Monday, February 20, 2017

COMMENTARY: Exploitation Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

The Monster Energy girls made their debut in NASCAR Victory Lane Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, and some folks aren’t exactly happy about it.

Winner Joey Logano had barely finished spraying his celebratory champagne after winning the season-opening Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona before the internet exploded with reviews – both positive and negative – of the Monster girls’ all-black, form-fitting attire.

“I can't believe the sanctioning body stooped that low,” said one indignant Facebook poster. “This is family friendly? Boobs and leather? I know a lot of people who would not take their families if sights like this become the norm.

NASCAR has (always) had beautiful women,” she continued. “But this is just downright SLUTTY!!!! As slutty as it gets.”

“Are we going for (the) porn star look?” asked another fan. “Leather bustier, Really?”

Daytona's Monster Energy girls
Yesterday’s Monster Energy girl outfits were admittedly more revealing than those of their “Miss Sprint Cup” predecessors, who wore stylized fire suits during Nextel/Sprint’s decade-plus run as NASCAR’s top entitlement sponsor. Monster Energy is a hipper, edgier brand, tailored to appeal to a younger audience. As such, it was expected that their Victory Lane representation might be a bit more… provocative.
The Monster Energy girls wore full-length black leggings Sunday at Daytona, with high-top boots and open-shoulder leather tops. No bare midriffs, no short-shorts, no thong bikinis.

As one Tweeter remarked, “I’ve seen more cleavage at Wal-Mart.”

Sunday’s Victory Lane attire was – in this writer’s personal opinion -- far from “slutty.” In fact, it was less provocative than many of the outfits parading outside my hotel balcony today on The World’s Most Famous Beach. But my opinion doesn’t matter all that much, since what is acceptable to one observer is “slutty” to another.

“The problem is that the ladies worked so hard to be reps for NASCAR and are being relegated to eye candy again,” said one fan via Twitter.

Linda Vaughn set a high bar.
That point of view is valid, but it is also somewhat lacking in historical perspective.

Since the earliest days of the sport, trophy queens have been part of the NASCAR experience. Since being named "Miss Queen of Speed” at Atlanta International Raceway" in 1961, Linda Vaughn has graced Victory Lanes at motorsports events around the globe. Now a youthful 73 years of age, the universally acknowledged “Queen of the Trophy Queens” remains a familiar sight in the NASCAR garage. From the outset, Vaughn was more than just a pretty face. She was (and still is) an intelligent, knowledgeable authority on motorsports who knows more about the machinery being raced than many of the men racing them.

Today’s Monster Energy Girls – like Linda Vaughn before them – are more than just pretty faces. And they do not deserve the “slutty” tag so flippantly bestowed upon them by some observers.

Lady Gaga: demeaning?
I recall no outrage two weeks ago when Lady Gaga showed up for work at halftime of the Super Bowl in an outfit far skimpier than those worn by the Minster Energy girls at Daytona Sunday. No one seemed offended by her choice of apparel, and many jumped to her defense (rightfully) when a small band of internet trolls criticized her for sporting six-pack abs that were not well enough defined for their taste.

Virtually every professional sport has cheerleaders on the sideline, complete with outfits skimpy enough to make the Monster Energy girls look downright overdressed.

Was Lady Gaga being “exploited” at Super Bowl L1? Was the presence of scantily clad cheerleaders demeaning to women and young girls? And if not, how can that possibly be the case for the Monster Energy girls?

There are a million different opinions on this topic; none of them any more (or less) valid than the others.

And that, my friends, is the problem.

From bikini to burka, there are lots of options out there. And with such a wide variance of opinion in terms of what people find acceptable, who gets to decide what is “too much” when it comes to Victory Lane attire?

In the end, Monster Energy does, along with the young ladies who don their chosen attire on Sunday afternoons. And that, unfortunately, leads to a certain degree of indignance among the fan base.

I am the proud father of two adult daughters. And as such, I have always encouraged them to be whatever they wanted to be in life. Doctor, lawyer, teacher, firefighter… or Monster Energy girl. The choice should be theirs, and theirs alone.

If we truly believe in the empowerment of women, we cannot have it any other way.

Make your own decisions, live and let live. It’s what we do in 2017.

Good News And Bad News For Hendrick Motorsports

Elliott (R) and Earnhardt swept the front row
Speedweeks 2017 is off to a flying start for Hendrick Motorsports.

Sophomore sensation Chase Elliott won the pole for Sunday’s Daytona 500 for the second consecutive year Sunday, turning a fast lap of 192.308 mph. HMS teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will start second.

"Everybody at Hendrick Motorsports has done a lot of work this off-season," said Elliott, the first driver to claim back-to-back Daytona 500 poles since Kenny Schrader turned the trick in three straight years; 1988-1990. "This team definitely has a knack for these plate tracks… but that stuff doesn't just happen by staying the same. Everyone is always trying to get better and make their cars better and faster; and the engine shop is always finding new things. I'm happy to be a part of it, and hopefully we can run good next Sunday."

Hendrick driver Kasey Kahne time-trailed eighth, with Jimmie Johnson 13th. Those single-car time trial results would seem to bode well for Hendrick’s chances in Sunday’s Great American Race. But for the second time in as many seasons, HMS cars have struggled when drafting

Twelve months after Earnhardt suffered multiple solo spins in Turn Four of the 2.5-mile tri-oval, Johnson lost control twice in Sunday’s 75-lap, non-point Advance Auto Parts Clash. The defending series champion survived the first incident, bouncing off the Ford of Kurt Busch and sending Busch into a spin that ended his day. Johnson’s second crash was more costly to the Lowe’s Chevrolet team, inflicting damage that ended their day with a 16th-place finish in the 17-car field.

