On Friday evening, NASCAR’s best will unscrew Budweiser bottles, pull flags out of them and set the field for Saturday’s Bud Shootout.
For the first time, Joey Logano will be able to grab his own bottle. Prior to that, his former crew chief, Greg Zippadelli, did the honors, because there was no way the Budweiser marketing folks were going to let someone who hadn’t yet reached legal drinking age hold a beer bottle on national television, whether any brew was in the bottle or not.
Logano’s case has been a perfect example of how one can properly push an adult product. When Logano would win a Nationwide pole, the “21 Means 21″ sign would replace the normal Coors Light sign as a backdrop.
So why would NASCAR, which so carefully crafts its relationship with beer distributors and has the autonomy to send anybody to the showers for making the sport look bad, have such an inadequate policy to address drivers navigating their personal cars while drunk?
AJ Allmendinger, Michael Annett and most recently John Wes Townley have been, as Roscoe P. Coltrane would put it, “cuffed and stuffed” for drinking and driving. Michael Waltrip had done everything but, with one wreck in which alcohol was a factor and another in which mysteriously no one showed up at the door when the cops showed up with a Breathalyzer.
NASCAR has a tough balancing act to navigate every weekend. It wants to project an environment where roughneck, blue-collar types can blow off the steam of a tough life 12 ounces at a time. But it also wants to assure yuppies with toddlers that they can safely get to the track and home.
It’s a little hard to promise fans you can keep the spectators safe when you take such a lax approach to drivers who will readily hit the road while soused.
It might be a little harder for drivers to make bad decisions if they knew an automatic suspension would be a result of their actions.
How in the world are we not already at this point? NASCAR, unlike the other major sports, doesn’t have to collectively bargain anything with its players. Why would it coddle its drivers and potentially alienate marketing partners that are trying to retain their image?
I certainly hope NASCAR isn’t letting folks like Townley off easy because it doesn’t want to get boxed in on a tough decision if a real star gets snagged.
NASCAR finally enacted a tough drug policy with random testing in 2009. But enough beer in one’s gut can be just as dangerous. For NASCAR to banish Jeremy Mayfield on a flunked drug test but let Richard Petty Motorsports fine Allmendinger with no other penalties is a crock.
NASCAR usually doesn’t waste time in changing a policy. Enacting an immediate suspension for driving drunk before the green flag drops on the Daytona 500 would be the most impressive speed the sport has ever shown.