March 23, 2010
At Tuesday's testing at Charlotte, Harvick had some harsh words for the media in the wake of last week's mini-feud with Carl Edwards, where Harvick called Edwards "fake as hell" on a radio show and Edwards retaliated that he had "absolutely no respect" for Harvick. When asked about whether he was one of NASCAR's "agitators," as Darrell Waltrip called him, he replied:
"You guys just want it both ways," he said. "You want it so where we give you our opinion and then you guys bury us after we give it to you to make everybody look as bad as possible. It's one of those things where you say something and it goes as far as everybody wants to take it. I have an opinion on a lot of things."
Now, Harvick's frustration is understandable -- I've had plenty of my own opinions misrepresented in this space, and it's beyond annoying -- but in his anger, Harvick totally misses the overall point. NASCAR is all about drama. I'll take one Harvick or Stewart, media hatred and all, over 50 bland "I'd like to thank my sponsor ... " drivers -- and so would every other NASCAR fan.
Walk around the infield at a track sometime. Pick a fan, any fan. Ask them why they like their driver. Fifty bucks says they won't reply, "I approve of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s fuel conservation techniques on 1.5-mile tracks" or "I'm impressed by Jimmie Johnson's ability to negotiate the hairpin turns of Martinsville" or "I find Tony Stewart's pit strategy to be a fine example of efficient time management." No, it's much more visceral than that.
Fans see a part of themselves in their favorite driver. They're not interested in the minutiae of his statistical successes and failures; they appreciate him for his style on and off the track, the way he handles himself in traffic and in conversation. That sounds a whole lot like a "soap opera" to me -- and there's nothing wrong with it at all. Dale Earnhardt's nickname wasn't "The Draft-Management Expert," now was it?
Look, I'll freely admit that it's got to be tough being constantly in the public eye. And the idea of having millions of eyes on you during the most stressful moments of your week -- or your career -- has to be daunting indeed. When your utterances of frustration become front-page news, that's got to wear on you.
By the same token, every single driver knows what the deal is going in. It's not like the public fascination with rivalries and drivers' lives is something new; that dates back to the earliest days racing on the Daytona sands. Personalities created NASCAR; to claim they don't have a role in its present and future is just flat-out wrong.
Here's the thing -- fan interest isn't something you can just turn on and turn off. To paraphrase Harvick, drivers just want it both ways. They want to use the media to shill their latest sponsor campaigns, and then they act shocked when people are more interested in last week's fight than this week's paint scheme. Sorry, guys, but if we want to know about your exciting new sponsor, we'll read the press release; we want to hear how you're going to handle that guy who put you in the wall last week.
Bottom line, nobody watches races to study loop data or track pit-road speeds. (At least, nobody that's not being paid.) We watch because every Sunday is another chapter in an ongoing storyline that's unlike any other in sports. The drivers are the lead actors, yes, but we've all got a role. That's what makes it so damn much fun.
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