But Johnson struggled in traffic. (USA Today photo)
“It’s bizarre, because it drove really good everywhere else,” said Johnson after his second solo crash. “The first time, I had a handling problem when it broke free and I got into the No. 41. Then after that, it was really loose (during) the last long stretch, before I crashed again. 

“I would have to assume that it’s relative to the height of the rear spoiler,” said Johnson, a seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion who has uncharacteristically crashed out of six consecutive Clashes in the last six years. “When there is less air and the air is so turbulent back there, the spoiler is so small it’s real easy to get the pressure off of it.

“Then the back just rotates around.”

Johnson’s struggles were not lost on Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who viewed the procedings from the FS1 television booth while Alex Bowman drove his No. 88 Chevrolet to a third-place finish in the Clash. After spinning three times in virtually the identical spot during Speedweeks 2016, Earnhardt expressed concern with the Hendrick organization’s big-track handling package.

Within minutes after exiting his damaged racer, Johnson was already speculating that Sunday’s bright sunshine may have impacted the performance of his car.

“The sun certainly sits on that (Turn Four) edge of the track a little bit harder than anywhere else,” he said. “We will take some notes and learn from those mistakes and apply that to the 500 car.

“We can adjust rear shocks, rear ride height and try to get more pitch in the car in a sense to keep the spoiler up in the air longer.”

Hendrick’s on-track struggles may force the organization to abandon its recent policy of practicing minimally at Daytona, and drafting virtually not at all. Sources close to the team say both Johnson and Earnhardt will do a good deal of pack racing in this week’s practice sessions, in an attempt to diagnose and cure their continuing issues in the draft. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Petty Unhappy With Earnhardt's Return

"I was a little disappointed..."
NASCAR fans are anxiously awaiting the return of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., to on-track competition this week at Daytona International Speedway.

Seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty, however, is not one of them.

Petty told FS1’s NASCAR Race Hub last week that he was “a little disappointed” in Earnhardt’s decision to return from a concussion suffered last season; an injury that sidelined him from the second half of the 2016 campaign.

“I was a little disappointed that he did,” said Petty, adding that Earnhardt has “lived half his life, and he don’t need to be messed up going to the next (half).

“I feel like he got through with it two or three times, and he had some pretty big knocks in the head,” said Petty. “I’ve had them, too. I think I still live in one of them, but hitting (my head) was never that bad. He’s got a lot of career, opportunities in front of him. He could make another career, and racing would be a minor thing for him.”

Petty compared Earnhardt -- who was medically cleared to return to competition this season after an exhaustive regimen of rehabilitation and therapy -- to Joe Gibbs Racing driver Carl Edwards, who cited a desire to maintain good health in his decision to retire earlier this year.

Junior returns at Daytona 
"Look, man, you are still a young man,” said Petty. “You still have your career in front of you. I don’t know if Carl had thought about that same of that kind of stuff.”
To some, Petty’s remarks smacked of “do as I say, not as I do.” After all, the avowed “King of NASCAR” raced with a laundry list of injuries during his Hall Of Fame career, even competing with a broken neck at Talladega Superspeedway in 1980 after a savage crash at Pocono Raceway a week earlier.
“When I broke my neck at Pocono, they took me to the hospital there in Pennsylvania and took x-rays,” recalled Petty in a 2016 interview. “The doctor came in and looked at the x-rays and said, `When did you break your neck before?’
“I didn’t even know I had broken my neck before. I probably broke it some time that I broke something else that hurt worse. They made me a special brace for my neck, and I qualified the car and started the race. I did get out of the car after a while and turned it over to another boy.”
Petty insisted that in his era, drivers were financially incapable of sitting out, unlike today’s stars with their seven-figure incomes.
Petty knows what it's like to race hurt
“No matter how bad you were hurt, your job was to get in that race car and do the best you could,” he said. “You had obligations to yourself, your family and the people that you worked with. You just went and done it.
“If you had a broken leg, you got in the car. If you had broken ribs, you got in the car. If you had a broken neck, you got in the car. If you had a broken shoulder, they taped the dang thing up, put you in the car and you went.”
The 42-year old Earnhardt said he believes he was initially injured in a crash at Michigan International Speedway in June of last season, though no symptoms presented themselves at the time. A second crash in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in July prompted him to seek medical attention, and he stepped out of the cockpit under doctors’ orders four weeks later. 
The marked the second time NASCAR’s perennial Most Popular Driver has been forced to the sidelines by a concussion, after missing two Chase races in October of 2012 with similar symptoms.
He told reporters late last month that he is not putting pressure on himself to return quickly to Victory Lane, saying, “I don’t know if I feel like I have something to prove. My fans want me to win… have a great year and win the championship. There is that expectation to compete and do well, but I’ve said 100 times (that) I’ve done more than what I set out to do.

“I’ve accomplished more than what I thought I would accomplish. I look at my trophies and I can’t believe they’re mine. I’m pretty happy with what I did. I’m blown away with how fortunate I’ve been.”

The third-generation driver will sit out next week’s non-point, Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona in favor of youngster Alex Bowman, before returning to competition in the season-opening Daytona 500; a race he won in 2004 and 2014.owman, before returning to competition in the season-opening Daytona 500; a race he won in 2004 and 2014.