Skip to content

Passion in racing is powerful, good, and needed more in 2014

Jan 20, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

John Force and daughter Brittany are both chasing championships this season: John is seeking a record 17th Funny Car title, while Brittany wants her first career Top Fuel crown. AP

As a generally good gauge of the public consciousness at any particular moment, Twitter tends to erupt in moments of controversy, outrage or shock value. In the racing world, that’s usually after a big crash, a questionable team order issued on track or a jaw-dropping “Did you see that?!?” pass.

But back outside the racing bubble, the thing that made Twitter blow up yesterday was Richard Sherman’s now-infamous post-game interview following the Seattle Seahawks’ win in the NFC Championship Game. Sherman was, as you’d expect, purely jacked up on adrenaline after a game in which he’d made a game-saving defense of a Colin Kaepernick pass, which caused an interception. And he exploded.

Still, the man has a Master’s degree from Stanford and writes a weekly column for Peter King’s TheMMQB.com, so he’s clearly no dummy. He’s a bright individual, a talented player and able to enter into a state during the game where he can be so intense after the game, that it all came flying out in the immediate moments after it finished.

Motorsports has those moments, but they’re rarer. The immediate post-crash interview comes to mind, if a driver has only just got back to his pit and speaks to a pit reporter.

In IndyCar for example, I don’t remember the specifics of most 2013 victory lane interviews, but I do remember Will Power saying of Sebastien Bourdais, “He once was a champ, now he’s a chump” after the two collided at Detroit back in June. I remember when Scott Dixon went off at IndyCar Race Control in succession at Sonoma and Baltimore, which was even crazier because the Kiwi is so calm and collected.

Sadly, both Power and Dixon were penalized for their emotional outbursts. Power’s this past year was probation while Dixon got probation and earned a $30,000 fine. Power got the same fine in 2011 after his infamous – but legendary – “double-bird salute” to former Race Director Brian Barnhart at the series’ race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.

If IndyCar is going to be in the headlines beyond the bubble which it currently exists, it needs that emotional moment – likely more than one – and it needs to not carry a penalty for expressing it in the heat of battle. I have to admit I’ve changed my stance on this. For consistency’s sake, enforcing the same penalty year-on-year made sense, and as Power and others had been docked for previous infractions, Dixon was justifiably fined last year to match. It’s a new year though, and with it comes a fresh opportunity to right this in the rulebook.

Emotion in other series is also hard to find. We often think of modern-day Formula One drivers as corporate, emotionless automatons devoid of the lady-killing charisma of James Hunt or the “don’t care what we say” attitudes of a Jacques Villeneuve or Eddie Irvine – two drivers I grew up with in my F1 fandom infancy in the ’90s. Truth of the matter is they aren’t, but that can be the stereotype from the outside.

Still, when Kimi Raikkonen answers a question in the old school, “don’t care” mentality with six or seven words or when Sebastian Vettel does donuts after winning, we dig it because it allows them to be them and it’s freeing from the shackles of being reined in by their corporate overlords.

NASCAR interviews are probably the worst for this. You often can’t get through a victory lane interview – which usually occurs after a TV ad break and delays the spontaneity to begin with – without the first half of the quote being some variation of “Oh man, I just want to thank Pepsi, Doritos, Taco Bell, KFC, Chevrolet, Mr. Owner, ‘Slugger’ and the crew,” before you get to any tangible sound that actually describes how you won the race. Or, more importantly, how it feels to win the race.

I get that the sponsor parade is a necessary evil of the victory lane interview, but I’d love to see more erupting in pure emotion first, then getting to your sponsors second. Want to talk about how to do a NASCAR victory lane interview? Watch Kurt Busch, in an unsponsored car, winning the July 2012 Nationwide Series race at Daytona for the underdog James Finch team. And take notes. (Wait, maybe being unsponsored is the key to this victory lane thing…)

Or, alternatively, just watch any John Force interview over the last two decades. Yes, the man is one of the greatest drag racers who has ever lived with 16 NHRA Funny Car championships. But he’s as widely revered as he is within the motorsports world as much for his mouth as his 4-second blasts at 300-plus mph.

There’s a reason Talladega Nights is as funny as it is, because Will Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby lampoons the sponsor-laden culture of NASCAR and comes up with a pair of catchphrases in Victory Lane: “Shake ‘n Bake,” and “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” To this day, those two are still part of the lexicon.

In today’s entertainment-over-populated, soundbite-heavy world, the simple fact is competition itself is not going to get racing back into the public sphere beyond the series’ bubbles. If it did, IndyCar would be the most popular and widely watched form of motorsports in North America.

It’s going to take a series of moments throughout 2014 of passion … of pure joy … of anger … of “What the hell did they just say?!?” to help propel any of the racing disciplines to greater heights.

Because if racing has moments in 2014 that catch on like Richard Sherman’s last night, that will only help to collectively grow the sport.

