Some 40 years ago my old sports editor John Bibb called me into his office and informed me that I was the new racing writer.
I hemmed and hawed, squirmed and wiggled.
I told Bibb I’d never seen a race and had no interest in starting. I explained that I didn’t know anything about cars and gears and motors. I could barely pump my own gas.
Bibb said he didn’t want me to write about cars. He wanted me to write about the colorful crazies who drove them.
He said he didn’t want to read about Darrell Waltrip’s alternator; he wanted to read about what Darrell thought when he blew a tire at 190 mph and landed in Richard Petty’s lap.
I finally agreed to take the “Bubba Beat” on a temporary basis. Four decades later I’m still writing about racing and totally captivated by it.
That long-ago advice Bibb gave me still applies: readers want to read about drivers, not car parts. And the more interesting the drivers, the more interesting the stories.
NASCAR should take heed. It is dangerously close to draining the emotion and the passion from the sport by reining in its racers.
Remember, the first stock car drivers were moonshine runners. They thrived on danger and daring and defying the rules.
What was one of the most defining moments in NASCAR’s 50 years? The 1979 Daytona 500 brawl between Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers.
Who is arguably NASCAR’s all-time greatest driver? The late Dale Earnhardt, whose wrecking-ball racing style earned him the nickname “The Intimidator.”
Earnhardt once was asked about rough racing. “This ain’t tennis,” he growled.
NASCAR didn’t zoom to the top of the charts with finesse. It got there by being a rough and tumble sport with a cast of colorful, swashbuckling characters.
Today there aren’t many racing rowdies. If a driver spits on the track he gets called to the principal’s office.
Tony Stewart is a case in point. Yes, he can be a pain in the neck at times, but he generates interest and excitement. He’s brash and rash and a magnet for controversy.
He’s a character. He’s refreshing. Tony’s tantrums interrupt NASCAR’s naps.
NASCAR better be careful not to over-regulate Tony and the handful of other drivers who show occasional flashes of flair and spirit. If they tame the sport they kill it.
Drivers should be allowed to be Good Ol’ Boys, not forced to become Good Ol’ Choirboys.