The Frontstretch: The Best Of The Frontstretch : A Question of Risk : Is Death Too High a Price for a Driver to Pay? by S.D. Grady -- Monday January 21, 2008

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Editor’s Note : With Speedweeks just around the corner, there’s an opportunity to take one last look at 2007 before moving forward. And that means we have a chance to honor the fantastic men and women that make this site tick – our talented staff of 19 writers who work hard each day to give the latest and greatest NASCAR news, information, and commentary. Our staff’s passion for this sport is unwavering, and their dedication unmatched – it’s because of them viewership for the site has more than doubled over the past year, even in the face of increasing concerns about declining TV Ratings and fan support. People may not like the direction the sport may be headed – but based on the numbers, it’s through the hard work of our Frontstretch staff that more people are coming here for a daily stock car fix.

So, in their honor, we present to you a special “Best Of” week, chronicling the best articles our staff presented to you in 2007. They’ll make you laugh, they’ll make you cry, and most of all, they’ll make you think – and hopefully, they’ll make your day just a little bit better. Enjoy, and look forward to bigger and better things to come as we head towards 2008!

This column was originally published August 23rd, 2007.

This past Thursday night, NASCAR lost a great racer. John Blewett, III lost his life in a wreck during the New England Dodge Dealers 150 at Thompson International Speedway. He was driving his Whelan Modified No. 66 at the time of the incident. A champion of several tracks throughout the East, at 33 he was considered a seasoned veteran of the Modified circuit.

It is at moments such as these, when we are mourning the loss of a competitor, husband and father, that it behooves us to stop and consider the dangers of racing and the choices that are made by racers and fans to continue participating in the sport.

When the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr. passed away in 2001 during an on-track incident, many fans, media members and fellow competitors all voiced a similar sentiment; while his death was no doubt a tragedy, it was fitting that a man who had spent his entire life driving stockcars and loving it, died in the continued pursuit of his life’s passion. Similar statements were made when Tom Baldwin, another Whelan Modified racer, died in 2004. He, too, was a middle-aged competitor who loved this sport to the distraction of all else, leaving his son to carry on the family name in racing as a crew chief in Nextel Cup.

But our emotions are pulled in a darker, less certain direction when the driver that suffers the ultimate end in a race is younger. John Blewett’s wife, Seychelle, and his son John are left wondering about many things that have little to do with the joys of racing today. Moments like these beg us to ask the question, is racing worth the risk? Should I, as a mere bystander, buy the tickets, t-shirts and die-cast that fuel the money machine known as NASCAR?

Most spectators of the fastest American sport will admit, in a moment of honesty, that our blood pumps a little faster when a car meets the wall. We cheer and jeer when sheet metal shreds and emotions run high. We often dub races as boring when the winner leads by a number of seconds or beats the competitors through better gas mileage. Are we nothing more than a pack of blood-thirsty wolves waiting for the carnage to ensue?

On the other hand, thousands of men and women choose to climb into racecars every week across the nation. Most of the racing events are not nationally sanctioned, but managed by local enthusiasts. Safety regulations may not be as strict as the shiny, pre-approved version we watch on Sundays. Still, the competitors make the choice to pit their shadetree machine against their neighbors. There must be a moment when they conceive of the very worst happening, and yet they decide to start their engines and take the green flag.

In my own mind, I look at auto racing as the 20th century’s continuation of mankind’s need to win. There is no moment in history where one man has not been challenging another to some kind of contest, to a determination of his superiority over another. And there has never been a shortage of spectators — attending a competition is one of the greatest joys humans share as a community, whether it be a Little League game or the Daytona 500.

Does this mean we must accept death as nothing more than a vagary of this brutal sport? No. It means we must continue on in our vigil to ensure that improvements in safety are never considered complete, but only a work in progress. In this way we can attempt to mitigate the damage a wreck causes.

All my sympathies are with the Blewett family. I thought of John’s entire family and friends as I watched the Busch East race at Lime Rock on Saturday. I cannot begin to truly understand their sorrow. I can only say I do understand why drivers choose to race. The chance to win makes us feel alive as nothing else, and that is worth risking much to achieve.

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
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