A long held theory of mine was substantiated this week by Jeff Gordon.
He said, in essence, that the lot at each track where the drivers park their weekend motorhome away from home could have an impact on the race track. And he avoids that so as to avoid a warm feeling that might cause him to reconsider -- just for a split-second -- slamming the door or squeezing by a guy on the track just because they are friends.
“I see other drivers grilling out together, and their kids playing together,” Gordon told USA Today. “I don’t see many 'A' list drivers doing that. When I get to the track, I’m business. I know in order to do my job, I’m going to have to [tick] somebody off. And it could be someone I’m friends with, and I don’t want to take it personally. It’s hard not to take it that way.”
I agree. Having started in this sport when Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and a young Dale Earnhardt were making their marks, I assure you standing around the open flame discussing the finer points of prime versus choice meat was never a consideration. To this day, almost 25 years after their last race against each other, Allison and Waltrip “spit” each others names when telling their racing stories. The heat in the room goes up when two or more of these guys meet up still today.
But it’s hard to have the killer instinct on the track when you know you are going to have steaks with the guy in the infield a couple hours later.
While we see bitterness and rivalry returning to the sport this year -- think Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, Gordon and both Martin Truex Jr. and Elliott Sadler -- it still seems to not be as sharp-edged as the rivalries from years gone by.
An answer would be to do away with the motor coach lot at the speedways and cause the drivers to stay in area hotels. That’s where, as a fan, I sought out Petty and met him as a teenager. Of course, that’s partly why they don’t stay at hotels any longer -- because of the loss of privacy.
But that’s not going to happen. The infield motor coach lot is here to stay.
But you can take it to the bank that Yarborough and Allison only ran across each other in the infield of a race track just once. At Daytona in 1979. Just inside Turn 3, where the two started swinging fists after Yarborough and Donnie Allison crashed on the final lap of the Daytona 500. As Bobby said, “Cale just kept hitting my knuckles with his nose.”
Maybe that’s the way it ought to be today.