Current Event Friday #99

Inappropriate language during video games is a no-no

Another week is ending, and for one NASCAR racer their employment has ended. Today’s #CurrentEventFriday is all about what led to their firing and other consequences stemming from an unwise decision earlier this week.

Kyle Larson, NASCAR driver, fired from racing team - CNN
Kyle Larson, former driver of the Chip Ganassi Racing #42 Car

Kyle Larson has been a top driver in NASCAR’s highest series the Monster Energy Cup Series since he joined the circuit. After finding success in the Xfinity & Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, Larson earned a spot with Chip Ganassi Racing at the highest level in 2014. He earned Rookie of the Year awards in 2013 in the Xfinity Series and 2014 Rookie of the Year in the Monster Energy Series. Sadly, all that wasn’t enough for Chip Ganassi Racing to continue employing him after a mistake Sunday evening.

While virtual racing in the iRacing race on Sunday, Larson’s virtual car made contact with another car. Larson became frustrated with his spotter who had failed to inform him of the nearby car. Venting his frustration, he then yelled at the spotter while using a 6-letter racial slur beginning with ‘N’ which was heard by everyone watching the race. Another driver reminded him that the communications were not on a private team channel.

Larson apologized after the race for his language, but it was not enough. NASCAR announced Monday they would be pursuing action against Larson for the error. Several of his sponsors in the next days terminated their relationship with him including Target, Chevrolet, and Clover Financial. NASCAR suspended Larson indefinitely on Monday along with Chip Ganassi Racing. Tuesday, Chip Ganassi then announced that they had terminated Larson’s employment with the team.

Obviously, this was a dumb mistake for Larson. What’s interesting is that Larson is half Asian and earned a spot in NASCAR through its Drive for Diversity Campaign. So, obviously Larson has to know that NASCAR values racial and gender diversity. Besides that, you shouldn’t utter racial slurs anyways. Some have tried to soften Larson’s language arguing that rappers use the word often in their songs, other athletes use language in games, and other drivers use similar or worse language on their radios. That’s a logical fallacy called ‘what-aboutism’ that tries to deflect responsibility away from the guilty party because someone else does similar negative things.

The fallout has also brought attention to fans who aren’t exactly thrilled with the iRacing format that NASCAR is promoting while dealing with social distancing restrictions. Last week, Bubba Wallace quit the race after wrecking and was fined for his failure to continue the race. Critics of the virtual races point out that these are not official NASCAR events, so NASCAR has little to no authority for what happens during these races.

I would guess that Larson will eventually be reinstated by NASCAR and join with another team, and the suspension might overlap with the same time that NASCAR is not holding physical races since the timing would be comparable. I’m also surprised that the punishment has been this serious. Even drivers who have been arrested for DUI weren’t fired by their team or suspended indefinitely by NASCAR like Larson. Considering DUI and other acts are criminal and don’t result in such punishments, Larson’s is surprising. Chip Ganassi Racing will be able to weather the changeover as well thanks to the physical racing hiatus. This will afford them time to reach out to veteran or development drivers to finish the season in the car. One possible replacement is Ross Chastain who has filled in for Ryan Newman after the Daytona 500 crash that resulted in Newman’s hospitalization. Chastain has already had success with Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity Series and has driven for teams with affiliations to Chip Ganassi Racing. With Larson having had success at all levels, I could see Hendrick Motorsports offering him a ride after this season when Jimmie Johnson retires at the end of the season. Other drivers have stated that they believe Larson deserves a second chance. Bubba Wallace, an African-American driver has acknowledged that he didn’t appreciate the language Larson used, but that Larson deserves a second chance. With his talent, Larson will likely receive that opportunity sooner than later.

Did the punishment fit for Kyle Larson’s conduct?

History Monday #42

The saddest day in NASCAR is the topic of #HistoryMonday.

