Toni Montgomery · Friday May 20, 2005
I’m going to write about Shane Hmiel this week but it’s not going to be what you think. This week I’m going to tell you exactly why I think there just might be a place for Shane in NASCAR. There is one vacancy in a very necessary role in NASCAR that Shane just might be the right person to fill. NASCAR is in dire need of a black hat.
Is Shane the perfect black hat? Not necessarily. I don’t think he has quite the savvy or the intelligence to use that part to perfection the way Dale Earnhardt did. Earnhardt managed to be the villain and knock his competitors out of the way when it served his needs but still command respect from everyone in the garage. He had clout both with the higher ups in NASCAR and with his fellow competitors. He did many good things off the track, not all of which were put out there for the public to see. I don’t see Shane doing anything that will get him much respect from either NASCAR or the competition and I haven’t seen him doing much off the track to bolster his stock, but he could still be a serviceable villain.
A villain is completely necessary. There’s got to be a driver that fans love to hate and that some fans just love because he’s pure evil on wheels. If your a fan, you live to see your hero out there kicking butts and taking names. You live to see him moving aside the competition to get everything he can. If you aren’t a fan, you dread seeing him come up behind your driver. You may even scream or throw that foam brick at the TV when he roots your driver aside. You can’t understand why NASCAR doesn’t park that guy because he’s a menace, and you live to see his engine blow or his tires go down.
Everyone has a certain driver they don’t like that might fill this role for you personally, but the true villain inspires these strong feelings in many. Part of what makes a great villain is having an entire grandstand united in their sentiments either for or against this driver. It’s much more fun that way for the fans. If everyone dislikes someone different, fans have little in common and it takes away from that community feel you get when you go to the races or get together with your buddies to talk about last week’s action.
There have been a number of drivers in NASCAR’s various series that have been widely disliked. Bobby Hamilton Jr. comes to mind in the Busch Series recently. Widely disliked is not necessarily the same thing. They somehow just missed being true black hats and I have a good idea why. Every time sentiment has started to turn that way on a driver one of two things happens. Many times the driver and/or his sponsor decide this isn’t the image they prefer and go to work cleaning up their act. What looks like a promising villain is instead vanilla.
Sometimes the sponsor doesn’t intervene and the driver doesn’t seem to have any problem with the bad guy image, but he gets an offer and moves to a different series. Once they get to the new ride, they aren’t as dominant because the team is struggling, the driver is struggling, or they just have new team syndrome and get a slow start until everyone gets settled. In the interim the driver is out of sight and out of mind. Fans forget about them, he has no need to uproot his competition because it wouldn’t help his finishing position, and a good villain withers away before he really gets anywhere. Like Hamilton Jr.
Other than cautioning potential villains to choose their rides more carefully, nothing can be done about withering. We can’t really stop vanilla-ization either if that’s what a driver really wants to do. The solution is to look for a villain who in the very least doesn’t mind being the villain. Hello Shane!
Recently when Shane was greeted by choruses of boos at driver introductions, he simply shrugged it off and said, “Some of them like me, some of them hate me. Either way they’re yelling.” That’s the basis for a successful run at the black hat. Shane also knocks other drivers out of his way to get a position without thinking twice about it. Another asset for a would be villain. Shane doesn’t care what his competitors or NASCAR think about him. He just wants to win.
I still don’t like him, but I accept that he may have a purpose. I scream when he starts knocking around the other drivers, especially when it’s someone I like. I enjoy watching him come down for an unscheduled pit stop. I like watching him make the left turn to the garage. I don’t like when they interview him and his arrogance shines through. But that’s the point of being the bad guy. I don’t like him and it gives me something to watch for. It gets me emotionally involved in the Busch Series races.
If you still don’t buy my argument that a villain is needed to generate excitement consider this one last point. As much as I don’t like Shane this is the third time I’ve devoted my space to him and we’re not even halfway through the season yet. Quite a few other spaces on Frontstretch this season have been devoted to Shane as well. He’s the bad boy of the Busch Series and here I sit giving my weekly space to a guy I don’t even like. It’s not because he’s winning races. He wouldn’t be such a topic of conversation here and everywhere if he wasn’t wearing a black hat.
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