As The Cars Turn

Ricky bumps Rusty. Rusty spins out Ricky. Tony turns Dale around, and Ward throws down the glove at Jerry, who wisely decides to apologize rather than accept the challenge.

Kevin bumps Ricky and also gets into it with Robby. Greg trades spins with Jay, and also proves he’s never seen a boxing lesson, let alone been a part of one.

Jimmy gets into Jeff and takes a shot at Bobby, a two-for-one deal with definite payback implications. Buckshot, Rick, Ron, Kurt, Brett, Jason and Casey - a.k.a. - "The Gang That Can't Drive Straight" - get into trouble early and often, causing their colleagues to cast a wary eye in the rearview mirror before they get on the gas.

FTD is running out of roses, and somehow Hallmark never seems to make the right card.

Welcome to "As the Cars Turn," the weekly soap opera where boys get to be boys, trading testosterone tantrums and throwing around expensive machinery they don't actually happen to own.

The ratings have been pretty boffo, but those network execs at FOX and NBC have been missing the boat on a serious spin-off series with plenty of potential programming juice.

We've had erstwhile justice from Judge Judy, and everyone from Ed Koch to Animal Planet has come up with some kind of courtroom show in which arbitrary decisions are delivered by clueless, dictatorial figureheads who get to embarrass the litigants while belittling their questionable judgment.

With that in mind - along with the fact we managed to purloin some unmarked video tapes of the show from the NASCAR trailer at a recent race - we present some initial verdicts from NASCAR's final answer to the rough driving problem, in which the ultimate punishment is administered to participants in each week's dumbest wrecks.

Welcome to "Judge Helton."

The set, of course, starts with a long shot of the NASCAR trailer, a.k.a. "the principal's office." The jurist's bench bears a suspicious resemblance to a pit box, and the jury box is full of the media types that NASCAR so loves, except they all have to wear clown suits - real, Bozo-type clown suits.

There's also a TV box where DW, Larry Mac, Benny, Wally and the rest of the clowns get to provide running commentary, and fans lucky enough to become part of the studio audience get free beer, free souvenirs as well as the right to bring in their own coolers. Talk about heaven on earth.

As for the rest of it, you can guess the drill.

The drivers enter, in uniform, and take their respective places as plaintiffs and prosecutors, minus the usual entourage of sycophants, girlfriends, spouses, and children they may or may not be responsible for, although we heard there's an episode where one driver does get served with a paternity suit during his impassioned defense speech (our lips are sealed...sorta).

Judge Helton enters wearing the magisterial black robe, although it's covered with the logo of every NASCAR licensee, so it kinda looks more like a muumuu than a real judge's robe. After that, everybody gets to yell a lot and talk out of turn.

At the risk of being called a leaky source, here's a rundown of some of the season's more amazin' verdicts:

Tony Stewart - In a sweeping first decision covering every bad driving transgression in Stewart's Winston Cup career - the indictment ran to 684 counts before court clerk Gary Nelson blew out his voice and got laryngitis - Iron Mike establishes a broad-based offseason venture called the "Media Make a Wish Program."

For one week each during the offseason, every regular member of the Winston Cup media corps gets the services of Tony the Tiger as his or her personal valet. Ouch!

Jeff Gordon, a.k.a., "Mr. Innocent" - For his scraps with Stewart and his finger-pointing encounters with Jarrett, Gordon is forced to wear a giant dunce cap with his opponent's sponsor into his next victory lane ceremony.

Oh, and forget the Pepsi victory baths - Gordon and his crew have to conduct their beverage-spraying wars using quarts of milk, and he has keep the milk moustache through a week of sponsor appearances and media interviews.

Dale Jarrett - This one was easy. For every wreck where Jarrett is found at fault, Iron Mike says he's gotta drive the brown truck on Sunday. For real.

Kevin Harvick - After a season spent crisscrossing the country in charters and making at least one other driver mad everywhere he went, Judge Helton points to Door No. 3, a partition at the back of the court that opens up to reveal a battered, brown 1972 VW Bus.

As part of his sentence, Harvick and crew get to use it as their personal travel vehicle to run in Cup, Busch and the truck series next year. Hope those gas prices stay down.

Ricky Rudd - For his role in the Rusty wrecks, Rudd gets his old Tide ride back for a week, and he has to pay for Ricky Craven's vacation to Hawaii. Rudd also gets to be an owner/operator again, jumping out of the car to serve as a one-man pit crew for his flashback run.

Rusty Wallace - For his role in the Ricky wrecks, Humpy Wheeler invents a new gadget that Helton makes Wallace wear for a week, a head-and-neck, speech-and-nasal restraint device called the RustyMuzzle. It delivers a 12-volt jolt to Wallace's vocal chords and causes his nose to grow an inch every time he utters one of the following phrases:
(1) "He has a short memory."
(2) "I wasn't trying to wreck him."
(3) "It wasn't my fault."
(4) "I was just trying to rattle his cage."

Ward Burton - For his role as an alleged victim, Helton sentences Burton to wear another Wheeler gadget, the Wardulator, a neck-and-throat speech alteration device that translates all of Burton's postrace and wreck comments into a single phrase: "It was all my fault”… in 26 different languages.

After Helton imposes sentence, Wheeler announces a research effort to develop yet another neck-and-throat device, the Grease-o-necker, that attaches to allow PR-challenged drivers from the Northeast, Midwest and West Coast to sound like a cross between Ward Burton and Sterling Marlin.

Greg Biffle - He wants a Winston Cup ride? Fine. For his on-track adventures and this season's best impersonation of a punch-drunk boxer, Biffle has to drive Mark Martin's old cars next year.

Brett/Todd/Geoff Bodine - Remember those driver's ed cars back in high school that had a separate steering wheel and pedals for the poor, petrified driving instructor?

For any Bodine-caused wreck, Helton has decreed they have to spend a week in the Bodinemobile, a special Nelson-developed car - with an assist from Jeff Burton's new seat-development company - that incorporates a three-across bench seat with three steering wheels, three clutches and three pedal sets that allows all three Bodines to sit side-by-side try and drive the car at once.

Ol’ Bill Simpson's working on a seat belt for the thing, but word has it things get pretty hairy in the dumping department when they all try to take a different line into the corner.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. - After reviewing some of his more artless bump-and-run moves, Helton announced that Junior will have to run a race with a sticky, gooey, rubbery substance on his front bumper that automatically adheres to the car in front of him every time he causes contact.

Rumor has it the stuff was developed by Goodyear from a formula they're trying to sell to NASCAR for next year's tire.

Jimmy Spencer - For his more spectacular adventures, Hizzoner sentences Mr. Excitement to run a race in a car with no sheet metal - that's right, no bumpers, no quarterpanels, no deck lid, no nothin' - basically the thing's just a seat, a clutch, pedals and a steering wheel with an engine, inside a roll cage on top of an A frame.

According to someone who was at the wind tunnel test, the downforce numbers are pretty incredible.

Well, it looks like the tape's about to run out, although we did find another one in this batch that has some trailers from NASCAR's fall season with some other pretty keen spin-off programs.

We'll run some scenes from that one for ya as soon as Bubba talks to the boss about lettin' us write 'em up.

Photos

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  • Harvick Wins Southern 500
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  • From the Archives: Darlington
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  • Duck Commander 500
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