The Frontstretch: Bowles - Eye : Fans "Intimidated" No One At Talladega...Just Embarrassed Both NASCAR And Themselves by Thomas Bowles -- Monday April 30, 2007

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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.


Tom Bowles

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04/30/2007 05:56 AM


Great column.

I’m sure you meant Tony Roper and not Tony Raines (no need to publish this note).

04/30/2007 07:46 AM

I dont like tossed anything onto the track…but will the media give the “dangerous debris” a break..they are beer cans or cokes not hand gernades.. and DONT tell me there is no difference.

04/30/2007 08:06 AM

Great column.

It is sad that most of these people would claim to be fans of Earnhardt Sr. They need to realize that Earnhardt Sr. would be completely disgusted at their behavior.

I am also a fan of Earnardt Sr., and I hated to see Jeff Gordon break the record. As disappointed as I was, though, I would have never thought of risking serious injury or even death to someone in order to protest this.

It is sad that these so-called “fans” are giving all of the other fans of NASCAR a bad name. They need to realize what a bad name they are giving to the entire sport. If someone who had never watched the sport before saw the highlights on ESPN, how do you think they would feel about our sport? They would think that we are all just a bunch of idiots and would have no desire to sit down and watch a race! It is a case of 1% of the “fans” giving the other 99% a bad name.

04/30/2007 08:30 AM

My first race was at Talladega and even I do not approve the throwing of beer cans onto the track. Some fans do it because their driver didn’t win but others do it because the circumstances the other driver won under. I do think that NASCAR is becoming the new WWE! calling cautions late is just like racing back to the start. It should be an immediate yellow not whenever NASCAR officials get around to it.

Managing Editor
04/30/2007 08:49 AM

Thanks for the note, falcon325…obvious but silly error has been corrected!

04/30/2007 10:38 AM

Hey Kim.
Stand on the track and let me hit you in the head with a full can of beer from the upper deck then, after your hospital recovery we can discuss if they qualify as dangerous debris.

04/30/2007 11:02 AM

HEY mindcrime..did you see ANYONE standing out there??? no..just race cars with drivers that sometimes hit the wall at 180..and survive..dont give me that dumb argument..pffftttt..

04/30/2007 11:09 AM

hey Kim,
And none of those beer cans didn’t fall short and land in row C? What about those people.

04/30/2007 11:10 AM

Are you really that much of a idiot KIM they are dangerous.What if you were standing by the fence and a full can hit you in the head..But then again after reading your comment.There might not be anything in your head to hurt…By the way great story Tom keep up the honest stories

04/30/2007 11:53 AM

please re read my first post..I dont like ANYTHING thrown onto the track..My piont was that the press blows this up like everything else..those cans were NOT a danger to the cars or drivers..period. and for you carlliracing, calling me and idiot and such proves YOU are the TYPE that believes a can hitting a race car is “dangerous”. And just for the record, yes they should be escorted and tasered leaving the track…then fans should pelt their cars on the way out..

04/30/2007 12:14 PM

So, if I throw a full beer can off an overpass at your car going 60mph on the highway Kim, you wouldn’t consider that dangerous? I believe a full can hitting a race car is indeed dangerous and I don’t need the media to tell me that. It’s simple physics.

Travis Rassat
04/30/2007 12:36 PM

Great article, Tom.

Unfortunately, these people will likely never get the message because they don’t know how to get onto the Internet and they don’t know how to read. Not because they couldn’t if they wanted to – they’re apparently just too proud and ignorant to grow up, adapt, and learn how to enjoy something without ruining it for everyone.

I’m sure we’ll start seeing bans on coolers at tracks soon (which the track owners will love at $4-6 a beverage) and those of us that know how to act responsibility get to pay for the actions of a few.

Sorry, I’m just very frustrated with this behavior.

04/30/2007 01:21 PM

I will admit that I was hoping that someone would get on here that was actually throwing the beer cans at Talladega. I wanted to be able to learn why they did this. After reading Kim’s post, I have the feeling that she was probably one of those up there throwing the cans. She appears to have the same mindset as those idiots at the track, believing that they could do this and it was not risking injury to anyone around them.

04/30/2007 01:39 PM

Scott..once again ..since your so slow on the uptake..I do NOT approve of throwing ANYTHING (including toilet paper ) on to the track.. and no throwing a can at a race car doing 60( which is NOT the speed they were doing) is stupid..dangerous I dont think so..when a windshield (lexan ) can withstand a 100 mph plus hit with an object and stay intact..and no I haver never and would never throw somthing onto the track..some of you sound like whinning libs crying about every little thing that “could” happen..its called life..get one..btw 12 cup races, 8 indy car races,hundreds of short track races under my

04/30/2007 01:44 PM

I will agree with you that it is life and life is dangerous, but they should not face these dangers because some drunk idiot in the stands does not like who won the race. Also, it was not just the drivers who were in danger. How many of these cans do you think did not even make it onto the track and landed in the stands. The spectators did not have the advantage of having a lexan windshield and helmets to protect them. I am just tired of idiots like this ruining a sport that I love.