Latest Posts
  1. Rossi: American support will get me to F1 (VIDEO)

    Oct 31, 2014, 7:15 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Russia - Practice Getty Images

    Speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton, America’s great F1 hopeful speaks about recent events at Marussia and his hopes for the future.

  2. Austin FP2: View from the ground

    Oct 31, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT

    COTAwide AP

    An on-the-ground perspective of the speed, sound and crowd from Austin second practice.

  3. Racing legend Dan Gurney earns one of rarest and most prestigious awards for lifetime achievements (video)

    Oct 31, 2014, 6:59 PM EDT

    (Courtesy The Henry Ford) (Courtesy The Henry Ford)

    Very few race car drivers deserve to be called “legendary.” Dan Gurney is most definitely one of those, and was honored this week with the Edison-Ford Medal for his incomparable lifetime achievements.

  4. Verstappen impressive once again in second F1 run-out

    Oct 31, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-F1-US-PRACTICE Getty Images

    17-year-old Toro Rosso driver continues to prove that age is simply a number in racing.

  5. Austin Dillon hasn’t forgotten how to wheel an NNS car, is fastest in final practice at Texas

    Oct 31, 2014, 6:10 PM EDT

    (Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway) Getty Images

    Austin Dillon was the fastest driver in Friday’s final Nationwide Series practice at Texas Motor Speedway. The defending NNS champ who is now in his rookie season in Sprint Cup, Dillon is making his first NNS start this season in Saturday’s race.

  6. Kurt Busch is acting a little (candy) corny this Halloween (VIDEO)

    Oct 31, 2014, 5:45 PM EDT

    (Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images) Getty Images

    The Outlaw attempts the “Candy Corn Challenge” – fitting 100 pieces inside his mouth.

  7. Alonso’s ambition continues to leave the Formula 1 paddock guessing

    Oct 31, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT

    Fernando Alonso AP

    Is there more to Fernando’s future than just McLaren?

  8. Caterham administrators in talks with possible new buyers

    Oct 31, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Italy - Practice Getty Images

    Administrators still hoping to get the team racing in Abu Dhabi, but will aim for the grid in 2015 if this is not possible.

  9. Tyler Reddick picks up Texas pole for tonight’s NASCAR Trucks race

    Oct 31, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT

    WinStar World Casino & Resort 350 - Practice Getty Images

    Reddick captures his second Truck pole in the last three races.

  10. Hamilton inches away from Rosberg to top FP2 at COTA

    Oct 31, 2014, 4:32 PM EDT

    Lewis Hamilton AP

    British driver finishes just 0.003 seconds ahead of Rosberg in FP2, equating to just 6.7 inches around the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas.

  11. Seeing red: Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevy gets a new look for Texas (VIDEO)

    Oct 31, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    AAA Texas 500 - Practice Getty Images

    The six-time Sprint Cup champion is driving the No. 48 Lowe’s “Red Vest” Chevrolet this weekend.

  12. Raikkonen: Return to Ferrari “100% the right decision”

    Oct 31, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of USA - Previews Getty Images

    Finnish driver has endured a difficult return to Maranello in 2014 after five years away.

  13. Late lap puts Brian Vickers atop first Sprint Cup practice at Texas

    Oct 31, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT

    AAA Texas 500 - Practice Getty Images

    Chase competitors Kevin Harvick and points leader Jeff Gordon crack the Top 5 speeds.

  14. WATCH LIVE: FP2 for the United States Grand Prix

    Oct 31, 2014, 2:45 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of USA - Practice Getty Images

    Can Lewis Hamilton double up in the second practice session in Austin? Join us from 3p ET to find out.

  15. Matt Kenseth still remorseful over Martinsville wreck with Kevin Harvick

    Oct 31, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT

    Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 - Qualifying Getty Images

    Kenseth says the only way he’d feel a little better about it is if Harvick manages to make the Championship Race.

  16. Sebastian Vettel to start United States GP from pit lane

    Oct 31, 2014, 2:03 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of USA - Practice Getty Images

    FIA confirms that the German driver has taken a sixth complete power unit, and will have to start the race from the pit lane at COTA.

  17. Chris Buescher tops first Nationwide practice at Texas

    Oct 31, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT

    Kentucky Speedway - Day 1 Getty Images

    Ford drivers take the top three spots in opening Nationwide practice.

  18. Bottas confident improved 2015 campaign possible for Williams

    Oct 31, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-RUS Getty Images

    Despite exceeding everyone’s expectations in 2014, Valtteri Bottas feels that the team can continue its upward trend next season.

  19. Hamilton quickest in first practice for United States GP

    Oct 31, 2014, 12:31 PM EDT

    HamiltonFP1COTA Getty Images

    Two-time US GP winner makes the best possible start to his race weekend by topping FP1 in Austin.

Video from NASCAR America

Who has the best chance in Texas?
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. K. Harvick (1284)
  2. J. Logano (1181)
  3. T. Stewart (1143)
  4. J. McMurray (1127)
  5. D. Hamlin (900)