It’s the start of a new week, and thankfully for many sports fans like me the start of a new season. As the NFL season ended a few weeks ago and MLB hasn’t started, at least NASCAR began yesterday. What’s remarkable about NASCAR, is that their biggest and most hyped race begins the season at Daytona International Speedway with the Daytona 500. It’s that race and a tragic ending that is the focus of today’s #HistoryMonday.
Nearly two decades ago, in 2001 in the closing lap of the race a multi-car crash cost the life of one of the sport’s most popular drivers—Dale Earnhardt, Sr. Multi-car crashes at Daytona are not uncommon with these crashes being labeled ‘The Big One’ due to the fact that the cars are packed and sometimes involve a quarter to a third of the field. Yesterday’s running featured several ‘Big One’ crashes as drivers were attempting to improve their positions.
The last lap was being led by Michael Waltrip, driver of the no. 15 car owned by Earnhardt was leading the race followed by the number 8 of Dale Earnhardt, Jr in a second car owned by Earnhardt, Sr. and in third, the owner of said cars trying to hold off the rest of the field and help insure that the rest of the field might not reach them and place in the top three positions as owner and driver.
As Earnhardt, Sr. in his No. 3 Chevrolet ran in the middle lane of the pack Sterling Marlin in the No. 40 Dodge, moved from behind Earnhardt to the lower lane of the track. Close by, Rusty Wallace drove his No. 2 Penske Racing Ford behind Earnhardt, and Ken Schrader ran in the outside lane driving the No. 36 Pontiac. as the field headed into turn 4, Marlin came into contact with the left rear on Earnhardt’s car, causing the No. 3 to slide off the track’s steep banking onto the flat apron. Trying to correct at speed, Earnhardt sharply turned it up the track toward the outside retaining wall. Although it briefly looked as if he was going to avoid hitting the retaining wall, Earnhardt went right into Schrader’s path and Schrader rammed into him behind the passenger door causing Earnhardt’s car to snap, rapidly changing its angle toward the wall. As Schrader came into contact, Earnhardt crashed into the wall nose-first at an estimated speed of 155–160 mph. Both cars slid down the steep banking off the track and into the infield grass.
Impact of Earnhardt’s car with the wall
Per NASCAR rules after a crash, Earnhardt was extricated from his car and was transported by ambulance to the nearby Halifax Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 5:16pm EST, reportedly surrounded by his wife Teresa, his team owner and closest friend Richard Childress, and his son Earnhardt, Jr. The official announcement of Earnhardt’s death was made at about 7:00pm EST by NASCAR president Mike Helton.
fast forward
Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s death in 2001 was the 4th NASCAR driver to die in 9 months and drew much attention to NASCAR’s safety efforts and how this crash caused his death in light of his previous crashes. Earnhardt previously suffered a gruesome crash in the 1997 Daytona 500. The car he was driving flipped upside down on the backstretch. By a miracle, he was able to escape serious injury in this running of the Daytona 500.
After Earnhardt’s death, NASCAR began an intensive focus on safety that has seen the organization mandate the use of Head-And-Neck-Safety (HANS) restraints, oversee the installation of SAFER barriers at oval tracks, set rigorous new inspection rules for seats and seat-belts, develop a roof-hatch escape system, and the Car of Tomorrow—which eventually led to the development of a next-generation race car built with extra driver safety in mind. Since Earnhardt’s death, no Cup series driver has died during competition even in the midst of other crashes. In particular, the SAFER barrier uses foam padding and tension-springs between concrete panels surrounding the track has reduced serious injury. This innovative approach to creating a barrier allows the car to distribute momentum and causes the wall to absorb the energy rather than remaining in the car.
Besides the safety innovations, Earnhardt’s legacy was even further enhanced posthumously. While Earnhardt was already famous and well-regarded by the fans, the memorial efforts have established a near-canonization of him. Additionally, Earnhardt’s son became as legendary as his father. Since fans of the elder Earnhardt were unable to cheer for him, they transferred their fandom upon his progeny. Other fans shifted allegiance to the driver tabbed to replace Earnhardt at Richard Childress Racing—Kevin Harvick.
While NASCAR does not retire car numbers like the other Big 3 sports, the No. 3 was retired for several years by Richard Childress Racing until 2013 when team owner Richard Childress’s grandson Austin Dillon was announced to be driving the No. 3.
Earnhardt’s death also resulted in two feature motion pictures detailing his life. The first was a 2004 made-for-tv movie entitled 3: The Dale Earnhardt Story produced by ESPN. This featured Barry Pepper playing Earnhardt. The second was a 2007 documentary entitled Dale and narrated by Paul Newman. This film featured archived footage and interviews from fellow drivers about Earnhardt.
Earnhardt’s legacy can still be seen at the racetrack with throwback paint schemes. Several Richard Childress Racing entries have featured paint schemes resembling historical paint schemes driven by Earnhardt. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. also has ran throwback schemes to honor his late father and even his late grandfather.
What do you remember of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and his career in NASCAR?