the added issue that, even if no one gets hurt, there is some destruction of property involved which also costs someone money.

The Turnip!
11/06/2009 09:11 AM

Hey 24-4-5, well, your kinda close.

After all, Auto Racing “is supposed to be dangerous”!

That is what “RACING” is all about, or should be anyway. Let each driver decide the risks he or she wants to take, and race accordingly!

If it is too dangerous for a certain driver, well, tough! Today, we have a very watered down sport of auto-racing!

Unfortunately, we can’t have it both ways, one being “SAFE”, the other being “TRUE AUTO RACING”!

BUT! With that said, please, please remember ALL of what Ryan Newman said! And your conveniently leaving out what was THE MOST IMPORTANT THING HE SAID!

And that was “ back in the days, the drivers themselves had control over their cars, and respected each other, driver to driver”!

The “RACING WAS NOT DICTATED BY THE OFFICIALS”, “things were settled on the race track, by the drivers”!

The drivers in a REAL RACE, make the decisions! NOT the officials!

So please go back and watch ALL of Ryan’s comments, he certainly NEVER said he wanted anything perfectly “safe”, he said he only wanted control over HIS life, and his race car, not an organization that as a surprise just before race time makes a change to the rules!

His words were “we are put into a box”!

11/06/2009 09:55 AM


You may be right that there are plenty of men and woman to run the race should the drivers revolt, but how many tickets do you think will be sold if it turned into essentially an ARCA race? It would hurt Nascar in the wallet big time and you might actually get change from this.

My idea would be very simple. At Talladega, Dale Jr should announce that he will not race until something is done. This threat alone would drop tickets sales since 2/3 of the grandstands would be empty on race day. You wouldn’t need all of them to revolt. Just the one that has the biggest following. At Talladega, that would be Jr.

11/06/2009 09:58 AM

Personally, I hate the wrecks. I hold my breath waiting to see if everyone is okay. What makes a race exciting to me is watching a driver take a car that has no business being up front and putting it in Victory Lane. They have taken the drivers out of the sport. Everything is aerodynamics, tires, etc. I miss the days when the drivers would manhandle a ill-performing or damaged car and show the rookies how it’s done. Nascar took that from all of us and replaced it with a 500 mile or lap show meant to please the advertisers and the new viewers who don’t have a clue.

So, if you like the wrecks maybe you should start watching that god-awful fighting series. That should satisfy your appetite for violence.

Bill B
11/06/2009 10:16 AM

One could also question the motive of the governing body creating a car that would result in more spectacular wrecks just to put asses in the seats. How else do you explain a wing on the back that makes the car go airborne if it gets turned around.

Bad Wolf
11/06/2009 11:23 AM

I think the drivers tried to make the point last weekend at Dega, not from getting together before the race but it all came together while they were on the track. They tried, but Nascar carries the big stick of the competition debrie cautions, and with the “Double File-Shootout Style” everytime they pull that flag out of their ass the field is once again bunched up, and real racers will start fighting to keep their positions. Add that to Nascars penchant to scrutinize any drivers and teams for not towing the company line and the drivers are pretty much under the thumb of Brain France and Nascar.

Next year they need to get together and run all but the last 5 laps single file at around 150mph. All pit at the same time and resume the single file parade.

Dans Mom
11/06/2009 11:33 AM


If Dale Jr. Didn’t race at Talladega he wouldn’t qualify for the chHAHAHA sorry, almost got through that without laughing.

11/06/2009 12:00 PM

I personally do not like the wrecks because it screws up my fantasy team! Move on, next topic.

11/06/2009 12:29 PM

Plain and simple. It ain’t about the racing anymore. It’s a circle jerk with the tv networks and nas$crap holding hands.

11/06/2009 01:15 PM

Someone must have stroked too hard last week, then, because NASCAR is blaming ABC for Talladega being a boring race.

Apparently, ABC was so intent on telling everyone how boring the race was, that they misses some “seriously intense” racing.

I suppose that could be true, as long as there was a slug and a turtle somewhere in the infield jockeying for position. But on the track, it was either boredom or crashes.

11/06/2009 01:16 PM

Racing has deteriorated to the wreck factor when what is really important is the competitive factor. Granted, crashes are part of the competition, but are not the reason to watch. Talladega has deteriorated into no longer being a competition. People who have lost their sense of what is important are warped.

11/06/2009 01:53 PM

I personally like the excitement that plate racing provides. (with the exception of Sundays race) Lap after lap of lead/position changes. Watching the skill of drivers racing in such close quarters is well, just exhilarating. I do not necessarily want wrecks, BUT that is always a possibility. Dega or Bristol.

11/06/2009 03:10 PM

what a bunch of babies! crying about wrecks, do the math most of us can name all the flips that have happened at the superspeedways in the last 20 years. Put that number over the laps run and you will get VERY low odds of a major wreck. Sorry but in the real world sometimes wrecks happen, change the wing, change the car whatever sometimes wrecks happen and (get this) excitement sells, watch ESPN and you will see football highlights of the hardest hit. Baseball highlights of outfielders running and diving for balls, sometimes into eachother. Get over your sensitivities before this whining turns whats left of NASCAR into Indy racing or some other uninspired money loser. I wish Dale Sr was here to fold his arms and tell these whiners to shut up!

Don Mei
11/06/2009 03:25 PM

Well, no doubt there truly are idiots amongst us. Just review some of whats already been written above. As to the drivers boycott, love to see it happen but it probably wont: so I guess the only alternative is us…those of us who are racing fans and not demolition derby fans. We need a movement and a petition. NO MORE PLATES!!! Obviously I can’t speak for anyone but myself but I will NEVER watch another plate race again..which means I’m not watching any of the commercials. As the poet said “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Its time.

