NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Voices from the Heartland: The Daytona 500 – From Feel-Good Story to Bad Taste In My Mouth

Overall, last Sunday’s Daytona 500 seemed to go pretty well, from my standards anyway. The racing was OK, and while I do admit to catching a 60-lap mid-race nap, the ending, with the prospect of Sprint’s arch-rival AT&T-sponsored car capturing the checkers, almost made me wet my pants with delight.

Fortunately for me, seeing as how the ambient wind-chill in my neck of the woods was about MINUS the AT&T’s car number at the time, Jeff Burton did not win, thus saving me from the “mini-bike scene” in the cult movie Dumb and Dumber, that the ride home in my heater-less pickup would have produced. The next best scenario did happen, however.

Neither one of my least favorite drivers won, the Alltel car did, ending a long winless streak for the likable Ryan Newman, and I was saved from certain pain, embarrassment and loss of leg hair.

The scenes from Victory Lane were equally heart warming. A beaming 30-1 long shot basking in the glow of the biggest victory of his career, an emotionally choked up father realizing the dreams of his son, and everyone drenched in what ever drink is the Official Sponsor of the Daytona Victory Lane nowadays. All in all, it was a race and an outcome that I could live with.

Ever since Ryan burst onto the NASCAR scene, blistering tracks with his now famous qualifying speeds while earning the nickname “Rocket Man,” NASCAR has always pointed out that Ryan is not only fast, he is also educated. The man holds a degree in vehicle structural engineering from Purdue University.

In NASCAR’s eyes, Ryan was the best tool they had going for them in their quest to distance themselves from the “vehicle de-structural engineering” degrees that the perceived average ‘redneck’ fan possessed that, until recently, Brian France so despised.

THOMPSON: NEWMAN FLYING UNDER RADAR IN RETURN TO CONTENTION

Now, however, just a few days removed from all the joy and elation of Ryan’s win, some statements have been made that have left a bitter taste in my mouth. Quite frankly, I am dumbfounded. Even more astounding is the fact that these statements had nothing to with Brian France or NASCAR.

Seems that the man millions saw on Sunday, all choked up over his son’s crowning achievement, Ryan’s father Greg, has a long-standing beef with his son’s alma mater and in no way wants them to benefit from his son’s recent $1.5 million windfall. Why you may ask? Because while Ryan attended college and raced on the weekends, winning the 1999 U.S. Auto Club Silver Crown title, Purdue did not recognize him as a student athlete.

“They should have helped him, but they didn’t cut him any slack,” the elder Newman said. “They didn’t recognize him as being a racer. Now they do.”

Why is it that, just when you are feeling good about something, someone has to open their mouth and say something really, really stupid?

Allow me to go on record here and point out what should be extremely obvious.

When you go to college, you are paying for an education. You are not entitled to special consideration. You are buying knowledge that, if you apply it right, is going to sustain you through out your life. Why should the hobby that you enjoy on the weekends take precedent over your studies?

Yes, there are those student athletes that perhaps, right or wrong, do get some type of breaks with scheduling, etc., but that is a different ball game. In those instances, it is a give and take. The student/athlete plays ball or whatever for the college, perhaps generating some revenue for said college and, the student in return gets breaks and or scholarships.

Thankfully, I am not the only “Mr. Obvious” left in the world. As Purdue assistant athletic director Tom Schott so aptly pointed out,

Schott said, “We have 18 varsity sports here, but we don’t have varsity auto racing.”

Now, I have no doubt that Ryan’s parents made many sacrifices during his educational process and early racing career. In fact, I find it refreshingly admirable that a college degree was a pre-requisite they demanded from Ryan in exchange for supporting his racing dreams, but Mr. Newman is way out of line in his lambasting of Purdue.

Any sacrifices they may have made are now being paid back a thousand times over. Greg Newman took a gamble back then and now he is seeing a huge payoff. The trivial little issue of Ryan getting a scheduling break or whatever he is complaining about is totally asinine. If anything, Ryan’s experience at Purdue is nothing short of hard work and determination adds to his character as an overall individual.

That, Mr. Newman, after all, is why you sent him to college in the first place. Now is the time to sit back, shut up and just be the proud father of the fine man you worked so hard to raise. Your gamble paid off. You were lucky. For every “Greg Newman,” there are thousands upon thousands of parents that settle for just the pride of their offspring’s mere chance of attendance to a fine university such as Purdue.

Stay off the wall,

Jeff Meyer

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