Sign Of The Times

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Terrell Owens may be an inspiration to NASCAR drivers this year. When the attention-starved NFL player hid a Sharpie in his sock and autographed a football seconds after scoring a touchdown, he drew the national spotlight as well as the ire of the league.

But if NASCAR goes ahead with recent talk of banning drivers from signing autographs in the garage area, a Sharpie stuffed inside a driving suit may be the only way to get past secutiry.

Last week I wrote about the move to eliminate the crowds in NASCAR's garage area by limiting the number of passes at each track. It's a necessary action and one that has been met with enthusiasm by most everyone connected with the sport. The garage area has just become overcrowded and dangerous and the number of people granted access just too great.

Now comes the possibility of stopping anyone still able to be inside the garage area from asking a driver for an autograph. Under the proposed policy, drivers would be fined $500 if caught signing something for a fan. Sure $500 is pocket change to millionaires, but the sanctioning body has to start somewhere I guess.

The drivers seem to agree with NASCAR's line of thinking.

We've got to educate the drivers and the fans on what's appropriate and what is not appropriate,'' Jeff Burton told the Associated Press during testing at Daytona International Speedway.

"There is no autograph etiquette, there is no proper understanding of what to do and when to do it and how to do it,'' he said. "I think to get an education process started, we've got to make some rules and just stick to them.''

But the drivers may find the new rule will mean more of their time will have to be dedicated to formal autograph sessions, either outside the race track or in the infield. Stopping fans from interfering with the business at hand in the garage area is one thing, but totally alienating them is another.

"We have to be careful about what we do, we have to find a way and a proper place to do autographs and spend time with the fans,'' Burton said. "If we don't find time to do that, then we will be doing the fans and we'll be doing this sport a huge injustice.

"It will be difficult, there will be times when people are going to get mad at you because you say 'No,' but on the other hand, the only way to get the etiquette correct is to make a stance and say, 'This is how we're going to do it. We will find time for you, but it's not going to be at this time.'''

It's a delicate situation but a necessary one. Hopefully NASCAR, the drivers and the fans will all come to an understanding and do the right thing.



Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2003

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