During the past week we have seen video clips of NASCAR racers Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell taking wild rides as they raced Midget Sprint Cars in New Zealand. And as is often the case whenever high-profile drivers are involved in incidents away from NASCAR, the opinions regarding whether they should have even been participating arise.
Larson emerged from his accident a bit battered and bruised with a black eye being the obvious sign that something had gone wrong. Despite that, he continued to race and to win “Down Under”.
For his part, Bell left New Zealand and headed back home with some reports saying he was told to leave by his management team while other reports say that he chose to return to the U.S. on his own.
It’s easy to argue that NASCAR drivers, particularly Cup Series regulars, should not take part in such events as Midget races in New Zealand, the Chili Bowl Nationals held each January in Oklahoma, and even the Knoxville Nationals. Obviously, there is the risk of injury in such races.
On the other hand, an argument could be made that the driver’s mental state is every bit as important as his/her physical state. Larson, Bell and earlier stars such as Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne have maintained that racing in other types of events not only keeps them sharp but also makes them happy.
Likely no one argue that job performance improves when the worker’s is in a good frame of mind, no matter what the profession.
After all, racers like to race. And that fact is not only true of those who cut their racing teeth on dirt but also of those whose past experiences go back to road courses or paved short tracks. Keeping the idea that having a happy driver is important to overall job performance, taking that away from them could be more risky over the long term than just going ahead and letting them do what they love.
But if the argument is going to be made that a NASCAR Cup Series driver should not be allowed to race on dirt should it not also be made that those same drivers should not be permitted to drive any other type of race car? Consider that some of the most serious injuries to drivers apart from the Cup Series did not come on dirt.
Kyle Busch badly injured his legs in a NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona back in 2015. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had to go to a hospital after the Corvette he was driving in an American LeMans Series race on the road course at Sonoma caught fire. For that matter, Larson was extremely lucky to not be seriously hurt in a crash on the last lap of an Xfinity race at Daytona in 2013.
For whatever reason, there seem to be some who are offended by the fact that a few NASCAR drivers want to race on dirt. But then again, the reverse can be said of some dirt enthusiasts who are very much biased against anything NASCAR related. So, at least for some, this sentiment against drivers in other forms of racing is more of a NASCAR vs. dirt issue as much as anything else.
But a bigger issue involved in this conversation is the feeling of sponsors and team owners regarding Cup Series drivers competing in other forms of racing. In some instances, the sponsors may see an opportunity for cross marketing to both fan bases. But in situations where such an opportunity does not exist, a NASCAR team’s backer might more reluctant to allow such moonlighting.
Obviously, that is a significant point.
Sponsorship approval issues aside, if a NASCAR Cup Series driver wants to race on dirt, in the 24 Hours of Daytona, or in the Snowball Derby the risks are hardly greater than allowing them to participate in the Xfinity Series, the NASCAR Gander Outdoors & RV Truck Series, or just about any other form of racing.
The bigger risk may actually come from holding them back and creating a disgruntled employee whose job performance might fall off.
Bottom line- if they want to race, let them race as long as there are no direct conflicts with the Cup Series obligations.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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