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Thursday, July 29, 2010

NASCAR wrong to fine drivers for free speech

NASCAR finally came clean; identifying the drivers penalized for who they say made disparaging remarks about the sport. No congratulations here, for they had little choice, given the deserved criticism they got for their silence.

I was appalled to learn that Ryan Newman was one of the drivers named as being fined. Clearly, Ryan Newman is one of the smartest guys in the entire sport. He is open, honest, ethical, fair, is an independent thinker, and has an excellent sense of humor. Newman speaks his mind, which is one of his most cherished assets to race fans. It is unthinkable that NASCAR would attempt to muzzle him. Ryan growls a little, but he has way too much class to bite.

The growling is necessary. After all, the man has looked death in the face more than once. He, as much as anyone, has every right to question NASCAR when his life has been on the line. I would hate to think of what might have happened to him, had Kevin Harvick's car not broken the fall of his pirouetting race car at Talladega last year. It was heart-stopping to watch his race car tumble like a dish rag in the spin cycle while pieces and parts of the sheet metal ripped from it. Ryan had every right to complain about how NASCAR helped create that scenario through its restrictor plates and COT car. And he was big enough and smart enough to help them come up with a potential remedy.

More recently when Carl Edwards booted Brad Kezelowski out of the way at St. Louis during a Nationwide Race, the move had potential catastrophic consequences. Newman spoke out about it. He has been racing long enough and is smart enough to know how dire such actions can be. For cripes sake, he had already been the victim of the battle between the two — again at Talladega in last year's Spring race when Edwards' race car crashed into Newman's windshield.

NASCAR might not like drivers they cannot control, but it is morally wrong to try to censor them and even worse to fine them. I question how NASCAR can fine a driver—actually take money out of his pocket—for such an arbitrary and capricious excuse. Fining a team for trying to manipulate a race by using unapproved parts on the race car is one thing that NASCAR might have jurisdiction over, but to fine a driver for speaking his mind is something our country has fought against since its inception.

Who is Ryan Newman's fan base? Look at his sponsors. Does NASCAR think U.S. Army troops who follow racing will be pleased to know that the sanctioning body is dissing their boy Newman? Isn't the U.S. Army the entity that fights for our freedoms, such as freedom of speech which is guaranteed by the Constitution? Perhaps NASCAR ought to consider that as the Star Spangled Banner is sung and the jets fly over the track on race day?