The good news for racing fans is that the Daytona 500 generally signifies the beginning of the racing season for everyone. The bad news for many of us is that Indy Cars still have a way to go prior to the start of their season.
The 2012 Indy Car season was an artistic success with the new car providing compelling racing on every type of track it ran. This was desperately needed after the way in which the 2011 season closed. After Dan Wheldon’s death at Las Vegas the usual critics piled on with over-the-top venom, questioning everything from whether this would be the death of Indy Car to running Indy Cars on ovals. One of the most outspoken was the Daytona 500 winner, Jimmie Johnson. His claim was that Indy Car had no business on ovals due to the possibility of cars into the fence in a crash.
Oddly, we heard nary a peep from Johnson after a Nationwide stock car breeched the fence on the front straight Saturday at Daytona, sending enough pieces of a wrecked car THROUGH the shattered fence and high into the seats to send 28 fans to the hospital, injuring two of them critically. It is a small miracle no one got killed. And yet no indignant outrage about high speed oval pack racing borne of restrictor plates from anyone with a mic in their face. At best that seems awfully hypocritical. NASCAR’s top series got a new car this season, and it resulted in a parade-like race. Not sure how well folks will like that long term.
The attention and concern of everyone was where it should be…with injured fans, but virtually no critical commentary was yelped by the sycophantic broadcasters with NASCAR credentials. Instead we heard how the fence had done its job, how NASCAR leads the way in safety, how they were responsible for the SAFER barrier and all sorts of usual propaganda. Some even took the opportunity to slam Indy Car. Ed Hinton, for example, did that in two different ESPN.com columns, citing open wheel fan deaths of the past while pumping up the Daytona 500, which he says is ‘now renowned as America’s greatest with the decline in prestige of the Indianapolis 500.’ Why is it is has only really ‘declined’ in the perception of columnists predisposed toward slamming it? And why even mention the Indy 500 in a story about Daytona, a race with half the history that basically lifted the format?
NASCAR and Daytona leadership offered a robotic evening press briefing that sounded like it was crapped out by a lawyer, and neither Joie Chitwood of the track or Steve O’Donnell of NASCAR deviated much from the script. There was talk of NASCAR and the track working together to resolve issues. Duh. Both have the same corporate parent so a lot of what was parroted insulted the intelligence of many. The vigilance of lawyers did not waste any time trying to quash amateur video shot by fans that showed the crash, damage and the aftermath, citing copyright issues. Oddly, they don’t seem to care when there is no mayhem. That behavior is normal for, say, the leaders of China…but tawdry for NASCAR. Fortunately (or unfortunately) social media has become so pervasive the contents are easily found. NASCAR also pulled its current champion, Brad Keselowski, into the trailer this weekend to basically tell him to stop speaking candidly about various topics and stick to the ‘everything is always great’ script.
Ultimately that Saturday crash may force racing leadership in every series to get busier trying to come up with a better barrier. That is a hard job considering part of the beauty and attraction of the sport is to get up close to action. Personally my group craves the thunderous sound, vibrations, smells and a coating of marbles. Real fans know the possibility they can be injured or worse exists from about any seat. It is an inherently dangerous sport in which the competitors hang it all out for wins. That effort is appreciated.
The Daytona 500 itself was a welcome relief that signifies Spring is near, and other than the grammar deprived broadcasters who spent 85% of their time fawning over Danica Patrick (she won 8th place and, gasp, led 5 laps) the season is underway.