Locker Room Closed

Success is a funny thing. Everyone wants to be successful, but sometimes the very thing that gets you there has to change once you reach your goal.

Part of Winston Cup racing's incredible popularity has been the accessibility of its stars - the drivers who combat each other on the race track every week. Unlike other professional sports, drivers aren't just high-priced athletes who perform amazing feats on Sunday afternoon, they're real people. Anyone who's ever witnessed a Winston Cup driver standing for an hour signing autographs knows what I'm talking about. Try getting some spoiled Major League Baseball player to sign something without writing a check first.

The one-of-a-kind atmosphere of a NASCAR event also has helped the sport grow. Fans have been able to actually come right down into the field of play with the proper credentials and walk through the garage area. The drivers' locker room was an open area.

But that's about to change. The growing popularity of the sport has made the unique opportunity to walk among the drivers a hazard. There are just too many people in the garage and even the pits, making it a dangerous situation.

NASCAR plans to take steps this season to limit access into the garage area. Tracks will get a designated number of passes to distribute and the area will be off limits to anyone else. Gone will be the hundreds of passes given out by teams, sponsors and track personnel.

It's a good idea and one NASCAR had to take before a disaster happened. The throng of people hanging around the garage area made for a very unsafe situation, with race cars whizzing in and out not to mention large amounts of fuel and other dangerous material set out.

Drivers literally had no place to go without being mobbed by adoring fans in search of an autograph or picture. They'd climb from their cars after a practice session and sprint to the safety of their hauler just to get through the mob. It became unfair for them to not be able to simply do their jobs.

Tony Stewart's well-publicized encounter with a female fan at Bristol last summer is the perfect example of why the policy needed to change. The last thing any driver should have to deal with the second he climbs out of a stricken race car is a fan (Marty Snider or Dave Burns with a microphone is bad enough).

Look for more scheduled autograph sessions outside the track as a way to compensate the fans for the new limited access. But while standing in line for your favorite signature, think how safe you'll feel.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2003

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