Dustin Long

This blog ended in November 2011 but will remain available as an archive.

Frankly Speaking: "Earnhardt left a void that hasn't been filled''

            I recently gathered Kyle Petty, Jimmy Spencer and Larry McReynolds in a room to discuss the state of NASCAR and other key areas. What was supposed to last 30 minutes went an hour as these three did not hold back on their opinions and even joked afterward that they might be getting a call from NASCAR (or someone else) based on their comments.
            While some will not agree with what they say about the sport or certain drivers or some other issue, their voice remains relevant. They’ve seen the inner workings of the sport. Now they view it differently from their TV jobs but they still retain close contacts to those in the garage and they know what’s going on before most do. They know what drivers and others are really saying even if those people won’t say it to the media.
            So without further delay, here’s part of the series. Today’s topic: Driver personalities
            It’s been more than eight years since the death of Dale Earnhardt, yet he remains, at least in some of the lists, in the top 10 in sales in this sport. Is that more a commentary of today’s drivers not being able to pass him or is that a commentary on Earnhardt’s power eight years later.

             PETTY: Here’s what I say that’s a commentary on. (Larry said recently) Earnhardt left a void that nobody’s filled. That’s what you said.


            McREYNOLDS: Pretty much.


            PETTY: I agree with Larry. Earnhardt left a void that hasn’t been filled. Richard Petty left a void that hasn’t been filled. Darrell Waltrip. Cale Yarborough. Those drivers left voids that haven’t been filled. The problem we have today is if … I go take the top 12 drivers in points and line them all up and ask them a question, they’re all going to give me the same soundbite except for Juan Montoya. Which tells me that now I’ve got 12 drivers that are really one talking head against Dale Earnhardt selling. So Dale Earnhardt is still going to outsell these guys because they’re all the same guy. I can buy 99, I can buy 24, I can buy 48, I can buy 11. It doesn’t make any difference. I’m buying the same guy. I’m buying the same personality.


             People say we don’t have a Jimmy Spencer. We don’t have personalities. We have a personality. It’s an a typical, a political


            McREYNOLDS: A predictable.


            PETTY: It’s very predictable. ... Tony (Stewart) ventured out there and they slapped his hand. Kyle (Busch) ventures out there, everybody hates him. You look at it. I don’t know if it’s the sport or the fans or what it is, but I think part of it is the personality. What’s driving the personality as much as anything else is the sponsor dollars and the TV and all the things that we always hoped and dreamed and wished we had. Now that we got them, we don’t know what to do with them because we’re not controlling them. They’re controlling us.


             Earnhardt was the last of that era who he was what he was when TV got here and it didn’t change him. Everybody else are products of the TV generation. They are the TV generation.


             SPENCER: Watch all these young drivers coming up. Joey Logano. Anybody that is under 23 or 24 years old. I watched this (Paulie) Harraka (from Camping World West series) last night. They’ve got their hair cut perfect. They’re shaved. I didn’t know they could shave. And these kids are so concerned about being a Sprint Cup driver that they’ve lost focus on what they’re supposed to do.


             You know what they’re supposed to do? They’re supposed to freaking race and win. You’re supposed to come in here and if you push that guy out of the way, say that I really didn’t mean to do that but that’s part of racing and I won. These guys have lost focus on trying to win races. Old man Earnhardt didn’t care who it was. He tried to win the race.


               McREYNOLDS: It didn’t matter if it was his own race car.


               SPENCER: He tried to win the race. We have lost focus on winning races and it goes to show that all these young kids coming along, they only have one thing in mind. I can get a Cup ride. I can’t ruffle no feathers.


               PETTY: Let me ask you this, how many times, because I laugh, I just laugh at this, is how many times do you think on a Sunday afternoon or Monday morning that David Pearson or Richard Petty or Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison or any of those or Dale Earnhardt got up and (said) I better call that guy and apologize for hitting him yesterday. I feel really bad.


               SPENCER: It makes me sick.


               PETTY: How many times do you think that happens. My God! They got up Monday morning and looked in the mirror, laughed and went to work. That’s the way it was. Because you know what, they had the trophy sitting in the living room and they had the check going in the bank. That’s what they went to the race track for. I’m sorry. It’s a different …


              SPENCER: Era


             PETTY: … Because they feel like you have to apologize because, oh that guy is paying me $15 million, I’ve got to make my fans happy.


