By admin | March 26, 2008
Is a driverâ€™s union a good idea?
By Richard Allen
Invariably, when people have nothing else to do they will sit around and speculate. Such speculation took place during the time supposed to be set aside for qualifying at the Bristol Motor Speedway. Since Mother Nature decided to put a damper on things, drivers and the media had to fill their time with something.
One topic that came up was the possibility of NASCARâ€™s drivers forming a union. This speculation came on the heels of Tony Stewartâ€™s harsh comments toward the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company after the previous weekâ€™s race in Atlanta.
At issue were driver safety and the overall health of the sport. Without question, NASCAR could not stand many more races like the one in Atlanta. Drivers had difficulty maintaining control of their cars and were unable to race side by side for fear of taking themselves and other cars out. Stewart and others blamed the situation on Goodyear for bringing a tire very much unlike the one they had previously tested on the track.
NASCAR is usually less than happy to hear the word union. They have dealt with such a situation before, and dealt with it harshly. In 1969, the Professional Driverâ€™s Association urged its members not to race at Talladega due to concerns over tires and safety on the new superspeedway.
Star drivers Richard Petty, David Pearson and others honored the boycott. However, NASCAR chairman â€œBig Billâ€ France scrounged together drivers willing to race and put the event on without the regulars. The race was won by little known Richard Brickhouse. The PDA faded away and the next year, the big stars raced at Talladega.
Times have changed since 1969. Drivers may actually hold the upper hand over the sanctioning body due to the fact that so many fans relate to their favorite drivers more so than to the sport itself. Many fans identify themselves as Earnhardt, Stewart or Gordon fans first and NASCAR fans second.
Still, drivers and NASCAR are reluctant to use the word union for fear of the connotations the word brings up in the sports world. However, drivers seem serious about having their voices heard, especially when related to safety and the questioning of their driving skills.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. voiced a driverâ€™s viewpoint on the situation. â€œThereâ€™s a million different ways that could be done,â€ he said, without using the word union. â€œThe main situation is, as a driver, you have a hard time listening and believing someone who has never been behind the wheel, trying to tell you what needs to happen out on the race track or how things need to be or should be.â€
Unions have brought Major League Baseball and other professional sports leagues to the brink of disaster in recent times. Without question, a union of the type in those sports with so much power would be detrimental to racing.
However, a less invasive but more reasonable union of drivers might not necessarily be a bad thing. Many argue that the sanctioning body has grown too powerful and has made too many decisions of late to hurt the sport. Perhaps a driverâ€™s union could serve as a counter balance to the NASCAR organization.
There needs to be two sided debate when it comes to issues such as safety and the overall well being of the sport. NASCAR should not always serve as the be all, end all authority.
If NASCAR is making bad decisions there should be someone there to call them on it. Perhaps a driverâ€™s union could serve that purpose. Ultimately, it is the fans who will decide whether they think NASCAR is headed in the right or wrong direction. They will either attend or not. They will either tune in or not.
Earnhardt put it in perspective when he said, â€œWe are paid a lot of money to do what we do. We all do sound off and go push the button a little too hard sometimes, but for the most part, we donâ€™t want to ruin the racing for the sport. We donâ€™t want to make it worse for the fans.â€
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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