October 14, 2013 Legendtorial – Debris or Not Debris, That is the Question – Now, Let’s Have Order in the Court, Please
By Tim Leeming
As Shakespeare once said, “Debris or not debris, that is the question.” No wait, maybe that’s not what he said…exactly. I’m pretty sure whatever it was he said had something to do with manipulating the outcome of a race, though. In the United States of America, we are promised that we are innocent until proven guilty. That proof is defined as being “beyond a reasonable doubt” in criminal matters or by the “greater preponderance of the evidence” in civil matters. Either way, a Judge or jury will use those guidelines, or are at least supposed to use those guidelines, to determine wherein the truth may lie.
Is it the movie “Casablanca” where the Police Lieutenant suggests they “round up the usual suspects”? Not sure if it is that movie but it’s one of those old classics that I watch from time to time to remind me of when movies were good, really good. But the point to that is that when a certain crime is committed, there are those who are very capable of being guilty. Seems that never changes.
So, am I going back into the legal profession tonight? Nope, not at all. I just want to bring those two issues before my jury here in the RacersReunion show “Racing Through History”. Surely, it is history we are addressing here tonight. The long and sorted history of NASCAR manipulating the outcome of races. Oops, have you heard that recently in another context? You bet you have. That time it was the Michael Waltrip Racing Team guilty of the actions that were deemed to be “detrimental” to the sport. I happen to agree with that ruling but I do not agree with taking out Truex and putting in Gordon while leaving Bowyer in the Chase. That action, frankly, makes me ill to think about. But we should be accustomed to such flaky rulings from the sanctioning body known as NASCAR. I don’t want this Legendtorial to be a diatribe criticizing NASCAR, but, unfortunately, NASCAR, you have left me no choice in the matter. No choice, that is, if I am to remain true to what I believe.
Going back to Saturday night and the Bank of America 500, as the race was winding down to the last fifty laps, I got a text from a good friend of mine who is a big fan of Jimmie Johnson. As I’ve said before, I think Jimmie is a great driver and a worthy Champion for the sport. In fact, of the 43 drivers currently running in the Cup Series these days, there are only 5 or 6 for whom I have no positive statements. I’m happy to see new drivers like Kyle Larson coming along so hopefully some of those filling the seats and holding the steering wheels with no talent will be moved on out to other pursuits. But going back to my friend’s first text messages which was something like “looks like Jimmie’s got ‘em covered tonight” to which I responded with “he sure is running well”. With 30 to go, my friend texts, “no way anyone is going to catch Jimmie”, to which I replied “you never know. Remember, NASCAR will throw a caution with less than 25 laps to go”. Well, I was wrong because the caution was thrown with 26 laps to go and Jimmie’s huge lead was wiped out.
Now, bear in mind, this was one of those “debris cautions”, or as Jabe Thomas would have said, a “DEB BRISS” caution. Remember earlier in the race when there was a debris caution for debris in turn three? Remember how ABC cameras sought out and fought that debris and showed us a real close up of something lying on the track? Now let’s cut to that final “debris” caution. Did the ABC crew even try to find the debris this time? Did you see any cleanup crew picking up anything from the track? Did you see any car having to pit because something fell off of, or out of the car? If you did, you saw much more than did I and I was watching very closely. Did you notice how ABC camera folks were able to show us Hendrick Motorsports “across highway 29 and through the trees”? It would seem to me that finding the “debris” on the track for that last caution flag would have been a piece of cake.
When the cars returned to the track from the pits, Jimmie came out third. Now admittedly, that was the fault of a slower stop than the other two that beat him out, but regardless, had it not been for the manufactured caution flag, there would have been no stops, and Jimmie would have breezed to the win. Therein, for NASCAR, lay the problem.
If you have noticed the NASCAR commercials throughout the year, they show, repeatedly, some of the worse crashes of the past several years although noticeably absent is the spectacular crash that almost put Kyle Larson in the cheap seats at Daytona in February. Now, here they are, the week before Talladega where NASCAR is counting on at least two “big ones” running at Charlotte, which although putting on an exciting race, simply had no action from which the carnage of wrecked machines would entice folks to travel to Talladega. I submit that the last caution flag for “debris” was manufactured in the NASCAR Race Control Booth and if that is not manipulating the outcome of a race, then there is no such thing.
