Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. extol NASCAR's commitment to the dialogue.
After 14 years, it appears NASCAR’s Sprint Cup drivers have found their voice.
Last weekend at Dover, some of the sport’s top competitors — elected by their peers — met with the sanctioning body to discuss their concerns. Yes, NASCAR has hosted town hall-style meetings in the past. But since Dale Earnhardt died in 2001, there really hasn't been that one driver that could influence the powers that be.
Now, the competitors are hopeful their collective voices will be heard.
Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon, who became the face of the sport following the Earnhardt era, says last Saturday’s meeting was “one of the coolest things I’ve seen happen in this sport since I’ve been in it.”
To be able to sit in a room and have a lot of drivers that have a unique perspective on it I thought the panel was fantastic.
“I only wish it had happened long before my final year,” Gordon said. “I think to have an open line of communication between the drivers and NASCAR. I think we are all on the same page and always trying to pursue the best for the sport, but we have done it in a different way; whether individually you go and have those discussions or it’s happening via other routes.
“To be able to sit in a room and have a lot of drivers that have a unique perspective on it I thought the panel was fantastic. I thought the openness of the conversation was amazing. I thought that it was all very positive.”
A novel idea
Certainly, there are those pundits that don’t believe the inmates should be running the asylum, but who better to offer input to the sanctioning body than the competitors driving the cars? Particularly former champions such as Gordon and Tony Stewart.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. doesn’t understand why anyone would feel it’s “a bad for the drivers and NASCAR to get together and communicate”. While NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver acknowledged meeting with the sanctioning body under less formal settings, the drivers’ council offers a more structured discourse.
Everybody wants the same thing. We all want to have a healthy sport. We all want the racing as good as it can be and as safe as it can be.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“Things always change, improve, evolve and this is just kind of a more organized way for us to get in a room and have conversation about everything on the table,” Earnhardt said. “I think it is awesome because you have all the NASCAR guys in there that you want to talk to that you want five minutes with. You have a lot of great race car drivers in there with a lot of great ideas and opinions.
“Everybody is in the room to work together. Everybody wants the same thing. We all want to have a healthy sport. We all want the racing as good as it can be and as safe as it can be.
We talk about everything. We talk about the hot button topics and we talk about everything as far as what we think about particular tracks. Just all kinds of stuff gets talked about in there.”
The time is right
Due to the drivers being pulled in a myriad of directions throughout the week, gathering at the racetrack makes perfect sense. Even last Saturday, the time of the meeting was changed to accommodate the different competitors’ schedules following final practice.
However, once the drivers came together, the result was positive.
“It’s great because – I guess the thing is before we never really could organize it,” Earnhardt added. “You couldn’t get all the drivers in the same place at one time. You couldn’t get everybody to organize to spend an hour or two and sit down and really focus on these topics and really discuss it in a good place.
“It has got so much opportunity to be something that can really benefit the sport. NASCAR came to the drivers and asked us to put it together. The drivers sort of put it together and now we organize the meetings today and it’s good. It’s going to be good.”
Gordon, who currently leads all active drivers with the most career wins (92) and is currently third on the all-time list, says he was initially apprehensive in accepting a position on the council since he will transition to the TV booth at the start of the 2016 season.
But he appreciates the manner in which the drivers were chosen to participate and was grateful to be included in the process.
“I thought having the drivers choose it and having certain categories and ways to go about it,” Gordon said. “And just the openness that NASCAR had to pursuing that I think it is awesome. I really do. I think it is one of the greatest things that I have seen. When I look at maybe top 10 things that I see happening in this sport this is one of them.
“I sat in that room and was in awe and just wowed by this step forward. I will do whatever they want me to do. There are certain criteria that you have to meet to stay on the panel that you could get voted off if you don’t make the meetings. To me I want to do everything I can to continue to share my passion for the sport and thoughts and ideas and that is certainly a great way to do that.
“But if they (still) want me, I will be on it. If they don’t, I totally understand. There are plenty of great drivers that are going to continue to take that to the next level over the years.”