‘Have At It, Boys’ Becomes ‘Keep It Quiet, Boys’

Brandon Reed

Brandon Reed

By Brandon Reed
Posted in Columns 7/30/10

Reports from the Associated Press this week said that two of NASCAR’s top tier drivers were handed down stiff financial penalties recently for making critical comments publicly about the racing series.

In other words, after telling them “boys, have at it” in the off season, it was followed by “boys, keep your traps shut.”

This move has been justified by some since other big league sports have taken the same path over the years.

But that’s the fatal flaw in the current line of thinking by NASCAR’s management – that what everybody else has done is what they need to do.

What made big time stock car racing stand apart from the other stick and ball sports was its transparency, along with its connection to the fans.

When one of NASCAR’s competitors had a beef, they could speak their minds.  It was part of sharing the experience with the fans and the general public.  Many times, it was the only way to get attention onto a real problem.

Competitors have spoken out about all kinds of issues that they felt needed to be addressed, from unsafe tires during the Great Tire War of 1988 to pit road safety by crew members.

To muzzle that competitor takes a way that transparency, and makes it look as if NASCAR has something to hide.

1970 NASCAR Cup champ Bobby Isaac had a few choice words for NASCAR following his win at Nashville in 1970.

Back in 1970, NASCAR ran two races back-to-back one day after the other.  They ran a 200-lap race in Maryville, Tennessee, on July 24 and then had their drivers hustle over to Nashville to run a 420-lap event July 25 in the hot summer sun.

The end of the Nashville event was broadcast live on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, and when winner Bobby Issac climbed from his K&K Insurance Dodge, he had a few choice words to share with the camera.

He wasn’t fined the next week.  That’s because Big Bill France understood that criticism is something that you have to endure when you’re working towards the big picture.  While I’m sure France wasn’t pleased about the negative exposure, I’ll wager he took Isaac’s comments to heart when it came to laying out the future schedule.

Can you imagine legendary car builder Smokey Yunick having to deal with such a policy?  Yunick was one of the most outspoken people in auto racing, and was especially critical of NASCAR and the France family. They would have bankrupted the owner of the “Best Damn Garage” in Daytona in no time.

And just think of the money NASCAR would have collected from A.J. Foyt over the years.  SuperTex has never been one to hold his tongue, and that certainly would have cut into his pocketbook after a few bad races.

The point is that once you’ve told your competitors not to say anything negative about you, to paint the situation to be rosy and bright, you’ve instantly thrown gasoline onto the fire of those who feel everything is NOT rosy and bright.

And, at the risk of getting a fine myself, I’ll tell you right now that there are problems in NASCAR land, and the same attitude that led to fining drivers for speaking their minds is adding to those problems.

What comes next?  Will NASCAR issue scripts for the drivers for what they need to say before and after a race?  Will there be teleprompters set up in the pits so that the drivers will know what NASCAR wants them to say when the cameras are turned on?

Okay, maybe I’m a little over the top, but where does the control end?

When you start telling the competitors they aren’t allowed to speak when they see a problem with what’s going on, you show full well your own insecurity in the product you are putting out there.

NASCAR has always been big enough to weather the critics, to look at their criticism and work on things that had merit.

That is, until now.  And in doing so, they may well have done more damage than all the harsh post-race words in the world.

In trying to project strength, they are, instead, showing weakness.

My buddy Glen Shepperd had the best idea as to who should get the next fine for actions detrimental to the sport.

The question is, can NASCAR fine itself?

Brandon Reed is the editor and webmaster of Georgia Racing History.com.

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