It didn’t catch a lot of publicity, but one of the most interesting stories from a wet weekend in Charlotte were a pair of town hall meetings NASCAR officials held with its owners and drivers.
Sure, it was prompted by pressure from drivers and the media (who were outspoken in criticism of NASCAR’s secretive drug policy), but it’s a step in the right direction. By opening up the lines of communication, maybe the racing can get better and NASCAR will be a little more open with its sometimes clandestine enforcement policies.
NASCAR Chairman Brian France and President Mike Helton led the meeting, which also was attended by Executive Vice President Lesa France Kennedy and seven other NASCAR officials. NASCAR Vice President Jim Hunter said there were more than 50 drivers, owners and team representatives in attendance.
“I think today was a really great step toward Brian (France), Lesa (Kennedy) and all those folks answering questions and taking some criticism and explaining why some things are like they are and giving everybody a chance to speak up,” Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said. “I think if we can do more of these … we can see that we all can work together to make this thing better. There’s a lot of smart people in that garage area.”
Among drivers who elected to comment after the meetings, Mark Martin and Ryan Newman each said the openess concerning the drug policy, which was scrutinized in the Jeremy Mayfield incident, was refreshing. For fans, the news that NASCAR seems to be willing to discuss tweaks to its new car has to be encouraging. It certainly was to the drivers.
“It was interesting to hear different people’s opinions about the speeds of the cars, what the racing would be like if we didn’t have as much horsepower,” Newman said. “In the end, to me personally, it’s important to have driver control. Driver control is what we’re out there to see. Mr. Helton said that a true sport is where the athletes can do things that people on the street can’t. The more we have control of the cars as drivers, the better the racing.”
Added Martin, “No solutions, but a lot of great ideas. And I’m really expecting NASCAR to formulate little groups to really drive a lot of different issues, sort of task-force groups that would include the drivers and the owners.”
Some are suggesting this is just a way for NASCAR to stop some of the negative publicity which has been hitting it in recent weeks. We’ll see. The way I look at it, by actually getting the owners and drivers involved, a process has been started that NASCAR would be foolish to end prematurely.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...