Full Throttle · Mike Neff · Thursday May 4, 2006
Wednesday night was a great night for me. It was my first foray for Frontstretch at the race track, patrolling the garage area and trying to find people to interview. I was both surrounded by and worked side by side with people who I had seen on TV for years and followed with a passion. No doubt about it…I was in heaven.
Unfortunately for Denny Hamlin, he was not. A harmless game of big boys’ “Ring Around the Rosie” turned into a trip to the hospital. While Hamlin was trying to see how quickly he could run a lap around his team’s hauler, he hit his hand on the front of the semi and received a laceration that required stitches. Hamlin’s injury won’t prevent him from racing Saturday night at Richmond, but it brought an interesting question to mind: how much extracurricular activity is too much for a NASCAR Cup driver?
We all know the stories of what drivers do in their spare time. Dale Jarrett and Rusty Wallace are golfing nuts. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. likes to race go-karts in his back yard and box in his basement. Jeremy Mayfield has more remote control toys than Toys "˜R’ Us. Tony Stewart and Ken Schrader will race anything with an engine and wheels.
Now, other sports have language in their contracts that limit the kind of activities their stars can participate in outside of the arena. For the most part, anything besides tiddlywinks is considered too dangerous. Michael Jordan had to fight to have a clause in his contract that allowed him to play pickup basketball. Kellen Winslow and Jayson Williams lost a good portion of their signing bonuses because of a motorcycle accident. Last week, there were videos on SportsCenter of Tiger Woods bungee jumping and driving a race car, which raised a number of eyebrows.
So how protected are NASCAR team owners from their drivers attempting to do a back flip on a motorcycle over the fountains in front of Ceasar’s Palace? Cup contracts are very private, so it can only be speculated upon, but there certainly have to be some provisions that will cost a driver handsomely if they are injured doing something besides racing for their team.
If Martin Truex, Jr. falls out of the boat and is injured while he is bass fishing, what safety net does DEI have? Owners can limit the amount of Busch and other races that their drivers compete in, races which are generally believed to increase the knowledge of both driver and team. How many extra races do you run though before it’s too much? Certainly, it wouldn’t have helped D.E.I., for example, if Junior’s fiery sports car crash at Sonoma a few years ago had been more catastrophic.
Of course, the Devil’s Advocate inside me says that these drivers risk their lives every time they get in their Cup car each weekend. Is it really fair to ask them to curb their other activities that do the same thing? When you are dealing with a sport that can end your life in the blink of an eye, there really is nothing more dangerous out there. If a driver wants to sky dive naked or rollerblade the Grand Canyon, can you really prevent them from doing it?
Bottom line, NASCAR Cup racing is one of the most competitive, stressful and dangerous activities that anyone can participate in. If a person wants to unwind from those stresses doing something others might find a little crazy, I say more power to them. Unless you’re Denny Hamlin running around your team’s hauler…in that case, we’ll have to draw the line…
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