What Were Really Talking About

The premise has recently been floated in some circles that NASCAR should find a way to limit the number of Open Wheel drivers allowed into the upper levels of our sport. The concept is a relatively new one.

In the 1960s and `70s, Mario Andretti won hundreds of Champ Car races, and a Formula One World Driving Championship. He raced and won in the NASCAR ranks, as well, and fans were happy to have him. A.J. Foyt wrote the vast majority of his extensive resume without the benefit of fenders, but like Andretti, was warmly embraced during his frequent forays into NASCAR stockers.

In the modern era, NASCAR has continued to embrace drivers from the Open Wheel ranks. Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Casey Mears and J.J. Yeley all climbed the racing ladder via the Open Wheel route. Stewart was an Indy Racing League champion before Joe Gibbs snapped him up and brought him to NASCAR. How, then, can anyone justify the idea of limiting the number of Open Wheel drivers allowed to join the NASCAR ranks?

The explanations run the gamut from “shaky” to “downright indefensible.”

Some say that Open Wheel racers are taking rides away from kids who have worked their way up through more traditional, stockcar-based feeder series. They never say “American kids,” but it’s right there, just below the surface. Nobody had a problem when Elliott Sadler and Denny Hamlin got their shots, but the minute Juan Pablo Montoya hit town, it somehow became terribly unfair.

Others see the arrival of Open Wheel drivers as an example of the ongoing corruption of “their sport.” First NASCAR closed North Wilkesboro, they say. Then Rockingham. Then they took a bunch of races from the mid-south and moved `em to the dad-gum West Coast, of all places, ignoring the very people who made NASCAR what it is today. And now, they’re ignoring the next David Pearson in favor of some kid from Columbia that doesn’t even speak good English.

Is it just me, or are we missing the real reason behind all this anti-Open Wheel backlash? In my view, the problem is not with Open Wheel racers. The problem is with foreigners.

The trend in NASCAR these days is one of radical isolationism. General Jack Roush traded in his straw hat for an Army helmet recently, promising to “go to war with Toyota,” in a fervent attempt to prevent the Japanese invaders from burying the competition under an avalanche of dollars -- or would that be yen? -- and destroying NASCAR as we know it.

I don’t recall Roush getting nearly so worked up about Chevrolet or Dodge in years past, despite the fact that Dodge is owned by the Daimler-Chrysler Corporation; a decidedly German entity. If we’re going to hold a lifelong grudge against the Japanese for their actions on the sands of Iwo Jima, shouldn’t we be equally unforgiving of the Germans we fought on the beaches of Normandy?

Or maybe, better still, we should bury those old hatchets and move on.

Like it or not, we now live in a global economy. No matter what Pat Buchanan says, we cannot simply build a fence around this country, post a 24-hour guard and allow nothing to pass in either direction. If NASCAR Nextel Cup racing is truly going to become the greatest racing series in the world, we should welcome the world’s greatest drivers to take part. No matter where they come from, and no matter what path they took to get here.

Any other way is shortsighted in the extreme.

And besides, who’s going to go to the Nextel Cup garage and confiscate Stewart’s hard card?

Not me. I want to live.

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