The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

June 21, 2013

Shawn Wood's column on motorsports: Cheap shots and innuendos

Daily Item

---- — The headline on the New York Times web site read, 'Danger Lurks At Dirt Tracks.'

The USA Today's headline read 'Lower circuits bring higher risks.'

These are just two samples as to how mainstream media threw dirt-track racing under the bus and kicked us when we were down following last Wednesday's tragic death of NASCAR driver and open-wheel standout Jason Leffler, 37, at the Bridgeport Speedway in a 410 sprint car heat race.

The only reason these articles even appeared in the paper is that Leffler was a NASCAR driver.

If it was a local racer who was killed, outside of the coverage by the local papers and the racing papers, there would be no mention of it by the mainstream media.

Each article gave us more than a black eye; it portrayed all of us to be a bunch of idiots who with reckless abandonment watch cars go around in circles every weekend.

The sad part here is that a 5-year-old is without a father who loved him so dearly, that he named him Charlie Dean; Charlie after Jason's father and legendary west coast non-wing sprint car driver Dean Thompson.

That's love no one can define.

The only follow-up articles we might see will come once the investigation is completed by The New Jersey State Police.

Thankfully, NASCAR champion and current owner of Eldora Speedway, Tony Stewart, stepped up and told the media what he thought about their attacks on our sport.

There was the reference that safety measures -- such as the Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) Barrier which employed at NASCAR and IndyCar tracks -- are not at dirt track because owners cannot afford 'state-of-the-art' safety equipment.

Well, there's a reason they don't have them at the dirt tracks: they don't exist.

Having lived in Charlotte for 10 years, those in NASCAR land like to remind us open-wheel folks that if it wasn't for Bill France Sr., racing wouldn't be where it is today.


I guess you never heard of a town called Indianapolis where in 2002, the SAFER Barrier was installed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Leffler made his mark, especially in the midget ranks in open-wheel racing, the most popular form of racing in the world which has been around for 105 years. Not to mention, NASCAR started on dirt!

Yes, there have been four deaths at dirt tracks in the past 13 months but there was also the death of a track marshal at the Formula 1 Grand Prix race in Canada a few weeks ago. That went unnoticed by the mainstream media.

It was also interesting to note in the New York Times article that they had a quote from Diandra Leslie-Pelecky, a physics professor at the University of West Virginia and author of 'The Physics of NASCAR' saying that 'they (sprint cars) have a giant wing up there, and that's going to raise the center of gravity.'

Ever hear of down-force?

Our sport is much safer today than it was 10 years ago. With the introduction of HANS-device and better seats, drivers have been able to walk away from horrendous-looking crashes. Yet on occasion, as was the case last Wednesday, sometimes they don't.

Dirt-track racing has been the birthplace of many of the best drivers in the world. Some have gone on to long careers in motorsports, others unfortunately have lost their lives doing what they love.

Reading these articles reminds me of what the late President Calvin Coolidge once said, 'the world is full of educated derelicts.'

How right he is.

n Correspondent Shawn Wood covers motorsports for The Daily Item.