On the first edition of NASCAR America presents Motormouths, Kyle Petty, AJ Allmendinger and Rutledge Wood fielded phone calls from across the country on a range of topics.
A call from Bill in Dallas, Texas, addressed what NASCAR can do to help ensure the survival of local short tracks.
“What makes a short track work is not necessarily NASCAR,” Petty said. “It’s the fans. It’s the fans that come out to that grassroots racing. That’s where the Richard Pettys came from, that’s where the Dale Earnhardt Sr.s came from. That’s where the Jeff Gordons came from. … We all came from a short track somewhere to find our way to the upper level. But it’s the fans. If a track doesn’t make it, it’s not because of NASCAR. It’s because of the fans.”
Allmendinger believes something helpful NASCAR can do is promote short tracks that are in the vicinity of where the national series compete each weekend.
Watch the above video for more fan calls and analyst discussion.
Coffee with Kyle: Mike Helton opens up about the loss of Dale Earnhardt
There are “a lot of conversations” from Feb. 18, 2001 that Mike Helton will “probably take to my grave.”
Those conversations resulted in Helton, now NASCAR’s Vice Chairman, revealing to the world that day that Dale Earnhardt had been killed in a wreck on the last lap of the Daytona 500.
“By then I think of most of the industry had figured it out. But we had to authenticate it and make it official,” Helton said in the latest episode of “Coffee with Kyle.”
“I got picked to do it,” Helton told Kyle Petty. “I said, I used some adult words, ‘But we just lost the biggest thing in our sport. What am I going to say?’
“Brian France or maybe Paul Brooks or somebody said, ‘Well, that’s what you say, we just lost the biggest thing in our sport today.'”
Eighteen years later, Helton thinks he knows “more about what I said later on looking at it than I did at the moment of saying it. Because it was tough.”
In the wake of Earnhardt’s death, Helton said NASCAR leadership recognized how much it relied on The Intimidator’s voice in the garage.
“We couldn’t tap the next Dale Sr. on the shoulder and say, ‘You’re it,'” Helton said. “It needed to be organic out of the garage area. We were kind of settling in to see who that would be. (Jeff) Gordon wasn’t ready to accept it, although people said, ‘You should and you need to.’ But Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte, those individuals banded together to do it as a group instead of an individual until Gordon was ready to be that voice.”
But in the nearly two decades since, Helton said there hasn’t been a driver voice that’s emerged that has been as “strategic and as pragmatic” as that of Earnhardt.
Watch the above video for more of Kyle Petty’s interview with Helton.
Minor League Baseball team will shed name that honors Dale Earnhardt in 2020
Suggested names and feedback will be considered as the team works with brand identity firm Studio Simon to select a new name.
The name can’t be announced until after the upcoming season.
An Intimidators executive said other reasons for changing the name include being able to take advantage of the team’s brand as well as an audience whose interests are moving away from auto racing.
“We do recognize how much Dale means to this community,” Intimidators Assistant General Manager Vince Marcucci told NBC Sports. “Dale’s always going to be the Intimidator. We’re not trying to get away from (it). I don’t think that’s the right way to put it. But, like, own our own brand. Because we don’t own the Intimidators. (Earnhardt’s widow) Teresa has the rights to that. So for speed and flexibility as we try to do creative things in the future, we’re going to need something we own ourselves.”
Marcucci, who has been with the Intimidators for six months, is from South New Jersey and well aware of the Earnhardt name, having attended races at Pocono Raceway as a kid.
He said there’s been plenty of discussions about how to continue to honor the legacy of the Intimidator name.
“We’re about a block away from Dale Earnhardt Sr. Park in Kannapolis,” Marcucci said. “That was one of the first places that we took the gentleman (who) came to town to help us with the rebrand. So we definitely do understand the ties to racing as a whole in our community. That’s why (Cabarrus) County is branded ‘Where Racing Lives.'”
But Marcucci admitted that the demographics of the city and state are changing.
“I think millions of people are still Earnhardt fans,” Marcucci said. “But that’s his legacy. Not as much ours, you know? It’s just kind of creating a name that embraces the community for who they are now and who they’re going to be and who they’ve been. … You know it probably as well as I do that so many people are moving to this community from all over the country. It really is a melting pot of our entire country kind of migrating towards the Carolinas. I think we’ve seen over the past couple of years a lot of our fans have kind of been diversified away from NASCAR as well.
“But I think that’s the state of North Carolina as a whole.”
Marcucci allowed that if the majority of the name suggestions lean toward keeping it racing related, that’s the direction they could go.
“If 80 percent of submissions are racing, it gives us a pretty good idea of keeping it tied to racing,” he said. “If only two percent of the names that are submitted are racing, maybe we do go away from something like that.
“We can look into the city’s past and future for a different kind of name.”
Marcucci cautioned that the team likely wouldn’t go in the direction of others that have changed their names recently.
