Lap One: Respect in Racing
If you were like me growing up, you had a few cardinal rules you never broke.
One: You always finished your plate.
Two: You always did your homework.
Three: You always said thanks to the big man at night before bed.
Four: You always respected your elders.
I’d say those are pretty good rules to live by. So that brings me to the topic of this week’s discussion, rule number four, respect. Specifically, respect in racing.
I assume you’re a racing fan, so I won’t bore you with the obligatory explaining of every minute detail when it comes to beating and banging and the competition and heartbeat of what makes motorsports so thrilling. Racing can be summed up in one word, competition.
Racing is a sport, no matter what the talking bobble heads on ESPN, (That’s for you, Olbermann), seem to think. A sport is any competitive activity where you actively compete with your peers to see who is best. Be that baseball, football, swimming, cheerleading or racing. They are all sports and when we talk about respect in racing, respect and competition rarely go hand in hand. Sportsmanship is generally a show of respect. It’s a sign of personal pride in yourself, your accomplishment, and the pride of your sport. However, sometimes competition has a downside. It can create a difference of opinions.
We had one of those differences in the Sprint Unlimited race at Daytona on Feb. 14. Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick traded barbed words after a heated and dramatic late race finish that saw Logano shoving the No. 4 car of Harvick into turn three at over 190 mph causing Harvick to get into the wall. Exciting, isn’t it? But we’re not here to debate that. It’s what happened after the fact that brings the controversy and the tongue wagging around the water coolers. (Yes, they still exist.)
Logano, age 24, told Harvick, age 39, to: “Shut the —- up!” Respect, my friends, just went out the window. As a former racer and athlete myself, I understand that competitive athletes can get involved in the moment. Tempers boil, people get emotional, and reason and rational thought get replaced with red-eyed anger and disrespect. We saw that for a brief moment on pit road. Two competitors trading their opinions on what they thought was right and wrong. That’s acceptable. This is the United States of America, after all. We’re allowed, encouraged even, to share our opinions and our voice. Who wouldn’t want to stand up and have their thoughts heard? It’s wonderful to see the fiery disposition and desire to win. That’s what drives all competitors to be the best. That’s why we have sports!
That’s not an excuse to disrespect another person, especially not an elder and champion of your sport. I’ve seen athletes from all across the sporting world using competition as an excuse to be a jerk to others lately. “It’s because I want to win, I don’t care what anyone thinks,” is the particularly over-used mantra you’ve seen spouted off on Twitter, Facebook and in media centers. There is nothing wrong with wanting to win. The issue here is what you do when you don’t win. What you do when you have a difference of opinion. How you handle the disappointment and frustration of loss. Do you shake hands and pretend it’s all fun and games? We used to do that in High School sports, didn’t we? Was it great for sportsmanship and helping instill a sense of pride in our accomplishment, win, lose or draw? Sure. Is that feasible in professional sports? Sometimes. Take the Superbowl and the coaches shaking hands for example. That’s a small token of respect that’s often overlooked.
Then there is Motorsports. On pit road on a cool Saturday night, two men didn’t agree, one disappointed in the actions of another and the other barking insults at the person he had just shoved into a wall at over 190 mph. It’s just competition, right? It’s just the heat of the moment, tempers flaring, boys have at it, let’s see those ratings jump and give the journalists something to write about for a week, right? Wrong. It’s disrespectful and disgraceful. Whatever happened to the Mark Martins of the racing world? Whatever happened to the Ned Jarretts? The Benny Parsons? Why is it that in the 21st century, the modern, high-dollar, big production, fancy lights and fireworks show of the most popular form of motorsports in America, we are seeing more and more of these types of scenarios playing out? What happened to basic human decency and simple things like saying you’re sorry when you make a mistake or admitting your actions have consequences?
I don’t have a good answer. All I know to ask is: Where has all the respect in racing gone?