POSTING BY JB MADDAWG
I’ll tell you how much of a race fan I am. Back in around ’86, I stood along my father at a local asphalt speedway that more than a few Nascar racing legends have mixed it up at. Darrell Waltrip had just finished the feature event (back when top drivers still would run at some of the smaller tracks) and was signing autographs. When it was my turn, I stuck a pad of paper at D.W., and said, “Jaws, (his TRUE nickname for long time race fans) does it feel good to have people booing Earnhardt instead of you for a change?” He shuffled nervously, and responded, “uh..I guess”, as the crowd around me chuckled and my dad pulled me by my shirt away from the line. I guess I was in early preparation for my work here at The ThrowDown.
Believe it or not, this story has a point that a savvy race fan would pick up on. People. Booed. Earnhardt. Hardly a memory “modern” Nascar fans can relate to. The mighty, legendary and even God-like Dale Earnhardt Sr. heard many jeers for many years at top race venues. He was abrasive, ornery and he regularly blamed everyone around him in post race interviews for miscues that were his fault on the track, more often than not. When I started watching racing in 1977, Darrell Waltrip was hated by millions for being a whiny little jerk in racing. It was nothing compared to the loathing a vast majority of fans had for Dale Earnhardt Sr. in later years. Yet, something happened along the way.
When the Pettys, Allisons, Yarboroughs and the legends of the track faded into history, Nascar ran into a problem that the NBA would suffer upon the retirement of Michael Jordan. They ran out of a poster boy to peddle their sport. Earnhardt Sr. had switched to Goodwrench as his primary sponsor, and unveiled his all black race car paint scheme. Much like the unhinged Raiders fans in the NFL, all the crazies, bikers and outlaw fans in racing supported Earnhardt’s dirty tactics on the track, and instead of supporting a clean-cut image, Nascar decided to take the low road. Well, that and the fact that it has been long suspected by insiders that Earnhardt had an in with Nascar’s powers that be, the France family.
Thus, a “legend” was born. Truth be known for anyone who’s familiar with Earnhardt’s driving pre 1988, he was almost completely unable to make a clean pass without taking off a coat of paint. Sure, contact is expected. There’s contact, then there’s just plain nosing the bumper or quarter panel of the car in front of you with the sole purpose of putting someone out of the race. It’s a dirty, shitty tactic of drivers that do not have the car or skills to pass for position. And Nascar embossed Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s ass in gold for doing so. Then, they really got ugly and came up with the nickname “the intimidator”, which slapped the face of just about every driver that had been black flagged for driving like an idiot. Nascar had their chosen one, and they weren’t going to have it any other way.
All that changed on February 18th, 2001. It was that day during the Daytona 500 that on the final lap, defending champion Earnhardt tried to cut off, or “block” the faster car of Sterling Marling on the final lap, lost control and his life. Without going into long discussions of seat belt rigging and safety devices, there is one fact that is never uttered by fans, Nascar or the sheep in sports journalism. But I will…Dale Earnhardt Sr. died driving the way he always did. Reckless and crazy brave, and he paid the ultimate price for it. This didn’t stop half-wit fans from immediately sending death threats to Sterling Marlin, which Nascar hardly lifted a finger to discourage, and turned the sport into a moving mausoleum.
Post death, race broadcasts would have a moment of silence on lap three, Earnhardt’s number, as some sort of creepy real-time race eulogy. Currently, there has never been a moment of silence for Adam Petty (#42), Neil Bonnet (#12), Kenny Irwin(#28) or any of the other driver that has passed tragically on the track. Earnhardt, though, was listed as a pioneer, whatever that means. Any time the mere mention of the Earnhardt name was uttered on a broadcast for the next two seasons, viewers were made to feel as if a group suicide was the only proper way to react to the death. Sickening didn’t begin to cover it. Even son and driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., would start making statements to “let it go”. But Nascar was only getting started.
When Nascar returned to Daytona in July, Earnhardt Jr. magically moved the boundaries of Heaven and earth by winning the next race at the track his father died at. Mind you, I’m not saying the race was rigged…but it wouldn’t be the first time Nascar has looked the other way when certain cars weren’t exactly “legal”. Quite obviously, Nascar had quickly found a replacement poster boy. The logical choice was their martyr’s son.
The fact is Earnhardt Jr. has never been, and probably never will be a top-tier driver. He has a handful of extremely questionable wins, and the backing of the governing body of the sport. After struggling year after year, Jr. has still not reached potential, and Nascar cannot have a representative that hasn’t won a championship. After a number of years of backing off the constant parading of Earnhardt Jr., Nascar has once again begun the full court press to elevate the man to deity status. On June 18th, Jr. won his first race in four years…on Father’s Day. The wailing of an entire sport once again filled the airwaves with “how ironic” the win was. Ironic, indeed.
I’m sorry to see a sport I’ve loved and watched for so many years is equaling pro wrestling status. I feel vaguely insulted every time one of the major race reporters utters a stupid phrase as “could this, could this, oh could it be the year Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins the championship?”. Nascar has now moved into the realm of “sports entertainment”, and I have begun to question many of their recent actions.
Fooled by this grotesque charade are the fans that never knew Nascar’s B.E. (Before Earnhardt) period. Long time fans on the other hand, have been slighted and are no longer paying decent money to show up at a wrestling match. When Earnhardt Jr. finally hoists the championship trophy , which I believe will be much sooner than later, will it mean anything? To anyone that truly knows what’s happening in the sport?
The one sure thing I can say in conclusion is that if I were the one calling the shots in Nascar, I sure as hell wouldn’t be honoring the memory of a dead driver by turning a truly unique sport into a sideshow funeral dirge. I’m JB Maddawg, and I’m calling bullshit on you, Nascar.