Racing on the side sharpens a racer’s skill while pushing his luck
Thanks to cell phones and video recorders, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, people have watched Kasey Kahne’s double summersault World of Outlaws crash July 22 at Mechanicsburg, Pa., on the internet – including his next car owner in NASCAR, Rick Hendrick.
By nature, drivers are thrill-seekers. Some limit their daredevil activities to the main event each Sunday. Others have no problem putting their lives and careers in jeopardy by racing on the side.
“I haven’t had anything like that before that’s been so popular that I really didn’t do anything good,” he said. “But everything worked out. I mean, the car held up fine. Everything was good. Pretty good Sprint Car wreck, I guess.”
His car bumped another in the second turn at Williams Grove Speedway, shooting Kahne’s car flipping over the wall. Although he walked away, replays of the accident immediately were shown on television stations and on the internet.
That sparked a crush of text messages, including one from Hendrick.
“I don’t think he was happy with what he saw; he was happy I was all right,” Kahne said. “He wasn’t upset or anything. He was happy I was all right.”
Moonlighting is nothing new in NASCAR. Kyle Busch drives his own Late Model cars and Camping World Trucks when he’s not working for Joe Gibbs Racing. Tony Stewart races dirt cars and World of Outlaw cars. David Ragan and Clint Bowyer have their own Late Model teams and Kurt Busch tinkers with drag racing.
Travis Pastrana was supposed to make his Nationwide Series debut two weeks ago at Indianapolis, but he broke his leg while making a motorcycle jump at the X-Games. Now his stock car career is on hold until 2012.
“We understood he might get hurt,” car owner Michael Waltrip said. “Now, I wouldn’t tell you that I’m naïve and when I think of Travis Pastrana I think of Superman. I just assumed it would all be okay.”
Others haven’t been as lucky. Mike Alexander’s NASCAR career ended with a Late Model crash at Pensacola, Pa., in 1988. Rich Vogler qualified to make his Sprint Cup Series debut at the Pocono Raceway, but the night before the race he died at Salem, Ind., in a USAC Sprint Car event.
Car owners know it’s too difficult to keep their drivers from tempting fate, so many have rules to limit their dangerous sideline jobs. Jack Roush won’t allow any of his drivers in cars where he doesn’t know who built the car. He also demands they use the best seats and their Head and Neck Support device.
“I worry about them when they’re doing something in a car that I’m not familiar with,” Roush said. “The way I feel, the more laps you get on the track, the better you get. It sharpens their instincts. But they’re supposed to ask before they do it.”
Roush doesn’t like his drivers to make local track appearances that include running match races against local drivers. Too many of them, he said, end up with a local hot-shot trying to make a name for himself.
“I want my guys in races where they race cleanly,” he said.
Ragan not only drives a Late Model car when it fits his Sprint Cup schedule, he also loves driving in the weekly Legends shows at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“Carl (Edwards) got hurt playing Frisbee, so anything can happen,” Ragan said. “I love driving go-karts, Legends and Late Models. Anything. It helps me stay on my game. I sharpens you skills, your mind. I race as much as my girlfriend will allow me.”
Now that Stewart is a car owner, he doesn’t have to worry about getting permission from anyone else to step outside the NASCAR garage to fill his need for speed. He’s also passed that open invitation to his teammate, Ryan Newman.
“I don’t care what anybody else thinks about it, I’m going to live my life the way I want,” Stewart said. “Kasey is going to live his the way he wants. I encourage Ryan to do the same thing.
“We make sure the car is as safe as they can be. We make sure we have just as good of seats in our cars, we have the same seat belts, wear the same helmets. We can get hurt driving down the street just as easy, if not easier, than driving a racecar. To me you only get one chance at life; you need to live it the way you want to live it.”
Now that Busch is a car owner in the truck series, he has a better understanding of what Gibbs must go through every time he races on his own.
“Certainly, there’s still the aspect that you can get hurt,” he said. “Whether you get hurt here at the big level racing around here or whether you get hurt at the small level, it can happen at any moment.”
And the whole world will be able to see it on the internet.