This past weekends race at Watkins Glen saw yet another post-race confrontation between drivers, as Ty Dillon and Regan Smith (pictured above) got into each other after the pair made contact at turn one immediately after a race restart. Both drivers had to be restrained from one another by crew members and various security personnel. With such behaviour becoming a common occurrence, NASCAR is hitting the headlines because of these post-race antics, rather than the racing that is actually happening on track. So is this a case of "any publicity is good publicity"? Or does something more meaningful need to be done to stop such things from happening?
In modern Formula One, rarely do you see drivers going after one another after an incident on track. In fact, the last incident that comes to mind was way back in 1998 when Michael Schumacher aggressively stormed over to David Coulthard's garage after a crash that ended Schumacher's race while leading a torrential Belgian Grand Prix. The closest thing we've had since then was Lewis Hamilton angrily pointing to his own head in reference to Romain Grosjean's poor decision making after that spectacular opening corner crash at Spa in 2012. Formula One drivers are often criticised for acting like PR-Robots; spouting the same mono-tonal PR-derived drivel during press conferences and interviews. This is not to say that F1 drivers never show any emotion, but it appears that Formula One places heavy regulation on driver etiquette, and whilst this doesn't always result in headlines, it does however preserve the image of Formula One drivers having a higher level of maturity and class to their persona. That's not to say that Formula One drivers have never fought, because there have certainly been instances in the past where drivers have come to blows, but, there's no denying that it's a far less common occurrence than what happens over the pond.
So, the question is, does NASCAR demean itself by continuing to allow this behaviour?
On the surface of it, seeing two drivers getting into a punch-up after a crash is indeed entertaining, however, if NASCAR wishes to be considered as America's top motor racing series, then it needs to do something to prevent its drivers (who are role models to some, after all) from fighting each other off the track. It doesn't set a good example of what motorsport should be about. The majority of these scuffles are brought to a halt even before they've begun, but, the fact that they're even allowed to confront each other in such a way after a race shows that perhaps there needs to be heftier regulation on driver behaviour.
Matters are then exacerbated when you have the television companies actively promoting these confrontations by keeping cameramen locked on to drivers who they think will likely try to fight with other drivers after an incident. The television commentators even begin to commentate on the action as if they're sitting ring-side at a WWE match, and then to top it all off, it's gloriously posted to the official NASCAR YouTube channel, all in the name of publicity. There seems to be something about NASCAR as many viewers openly admit to tuning in purely to see the crashes. The fan's bloodlust in these events extends to driver fights as well, as you can audibly hear people in the stands cheering when punches are being thrown. Certainly stricter behaviour regulation may have even been able to save lives, more specifically the life of Kevin Ward Jr. after he charged across the track in a fit of rage to try and wave down Tony Stewart in a sprint car race, and was tragically hit and killed.
Among today's heavily PR-regulated world of sports, NASCAR seems to set itself apart from the bunch by allowing its drivers more freedom in what they say, their actions and how they represent the sport as a whole. Over here in Australia, NASCAR does not receive a whole lot of coverage, so from what we see, and what is projected on the news, a NASCAR race consists of a series of crashes disguised as a motor race, followed by some drivers having a dust-up, and then going home. It's wildly entertaining, and sets itself apart from the 'I'd-like-to-thank-my-oil-company-and-my-watch-company' drivers that you see in many other series out there. There's a human element that shines through in NASCAR that few other Motorsports seem to be able to capture, and fighting is just one of those aspects of human nature.
Now I'll admit, I don't follow NASCAR in the slightest, or claim to know all that much about it, mainly because I find oval racing less exciting than watching paint dry, but the post-race 'activities' certainly provide a way for NASCAR to get its name in the headlines and a few more clicks on their various websites, and in the world we live in today, that's (pretty much) what it's all about.
Over to you:
Do you think NASCAR should be allowing this sort of thing? Or do you like the fact that drivers are able to come to blows after a race?