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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Blast From the Past

NASCAR's Auto Cub 400, in Fontana, California, is now in the record books. Won by Kyle Busch, it was best noted by the last-lap duel between Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin.

Former teammates with Joe Gibbs racing, Hamlin and Logano dislike one another intensely. In the Phoenix 500, Logano put Hamlin into the wall early in the race, after which Hamlin returned the favor by spinning out his opponent.

Logano wanted payback.

The duel in Fontana ended in a crash that wrecked Hamlin's car, and sent him to the hospital.

It wasn't an accident. Coming out of the final turn, Logano slid up into Hamlin's racer, determined to either crowd him out or wreck them both. He wrecked them both, letting a surprised Busch slide past to take the checkered flag.

In the post-race interview, Logano said that Hamlin had it coming. He spoke with a chilling honesty that was both callous, and refreshingly old-school.

Stock-car racing was never the domain of nice men. Largely organized by former bootleggers, it attracted the hard men who were willing to risk their lives driving fast, for a meager paycheck, and for personal pride.

Feuds were expected, fights common, and wrecking an opponent was part of the job. "That's racin'."

But today, NASCAR has been gentrified. Drivers are multimillionaires, and are courted by entertainers and politicians. They commute by Gulfstream jet, and live in houses that could double as resorts.

They make speeches. In the old days, the last thing anyone would have wanted was to hear a driver speak in public. The profane result would have been an unholy cross between embarrassing and horrifying.

Today Joey Logano was a throwback to those days. He wasn't nice, he wasn't a gentleman, and he didn't care. He's a driver, out to win, not to make friends.

And he's exactly what the sport needs.

You might say, times have changed, we need these people to be role models. But a role model for what? If you geld a stallion you get a horse, a sexless, relatively mild beast of burden.

When the last stallion is gelded, we'll have lost something that we might realize, too late, was worth keeping.

And eventually, there will be no more horses.

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