Passion or Dirty Driving?
Passion or Dirty Driving?
Some Fan Favorites Labeled Dirty Drivers!
NASCAR’S roots run deep and far back into the hills of North Carolina and illegal moonshine running. Then drivers built their cars to run and run fast to escape revenuers in wait to catch them and end their business. They learned to drive aggressively and take whatever chances needed to get away and win the game they were playing.
As NASCAR was formed some of the drivers including the well-known JR. Johnson were called to racing. These drivers weren’t the slick, trained, sponsor darlings we find in NASCAR today. These drivers learned to drive by the seat of their pants on the backroads and dirt tracks of the southeast. They drove with heart, with instinct and with a desire to win that was born in the gut and filled their heart and emerged through the wheel, doing whatever it took to win. Winning was all there was. They didn’t have big cushy salaries like todays drivers. They needed to win to get to the next race. Racing was what they thrived on, they lived to race and raced to live. They were the pioneers. Hard driving and aggressive driving starting with names like Petty, Weatherly, Yarbrough, Allison, Turner, Roberts, Jarrett and Earnhardt.
Dale Earnhardt SR one of, if not the greatest driver to ever buckle in a race car learned from his dad Ralph Earnhardt who he idolized. He learned finishing second is just the first loser. Earnhardt was a racer born with natural ability to make a car do things it wouldn’t normally do. Earnhardt as well as his father before him was labeled a dirty driver. You either loved him or you loved to hate him but you wanted to see him race. He always made the race exciting for the fans. The first time I saw him race I was hooked forever. I never pulled for another driver until after Earnhardt died. To me he was the ultimate racer. He had it all, natural ability, burning desire, no fear and willingness to put the car in places others wouldn’t. If you were holding him up he didn’t mind giving you the chrome horn to let you know he was there and faster and if you didn’t hear him he’d come on through one way or another. “Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way!” On the last lap with Earnhardt in the rear view you knew he was going to do his best to get by you and that meant if he could get to your back bumper he was going to tap you. That’s old school racing, not dirty driving! Earnhardt at his death was one of the most celebrated, revered, loved and heralded drivers ever in the sport. Fans didn’t think they could go on without him. No one left could fill his shoes. And no one has or in my opinion ever will leave a mark on the sport quite as deep and pronounce as did Dale Earnhardt.
In the Dale Earnhardt era we had other drivers labeled dirty, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, Geoff Bodine and Mr. Excitement Jimmy Spencer, all were old school drivers with big personalities and a gut wrenching desire to win and they did and sometimes it was in controversial fashion. Do I think they went out there every race thinking they were going to wreck someone or maliciously try to hurt someone or wanted to be labeled a dirty driver? NO! I think they went out on the track every week thinking they had as good a chance to win as any of the others and as long as the car was still running they were still in it. I’m also not naïve enough to think that tempers didn’t flare at times and split second decisions were made and sometimes retaliation happened that sometimes they later regretted but I don’t believe for the most part it was malicious.
Currently we have drivers who carry the label dirty drivers, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards and even though Jeff Gordon is retired now and only subbing for Dale Jr. he too has been involved in his share of controversy as well as Matt Kenseth, all of which have a solid fan base. They win and they make news on and off the track. They have some of the old school refuse to lose mentality in them. They don’t care to do some rubbing on the track or throw down in the pits. It’s not dirty, it’s deep seeded passion and desire to win. Fans love it! That’s what made NASCAR. That’s what filled the stands in years gone by and made the need for tracks to add seats. The sterilization of NASCAR and the tying of driver’s hands and the stifling of their larger than life personalities has changed the way fans view NASCAR. That coupled with NASCARS making rules as they go and unfair and unequal penalties and sanctions are why there are now empty seats in the grandstands.
I’m not saying there hasn’t been instances of deliberate pay back, there has, as was the case with the Matt Kenseth, Joey Logono issue last year. That was direct retaliation for a wrongdoing Matt felt done to him by Joey and I agree. I think Joey deserved what he got. You know what they say about karma. I consider it deep seeded passion for the game and payback for a raw deal.
We all know Tony Stewart has been involved in many incidents throughout his illustrious career but in my opinion he has more of the not gonna take it, speak my mind, rattle his cage, natural born, drive the wheels off it attitude and never give up mentality of Earnhardt than any driver left out there. He’s the only one out there left that grew up racing old school. NASCAR will never be like it used to be again.
Now NASCAR is a corporate game. Big money and big sponsors. Drivers are courted and honed at a young age and made to be slick spokesmen that can sell themselves and the product. It’s a money game more than a racing game. The driver may have the desire to win but sometimes his hands are tied by owners and sponsors that control the purse strings. If he steps over the line and shows real emotion he pays for it in outrageous fines and point penalties that affect the team and the sponsor so, he is kept in the box. You can ask anyone who is the cleanest driver they have raced against and most will say Mark Martin and I would agree. Mark was a wonderfully talented driver who in my opinion should have been a multi-time champion but he moved over too many times and let too many drivers go instead of holding his ground. I’ve seen it first-hand. I know it’s true. I respect Mark Martin highly I just feel like his passion for the win didn’t run deep enough to go for the win when he needed to. Holding your line or going past someone by rubbing a little is not dirty driving, that’s racing, the way it oughta be.
Yes NASCAR is hurting for some new superstars and there won’t be any new Earnhardts’, Waltrips’, Wallaces’ or Stewarts’ coming out of the corporate box. Now we have a lot of Earnhardt wanna be’s driving the car way over their head and talking a big game. Fans of the racing game are not fooled by that. They know a true racer with the fire in his belly when they see one.
I can’t close this out without mentioning the incident at the close of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Race this past weekend. It is my opinion and I am entitled to it. That was a textbook example of dirty driving exhibited maliciously by John Hunter Nemecheck toward Cole Custer. Running him off in the grass and into the fence was enough but pinning him there and running him there to the finish line was blatantly intentional. I was so proud of the guts and fortitude and yes passion shown by Cole Custer to not let up or give up and race him all the way to the finish while in the fence. Yes, there are superstars in the wings if NASCAR will let them spread their wings and fly!