C’Mon NASCAR: Is the car really a weapon?

Lost in all of the controversy of the Austin Dillon – Cole Custer incident from the Xfinity race at Phoenix is NASCAR’s use of a new word to describe the act of retaliation.  After Custer wrecked Dillon, an angry Dillon retaliated on the track with his car. Since the incident the media has concentrated on Dillon’s non-penalty and scolded NASCAR for not acting after one of their executives said a day before the race, “We’re very clear that we’re not going to allow a car to be used as a weapon.”

As seen on social media, some in the NASCAR media believe Dillon used his car as a “weapon” and expected him to be penalized. It even caused a minor dust up between two NASCAR media regulars, which I found to be amusing. For me, I’m not necessarily worried about a penalty – I’m a believer that each incident should be reviewed individually and I didn’t see the need to penalized Dillon. Compared to Matt Kenseth’s retaliation of Joey Logano from a few years ago, the Dillon incident was minor. In this case, I believe NASCAR got it right.

So let’s get back to what was lost in this incident – first, I’m going to skip over the obvious Cup driver retaliates against an Xfinity driver storyline. It’s a topic that should be discussed but for me we’ll do that on another day. I’d like to concentrate on NASCAR’s use of the word “weapon” in describing the race car.

According to Merriam-Webster the definition of “weapon” is, “something used to injure, defeat, or destroy.” In my home state of Texas it’s against the law to use your car as a “weapon” and I’m sure it’s against the law in your home state too. By NASCAR adopting the word in their effort to shame a driver from the act of retaliation is not only dangerous, but also irresponsible.

Most sports have a way for their players to self-police fairness. For example, in hockey, players are allowed to drop the gloves and fight. In baseball, a pitcher will brush back or even hit a batter with a pitch. When the act of self-policing happens, in most cases, the player is penalized – be it 2 to 5 minutes in the penalty box for hockey or ejected from the game in baseball. It’s a part of the game, but we never hear an executive from any given sport, use the word “weapon” when describing the object used to play the game.

Here’s why – it could inadvertently lead to legal troubles. Having an executive use that word opens the door for someone to bring a lawsuit or being charged with an assault. Simply put – it’s bad for business.

I may be in the minority on this one, but if calling a race car a “weapon” is acceptable for when a driver retaliates can’t the same thing be said for any racing incident? For example, this weekend NASCAR races at Martinsville. If a driver gets moved out of the groove, becomes angry and finds an opportunity for payback (which is an act of retaliation), is the driver now using a “weapon” to deliver that payback?  Looking at the NASCAR executive’s own words – the answer is yes.

My only objection here is to the language being used – I don’t like the word. It can open an entire can of legal worms. I’d much rather see NASCAR debate the actual act of retaliation… whether it should be an acceptable means for a driver to self-police the sport.

I would submit a large number of fans approve of a driver retaliating…especially when it’s their driver dishing out punishment for being done wrong. This action has been a part of the sport for so long and has been used by NASCAR and their broadcast partners to market races.

I’d like to know what has changed – why is the car now a “weapon” and it wasn’t back when NASCAR was at its peak in popularity?  At NASCAR’s peak, it was the beatin’ and bangin’ – the aggressive driving style and yes, hot rivalries and self-policing that brought excitement to the fans.

Call me a non-fan for thinking this way, but back in the day wasn’t it all about man and machine (not man and his weapon) fighting for every inch? And when that inch was roughly taken away, it was double roughly taken back. It reminds me of how popular Bristol once was – back when payback was expected.

During Bristol’s most popular years were men using their race cars as weapons? I don’t think so…today’s media and NASCAR executives may think otherwise.

Did Dale Earnhardt use his car as a weapon? How many drivers did he wreck simply due to retaliation or simply to move them out of the way? In 1987, when discussing his aggressive driving style Earnhardt said, “Short track racing taught me to ask no quarter and give none. If you don’t win, you lose. It’s as simple as that. And I’m not here to lose.”

I’m sure the man known as “The Intimidator” would be amused with NASCAR’s new word – “weapon.”

In Darrell Waltrip’s book ‘One-On-One’ he talked about Earnhardt’s driving style and the fans. Waltrip said, “He [Earnhardt] made rough driving popular. Fans used to boo it. Now they love it.” He also added, “Hitting Dale did not work. If a driver hit him once, he’d hit back twice. That was his philosophy. It was his payback.”

Again, I’ll ask – did Earnhardt use his car as a weapon? I say no – it was 100% NASCAR.

To NASCAR’s credit they’ve done a good job judging when a line has been crossed – and in my opinion lines have been crossed. Brad Keselowski is the beneficiary of a line that was crossed…when Ted Musgrave played bumper trucks with Kelly Bires, which ended with Musgrave running the nose of his truck into the driver side door of Bires. It was a horrible act of retaliation and Musgrave was suspended. Keselowski replaced Musgrave and the rest is history. But even looking back at that situation, I couldn’t find one report or NASCAR saying Musgrave used his truck as a “weapon.”

I believe NASCAR is struggling to find their identity in today’s soft society. In a sport where rivalries are scarce – where everyone wants to be a good guy and wants to be friends, using the word “weapon” to describe an act that’s been alive and well in the sport since the beginning is another misstep in a long list of missteps made by NASCAR.

If NASCAR truly believes the race car is being used as “weapon” and the media wants to continue to push the narrative, I would suggest NASCAR should take immediate measures to stop the practice of using the car as a weapon. Tell the drivers if a “weapon” is used they’ll be suspended. Hire local police agencies to come to the race track and enforce the law. Bottom line, using a “weapon” against someone is an assault and if it happens NASCAR should have the driver arrested.

Do you see how ridiculous this sounds?

While NASCAR is at it – they should instruct their broadcast partners to stop using replays of cars being used as “weapons” for promoting races. Sorry NASCAR you can’t have your cake and eat it too on this one. Either the car is a “weapon” or it isn’t.

This isn’t your granddaddy’s NASCAR – welcome to NASCAR 2017.


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