Cousin Carl and Brad Kesolowski were heading to the finish line. Carl blocked a last-ditch effort by the rookie and his car turned sideways, still speeding at around 190 mph. For a second, the wreck looked pretty benign. That is, until Ryan Newman’s No. 39 barreled into the No. 99, launching Edwards’s car into the catchfence.
That, bar none, was the most spectacular event of the first half of the 2009 Sprint Cup season. For months, and to this day, sports networks shamelessly use the image of the flying, shredding car in any NASCAR spot they make. The recent Sam Hornish Jr./Jeff Gordon impact at Watkins Glen has become its own vivid self-promoting spot for the ESPN half of the season.
These horrific moments grab our attention, draw gasps of shock from fans and commentators and create an image in the collective definition of auto racing.
Yes, I know. You don’t watch the race for the wrecks. None of us do. cough cough It’s the politically correct thing to say that a car flying into a hundred pieces holds no fascination to your evolved intellect. I mean, there’s a human being in that vehicle, and we certainly wouldn’t want anybody to endure the kind of impact these cars suffer on a weekly basis.
This is the conflict we live with as racing fans.
It’s pretty clear to me that there aren’t many things on this planet more fascinating than the utter destruction of a mechanical object. At the same time, I am a pacifist when it comes to human suffering. I never like to see somebody cut a finger, let alone pilot a car into a turn with no breaks.
I click on the remote to rewind the wreck. I cringe knowing the driver may be injured.
Of course, our obsession with speed isn’t limited to its sudden cessation. We wouldn’t spend entire days watching guys change tires, twisting wrenches and calculating gas mileage if that were the case. However, would we be as fervent in our enthusiasm to our sport without those heart-stopping instances? Hmmm… that is a poser.
I’ve watched my fair share of demolition derbies. There is a certain amount of joy to be found in the ruthless dismantling of a dozen late model monsters, but not much. Figure 8 races are an improvement on the blunt instrument of the derby. At least the drivers have come to compete. However, you’ve got to know the primary goal of that race is to create mayhem, not necessarily finish the feature in a single piece.
Perhaps that is why the wrecks in NASCAR focus our attention to such an extreme. The primary goal in our sport is not carnage. Speed, acceleration, maneuvering, mechanical advantage, creative engineering – these are the aspirations of NASCAR competitors. But, in the pursuit of these achievements, there will be failures.
Perhaps it doesn’t say anything kind about our society, but we do enjoy watching something fail to meet the standard. Whether that means a driver made an error in choice of lane or a tire blew, the result is often the same… a wreck.
It’s the hiccup in the smooth performance of the afternoon. The time when fault will be assigned, the physical results dissected and a preventative measure discussed. Part of the day’s excitement, we anticipate this moment.
Some might say we’re just a bloodthirsty lot. They’re probably the same crowd that doesn’t empathize with the desire to go fast and turn left.
The fact is, the wreck is as much part of the race as the green flag, pit stops, passing high and diving into the corner. When all is said and done, the wrecks… they’re just racing deals. Therefore, they hold an important place on Sunday afternoon in this race fan’s heart.