Does fatherhood make a NASCAR driver better or worse behind the wheel?
That’s the tenet of a story on NASCAR.com by Matt Crossman and David Smith. The duo analyzed changes in 16 drivers, particularly on-track performance, after they became fathers between 2007 and 2015.
The story focuses on several drivers-turned-fathers, including Kevin Harvick and both his relationship with son Keelan and how Harvick learned to balance fatherhood and driving to earn his first Sprint Cup championship in 2014 with Stewart-Haas Racing.
“It is a major distraction, to be blunt and non-politically correct,” says NBC NASCAR analyst Steve Letarte, a father of two who was formerly Gordon’s crew chief in 2007 when the four-time Sprint Cup champion and wife Ingrid welcomed their first child, daughter Ella, into the world.
“Having a child for anyone, in any professional career, is a distraction,” Letarte added. “Now it is a blessing, it’s the best part of most people’s lives, to have their children. But there’s no way, as a competitor, from a purely competitive standpoint, to not say it’s distracting.”
But fellow NBC analyst and former Sprint Cup driver Jeff Burton disagrees with Letarte. Burton believes drivers actually become better behind the wheel once they bring a child into the world.
“There’s some sort of a switch — and I’m talking about the best race car drivers — that turns common sense off,” Burton says. “You don’t get in that race car on a Sunday afternoon thinking, ‘I’m going to get hurt.’ You get in that race car thinking, ‘I’m going to win this damn race, and when I do, I’m going to take a picture with me and my kids in Victory Lane.’ ”