04/30/2007 02:07 PM

OK, I give a lot of credit to you and all the other wags that have come out in disgust of all the low-life morons who throw trash at a driver because their guy got beat. But I’m afraid it goes deeper than that. How do you categorize someone who thrusts his middle finger into the air as a certain driver is cruising around the track during introductions, completely oblivious to the number of children seated around him? Do you actually think that these jerks read your columns? I sincerely doubt that most of them can even read! They’re probably just sitting in their easy chairs with their beer and chips, collecting their welfare checks, burping, cussing and picking their noses all day long until they get to go to the track again because Uncle Jed got them a ticket. NASCAR HAD come a long way in distancing themselves from this unfortunate stereotype of their fans and if they (NASCAR) don’t step in and start doing something serious and quick to stop it, they are going to start losing all the credibility (and fans) that they have fought so hard to achieve these past many years. Arresting the bozos is step number one. Policing the crowds and arresting even more should be step number two, followed by lifetime bans from the tracks. If they don’t start getting serious, it’s just gonna get worse.

04/30/2007 02:17 PM

Great job Tom.

Let’s hope Nascar gets the message. I believe that this deviant behavior is one of the reasons, if not the main reason, for the decline of attendance at races and the decline of TV ratings as well.

04/30/2007 02:29 PM

scott scott scott…ill make it simple for ya..I do not want anyone to throw stuff…as fans we have the right and duty to point out the throwers..but I do not like the press telling me that a beer or soda can thrown at the cars is dangerous to the cars or drivers during burnout or post race laps..just aint so..damaging to the cars??you bet

04/30/2007 03:39 PM

To Kenny: No. These actions aren’t causing the decline in attendance and ratings. It’s yet another symptom of the same problems. The problems that began when Brian France took the reigns and started turning NASCAR into “The NFL meets WWE.” NASCAR is simply starting to reap what it has sewn: alienate the core fan, court the “new fan”, all in the name of money and at the expense of the competition.

Sean Decker
04/30/2007 05:48 PM

Great column, idiots will ruin everything fun if they are given half a chance. Your comments are right on the money.

What I really find disturbing is some of the responses from some of its readers. Like Miss Blame the Press for Being Alarmist, Kim. If you don’t think that hucking something that weighs about a pound or more depending on the size of the container, filled with liquid under pressure at something traveling at well over a hundred miles per hour while riding on thin tread slick tires is, in it self, dangerous, take a physics class. DUH!

My next favorite is Mister Blame the Sanctioning Body for Causing This Problem by Making Changes to the Sport, SimRacer. I got news for you buddy, I’m an old school guy and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about some of those changes and if that’s all it took to alienate you, you weren’t much of a fan to begin with.

Man, I hate whiney people.

04/30/2007 06:25 PM

I believe SimRacer raises a good point. While I don’t condone what the fans have been doing lately….it kinda is the only way the fans can really get their point across that they’re not all that happy. I mean NASCAR generally just down plays (or ignores) bad news or opinions expressed against them. Hell if NASCAR didn’t care about critisim so much, we’d still be watching Pit Bulls on SPEED right?

04/30/2007 08:38 PM

I have been attending the Talladega spring race for the past 10 years and was there when fans trashed the track when Gordon won under caution but this seemed different. There was a hostility that you could feel in the air. I had my 14 year old daughter with me and she was scared to death. We sit in upper towers and there were many beers tossed from up that high. Sad day for NASCAR indeed.

Sean Decker
05/01/2007 01:17 AM

David’s post is the most disturbing I’ve read. that must have frightening to watch unfold.

A good portion of the cans chucked from his location would not have made the track. causing havoc for those they hit in the stands below.

These people are SICK! NASCAR is very lucky no one was seriously injured or killed in the stands. For those of you did this all I can to say “It’s only a car race, for Christ sake, what the hell were you thinking? Do you hate someone that you’ve likely never met so much you’d risk injuring or killing someone? If the answer to that question is yes then you should consider locking yourself up before you actually do kill.” Idiots!

Poor Dale Earnhardt must be spinning in his grave over what idiots claiming to be his fans have done in his name.

05/01/2007 07:10 AM

To SimRacer: I beg to differ.

Also your inclusion of “WWE” and “NFL” goes in line with what T. Stewart said THIS WEEK and the in fashion answer THIS WEEK for the decline.

Now that is using your creativity.


Contact Tom Bowles

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