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Holding a Pretty Wheel: Dragged a Jeff Gordon Beanie Around Lately? A Reality Check

You know the guy (heck, maybe you ARE the guy). He parades around the track with the little Jeff Gordon doll in the noose dragging behind, just hoping someone will kick it around. He (or she) boos Tony Stewart vehemently during driver intros. He calls Jimmie Johnson all kinds of unprintable things that have nothing to do with his racing ability. He is pretty vocal about whether Jack Roush is well, a nice guy or not. He has already decided that he will no longer be a Junior fan because Junior is going to drive for Hendrick Motorsports.

There is a small but vocal group of race fans who seem to have more fun hating one driver or another than they do cheering for the drivers they do like. They appear to attend races with the singular goal of booing a driver (or a select group). In fact, they boo louder than they ever cheer; at least until the guy they were booing gets in a crash. If, heaven forbid, the guy they were booing actually wins, they shower him with beer cans, many with a good portion of the beer still inside. At Indy last year when Johnson climbed from his car to retrieve the checkered flag he’d dropped, a few cans were aimed at him… no helmet, no car. Those people are race fans?

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t understand this mentality. Not that there aren’t drivers that I dislike strongly – there are – but I just don’t get the animosity. Not only could booing during driver introductions be the last thing a driver hears other than the roar of the motor and a grinding crash, but it seems to be missing the point. Many of the drivers who are routinely booed, including the late Dale Earnhardt, have said that the boos merely pump them up to compete (pretty sure the guy booing Kurt Busch isn’t trying to actually help him, but he just might be). In fact, Earnhardt said that he’d be more worried if the boos stopped, because that would mean people weren’t watching him. That’s right; to the drivers, silence hurts more than sound. The drivers who routinely get this treatment are also routinely winning races. Maybe the boos are fueled by jealousy. Hmmm…

Why someone would hate a driver so much it overshadows being a fan of someone, I have no idea. Nobody likes losing, but why does someone’s hard work and winning have to be a reason for outright meanness? Is disdain for someone’s car owner really a reason to wish him hurt (yes, I’ve heard that!)? There are drivers I don’t respect because of their on-track tactics, but I don’t understand the outright animosity for some, especially those who go out of their way to drive clean. There are car owners I don’t like, but I would never quit cheering for my drivers if they went to their organization thinking it was their best career and life option. It’s not like they ran off with your girlfriend, keyed your truck and killed your dog. (Incidentally that can be remedied, I hear, by playing country music backwards.) All they do is race, try to please their demanding sponsors and fans and still try to have a personal life. That’s it.

Not only is the booing ridiculous (dead silence would send a much more effective message), but the wearing of derogatory t-shirts and dragging around miniature effigies is also. I mean, that stuff is expensive! Personally, I’d rather spend $25 on an item in support of my driver than on a beanie, a t-shirt and a piece of rope all for some guy I don’t even like! Ditto spending time on Internet message boards slamming them. Wouldn’t that time be better spent on writing about how great their chosen driver is? Especially if their guy has haters of his own! What goes around, comes around, pal.

It kind of makes me worry about our society in general. When did being hurtful, in front of children no less, become not only apparently acceptable, but fun? Are we really so insecure in ourselves that we need to put other people down to feel better? Sure we’ve all made a remark about someone, but the fans I’m talking about do it not only in front of other fans and their children, but the drivers and their children. How do you think that driver’s wife and kids feel when he hits the wall, and before he can indicate that he is even OK, people are cheering his misfortune, not even knowing whether or not he’s been seriously injured. Some have even gone so far as to say to a driver’s family, “I wish he’d crash and burn” or the like. Is this what kind of people we’re bringing up today?

Seeing little children doing this is even worse. Children, as the saying goes, have to be taught to hate. And, judging by the scene in the stands, legions of them are being taught just that. That’s downright scary. This kind of behavior toward one person could easily blossom into a group of people and then what? Great parenting there. Aren’t we better than that? Aren’t we?

My advice to these bitter fans would be to be a decent example for the kids at the track. Cheer your guy loudly. Proudly display his merchandise, even drink a beer toast to his victory. But keep the boos, the derogatory comments, the little beanies and the beer cans to yourself. Remember who’s watching and act like responsible adults. Love your driver, even if nobody else does. Just don’t hate mine or anyone else’s and have a little class and realize that he’s human, too. And so are those kids who are watching and learning by example, and who want to be real race fans when they grow up.

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