“I do not think we’re going to be the Rocket City Trash Pandas,” he said.
That’s the name that will be adopted by a team next year after it moves from Mobile to Madison, Alabama. It comes from its proximity to the NASA facility in nearby Huntsville and a nickname for the character Rocket Raccoon in the Guardians of the Galaxy films.
“There’s nothing wrong with that. To each their own,” Marcucci said. “I personally love the super creative names that have come out over the past couple of years from Minor League Baseball. But I don’t know if that’s exactly what we want to go with.”
Dr. Robert Hubbard, the co-inventor of the Head and Neck Support Device (HANS), died Tuesday.
A former professor in biomechanical engineering at Michigan State University, Hubbard created the HANS Device in the mid-80s with Jim Downing, his brother-in-law and a champion IMSA driver.
“Bob’s invention truly changed the world of auto racing safety and he was a kindhearted person who would help anyone in need,” HANS stated on its website. “He will be missed greatly.”
Hubbard and Downing set out to create the HANS device after the death of a racing friend as a result of a skull fracture. The duo began to develop, produce, sell and market the device in 1991, with Downing becoming the first driver to use the device when he wore an untested prototype in IMSA races.
Brett Bodine and Kyle Petty became the first Cup drivers to use the HANS device in July 2000, weeks after the death of Kenny Irwin Jr. from a basilar skull fracture in a wreck during Cup practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Petty’s son Adam was killed by a basal skull fracture in a crash during a Xfinity Series practice session at New Hampshire in May of that year.
Bodine first wore it for the July 23 event at Pocono Raceway.
Only two more drivers, Ricky Craven and Jeff Burton, reportedly planned to wear the device for the Daytona 500, where Dale Earnhardt would die from head injuries in a crash on the last lap.
NASCAR mandated the use of the HANS Device and another safety device, the Hutchens, in October 2001.
According to Michigan State University in 2014, more than 200,000 HANS devices had been used by drivers since 1990.
No NASCAR drivers have been killed in on-track action since 2001.
In April 2017, Hubbard, Downing and Hubert Gramling were presented with the inaugural John Melvin Motorsport Safety Award by the Society of Automotive Engineers for their work on the HANS device.
“(Hubbard’s) development of that device was hugely important to motorsports,” said Burton, now a NASCAR on NBC analyst. “Clearly, it greatly helped the advancement of safety. The combination of the HANS and the head surround system, that combination of safety implementation revolutionized safety in motorsports, especially in stock cars. Neither works as effectively as it can without the other. Together they are an unbelievable advancement in safety.”
Other NASCAR drivers observed Hubbard’s passing on social media.
Dr. Hubbard undoubtedly saved my life multiple times with his HANS device invention.
R.I.P Dr. Hubbard: Your persistence and continued drive, along with Mr. Downing, paved the way into a new corridor of safety all future generations will enjoy. Thank you for your contributions to Motorsports. https://t.co/U448c5PnJQ
If we were choosing a fantasy team of four drivers across any era in NASCAR, Kyle Busch would list himself with David Pearson, Tim Flock and Dale Earnhardt.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean the 2015 champion considers himself one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history yet.
“I’m not going to answer that question,” Busch told NBC Sports when asked during an interview this week. “Because it’s not for me to answer.”
The 2015 series champion was one of a few dozen drivers who sat down with a crew from NASCAR America to answer a series of questions, one of which was: What four drivers are on your NASCAR fantasy team?
“Everybody was like how they’re the greatest team of all-time, they were the greatest team ever assembled,” James said. “And for us to come back, the way we came back in that fashion, I was like ‘You did something special.’ ”
Busch said he wouldn’t allow himself that declaration as NASCAR star.
“I’m kinda weirded out by what LeBron James had to say a few weeks ago about he feels as though he’s the greatest of all time,” Busch said. “You can’t self-proclaim that. I’ll never self-proclaim myself as the greatest of all time.”
The decided lack of hubris might seem discordant with the self-proclaimed “KB Show” who takes a bow to the grandstands after each of his victories and regularly challenges his detractors on social media. Busch seems to relish being the center of attention as one of the more polarizing drivers in the Cup Series.
But Busch, who has 194 victories across the top three series (including 51 in Cup), takes a more modest view in ranking his own accomplishments.
“Will I put myself in the discussion and say am I one of (the greatest ever)? Yes,” he said. “Do I feel as though I could be one of the greatest of all time, like if it’s top five that you’re talking about? I would say yes.
“But never the No. 1.”
NASCAR America will return to NBCSN at 5 p.m. on Feb. 11. Stay tuned for how drivers answered that question along with many others.
And watch this Friday at 8 p.m. on NBCSN as the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s 2019 class (Jeff Gordon, Jack Roush, Roger Penske, Alan Kulwicki and Davey Allison) is inducted in Charlotte.
Regardless of how he ranks himself, Busch undoubtedly will be enshrined there someday.