Saturday Night At The Fights

“Any publicity is good publicity” the adage goes. It’s not every day NASCAR finds itself talked about on Good Morning America.

One question though: NASCAR is a RACING series right? If it is, then what happened Saturday night at the Bank of America 500 may not be the kind of attention the series needs.

Do you remember what one of the criticisms of NASCAR is by the non-fan? That it is low brow entertainment preferred by those that somehow find enjoyment in watching cars go around in circles for four hours, punctuated with wrecking and fighting; a so-called “sport” one degree removed from WWE. Garbage such as what happened between Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart plays right into that stereotype.

Understandably, tempers flare in competition. Baseball has its brushback brawls, hockey is famous for fighting, football, by nature, has its share of violence, and even basketball is not immune to a brouhaha or two. One should expect an occasional flare up in racing. You have to be something of an adrenaline junkie to pilot a three-thousand pound machine at triple digit speeds in closed quarters with some forty other competitors for up to 500 miles. You might just get a little exercised if  you hauled the mail for 200 laps, only to have your hard work done in by some yahoo. That emotion may be further justified if you feel a fellow competitor has used their four-wheeled rocket as a weapon and put your life at risk in the process.

Getting angry about what happened during a race is understandable. What a driver does about it is another kettle of fish. A face-to-face confrontation is not out of order. Words could come to blows if matters escalate. Using your car to send a message? It’s pretty safe bet that is NOT what the governing body had in mind with the “boys, have at it” edict. It would take a pretty extraordinary blow to kill a competitor in a fistfight. No garage fight is going that far. A car vs. car, or a car vs. man on foot is an entirely different matter. The Tony Stewart- Kevin Ward Jr. remains in the public consciousness, though a grand jury elected to bring no criminal charges against Stewart. A brawl in other sports could get you hurt- badly hurt; motorsports mayhem can get you killed.

Within sports, even among the fiercest competitors, there is a decorum, a spirit of sportsmanship. There are lines you don’t cross. When NASCAR declared “boys have at it,” is the mayhem at Charlotte Motor Speedway what they had in mind? Drama and gritty competition give a sport excitement. What happened Saturday at the Bank of America 500 looked more like high speed road rage.

It’s a damn embarrassment.