Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito?: Vito Pugliese Rejoins Frontstretch Staff After NASCAR Break

Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but the reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated – and now much lamented. To quell any concerns amongst our loyal readership regarding my Houdini act over the last three months, I was not issued a secret fine, nor put on probation by NASCAR. I was not fired or reprimanded for saying something that was not in accordance with the wishes of the website or sanctioning body. Quite simply, I was taking a break.

It’s kind of good to do that from time to time. Prevents burnout, complete mental meltdowns or firing off Twitter pics of one’s self clad only in a bath towel.

During the course of the last six months I have been training and pursuing opportunities within the law enforcement community while also in the midst of a professional transition. Both of these required more hours, energy and commitment than I had readily available, so I was forced to take a little bit of a breather from babbling about racecars for a while.

Now that I have a badge, body armor and a .40 Glock stuffed with 165-grain Federal Tactical Bonded jacketed hollow points, it’s back to business as usual. With NASCAR returning to my backyard this weekend, however, I will be back in full force, providing coverage from Michigan International Speedway and eating a lot of track president Roger Curtis’s donuts.

Until somebody can provide convincing evidence to me that apple fritters are a precursor to prostate problems, this practice will continue.

Don’t get things twisted though – just because I was not writing does not mean I have not been watching, dissecting or taking notes. Here are a list of things in particular that have caused me to blow a couple of gaskets over the course of the last few weeks:

Kyle Busch’s Speeding Ticket: You just knew this was going to be fodder for the Shrub Haters when it happened. While joy riding – errr –evaluating a new Lexus LF-A supercar (the $375,000 equivalent of a Ferrari 599 Fiorano), Busch was clocked at 128 mph and the racing world lost their mind.

More was made of that incident than there was of Nationwide Series driver Michael Annett getting popped for a DUI before the season started, or even Scott Wimmer a few years ago when he barrel rolled his Dodge Ram through a highway sign, then fled the scene of an accident. He was eventually found hiding from the police, cowering behind his bed like an 8-year old who accidentally busted a window with a baseball – which prompted his wife to get into it with the arresting officers.

The car Busch was driving can accelerate from the posted speed limit of 45 mph to the recorded velocity of 128 mph in a matter of a few seconds – and stop again. I am by no means condoning it, but the media circus surrounding it was a bit much and meldoramatic at best. It was by definition reckless driving (without a wreck?) – but not manslaughter, which by the reaction you would have think it was.

The same self-righteousness that was displayed by some was conspicuously absent whenever the whimsical reminiscing of certain other NASCAR personalities were driving recklessly with cars loaded with contraband, evading and eluding in violation of Federal law.

Or one well-known story that involved getting loaded and racing Jimmy Spencer on the streets around Mooresville, N.C. one night in old pickup trucks.

I have first hand knowledge over 15 years ago of the same speed being attained by both a 1973 Dodge Challenger and a 1972 Plymouth ‘Cuda– not exactly the brightest thing in the world on any roadway, particularly when piloted by two individuals who had neither the skill of a professional racecar driver or vehicles with the capabilities of Toyota’s techno-laden super sled.

It turns out leaky axle seals, torsion bars, leaf springs, and drum brakes aren’t up the LF-A’s standards. Again, I would never condone these actions and am in no way glorifying or justifying them in any way. Besides, the statute of limitations has since expired and there is no video evidence available. And it took place in Mexico.

Richard Childress Fine, Newman’s Secret Fine, Have It Boys – Safely: The headlines read “Childress Attacks Busch”; they might as well have read, “Cranky Old Rich Guy Beats Up Young Rich Guy.” Richard Childress was issued a $150,000 fine for assault and battery against Kyle Busch; not unlike when Spencer blasted Busch’s brother in the face following contact at Michigan in 2003.

$150k is a small fortune to most of us, but a pittance to the likes of Childress who a couple of years ago was sweating not getting his annual $10 million payment from General Motors that got axed in the midst of the largest company in the world tanking. Apparently Childress had sternly warned Busch not to get near his racecars ever again – which is kind of amusing since one of Childress’s former drivers built a career, persona and millions of dollars in t-shirt sales from wrecking people on purpose.

Hey, didn’t Childress’s driver and chief antagonist Kevin Harvick get parked for a weekend by NASCAR once for intentionally wrecking Busch’s car owner’s son in a Truck race? Hmmm.

Not to beat a dead horse, but again, this is the same sport that was built upon evading both federal law enforcement officers and lengthy prison sentences. “Have At It, Boys” back in the early days meant that your toolbox contained a .38 Special with some semi-wad cutters as well as a micrometer and torque wrench. Lee Petty’s wife once thunked Tiny Lund over the head with her purse, which contained said sidearm, while Tiny had both Lee and Richard by the throat like Andre The Giant in Wrestlemania III. As Lund released both and slumped to the ground he muttered, “well at least one of the Pettys knows how to fight.”

Between Busch and Childress, Newman and Montoya, and Harvick versus whoever he hates this week, do we really need to be making that big of a deal out of things? Way back when it was bootleggers chasing each other with wrenches and axles shafts. Now it’s rich guys bopping one another in the garage or the NASCAR trailer. No, NASCAR doesn’t like it – officially. It gets people talking about the sport and maintains the interest, but it also doesn’t do much to deter the comparisons to professional wrestling.

Which may not be such a bad thing. With the untimely passing of Macho Man Randy Savage – my all-time favorite personality in sports entertainment (or sports in general…), maybe it’s time for somebody to launch themselves off a stack of tires and drop a big elbow on someone, and really make a scene of things. DIG IT!

Reporters Not Knowing History: During the course of the last few weeks, two NASCAR media types (who will remain nameless) both drew parallels between the people they were interviewing or discussing to famed World War II General George Scott Patton. However, in both instances, each individual referred to him as George “C.” Patton.

Let’s pump the brakes here fellas, and back up that M4 Sherman.

George S. Patton is the General who distracted the Axis Powers from the actual landing point of the Allied Invasion of 1944 and beat back the Nazis in the Battle of the Bulge, and whose troops liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp.

George C. Scott is the actor who portrayed America’s greatest battlefield commander in the film Patton and who famously refused to accept the Oscar for Best Actor in 1971.

Now that has been cleared up, let’s get back to racing. Looking forward to writing, receiving your comments and emails, and seeing you at the track. Except that one guy.

About the author


Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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