We all knew it was coming. The minute Dale Earnhardt JR let the four letter shoot out of his mouth in Talladega’s victory lane everyone knew that NASCAR officials were cringing because they were going to have to do something about it and the legions of Earnhardt fans weren't going to like it.
In victory lane that Sunday afternoon Earnhardt was asked about his fifth restrictor plate victory at Talladega and the very excited driver replied "it don't mean s- - t right now, daddy's won here ten times."
Two days later we found out about the current price of s- -t when NASCAR announced they were fining Earnhardt $10,000 and docking him 25 driver’s points. That loss of points comes at a crucial time when Earnhardt is a heavy favorite to win the Nextel Cup Chase for the Championship. Dale Earnhardt Inc, who fields Junior's Budweiser Chevrolets, announced plans to appeal the decision but don't expect anything to come from it.
In total fairness NASCAR officials really didn't have a choice in the matter. A precedent on language issues had already been established earlier in the year when NASCAR Busch Series drivers Johnny Sauter and Ron Hornaday JR received the same punishment for swearing on live TV and radio, also, in total fairness, the drivers were warned by NASCAR President Mike Helton about foul language. To ignore what Earnhardt said at Talladega would have created a huge credibility problem for NASCAR
Since the Super bowl last January and Janet Jackson's well remembered fashion malfunction, there has been a lot of sensitivity regarding on air behavior. That's largely due to the whopping $550,000 fine the CBS Network received from the Federal Communications Commission following that little fiasco. A lot of the networks are now using seven second delay devices during any live broadcast to prevent a similar occurrence. I'm now wondering if NBC Sports had the seven second delay available during the Talladega race. If they didn't then why not? The use of that mechanism would have, likely, prevented this entire issue from ever coming up.
I have to agree that cursing in public is never a good idea although I'm probably as guilty of it as the next person. It's certainly true that NASCAR broadcasts have a very diverse age range, from grand parents to grand children, and the little ones grow up fast enough without hearing their heroes curse on television and radio.
But there are two things here that totally perplex me. The first is something I read from Marty Smith's "Last Lap" column that appears each week on NASCAR.com. In the October 5th edition of his column Smith recalled doing an interview with senior NASCAR official Jim Smith, last February at Darlington Raceway, on this issue.
In that column Smith was quoted as saying the following: "our President Mike Helton, when he first addressed the issue at Rockingham, made it a point to say hell or damn, depending on the context in which it's used, is sort of acceptable. Those two words appear in different forms as a means of expression. Those are subjective. They're okay as long as they don't use them is a demeaning or scathing fashion. The other words are simply not acceptable."
WAIT A MINUTE! Isn’t "hell" and "damn" curse words? I recall the first time I yelled "damn it" as a youngster. The discipline measures flew faster than Earnhardt's car at Talladega.
The second thing that perplexes me is the punishment that Robby Gordon received following his behavior at the Dover race. In that event Gordon was tapped in the rear bumper by Greg Biffle and hit the wall. Gordon felt like the incident was intentional. At the time NBC sports was monitoring Gordon's in car radio system and millions of NASCAR fans heard Gordon tell his crew chief that he was going to get Biffle. Later in the race the same millions of fans watched in amazement and horror as Gordon hit Biffle's bumper, spun his around and then triggered a multi car accident. Two to the victims in the melee were Jeremy Mayfield and Tony Stewart both contenders in the Nextel Cup Chase for the Championship. The punishment for Gordon's behavior: he was sent to pit road for two laps and then allowed to return to the race. A week later in New Hampshire a still angry Stewart said he would like "to whip Robby Gordon's butt". NASCAR had no comment on that comment.
When you compare Robby Gordon's behavior at Dover to Dale Earnhardt JR's behavior at Talladega then, somehow, the NASCAR self policing policies seem a little odd to me. So, let's recap and see what we've learned so far:
1. You can sell "hell" or "damn" but you can't say "s- - t"
2. You probably need to be very careful about anything you say because the television or radio network interviewing you may not have a seven second delay mechanism.
3. Cursing during a live NASCAR broadcast will get you a $10,000 fine and a loss of 25 drivers points.
4. Announcing, during a live radio transmission, your intent to hit another driver during a race and then actually doing the dirty deed will get you a two lap penalty and then you can go racing again.
5. It's okay to announce that you would like to whip another driver's butt as long as you don't do it on TV.
DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT TOUCHING THOSE POWERADE BOTTLES IN VICTORY LANE!