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without a sporting chance
the case against nascar
by michelle von euw
3.7.01
sports


When we are children, we are told there are things we should not do. We should not take candy from strangers. We should not run with scissors. We should not ride our bicycles in traffic. Most of the forbidden things are fun, even exciting. But there is a reason that we should not do them: they are dangerous.

Eventually most of us become grown-ups, and we learn to avoid certain activities that can get us killed. Sure, it might be fun to jump the Grand Canyon in a Beetle, as that guy in the radio commercial thinks. But for the most part, we follow the rules. In turn, our actions aren't noted by the creators of the Darwin Awards.

There are, as always, exceptions to the collective good sense that discourages people from participating in and supporting activities that ultimately result in injury and death. I'm talking about car racing, specifically the phenomenon that is NASCAR. Dale Earnhardt's tragic death last month clarified one point: NASCAR is not a sport, and it should no longer be treated as one.

While I don't follow NASCAR closely, I do know something about it. As an obsessive sports fan, I tend to pick up certain facts and details about the ones I don't necessarily enjoy watching, like NASCAR, boxing, and horseracing. At any given period of time, I can usually name the Winston Cup points leader, the heavyweight champion, and last year's Kentucky Derby winner. Call it the ESPN effect: when Dan Patrick speaks, I listen.

But with the demise of one of its most popular and successful drivers, NASCAR should no longer be classified as one of the major American sports, worthy of airtime and print coverage. The past nine months have tragically shown us that this isn't a sport; it's a death march waiting to happen.

NASCAR is a generational activity, a sport that is passed down from father to son. There are families who are dynasties in the sport, whose names are revered above all others by their fans.

Two of these ruling families have lost members in the last nine months.

Richard Petty's grandson was killed last May during a practice; Adam was all of 19 years old. The only thing more incomprehensible than losing the future of a family dynasty was having the patriarch of a similar genealogy killed on the racetracks, and that happened February 18. Between the two, drivers Kenny Irwin and Tony Roper also lost their lives while racing.

The death toll keeps rising, and while the immediate aftermath spurs talk of safety measures and new technology, the races continue to happen. In an ESPN.com column, Jack Arute states that there are six people on NASCAR's payroll "devoted exclusively" to safety issues. This is a multi-million dollar industry; if they were serious about safety, there would be many more than six people working on the issue.

But it's not likely that NASCAR will ever make racing completely safe; that would change the very heart of it. Take away the possibility of crashes like the one that killed Earnhardt, and all you have left is a bunch of cars going around in circles. What kind of ratings will that get? Does anyone believe that 32 million Americans tune in just to watch sponsor-plastered cars drive around a racetrack two hundred times -- for hours on end? Why not just televise I-95?

The entire appeal of the sport is the very likely possibility that someone will wreck his car. Ever notice how people slow down to stare at car accidents? Gaping at tragedy has become something that we do here in America. But let's leave that to the evening news and the reality TV shows.

Since eliminating the possibility of wrecks themselves will never happen, the people who pump millions of dollars into the industry are going to have to start demanding safer measures. Today, NASCAR sponsors are not just car and beer companies. Among the companies that support cars are UPS, Lowes, K-Mart, the Home Depot, even Cheerios. Mark Martin is sponsored by Pfizer/Viagra.

ESPN, Sports Illustrated and other national sports media sources don't generally cover professional wrestling or the XFL. It's time for them to put NASCAR and other car racing in the same category of activities that don't receive coverage. We don't need to see another bloody car crash taking the life of another driver and have it be called a "sport."

And for the people who can't resist that sort of violence? There's always the evening news.


ABOUT MICHELLE VON EUW

Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw

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COMMENTS

tracey kelley
3.7.01 @ 9:09a

ZOW! It will be really interesting to see what the boys from NC think about this one! Bravo!

A friend in the service sent an e-mail about 8 servicemen who died recently while on a training mission. Now, they knew when they enlisted the job was potentially dangerous,but their death was the result of a mechanical problem in the 'copter they were flying, not actual war.

Were they considered "fallen heros" for "dying on the job?" Did their deaths make above-the-fold news? And could this unfortunate incident have been avoided if they had sponsor money to build the best helicopter engineering allows? Is there a commerative gold-etched keepsake plate available through the Franklin Mint for 4 easy payments of $39.95?

Of course not, because America's idol worship only focuses on who can be viewed on the idiot box in between 60 sec. ads.


jeffrey walker
3.7.01 @ 12:52p

In all fairness, though, there is a great deal of strategy, attentiveness, teamwork (the pit crew working quickly to get the car in and out fast), as well as endurance involved in all forms of autoracing. Think about how tired you are after a long road trip; now imagine the same trip at 170 MPH. The fact that some fans allegedly only watch for the wrecks does not negate it is a sporting event. Should the fact that fans at a hockey game cheer more for a fight than any other part of the game wipe out its sporting validity?

joe procopio
3.15.01 @ 2:00a

Maybe this will go somewhere - What about the Orlando Sentinel wanting to publish autopsy information? I think it's wrong and creepy. Any of you writer types want to come to the defense of the OS? Adam, I'm looking at you.

adam kraemer
3.15.01 @ 9:40a

Hey - don't look at me. After the election, I pretty much stopped paying attention to any news coming out of Florida.

travis broughton
3.15.01 @ 12:22p

[Wow, Joe, you've got an IT guy defending an OS that isn't Linux or Windows...] Check out Carl Hiaasen's latest piece at miamiherald.com... I think he makes several good points opposing the proposed bill to make such publication illegal, and does a nice job of defending (and clarifying) the OS position.

jeffrey walker
3.15.01 @ 1:38p

It doesn't phase me. Then again, I'm likely the only of us who has attended autopsies. I've been to four. I had to take their dead fingerprints.

adam kraemer
3.15.01 @ 3:23p

I didn't know fingerprints could die. That's so sad.

jack bradley
3.15.01 @ 8:32p

I've been to hundreds of necropsies, (animal autopsies, basically) but never an autopsy. I am obviously putting my zoology training to good use.

How can you tell if your fingerprints are dead? Mine haven't called or written in weeks, and frankly I'm getting a bit worried.


adam kraemer
3.16.01 @ 9:21a

Try saying, "Go, go gadget flanges." That might do the trick.

jeffrey walker
3.16.01 @ 5:53p

You'll know if their dead when you have to break them in order to get the finger print. Rigor mortis makes it all so difficult.



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