This is no manufactured conspiracy theory on my part and such action is certainly nothing new for “Race Control”. Think back over the years. Think very first Strictly Stock Race in 1949. Glenn Dunaway flagged the winner but then disqualified so Jim Roper would be declared the victor. Dunaway, a local guy who showed up that morning without a ride was not nearly as journalistically appealing for the new division as Jim Roper who had read about the race in the comic strips of his local newspaper and towed a Lincoln to Charlotte. If NASCAR has cleared Dunaway’s car to run, then the “illegal springs” after the fact were, indeed, manipulation by Big Bill to get maximum press.
Let’s consider Fred Lorenzen, the movie star looking youngster that didn’t speak with a “Southern drawl”. He came to NASCAR and was good behind the wheel. Didn’t take Big Bill long to realize what appeal he would have to fans outside the Southeast and to women who read the papers and would see handsome Freddie smiling from Victory Lanes around the circuit. I was at many races in the sixties when those “debris cautions” just happened to be thrown about the time Freddie needed a pit stop. Moving forward, let’s talk Dale Earnhardt, Sr. Dale was good. Dale inherited the talent of his father, Ralph, to drive a race car. However, look at some of the rulings made by NASCAR in favor of Dale that would have gone against other drivers. It was once stated by NASCAR execs, in a live, on-air interview, that Dale was “their franchise driver”. Does anyone else see anything wrong with that statement coming from a sanctioning body? Sort of like Dale, Jr. now,huh? And I’ll mention this as well because NASCAR pinning a lot of hope on Sparkle Pony this year, even to the point of manipulating a full week of international press over the Daytona 500 pole. So, how does that work for you now, Brian? She did finish 20th Saturday night, five laps down I think, but without sufficient cautions for lucky dogs or wave-arounds, five laps isn’t bad.
NASCAR, there is a rule of evidence from which a legal case can be substantiated. There are also Motions to Produce that can be filed when one side believes the other side is withholding certain evidence that could prove the case one way or the other. NASCAR, I am hereby serving you with a verbal “Motion to Produce”. I want you to produce a video of the debris being removed from the track, the debris you claim required a caution flag. I am also asking that you actually produce that “debris” so fans can see it, touch it. I’m sorry that we have to go to such lengths, but your motives are just too suspect for me to accept your word on this. Even Jimmie Johnson, in his interview after the race, accentuated the word “debris” in such a way as to indicate he was not aware of any debris on the track OR any debris being removed. I think Jimmie supports my theory.
Bottom line here, NASCAR, is that the stands were practically empty at Charlotte. That was not only from my observation from television but from a young friend of mine in attendance who used the word “pitiful” when describing the absence of fans. He was there, he saw it first hand. What few shots the ABC camera gave us of the stands, I would have to assume there were more people out looking for snakes than were at that race. But then, NASCAR, you should have no difficulty in finding snakes. The fault, dear Brian, lies not in the stars, but in your total lack of knowledge of the sport, total disregard for the interest of the fans, and a skewed point of reference as to who your fan base is. How many times did I hear the reference made during the broadcast to “Hispanic Fan Month” or whatever you call it? Excuse me, is Juan Pablo Montoya Greek? How did that work for you? How about the outreach to African-Americans? Haven’t you searched the world over for such a star since Wendell Scott is no longer with us? What have you accomplished in that regard?
As my friend texted after the race Saturday, “you were right, as usual”. Well, it wasn’t rocket science as they say. It was simply a rule of “the usual suspects” and NASCAR lived up to it. Want to hear my prediction for Talladega? There will be at least one green-white-checker attempt so they can bunch them all together and try for the second, third, or maybe even fourth “big one”. After all, NASCAR is selling entertainment, racing be damned. Let’s see if I’m “right as usual this time”.