Race Weekend Central

Changing the Face of NASCAR to Protect Drivers’ Health

When we head to Homestead in just two more weeks, there will be four teams running for the ultimate trophy in NASCAR–the Sprint Cup. We do say team, don’t we?  Equally often, racing fans talk of the No. 18 team in terms of Kyle Busch, or the No. 88 as Dale Jr.  Thus, when it happens that the face of a championship caliber team is forced to sit down due to an injury, like a concussion, NASCAR Nation is subject to panic.  Because without the driver the future of the whole team will be lost.

It is time to adjust our thinking.

Last week researchers at Boston University released their findings that Kevin Turner, a former New England Patriots Fullback who had been diagnosed with ALS, actually died this past March of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.  He was 46.  This is just the latest medical finding that illustrates just how pervasive concussions are in the sports world and how many athletes have performed while injured over the years.

As a society, we have spent the past fifty years admiring the man who could work past his current injuries and still outperform other healthy competitors.  We taught our children and ourselves that it was more important to suck it up and stick it out rather than seek medical attention for real and serious health problems.  This mindset is prevalent in every segment of our daily lives.  How often do we head out to work while suffering from the flu because we don’t want to be known as the one who calls out, meanwhile we are spreading disease and slowing our own recovery.

We have taught our children to follow these self-sacrificing examples every time we told them it was just a bump on the head.  They’d be fine.

Meanwhile, those heroes who played the hardest and lived through the pain are spending their final years in excruciating pain.

The fact is in our modern age the idea that the loss of a single individual for one or a few days can be easily compensated by their trusted team of co-workers.  Even if it’s the boss who succumbs to an illness a properly functioning workplace can carry the load for a short time without their leader.

The driver in a NASCAR team is really a single cog in the racing machine.  While the advertisers and sponsors might have a fit if their multi-million dollar face doesn’t manage to make the race, the fact is that the No. 24 or the No. 14 would likely perform reasonably well with a different driver behind the wheel for a couple races. The team, if they are worthy of a Cup, is built of many talented people that come together to create a car that is fast and can be driven by an elite pilot.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. may be the face of NASCAR, but he is not the lifeblood of the No. 88. Brad Keselowski, who has been very vocal decrying the newly instituted concussion protocols, is not the defining factor of whether the No. 2 will be able to make a run for the Cup in any given season.

By continuing to place the driver as the focal point of any NASCAR team, we will continue to question the validity of medical science and the severity of diagnoses in favor of making sure a familiar face keeps their appointment for the cameras every Sunday afternoon. How very selfish.

That person, every person, deserves the opportunity to chase their dreams.  They also deserve the right to live a long and healthy life, able to take time out of their harried schedules to recover when their job asks too much of their bodies.

Embracing the findings regarding concussion that continue to surface from the medical community is our opportunity as a society to place an individual’s life above our desires.

Let’s stop treating our athletes like machines that can run forever without breaking down.  Leave those expectations to their cars. Let’s all have a long, happy life.  Every one of us.


You have got to admit that Eddie Gossage has a great nose for an awesome gift.  Last year, the President of Texas Motor Speedway awarded Jeff Gordon a pair of ponies as a parting gift.  You have to admit, while handing over living creatures as a token of affection can be a dubious decision, it was certainly memorable.

Well, Gossage did it again.  For Tony Stewart’s grand retirement gift, Eddie gave a life-sized bobblehead to Smoke.  Yep…it really did bobble. Here’s how it was made! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxCs6JKJWtg



About the author

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via