              McREYNOLDS: Some of the biggest disappointments I’ve had this year was at Martinsville when (Jimmie) Johnson knocked (Denny Hamlin) out of the way (to win) and Denny basically, he apologized in his interview. What is he doing?


               PETTY: You never would have heard that.


              McREYNOLDS: It’s like, wait a minute you got knocked out of the way.


              PETTY: I think that’s a commentary on the drivers and … I’m not blaming all the drivers, let me be real clear. I think that’s who they feel they have to be to succeed in this industry.


                McREYNOLDS: But NASCAR started a big part of it. You know what? The analogy I’ve used, you can whip that dog and whip that dog and whip that dog for chewing that whatever up. You just can’t one day just all of a sudden one day say I’m not going to whip you any more if you chew. Go ahead and chew. That (dang) dog is going to say ... I ain’t chewing it.


               PETTY: That’s a good analogy, too.




               This is the final segement of Frankly Speakly. Take the opinions for what they worth -- three men talking about the sport.


              So, what do you think of what they said about driver personalities? Agree or disagree?

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Dang Straight!

Nice series, Dustin, with Kyle, Larry and Mr. Excitement. They are so right - except for JPM, the top 12 are clones. Kyle Busch mixes it up on the track and smashes trophy guitars, and he's the worst man since Hitler? Most of today's NASCAR fans readily accept what is fed to them and it has really turned me off from a sport I've enjoyed all of my life. When they said it is going the way of American open-wheel racing (ultra-homogenized), they were so correct. And the sad part is it won't change because that is what the sponsors and powers that be want. Well, we can always hope ...

Thanks, Dustin!

That was a very interesting series which I looked forward to reading each day. I was a die-hard Earhardt fan and after he died, I quit the sport for several years. Last year, I came back and I really do see the big difference these guys are talking about. Both in the cars and the NASCAR 'regulated' personalities. Amazing!

At any rate, thanks for the great series. It did enlighten me!

"Oh no we've lost Dustin"....Brian France

I became a NASCAR fan during the "Million Dollar Bill" era, however today I will be watching the Steelers Vikings game. We used to have pools at work on the races, no more, it's not a sport when you know how it's going to end. It's difficult to be a fan when only about 6 drivers have a chance of winning today and your favorite might be collected in an accident caused by a Stremme or Robbie Gordon who has no chance of winning. SPEED and Fox can "punish" their commentators at their own peril, I will be more likely to watch these commentators because I feel they are being frank and open in their views and not reading from a script. I also had no problem with Bob Griese's "taco" remark. Being Polish I have learned to realize when these comments are serious slurs or innocent banter. This comment was innocent banter. But then ESPN has bigger issues to apologize for, like some of their staff treating road trips like frat parties. Great Job Dustin, for those too young, my subject line was paraphrasing LBJ when he lost Cronkite.

Agree 1000%

I think they're totally right, not just about the driver personalities but also with all the other stuff you guys covered in that conversation. Every time you get a driver who shows a little bit of roughness, they all get slapped down, and the end result is a bunch of driver clones. Sad.

I loved reading this series -- thank you Dustin, Kyle, Jimmy, and Larry Mac!

NASCAR lost me

I come from a family of short track racers. My dad built them and my uncle raced them in the '50s & '60s. I built and drove them in the '70s & '80s. I started watching NASCAR on Wide World of Sports in the '60s and went to races until the late '80s. I've watched NASCAR go from a pure racing fan sport to being the latest "yuppie" fad. Given the choice between watching a NASCAR race and watching two kids in a parking lot on home made go carts, I'll watch the go carts.

way to stir the pot..

your roundtable on the state of NASCAR was really good stuff. good reporting and stirring up of the discussion of the realities of NASCAR going forward. those who deny the hard realities suffer them the worst.

Spencer, Petty, McReynolds

This series was the best thing written about NASCAR in years. The panel said EXACTLY what most long-time fans are saying!


Thank you for this series. It is refreshing to hear straight answers without everyone having to tiptoe to not unset the powers that be. Shame on FOX and SPEED for even considering punishing their commentators for speaking out. Both channels will be greatly affected by the loss of these men or the failure of Nascar. If no one speaks out, them nothing will be done to fix the problem. I also agree that everytime anyone does speak out Nascar makes sure they understand that it is against their best interest to say anything that is not approved by Nascar.

Talladega was just more proof that Nascar had better get their heads out of the sand before it is too late.

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