Thomas Bowles · Wednesday May 19, 2010
Did You Notice? … Jeremy Mayfield’s lawsuit was dismissed on a number of technicalities his own lawyers failed to prove? That’s important to note as his case burns to the ground outside Federal court. In his decision to dismiss the case, Graham Mullen focused not on the actual defamation claims themselves but on a waiver form Mayfield signed to participate in as both driver and owner within NASCAR. Think of that form as a “get out of jail free” card, withholding the sport from liability in the event a driver violates a rule. It gives them the discretion to act, enforcing their penalties without fear from the other party taking them to court.
How did the sport gain so much power under the federal court system? The answer is simple: the Frances may be more transparent than ever before, but a benevolent dictatorship is still totalitarian rule nonetheless. There is no collective bargaining agreement with its members, similar to what other stick ‘n’ ball sports have in their possession. You can bet that if a case like Mayfield’s happened in MLB, you’d have player union lawyers breathing down the commissioner’s neck in a heartbeat. But in Mayfield’s case, there is no driver’s union, leaving him to choose the court system when he felt NASCAR’s appeals process was unacceptable for him.
Understand also that in NASCAR, every driver and owner contract signed makes the members subservient to the sanctioning body. What if they don’t want to lose the right to sue? That’s fine; they just won’t be getting a NASCAR license. It’s that simple, and in the sport’s defense it’s actually a common practice. Such wording has been prevalent in employer/employee contracts for years, although in those cases conflicts are often restricted to binding arbitration only. In this particular case, the surprise NASCAR has that much power comes from a sports world that’s typically a market where the athlete, not the owner, holds the keys to the castle. The sport, through its way of doing business, makes the point that no employee/employer relationship exists, as each member is a private contractor entering into an agreement to participate in the sport; this philosophy was affirmed by the judge in his ruling, along with a number of other factors.
Whatever the reasoning, it’s a shocking end to what has been a yearlong quest for Mayfield to challenge NASCAR’s drug policy. And since the axe wielded down before we ever got to trial, Mayfield has no right to an appeal until the sport’s lawsuit against him is settled. It doesn’t matter whether his lawyer is Mark Geragos or Mark Wahlberg, Mayfield’s Entourage is backed into a corner … right?
For those who think this conflict is over, I refer you to the rising pile of debt Mayfield’s incurred the last few years. Everyone from Triad Racing Technologies, to former lawyer Bill Diehl, to NASCAR itself is seeking money that’s rightfully theirs. The driver had to hold an auction for some of his possessions a few months ago to raise funding, and even that’s not going to be enough considering at some point, Mr. Geragos wants to get paid.
But there’s also a reason Mayfield chose his current attorney; he’s smarter than you think. Geragos has yet to comment, but he knows the courtroom is only one forum to fight a public relations war for his client. There are talk shows, there are news programs, all of which are now fair game until there’s a chance to bring up an appeal. Most importantly, you better believe there’s agents from Hollywood and several publishing companies that would love to see a tell-all book. It’s a way to tell the story, attempting to earn Mayfield 15 minutes of fame while collecting the money that’s needed for him to survive.
Now, if Mayfield has nothing to say, then I guess no one has anything to worry about, right? But considering the amount of time he was involved in the sport, the organizations he worked for, and the people he was depositioning already (Jeff Gordon? Jimmie Johnson?) I’m not 100 percent convinced. And who wouldn’t want to hear his perspective on his suspension and NASCAR’s drug policy alone? Those on both sides of the debate are curious enough not to look away.
Trust me, the question of when this information leaks is not if, but when. And once it does, NASCAR has to cross its fingers that it won’t be dealing with the same type of public relations nightmare as before the case went to trial. In fact, it could be worse, because the information released won’t be controlled by the power of a judge, but by those whose sole desire is to make money and get revenge.
That’s a dangerous combination, and anyone who doubts it need to remember the damage one Jose Canseco inflicted on Major League Baseball a decade ago. There’s a way to come clean, while at the same time lighting everyone ablaze with a fire hazard they’ve chosen to ignore.
So at this point, whether Mayfield is guilty or innocent is irrelevant to the future of this story. It’s if he’s got any dirt on anyone else, and who’s willing to give him a forum to spread that dirt on a national scale.
Let’s see what happens.
Did You Notice? … The furor over one Greg Sacks driving a JR Motorsports car in July? Sacks, 57, hasn’t even started a race in any of NASCAR’s top three series since 2005, and hasn’t finished one since 1999. The only reason he’s getting a chance is the team’s new primary sponsor, Grand Touring Vodka, is a company he also partially owns.
Certainly, in a world where young talent has been pushed aside I can see where people will make a big deal about this move. But remember, Sacks is no slouch on plate tracks. July marks the 25th anniversary of his only Cup win (Daytona), and he was well known as a Jamie McMurray-type guy who could get you up front at the big tracks in his prime. Sure, it’s been 11 years, but do you really think these guys forget how to drive a car? It’s not like we’re doing Bristol; it’s Daytona, a track that’s just as much mental as it is physical.
Sacks was competitive in drafting, posting the 22nd-fastest speed and will doubtless be handed top-notch equipment. Will he win? No. But it’s not like he’s going to be embarrassing the sport, and with 295 career starts under his belt in Cup and Nationwide I think he can be trusted to play it smart. This guy just wants one last hurrah in the sport, given a chance to succeed after being pushed out following a harrowing crash at Texas in April, 1998. Can’t we all relate to that, a veteran trying to end his career on top?
In the long run, the 24 other races Sacks’ vodka company funds will give up-and-coming drivers the opportunity they deserve at JRM. So everybody back off, take a deep breath, and give this guy his one moment in the spotlight. Considering how few sponsors are entering the sport these days, this one-race deal is of small consequence when you consider the long-term positives it’s poised to bring.
My only worry over the long-term is whether the company will have the funding to pay for it all. The only financial investment I see is $600,000, and you wonder whether a startup will suddenly have the millions needed to support a top-tier organization. We’ll see.
Did You Notice? … Some quick hits before we’re done for the day …
- How bad has it gotten for Ford? Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth are currently the lone Blue Oval participant in the All-Star Race. Kenseth, Carl Edwards, and Greg Biffle also underperformed at Dover this past weekend, a track where top-3 finishes used to be a given for the Roush Fenway bunch. With Charlotte usually the time to make major changes, it’s one organization to keep an eye on over the next two weeks.
- Just as disturbing as Dover attendance is the list of start-and-parks we had: seven, the most we’ve seen all season at the Cup level. And with Robby Gordon and David Stremme’s teams on shaky ground, things could get worse before they get better.
- Best wishes to Brian Vickers for a quick and speedy recovery, and I respect whatever decision he makes on whether to return to the track. But I think I’m not alone in breathing a sigh of relief he’s choosing to opt out for about three months. Coumadin can have dangerous side effects, and the last thing he needed was to get in a wreck, suffer a small bruise, and have it develop into a life-threatening situation. Vickers is one of the smartest, most talented drivers out on the circuit nowaday. I’m glad he’s using his brain when it counts the most … and there’s no doubt he’ll return to the track stronger than ever before.
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