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The Best of Frontstretch: Voices from the Heartland – Nextel/ISC/NASCAR, From Tiananmen Square to Talladega

Editor’s Note: With Speedweeks just around the corner, there’s an opportunity to take one last look at 2007 before moving forward. And that means we have a chance to honor the fantastic men and women that make this site tick – our talented staff of 19 writers who work hard each day to give the latest and greatest NASCAR news, information, and commentary. Our staff’s passion for this sport is unwavering, and their dedication unmatched – it’s because of them viewership for the site has more than doubled over the past year, even in the face of increasing concerns about declining TV ratings and fan support. People may not like the direction the sport may be headed – but based on the numbers, it’s through the hard work of our Frontstretch staff that more people are coming here for a daily stock car fix.

So, in their honor, we present to you a special “Best Of” week, chronicling the best articles our staff presented to you in 2007. They’ll make you laugh, they’ll make you cry, and most of all, they’ll make you think – and hopefully, they’ll make your day just a little bit better. Enjoy, and look forward to bigger and better things to come as we head towards 2008!

This article was originally published May 3rd, 2007.

Brian France and few other NASCAR party officials recently spent a week in China to “discuss possible projects with government, sports and business officials in Beijing.”

The more I thought about this, and especially after the FRN’s (France’s Republic of NASCAR) punishment of Tony Stewart, a couple of things crossed my mind.

First and foremost was; where is the outrage? And secondly; perhaps NASCAR is returning to its real roots after all!

Now I consider myself to be like most true racing fans out there, in the light that I put my pants on one leg at a time, although I did once manage to achieve “two-legged” status by jumping off the bed whilst quickly slipping my jeans over both feet and pulling them up before I hit the floor. (Before attempting this yourself, there are two important things you should consider that, looking back, I wish I had. One is the height of the ceiling fan from the top of the bed and the other is to use sweat pants. Sweat pants do not have zippers.) At any rate, being like most other normal people, when I think of China, Tiananmen Square is one of the first things that come to my mind.

Tiananmen Square, in the capital of Beijing, for you younger, apathetic or just plain unlearned fans, was the site of massive student uprisings against the communist government of China in 1989. The government’s response was brutal in the form of beatings, censorship, imprisonment, exile and even execution of hundreds, if not thousands of people.

The one single image that most people remember from that time is what Time magazine dubbed as “The Unknown Rebel.” Also known as the “tank man,” it is a photograph/video of a lone protester standing in the path of four advancing Red Army tanks. When the tanks moved, he moved as well. Eventually he was pulled aside by crowd members who were worried he would be crushed or shot. To this day, the true identity and fate of that man is still in question. Some reports have him hiding in mainland China while still others report that he was executed some days later.

While I was researching the events from those days some 18 years ago, the similarities of how the communist government of China dealt with it and the way NASCAR is/has been run is truly quite amazing and inescapable.

It is well documented in NASCAR history that any attempt to organize the participants into any semblance of a union was instantly and vehemently quashed by the France family. People were threatened and people were banned.

“But,” you say, “that was over 30 years ago! Surely, in today’s enlightened times, NASCAR does not employ such tactics to keep the FRN intact.” Think again my friend!

Consider the recent developments with Stewart. Stewart had the audacity to skip out on post-race interviews after finishing second in a recent race. Later, saying in essence that he was very frustrated at the time and didn’t want to say derogatory things about NASCAR, especially in the heat of the moment, not to mention on their own turf.

Later that week, Tony DID exercise his right of freedom of speech on HIS OWN RADIO SHOW and DID say some things that FRN Party Officials did not like. Never mind the fact that what he said WAS based in fact, as any fan with half a brain and even other drivers have confirmed. That left the Party Officials furious! Tony Stewart, to the delight of millions of fans, had become the NASCAR equivalent to the “tank man.”

Someone had finally stood up and said what needed to be said. Not just anyone, but someone who happened to be a two-time champion.

While the world may never know the true fate of the real “tank man,” we do know the fate of Stewart. Before the No. 20 team was even allowed to unload the car at Talladega, Stewart was hauled into the Party Headquarters to have a “chat.” While an actual beating is very hard to confirm, (who knows what goes on in there?!) the evidence of threats and “re-education” were clearly there when Tony emerged.

“It’s a little tender for me to sit down right now,” said Stewart. “To be honest, the group that I spoke with this morning is a group of peers that I trust. If they tell me the stuff is out there, I believe them. I should have went to them instead of just saying it out in public. That’s frustration that’s been building up with all these debris cautions.”

If you don’t think Tony was forced to say those remarks, you are naive! (That’s Evian for you dyslexic purified water drinkers!) Consider the fact that the NASCAR Party Officials stood and watched to make sure Stewart touted the Party line to eager reporters who were waiting for Tony to emerge.

In China, many high ranking officials who had sorta sympathized with the students during the uprising in 1989 were given similar “re-education” talks and only after officially “changing their opinion” were they allowed to live any sort of normal lives.

Another result of the 1989 student uprising was the immediate censorship and cessation of all international press reports by the Chinese communist government during that time.

In the United States of America, in April 2007, one writer who was commissioned to write a story for a nationally known monthly sports publication was forced by the powers that be in the sport (at the behest of those holding the purse strings) to re-write the article when it did not portray them to their liking, or risk losing his job. No, they didn’t send a couple of goons around to his door, but they did threaten to pull all $2 million worth of advertising from the magazine and online publication if it wasn’t done (and done right!) Fortunately for me, they (or anyone for that matter) don’t pour $2 million into this publication, so they can kiss my butt if they don’t like what I write!

I could go on expounding upon the many more similarities between NASCAR and the communist government of the People’s Republic of China, but by now I should hope you get the point. The one point I haven’t touched on that I mentioned earlier is the outrage or lack thereof that NASCAR is even attempting to deal with a communist government where human rights are questionable in the first place.

When it was merely suggested, let alone when it came to pass, that Japanese-owned Toyota would be allowed to compete in NASCAR, it set in motion a tirade amongst millions of so called fans that continues to this day. If you all were so dead set against a “foreign” competitor from a now friendly country who was once our arch enemy (never mind that Dodge is owned by the Germans), where is your outrage now that NASCAR wants to deal with a Communist country?

Just in case I have not alienated enough people yet with this article, there is one more thing I want to say. Whoever the “peers” were (presumably drivers?) that Tony spoke with during his re-education at Party headquarters, they are all gutless cowards. They had a chance to stand up and support one of their own and make a stand at reclaiming the sport. Whoever they are, they failed miserably. I hope it wasn’t one of my favorites.

Stay off the (Great) wall,

Jeff Meyer

Want to join Jeff on our Frontstretch staff? Now’s your chance to join one of the fastest-growing racing websites on the internet, matching wits with some of the most respected writers in the business today. Frontstretch is actively seeking 3-5 new staff members for the 2008 season, and you can audition now.

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