Tuesday, November 13, 2012


By now every race geek has read about or seen the fight between Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon and their crews after Gordon crashed Bowyer and Joey Logano out of the running at the Advocare 500 in Phoenix. As NASCAR brawls go it was pretty epic, if only because of the number of bodies involved.

Judging by the online commenting, reactions are split pretty much 70/30 between folks who think this is NASCAR as usual, and those solemnly disappointed in Bowyer, Gordon and their crews for reminding us why Talladega Nights can be watched like a documentary. The only people we haven't heard from are NASCAR fans who thought the Bowyer/Gordon dust-up was the best goddamn thing about the whole race. That's probably because the keyboard on the computer they bought from their cousin Tyrell is in French or some other goddamn language - what in hell's a qwerty, anyway. Hey - I kid!

(But seriously - did Gordon's crew chief really say "If you're going to mess with the bull, you're going to get the horns"? Shake and bake!)

It might have been epic, but it wasn't anywhere near as important as the 1979 fight that saw two good ol' boys lunge and flail at each other on the infield at Daytona. I'm talking about the fisty contretemps between Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison that made front page news across America, mostly because it happened at the conclusion of a race that was the first 500-miler to be broadcast in full, to a largely captive audience in a third of the country thanks to a snowstorm.

The prelude wasn't terribly different from the wreck that took Bowyer and Gordon out of their race - Yarborough and Donnie Allison were fighting for position when Cale's car lost control and collided with Allison, taking them both out of the race. Donnie's brother stopped to offer him a ride back to the pits, but there was bad blood brewing between Cale and the Allisons and they decided to turn the vast bowl of Daytona's infield into the late night gravel parking lot outside a roadhouse. And America got to watch.

Hell, it was such a big deal that someone wrote a whole book about the era - Yarborough and the Allisons, Dale Earnhardt, Darrel Waltrip and Richard Petty, and how nobody knew it at the time, but this was the moment when NASCAR went mega, expanding outside of its southern fan base and making the France family even richer than they were. All thanks to Cale and Bobby having a messy little slap-up in the muddy grass at Daytona. (It's a pretty good book, too.)

If you were going to compare NASCAR with F1, you might want to contrast Bowyer and Gordon with the aftermath of the first turn crash at the Belgium Grand Prix this year, where Romain Grosjean took out two of the race leaders before they'd finished a single lap. Here's a picture of Lewis Hamilton having very strong words with Grosjean just afterward:

Note: At no point did anyone call anyone else an inbred peckerwood.
I believe this was preceded by Hamilton pointing at his head in the universal gesture for "Are you out of your fucking mind?" This was followed by a very tense minute as Hamilton and Grosjean walked silently back to their pits. Silently. I can only imagine that Fernando Alonso might have been even more miffed, especially as Grosjean very nearly took off his head. Which he needs.

The first U.S. Grand Prix is running this weekend in Austin, and everybody is acting like there's never been a grand prix race in the United States before. (Like at Sebring or Riverside or Watkins Glen or Long Beach or Detroit or Dallas or Indianapolis, say.) Jalopnik in particular is making a big deal out of educating Stateside race fans with a primer informing them that while the rules might be a bit complex and the cars aren't supposed to make contact, you can still enjoy it anyway if you edumacate yourself a little bit and accompany it with a healthy snack.

Which is all a bit of an exercise in snobbery until you realize that, yes, NASCAR fans do tend to get a bit rowdy, drink perhaps a little too much beer, and relish crashes a bit more than is probably wholesome. But you can't blame them when you're faced with at least a couple of hours of "accelerate - shift - accelerate - shift - turn left - turn left - turn left" for the vast majority of the season. If drivers and crew monkeys want to liven that up a bit by making things physical, then at least you might have one of life's great questions answered: Can 5-Hour Energy Drink beat DuPont in a fight?

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