Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Sunday December 17, 2006
You know it's the offseason when the way someone falls out of a golf cart makes national NASCAR news.
In lieu of more critical tidbits about the Car of Tomorrow and Bill France's blood alcohol level one fateful drive back to his condominium, “Wrist“gate appears to have taken center stage as the hot story of the moment. Ever since word broke of Jimmie Johnson's fractured left wrist suffered during a leisurely charity tournament on the links, exactly how and why it happened has been studied harder than most college kids are cramming for their final exams this week.
At first, it was revealed that Johnson merely fell out of the cart; but inquiring minds wouldn't stop at that simple explanation. Exactly how could one fall out of a moving vehicle, per se? A follow-up from the Associated Press delivered the answer that didn't take much deductive reasoning to uncover: Johnson wasn't paying attention. Truth be told, he was too busy goofing off to know what hit him.
"Jimmie was horsing around and was on top of the golf cart when he fell off," clarified his PR spokeswoman Kristine Curley early last week. With that, a simple revelation about what most people could have figured out on their own sent the majority of the talking heads in our business scurrying to get themselves some quality air time. How could Johnson put his body in jeopardy with the responsibilities he has to his team and to the Race of Champions Nations Cup in Paris, in which Johnson was supposed to represent the United States before injuring his wrist? How could face of the sport over the next season start out his year-long championship reign with an incident like this?
Waitâ€¦now, calm down a minute here. I just want to clarify the information I have in hand; you mean a young guy hanging out with a bunch of his friends was caught horsing around and doing something stupid on a golf course? Wowâ€¦that never happens. I mean, I would never be caught doing things like challenging a buddy to a hilarious shot through the trees and onto another hole, trying to fit eight people on a golf cart for four, or performing an impromptu version of the Daytona 500â€¦at the nearest country club. Let me put things this way; you can't be one of those talking heads complaining about someone's behavior if you were at one time guilty of committing similar types of infractions yourself. Those types of antics on a golfing trip for fun can sometimes be simply par for the course.
This whole incident reminds me of one of the conversations that stuck with me from the banquet a couple of weeks ago. I was talking to Tony Stewart about how he spends his offseason; this year, with the Car of Tomorrow and some of the other upcoming changes, a lot of drivers won't have a lot of time off, and Kevin Harvick had actually mentioned that day he was testing every week except Christmas. Well, Stewart said he couldn't be like that; unlike some of his counterparts, he absolutely has to disappear for a couple of weeks after the season ends. The grind of the weekly schedule, driver appearances, media interviews, and flying all over the country can take its toll over what is one of the longest regular seasons in any sport.
"I make sure that I get away from it to be ready for the next season," said Stewart of the frenzy that is America's fastest sport on four wheels. "Relax for the three weeks we have off."
It was a casual reminder of the fact that these men, no matter what pedestal you attempt to put them on, are no less mortal than Joe Schmo walking down the street. Fame doesn't reduce stress, emotions, or the need to pursue happiness outside a sport that has gotten so intense it'll eat you alive if you let it.
Which brings us back around to the current Nextel Cup champ. After a whirlwind week of being interviewed by everyone with a camera and a notepad in New York City, on the heels of a season that easily served as one of the more stressful in his five-year Nextel Cup career, who would blame Johnson for needing a little rest and relaxation? There's a reason the sport isn't 52 weeks a year; in a world where vacation means motorhome and sick day isn't an option, you've got to put aside some time to avoid the public eye and go and be yourself. There's a difference between the regular season and the offseason; don't think a champion of the sport wouldn't understand it.
"I tried to get Jimmie to go motorcycle riding with me about three weeks into the Chase," Carl Edwards said in the well-traveled quote of the past seven days. "Jimmie said, â€˜Carl, I'm focused on winning this championship, I'm not taking any risks.' I thought that said a lot about Jimmie's focus.
"...To me, if the dude wants to go ride around on golf carts…on top of them or underneath them or skiing on a rope behind themâ€¦it's his off season. ...Name a person in that garage area who hasn't goofed around on a golf cart and I'll give you $100."
Bravo, Cousin Carl. Contrary to popular belief, in this situation the only person Jimmie Johnson has to answer to is Jimmie Johnson. Last I checked, "having fun" wasn't outlawed as part of his contract with Hendrick Motorsports. The guy horsed around, made a mistake, and now he'll suck it up and deal. No one said he's not going to be able to drive at Daytona; he'll probably suck it up and drive hurt at testing in January. If the wrist is still hurting at the 500 in February, well, he'll figure out a way to make it work. The man's still going to be able to do his job and represent his sport; more importantly, he should have the freedom to live his life. Being famous doesn't produce a prerequisite to achieve perfection at all times.
For anyone still uptight about this whole thingâ€¦there's some great holiday panic going on at the nearest mall right now. I'd suggest you focus your energies in that direction, because Johnson really isn't caring about whether or not you're upset. He's too busy earning some well deserved rest and relaxation in Paris to be paying much attentionâ€¦and fending off some well-earned ribbing from his buddies he'll no doubt receive for the rest of his natural life.
That hilarity should be the only consequence that comes from this mistakeâ€¦nothing more.
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