"Old School" In A Kinder, Gentler "New School" World
August 31, 1999 - By Glen Grissom, Country.com
Quit picking on Dale Earnhardt for his "old school" gladiatorial move on Terry Labonte at the end of the Goody's 500 at that Roman coliseum of racetracks -- Bristol. I thought I was watching a finish from the pre-corporate Stock car days when racers raced and let the sheetmetal pile up where it may -- back when racing wasn't about the "Benjamins" and was about glory and who was the better man.
So he turned Labonte. Earnhardt ain't an accountant out there -- he's paid to win and live with the consequences. According to Jimmy Spencer, the Ironman met the Ironhead on the last lap at Bristol. We all found out (again) that there is no one in the world (now that Ayrton Senna is gone) with the desire to win at any cost like Dale Earnhardt. He'd bunt his own mother into the weeds (are you listening Dale Jr.) if her car were in the way of a win.
We're not watching a namby-pamby golf game out there. I admire that he still has enough desire to pull out such a punting move on a short track in the first place. He and his family can't spend all the money he's making; he's got seven Cup championships; he doesn't have to prove anything to anyone (except himself); he's surrounded by "new school" drivers that are more corporate spokesman than racer; and yet after 20 years of hammering around on the premier Stock car circuit in the land, he still has the white-hot desire to take no prisoners when the checkers are in front of him.
Oh, we'll have all the hand-wringers and towel-holders who'll claim it was a last lap "cheap shot" on Labonte. It's not like we or his fellow competitors haven't seen this patented Dale Earnhardt rabbit-punch before. Just ask, let's see ... ah, anybody who's raced against him. Well, OK he hasn't touched Elliott Sadler, but that's only because Elliott is usually behind him.
Can they honestly say that Terry Labonte wouldn't have applied the "chrome horn" to the #3 if their positions were reversed? What racer worth his Nomex (R) skivvies wouldn't have? Labonte made a tactical error, which he probably won't do again, by getting in front of Earnhardt on the last lap. Don't think that racing lesson wasn't lost on the other drivers. You want your fenders right behind him in such a case, not in front of him.
And we'll have all the politicians who'll cry that NASCAR should penalize him post-race. Their motivation for doing so is lost on me. What's the gain in that? The series needed something to wake it up this season as clean-cut and clean-driving Dale Jarrett marches to a championship. NASCAR's legacy is built on classic rivalries and Earnhardt versus everybody will do just fine. Besides, the drivers will apply any "corrective" actions to one of there own when the time and place make themselves apparent.
So, stand back and revel in the fact that there's still one of NASCAR's old bulls with horns snorting around the track, before all the corporate pretty boys completely overrun the series.
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