What we can learn from NASCAR

Monday, September 9, 2013
posted by elizabeth @ 10:00 PM

The arrest of NFL player Aaron Hernandez brought to memory the quote from Charles Barkley about role models.  “I’m not paid to be a role model. I’m paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court.”  I vehemently disagree.  Athletes are role models.  I agree with former NBA player Karl Malone who was quoted in Sports Illustrated, “I don’t think it’s your decision to make…Our only choice is whether to be a good role model or a bad one.”

In professional sports, the greatest role models and sanctioning body that support good role models are NASCAR.  I have some insight because I have the privilege, yes privilege, of being a licensed, professional, part time pit-crew member in NASCAR.  That is what gives me the ability make the judgment call on this issue.  Yes there are fights, well, so called fights, helmets being thrown, bumping other drivers on the track when someone gets angry and some finger wagging.  For those who know their NASCAR history, yes, Junior Johnson, one of the greatest drivers and owners in the sport, went to prison for running moon shine.  

NASCAR is a multi-billion dollar business with 11 racing series and almost 2000 drivers.  It isn’t daddy’s NASCAR.  Sponsors pay big money to be on the cars and pit crew uniforms.  Some pit crew members get paid six figure sums.  Sponsors in NASCAR expect good behavior from team owners, drivers and pit crew members.  I am confident I can sit down with my children and watch a race knowing I will not have to explain why a driver was arrested for shooting someone or beating up their wife and girlfriend.

NASCAR takes the rules seriously and that is a good role model for kids.  In 2006 driver Shane Hmiel was given a life time ban because he failed his third drug test.   Some thought he was the next Dale Earnhardt, Sr.  He had a great future but it never happened.  I like Danica Patrick.  She is a great role model for my daughters.  In 2012 she was honored with the Teen Choice Award for favorite female athlete.   She won over Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas and tennis’s Williams sisters.

Let’s look at the website Arrestnation.com which tracks arrests of athletes.  When I looked at it there was one NASCAR driver listed.  The stick and ball athletes had pages of arrests.   Since the Super Bowl 25 – 40 NFL players have been arrested depending on the article you read. 

Stick and ball athletes don’t display gratefulness for the opportunity to be paid to play a sport.  How often do you hear them thank fans?  It happens constantly in NASCAR.  When the economy was in the tank drives like Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon were interviewed after races and they thanked the fans acknowledging that without fans there is no racing.  This happens every weekend.  That is a good role model.

Other athletes aren’t accessible to the fans.  Drivers are accessible.  They have autograph sessions before races and at events for sponsors.  If one is fortunate enough to get a garage and pit pass you will see the drivers.  They take the time to sign autographs.  You can get up close.  When I am setting up our pit box and getting ready for a race fans are on pit road and they get to talk to drivers and pit crew members.  Before, during and after the race the pass gets the fan into in the garage, onto pit road and more.  One Camping World Truck race I worked at Texas Motor Speedway a fan was standing right behind me as we were packing up.  He wanted lug nuts and a quarter panel that came off of our truck.  I gave them to him.  It’s like being in the locker room and the field for stick and ball sports.  Tell me when you did that.

NASCAR is not without issues and blemishes. All sports have them.  But, I challenge anyone to show me a sport where the participants and sanctioning body have rules that are followed and enforced as well as consistently expressing gratitude for the fans.  I am grateful that I am privileged to participate.

-Andrew Biar

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