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Jimmie Johnson smiled in Victory Lane at Kansas. Carl Edwards cheered about his fifth-place finish. Austin Dillon seemed pleased overall with his 26th-place debut. In fact, for the most part, Sunday’s race was rather pleasant — as long as you discounted the mind-numbing parade that we called racing. But that was Sunday, and appropriately Kansas. Normalcy reigned, save for the purported banana peels under Kurt Busch’s tires.
Saturday seemed to have a slightly more interesting slant to it, though, at least by the time ESPN was ready to leave the air for the Nationwide race. Brian Scott and Aric Almirola spent more than a few minutes trading schoolyard threats, livening up a rather boring afternoon. Something about who hit who in Richmond and then who bumped who earlier in the day raised the ante; promises of retaliation were tossed back and forth. Mildly good stuff, for sure and a confrontation to make note of for the next time these two meet.
But really, if I was looking for eye-popping, jaw-dropping entertainment I had missed it. Thursday night at Thompson International Speedway the stands were… subjected to the kind of driver angst that probably sells tickets, but did little to support the racing at this small oval in rural Connecticut.
Joe Coates, driver not so extraordinaire, and his adversary Jason Chicolas came to the green in their Limited Sportsman Division and proceeded to tear each other’s cars apart in an attempt to settle a feud. Officials threw the yellow after just the first lap and kicked the pair out of the race, telling them to head to the paddock. But no. Instead, Coates and Chicolas continued to beat and bang into Turn 3. At last, they turned into the pits with Chicolas accepting his fate; however, Coates was not willing to give it up for the season quite yet. He stopped on pit road, climbed out — there are reports of throwing something at Chicolas’ car — walked up to pit wall, gave the tower the middle finger salute and, at long last, dropped his drawers. Not too many spectators found it amusing, and Coates was escorted off track property.
Now that, people, is what I call something to talk about. However, it is not racing.
More than once in the past year have we talked about the “Boys, Have At It” credo and the beauty of a driver showing his emotion. I am all for it, from Harvick vs. Kyle Busch at Darlington to the other Busch brother venting his frustration with the media. These demonstrations remind the viewing public that our heroes are more than mere extensions of their machines, but blood, bone and heart as well. Granted, it can all get out of hand and we comment we’d rather see a bit less of this “personality” in the garages.
However, it behooves us to keep in mind if all NASCAR-endorsed competitors toed the company line and maintained a blinding white smile at all times, we’d be tuning out from a series that had deteriorated into something worse than oatmeal. Where, then, is the invisible line? At what point will anger and commitment to the cause of reaching the checkers first vanish in the roar of disgust from the direction of the stands and the tower?
It’s a good question, one that Joe Coates found the answer to on Thursday night.
You could argue that Kyle Busch has already discovered that line in the sand as well, if you listen to the chorus of boos that meet him during driver intros each week and when he takes a bow while holding the latest trophy over his head. However, he does have those 100 pieces of hardware overflowing from a display case to prop up his side of the argument. Apparently, you’re permitted a little more leeway in the smugly overconfident department when you do beat the pants off the field every week.
Will Power’s double-finger salute shown nationwide on ABC in August, however, indicates that not every poorly timed emotional outburst by a driver is received by the viewing public with equal distaste. Those watching the IndyCar race in New Hampshire with me didn’t recoil in disgust; instead, we all laughed. We laughed because what other possible outcome did race control think would result from trying to restart in the rain? This reaction translates into the acceptance of understandable outbursts.
So, if an acerbic tongue doesn’t totally alienate you from all of racing kingdom, or driving into the door of the guy next to you on a regular basis, or even flipping off the powers that be… all of which were apparent sins of one Mr. Coates, could it be that exposing body parts is the last straw? I have to admit I can’t recall another instance of a competitor dropping trou in the last 20 years, but I could be wrong. That aside I have to say, deciding to disrobe on pit road is probably as good as handing in a letter of resignation to track officials.
The fact is fans, officials and drivers will all believe that doing in the fender of an opponent was probably done in the hopes of bettering your day, or at least making sure the other guy doesn’t finish as well as you. Making snarky retorts to overcurious media members will be brushed off eventually as enjoying a certain amount of passion for your sport. And even letting a single digit get away from its brethren will be put down to frustration. We embrace the high level of emotion that engenders these actions. We’ll come back again to see more.
However, the moment when a driver decides that the track is nothing more than a personal playground to enact revenge upon a fellow competitor — and to hell with the rest of the drivers, teams and fans in the stands — they have ceased to be a race car driver and become nothing more than a thug. And that, Mr. Coates is exactly what happened to you.
We do tune in to NASCAR week after week hoping for a bit of drama; no auto racing fan will deny that. The fans are eager to bestow our admiration upon a champion who is committed to winning. But a driver will only ever find scorn when he loses sight of that checkered flag and decides to use his car, mind and body as a means to abuse not only a fellow competitor, but the families that fill the grandstands as well.
Joe Coates did provide something to talk about this week. It is just a shame it had nothing to do with his performance on the track.
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