11/06/2009 03:36 PM

Amen Glenn, and thanks for saying what most fans think. Why is it that if I say I want an exciting race, and if that so happens to involve a crash or wreck, then so be it, but because I say that then I’m not a race fan? Sorry, but I’ve probably got more years under my belt as a fan than most of you. And it would be nice if you actually read what was written instead of interpretting it the way you are. No one is saying they want anyone to get hurt when they wreck, but we like the excitement of seeing the crash. Sometimes our dreams are squashed because it’s our driver that got involved in the accident and other times we cheer because it happened to someone else. For those of you who think otherwise, well, go back to whatever rock you crawled out from under on any given Sunday afternoon because wrecks are just part of racing; and yes, it is good tv viewing when it happens.

11/06/2009 03:50 PM

Hate to break it to you Glenn, but Dale Sr. hated plate racing too.

11/06/2009 04:00 PM

He hated it because of the lack of throttle response, I remember the interview, he was simply lobbying NASCAR to let the cars run. Not crying about the odd possibility that a car may go upside down. Go ahead and boycott, Tennis or Golf are on the other channel since everyone seems to want a completely sterile, safe sport, the rest of us will watch T-Dega, or maybe go there.

Don Mei
11/06/2009 04:17 PM

I love the macho comments from people who would crap in their pants on a race track!!!
24-4-5 actually “loves the excitement of seeing the crash!!” I wish he would listen to Newman who said after the incident, that anyone who enjoyed watching that should go home, they dont belong at the racetrack.

11/06/2009 04:45 PM

I can’t block or kick very well either but that doesn’t mean I want NFL turned into flag football because someone might get hurt! Same principle, I guess you would have all the danger taken from NASCAR, well the fact that they are on the edge is very exciting to most fans and ryan Newman doesn’t get to judge. If he is scared there are plenty of drivers to take his place.

Don Mei
11/06/2009 04:52 PM

I doubt you can drive either.You have the balls to call Ryan Newman scared? Would you do it to his face? Whats your hobby…golf or croquet? What a joke!

11/06/2009 04:58 PM

Yeah, name calling that’s cool! Right back to the 7th grade. Sorry I thought I was talking to grownups, my fault. I didn’t call him scared, I just offered him an option. I said “if”. The joke is on anyone who decides to gut Nascar of it’s inherent danger, that will spell the end.

Don Mei
11/06/2009 05:03 PM

“If he is scared there are plenty of drivers to take his place.” Looks to me as if you are questioning Newmans courage. What did I miss?

Don Mei
11/06/2009 05:06 PM

Maybe we should mandate no helmets in Cup so that we dont “gut Nascar of its inherent danger” too much.

11/06/2009 06:42 PM

Well, if we wanted things to be dangerous, NASCAR really would be racing “Stock” cars off a showroom floor again instead of the spec cars they race now.

11/06/2009 10:46 PM

After 27 years of attending every race run there, (1973 thru 2000), I simply stopped going. For a lot of reasons, racing at Talladega has turned into something that doesn’t interest me anymore, which I thought would never happen. Lot’s of people do like it, but from the looks of those stands quite a few are staying away, and I think it’s more than the economy. From the generic cars that don’t look like anything on the street to the rules that make sure no one can get any kind of real advantage, the cars are forced into a 500 mile pack that inevitably results in someone upside down, on fire, parts flying, etc. I have better things to do with my Sunday afternoons. Sorry NASCAR, you lost me.

11/06/2009 11:59 PM

You may want to debate who’s “scared” and who’s not but the bottom line is, do you really expect the drivers to cook the Goose? They may be brave enough to drive @ 200 mph,inches apart, but they ain’t brave enough to give up those tasty paychecks. NA$CAR holds the ultimate card. The driver’s lifestyles. Any bets on the final payout when “The Anointed One” wins his fourth. No wonder he doesn’t say crap.

11/07/2009 12:06 AM

Does anyone watch skiing, downhill mountain biking, WRC, air shows, 4×4 racing, etc for the wrecks? Those things are inherently dangerous, people die every year in them, and yet I can’t remember a single person, media or fan, ever say they watch for the wrecks and hence death potential.

And yet NASCAR has a fair number of fans that like the racing because its inherently not safe and hence has death potential. And the media and sanctioning body promote the death potential like something to be proud of. And I don’t get it.

Why not make AJ and JJ get drunk before the race then? Wouldn’t that be even better?

The Turnip!
11/07/2009 12:16 AM

Hey Glenn, you said “ ryan Newman doesn’t get to judge. If he is scared there are plenty of drivers to take his place.”

Ryan Newman NEVER said he was scared! Please go back and read, and understand, what he said!


He will indeed put his life on the line, BUT he does not want to be put into “a box” as he stated, where the risks are out of his control.

Gee, he came out of sprint car racing! Ever heard of it?

Every lap you put your life on the line, BUT you decide when you want to take that risk, not have it dictated to you by some jerk, such as Mike Helton!

At Dega it is a given that your going to run “in the pack”, that’s they way the rules package on the cars makes it. And that infamous hasty mandate, do not bump draft, which started the whole thing at Dega!

Someone said earlier, “if there is a big one at Dega”!

HUH? It is not “IF”, it’s simply how many!

11/07/2009 08:12 AM

How many fans died in auto accidents getting to Talladega? It seems to me there is a displaced concern for the safety at the track when part of the appeal of auto racing is the danger. No one wants to see a driver get killed, but the chance exists at every track NASCAR races. Burton hit the wall on Friday in Texas and he is so sore he can barely walk. It didn’t look like much, wasn’t dramatic or exciting, but he was hurt never-the-less. I think this conversation needs some perspective and as Booty Barker said this week, “Don’t change a thing.”

Contact Kurt Smith