Thursday, April 26, 2007
"Why this place could be wild...and maybe dangerous if Jeff Gordon wins."
Those are the words of NASCAR Now show host Erik Kuselias broadcast on national television on Thursday, April 26, 2007.
Kuselias is speaking about Talladega, a fast track steeped in a tradition of big wrecks, exciting races, and strong feelings for the Earnhardts. He is not talking about three-wide racing, the tricky entry onto pit road, or a controversy about Goodyear tires.
He is trying to incite a riot.
This former sports radio talk show host has done everything possible to insult the sport of NASCAR during his tenure as the host of this show. He has posed hateful questions, forced ESPN analysts to "choose" one argumentative point or the other, and most recently has begun using the ESPN2 airwaves to suggest that violence and anger should play a more prominent role in NASCAR.
He believes this because of his love of stick-and-ball sports that regularly feature fights, ejections, and demeaning trash-talking. He knows bloody hockey fights, bench-clearing brawls in baseball, and NBA players going-after fans. This is the ugly world from which Kuselias has come. This year, he has been thrown into an entirely different group of people that he does not understand.
This group has very different values, a very different way of living, and a very different view of this country. Unfortunately, Kuselias has never met them, gone to a race with them, or respected them. They are NASCAR fans. To him, they are nothing.
For the past three months, Kuselias has treated the millions of NASCAR fans in North America as idiots. He knows absolutely nothing about the sport, and his only understanding of competition comes from the whiny millionaires of the stick-and-ball world. They bring their felonies, unwanted pregnancies, angry physical altercations, and endless steroid and drug problems to the field each-and-every day. And radio talk show hosts like Kuselias eat-it-up. They feed on it. They live for it. They even encourage it.
Now, Kuselias is in NASCAR. We have Tony upset after not winning, Montoya flipping the digit, and Junior taking over at DEI. No fights, no felonies, no gun shots, no strip clubs, and no steroids. Kuselias is lost. We have about forty-five drivers who live within thirty miles of each other and go fishing on Mondays in Lake Norman. We have the "guys" coming over and racing go-karts at Clint Boyer's place each week. We have crews that have Bible study before PT. We don't race on Easter.
This weekend, Jeff Gordon is one of forty-three drivers who have a chance to win the NEXTEL Cup race on Sunday. There will be strategy, competition, excitement, and lots of sheer luck involved in crossing the finish line ahead of the field. Families will picnic, camp in their RVs, and fill the grandstands for a fun race at a great track. These facts are lost on Erik Kuselias and the producers of NASCAR Now. They will not interview the fans. They will not show the reality of the NASCAR experience. ESPN cannot believe that other than racing...this really is...all there is.
Over the past two months, this desire by Kuselias to "create" something controversial has been documented in The Daly Planet time-and-time again. While hilarious and embarrassing to actual NASCAR folks, Kuselias is clearly trying to appeal to the same sports radio fans that chant obscene slogans, hurl objects, and make most professional football, hockey, and baseball games a nightmare for a family to attend.
Now, he has his eye squarely on Talladega. He has begun to pitch the scenario over-and-over again that if Gordon beats Earnhardt to-the-line, "something bad" just might happen. Of course, NASCAR Now has replayed the "great beer can throwing incident" each and every time Kuselias "suggests" that "something" might happen. So, they even suggested what the "something" should be. What great guys.
How much lower and dirtier can ESPN2 and NASCAR Now get than suggesting that fans should misbehave and "harm" Jeff Gordon if he wins? Kuselias actually said that Talladega "might be dangerous if Jeff Gordon wins." On NASCAR Now, on national television, on a Thursday before the race.
Jeff Gordon is a stand-up guy. I have worked with him countless times on TV shows and races. He is funny, talented, and comes from a well-rounded family. The best part is, he can drive the wheels off anything that comes his way, and he chose NASCAR. Now, years later, he is still regarded as a threat every race week.
Erik Kuselias is a hack. He is a sleaze artist. He talks down to anyone associated with NASCAR, as if they live in a trailer and watch COPS a lot. He has bullied drivers, upset reporters, and angered fans with his arrogant and demeaning behavior. Now, he is suggesting that Jeff Gordon might be "in danger" if he wins, and passes Earnhardt Sr. in the record book. This cannot be allowed by NASCAR to "just pass by."
NASCAR is over fifty years old. The sport races from coast-to-coast, and demands that drivers and team members give their entire year to it. There are charities, fundraisers, and time-honored traditions that make America what it is today. Anyone who has witnessed the national anthem and a military fly-over at a NASCAR race on a sunny Sunday afternoon knows they are creating a lifetime memory with their family.
Simply put, it is time for Mr. Kuselias to take a long time-out from NASCAR Now. It should happen without any hesitation on ESPN's part, and it should happen right now. It should be quiet and personal and come from the most senior management at the network. Do it now, and the "NASCAR nation" will allow ESPN this mistake in their first year back to racing.
But, if ESPN leaves this man in-place after his threatening words and sleazy innuendos, they will have cemented their return to NASCAR as a total failure off the track.
Unfortunately, if there is a Yankees-Red Sox game on in the ESPN Newsroom, no one will probably notice this "little issue" with NASCAR. Of course, we already know that no one at ESPN cares.
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