Monday, April 30, 2007

Stay classy, NASCAR fans ...

Wow, NASCAR fans really have gone out of their way to prove all of the stereotypes about them to be correct with their tempered reaction to Jeff Gordon winnning back-to-back races to tie, then pass the late Dale Earnhardt on the all-time victories list. When he won in Phoenix on April 21 to tie the Intimidator with his 76th career win, Gordon went so far as to do a victory lap while holding a flag adorned with Earnhardt's No. 3. Some in the crowd reacted by pelting Gordon's car with beer cans and other assorted flotsam, a scene that was repeated after Gordon took his 77th checkered flag at Talladega this past Sunday.

Maybe it's appropriate that these shenanigans took place around the same time that fellow Nextel Cup racer Tony Stewart accused NASCAR of being fixed like professional wrestling, because their fans are sure acting like the brainless brutes you see ringside at WWE events. It's no secret that a lot of NASCAR devotees have never taken to Gordon for a variety of reasons, among them that he's from California and doesn't have a Southern accent and can read and has all of his teeth. (OK, those last two things were just mean. Sorry.) In the wake of the fan display, several articles have pointed out that Earnhardt and Gordon were friends when Dale Sr. was alive, and that Dale Jr. - the most popular of the current drivers - condemned the anti-Gordon actions and thanked Gordon for honoring his father in Phoenix. And, of course, there's the irony that the throwing of beverages at an athlete is the same business that started the infamous NBA players-vs.-spectators brawl in Detroit a couple of years ago. Of course, Jeff Gordon is not Ron Artest, which is a good thing since driving a car into a crowd is frowned upon in most societies.

A better analogy may be to compare Gordon to Alex Rodriguez. Both men are two athletes supremely skilled at their respective sports who nevertheless continue, through no fault of their own, to fall short in the eyes of the people who watch them. It's a toss-up who has it worse, because A-Rod has to content with the city (and the newspapers) of New York City, while Gordon only has to deal with a bunch of loud, alcohol-dipped spectators who have decided that he is the devil incarnate. It wouldn't shock me if someday Gordon, after winning a race, stops his colorful DuPont car, jumps onto the hood and yells at the 100,000 or so in the stands, a la Russell Crowe, if they are entertained. He'd just better wear his helmet when he does it.

(Full disclosure: Some of the pelters were arrested after the latest incident in accordance with NASCAR's warning against a repeat of the trouble at Phoenix. Glad to see the warning made a difference.)

Watch the video below for a taste of the great sportsmanship Gordon faced in Alabama on Sunday.

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