Dale Earnhardt isn’t ready to return to Talladega Superspeedway anytime soon.
NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver didn’t mince words after Sunday’s Good Sam 500, which ended with a 25-car pileup on the final lap.
“It’s not safe. Wrecking like that is ridiculous,” Earnhardt said in the heated moments afterwards. “It's blood-thirsty if that is what people want. It’s ridiculous.”
Every race car driver knows danger is a part of the game. However, Earnhardt believes the line has been crossed at the restrictor-plate tracks, especially after seeing Tony Stewart’s car bouncing upside down over a pack of other cars.
“If this is what we did every week I wouldn’t be doing it,” Earnhardt said following his 20th place finish. “If this is how we raced every week I would find another job."
Those were alarming words coming from Earnhardt, who has five wins at Talladega. In fact, seven of his 19 career wins have come on the restrictor-plate tracks.
He certainly wasn’t alone in the criticism.
Jeff Gordon, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, leads all active drivers with six Talladega wins. Running 15th heading into the last lap, Gordon finished second after successfully dodging the massive wreck.
He wasn’t surprised by the outcome, a wreck triggered when Stewart cut down across the front of Michael Waltrip’s machine. Before that, the pack was often racing four-wide.
“At the end you know it’s going to get aggressive,” Gordon said. “It started to ramp up, so you’re pretty sure there’s going to be a caution, and then with the green-white-checker (finish), you know you’re not making it back to the checkered
without there being a wreck.”
Gordon has been relatively successful at dodging wrecks in recent years, finishing six of the last seven races. Still, he doesn’t enjoy what many drivers see as a version of Russian roulette.
“I remember when coming to Talladega was fun,” Gordon said. “I haven’t experienced that in a long, long time. I don’t like coming here. I don’t like the type of racing that I have to do.”
Earnhardt, whose father was killed on the last lap at the 2001 Daytona 500, understands how the current version of restrictor-plate racing is exciting to the fans. However, he also believes it’s just a matter of time before something catastrophic happens.
"The way we are going isn’t the right direction,” he said “There are plenty of smart people out there that can figure
something out when one guy gets in trouble we don’t have 30 cars tore up at the expense of it. I mean everybody can get excited about all that which just happened, but for the longevity of the sport, that isn’t healthy.
“I mean it’s good for the here and now and it will get people talking today, but for the long run that is not going to help the sport the way that race ended and the way the racing is. I don’t even want to go to Daytona or Talladega next year, but I ain’t got much choice.”
Earnhardt said the racing has particularly changed since NASCAR debuted the “Car of Tomorrow” which ironically was built to make racing safer.
“There has been a last-lap wreck in like 90 percent of these races for the last four years with this car,” he said. “We can’t get away from each other with the bumpers lining up and everybody pushing all the time and spinning each other out. It’s not working. Somebody needs to change it.”
Gordon understands the appeal of two-wide and three-wide racing, and what he describes as “bumper cars at 200 mph.” He also understands NASCAR is doing all it can to keep fans entertained.
“I don’t have to be happy and all excited about coming to Talladega. I don’t expect that,” Gordon said. “ But I remember times with the draft and the thought you had to put into it, the strategy working the draft and the cars in the lines. You had some room between the cars and you had to use the air instead of the bumper.
“You could still come from the middle of the pack to first in the closing laps, but how you did it was different.”
While Gordon said he doesn’t know any driver who particularly enjoys the current racing at Daytona and Talladega, it’s especially true for the veterans. Sitting beside Kyle Busch in his post-race press conference, the 42-year-old Gordon expressed the view of many of the sport’s veterans.
“This is for the young guys, not for the old guys like me,” he said.
It’s apparently not for the guys who fall in between either. Earnhardt, who turns 38 today, commented.
“Everybody is just ‘ho hum’, no big deal,” he said. “I mean that is ridiculous that all those cars are torn up. That is not alright.”
The 25th annual Suzuki Top Gun Showdown at Muddy Creek Raceway is fast approaching, scheduled for Oct. 19-21.
It is easily the largest motocross event in Northeast Tennessee with legends Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart and Mike Brown some of the riders who have participated in past Showdowns.
Friday is a practice day, while Saturday will feature a full 2-moto points paying race for the THOR Series. Sunday is the actual Showdown which again features a full 2-moto race.
Several classes will be contested starting with the begineer 50cc and peewees, up to 250 and 450 Pro Classes.
Volunteer Speedway is yet to reschedule its season-ending race, originally slated for Sept. 29.
Wet weather forced the postponement and track officials are trying to come up with a suitable date.
Called Championship Night at the Gap, a $3,000-to-win Super Late Model feature will highlight the action. There is also a $1,000-to-win Pro Late Model feature and features for the Modified Hobby, Open Wheel Modified and Mini Stock divisions.