TweetBowles - Eye : Fans "Intimidated" No One At Talladega...Just Embarrassed Both NASCAR And Themselves
Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday April 30, 2007
To Some Select Men and Women Who Attended The Aaron's 499,
I've followed the sport of NASCAR, either as a fan, media member, or TV worker since I was eight years old. During that time, I've witnessed some not-so-shining moments in the sport's history; I'll never forget the moment Dale Earnhardt, Sr. hit the wall for the final time, the day racing back to the caution flag nearly killed Dale Jarrett, or the year in which we lost three promising young drivers in the span of six months: Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, and Tony Roper. However, I've never once left the track embarrassed to be a part of the sport I've loved since I was a little kid.
Well, that unblemished record ended yesterday underneath a sea of crumpled beer cans and empty excuses. Unfortunately, you're mostly to blame; and if there's anything I can do about it, I'll make darned sure you won't be attending a NASCAR race again under the same degree of freedom you had today.
In case those reading this letter were hiding in a cave on Sunday (probably better that way so you didn't get hit with flying debris), the end of the Talladega race was an absolute debacle. Not all the fans, but a select few in particular took it upon themselves to ruin Jeff Gordon's 77th career victory, the one that shot him past a certain man they called the Intimidator at the very track in which the No. 3 used to be a regular visitor to Victory Lane.
Of course, Earnhardt, Sr. does indeed have a record ten wins at this facility, but Gordon's victory here moved him into a tie for second on the all-time list with the Intimidator's son, each of them now having five wins apiece. Perhaps that's what irked fans beyond Gordon's record-breaking performance; or perhaps it was a series of late cautions that kept fan favorite Dale Earnhardt, Jr. from mounting a serious charge at the victory. Or better still, perhaps it was even taking Gordon's victory a step further and realizing D.E.I's dominance at plate tracks was finally a thing of the past; in the last ten restrictor plate races, the scorecard now reads Hendrick Motorsports : 7 wins, Dale Earnhardt, Inc. : zero. Looks like D.E.I. is now the team getting beaten; those, ladies and gentlemen, are the facts of life.
Unfortunately, too many Talladega fans didn't seem to ever be taught how to handle disappointment. I'm sitting next to a 5-year-old named DeFan on the plane home while writing this column, and I honestly feel like he may have more common sense and intelligence that far too many of you didn't possess at the most inappropriate of times Sunday - the checkered flag. Now, I like beer as much as the next guy, but usually, I don't throw it unless I'm making some type of showoff maneuver as to how I can chuck the empty can in the recycle bin. I don't tend to throw alcohol in frustration, and especially not at a moving person or object in front of me. Having attended kindergarten, I know that throwing such a sharp object is not only incredibly immature, but could seriously threaten the physical health of those around where you're throwing it. DeFan knew it, too - the 5-year-old just finished his orange juice on the plane and knew better to just leave the empty glass in the seat pocket in front of him until the flight attendant could come around and pick it up.
Well, the fans in the stands weren't so mindful of their empty bottles, causing what happened on Sunday afternoon to cross the line of common decency. Whatever the reason for their anger, this much was clear; most of it was focused on the Rainbow Warrior. The second Gordon headed for the finish line was when the crowd let him have it, literally with any possible piece of debris they could find. Beer and bottles went flying as if a bar fight broke out all over the track, and the result was a hailstorm the likes of which tore a bunch of cars to pieces while they were simply trying to coast back to the garage.
"All those marks on my car are from all the cans that were thrown at it," said Jeff Gordon succinctly.
"It was real disappointing at the end to see how some of the fans were acting," elaborated Matt Kenseth. "It's disappointing to have your $150,000 race car being pelted by full beer cans at the end of the race."
Even Junior himself was ready to turn his focus to anger rather than prevention, simply claiming, "It don't look like something you can control" before walking away in digust.
For a sport that trumpets itself on high morals and values, the fans were clearly not holding up their end of the bargain on Sunday. They were lucky to get off so easy, although "increased" Talladega security led to ten - shocking - ten detentions for the day. You know, there were over ten beer cans thrown within the first five seconds of the finish; by the time the cops got there, you needed to add a zero, perhaps two to figure out how much beer was thrown.
Of course, each thrown bottle had the potential to strike a driver in the head, crack a windshield, or just plain cut someone else's tire. In an on track world full of constant danger, it's an amazing scenario to envision the cars having to dodge a new type of bullet - from this time, the fans themselves. Clearly, Talladega fans are passionate about their driver – there’s nothing wrong with that. Well, Yankees fans are passionate about the Yankees, and despise the Red Sox when the teams play each other. Still, you don’t see any Yankees fans littering the field with beer the second the Red Sox lose; they have mutual respect for both their opponent and the field they play on. Apparently, these fans had neither.
The irony of the whole thing is that today marked the birthday of the very man Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fans were supposed to be honoring - the Intimidator himself. On what would have been his 56th birthday, it should have been a day in which he was supposed to stand tall above the other legends of this sport; in the end, he found himself standing tall for exactly the wrong reasons.
"I know that there are a lot of fans out there that probably didn't want us to win this race (with Dale Earnhardt, Jr.), but nobody had more respect for Dale Earnhardt, Sr than I did," claimed a shaken Gordon. "Everything that I learned from him, I applied it out there on the racetrack today."
Too bad some of you special fans couldn't do the same when it came to common sense. And because of that, the sport is waking up to a black eye and a bunch more questions while you get away scot free. Not for long, though; I’m sure the sport is just one horrific incident away from restricting alcoholic beverages at the track after someone gets hit with something and ends up in the hospital.
Hope when that happens, you’ll still be drunk and happy, because you don’t want to feel the pain of reality stinging you in the rear. I still hope you get stung in the rear by something, though…you deserve it.
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