In a NASCAR race in Long Pond, Pa., on July 19, Davey Allison's car Hipped 11 times, leaving him with a fractured collarbone, a dislocated right wrist and two broken bones in his right arm. Yet Sunday, just one week after that crash, Allison raced on NASCAR's fastest track, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, the risk to himself and 39 other drivers notwithstanding.
Allison, 31, is not the first driver to return to the racetrack prematurely. Last year, for instance, Sterling Marlin was airlifted from a burn center to a track to start a race and then airlifted back to the hospital. Why did they get back behind the wheel so soon?
Machismo and a love of competition are part of it. But the main reason is that NASCAR rules, more than those of any other sport, compel an athlete to play hurt. For a team to collect Winston Cup points of any real value from a race, its main driver, the one who has been accruing points all season, must start that race. After one lap he may give up his seat to a relief driver, and his team will receive points corresponding to the new driver's finish. Allison had to start at Talladega if his team was to have any hope of overtaking Bill Elliott's team and, ultimately, of winning the title, which will pay $1.3 million this season. Allison ran four laps on Sunday before being replaced by Bobby Hillin Jr., whose third-place finish allowed Allison's team to regain the points lead.
NASCAR officials say that they "emphasize the driver" in promoting the Winston Cup. And NASCAR's no-play, no-points system almost guarantees that track promoters will be able to deliver full fields of stars for each race. But at the same time, NASCAR treats drivers as "independent contractors" whose only choice is to take it or leave it.
NASCAR has longed for more media exposure, believing that if more people could get a close look at stock car racing, they would love it. More likely, they wouldn't stand for it.
On Aug. 4 Leland's Sports Memorabilia Auctioneers in New York City will put up for bid several items that once belonged to pitcher Tom Seaver, including a 23-year-old toothpick. Fished out of a pocket of his Met warmup jacket, which is also on the block, the gnarled wood has been certified by Seaver as "game used" though he doesn't recall how he used it. Seaver says the pick's auction is "tongue-in-cheek."
Asked why the toothpick wasn't included with the jacket, Michael Puzzo, Leland's public relations director, said, "We don't throw anything in when we could sell it to somebody else for $200."
The Trials Continue