A lot of attention is being focused on the state of Indiana recently, and that’s not just because the NCAA Men’s Final Four and championship will be taking place there this upcoming weekend. Nor is it because the Rolling Stones announced they would be playing Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 4, though the track does seem like a peculiar fit for a concert (I guess when you haven’t played in the state for 24 years, why not?).
The spotlight on Indiana is over the recent Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and what it really means. The governor, Mike Pence, has defended the law with strong assertions that it is intended to allow the state’s citizens their freedom of religion. (Thought the Constitution covered that in the Bill of Rights, but whatever.) While other religious freedom acts have been enacted in other states, what makes this one different is that it allows businesses to deny services to other citizens and cite the cause as religious tenets.
This country is facing numerous civil liberties issues ranging from the treatment of African-Americans, to women, to gays and lesbians, to transgenders, to Native Americans… the list goes on and on. But one of the things that tends to mitigate laws like these are simple economics, which is the reason for starting this column with this matter.
Indiana holds two significant races each year that draw in quite a respectable amount of money in the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400. Though attendance may be down at the latter, the numbers still indicate a financial windfall for the track and surely the surrounding businesses. Hence, it was important for both INDYCAR and NASCAR to make statements denouncing the law.
Cue NASCAR Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer Brett Jewkes: “NASCAR is disappointed by the recent legislation passed in Indiana. We will not embrace nor participate in exclusion or intolerance. We are committed to diversity and inclusion within our sport and therefore will continue to welcome all competitors and fans at our events in the state of Indiana and anywhere else we race.”
Sure, enjoy the irony of the statement from an organization that used to openly exclude or harass African-Americans and women. However, it does signal a more modern outlook and offers the promise that some things can and will change.
Then there’s Indianapolis track president J. Douglas Boles, who weighed in regarding Indiana’s recent religious freedom legislation. “For 105 years, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has engaged millions who want to celebrate the true spirit of American racing,” he said. “IMS will continue to warmly welcome all who share our enthusiasm for motorsports – employees, participants and fans.” Boles also noted that INDYCAR asserted the same position.
Whether or not the law remains in effect as created or whether it would have had much impact on the racing community is a topic for another day. For now, the statements and positive attitude show that the PR departments of both organizations realize the possibility of the problematic legislation affecting them and show how they value their fans. Money talks.
Let’s get on with it.
Happiness Is… Wussies. There are a few aspects in NASCAR that are sacred, like whatever Brian France eats for breakfast, the engines, the fuel and the tires. That NASCAR had been taking tires for a few weeks was both an indication that it knew someone out there was tinkering with the treadless Goodyears and also a warning to stop. It didn’t take long to find their culprit. But when Ryan Newman and the No. 31 team were nailed with penalties for messing around with their tires, it came off as both surprising, suspicious and yet not enough. The surprise comes in the fact that Richard Childress Racing was supposedly (allegedly) one of the organizations that may have mentioned the issue to NASCAR.
If you’re a conspiracy nut hanging out in your bunker with your aluminum-foil hat on, then hitting Newman, the driver who almost upset the apple cart of a Chase, seems almost appropriate. The penalty, however, is where NASCAR boned it. Sure, Newman drops to 26th in points but how is it that he has the possibility of making the Chase if he earns a win? The real penalty should have been to remove him from the possibility of making the playoffs because that’s where the real money is made. Kurt Busch may be eligible but that situation is a lot more opaque and deals with something off the track, not the black and white issue of someone tinkering with the tires. The penalty may look severe but it feels like they got off lightly.
Happiness Is… A Weekend Off. It’s surprising how quickly this season is flying along. With Martinsville now a caution-filled memory, the season is already one-sixth over, or one-quarter over until the Chase begins (that thing everyone is looking forward to). For all the fans who extol how they don’t pay attention to NASCAR or watch the races anymore, then this upcoming weekend means nothing for you. For everyone else, it’s a chance to take a break, remove ourselves from the alternative reality of racing as not only do all three NASCAR series have the weekend off, but so too do IndyCar and Formula 1. Apparently, all three organizations are telling you to get out and enjoy life, and if you’re into that Easter thing, enjoy that too.
Happiness Is… Martinsville. Of the numerous storylines that followed the race at the lil ol’ paperclip track in Virginia, there are three worth mentioning here. First, it’s time to cut down the race length. Martinsville is a fun track and provides the entertaining fender rubbing that fans and possibly drivers want, but 500 laps just seems silly at this point. It’s time to cut it down to 400 laps and we’ll all be happy. Second, never do double-file restarts look so bad as they do at a track with the inside lane having such an advantage that it’s tantamount to unfair. Why is it that restarts can’t be single file, which, ya know, would actually provide the drivers with equal footing? Oh right, because then there’d be no craziness on restarts and the field would just get strewn out that much more quickly.
The third item refers to how politely Mr. Brad Keselowski raced Denny Hamlin in the final laps. Kes could have easily punted Hamlin but instead, the two just banged around a little bit and Hamlin took another big clock. Considering what Kes did at Texas last year, the move seemed almost out of character. Why? What’s next, an ascot and tea time with Brad?