No Place Like Home
To one Kansas native, Roy Williams's decision to stay is a rare validation for the state
We Kansans are, on the whole, a pretty insecure bunch. You would be too if your state were known nationwide as a fly-over zone, Dorothy's home, or a stepping stone to places bigger and better—in other words, just about anywhere else. Small market? Last year the NCAA moved its headquarters from Overland Park, Kans., to the greener pastures of Indianapolis. The dominant feature of our state flag is a mountain landscape from...where exactly? Kansas has no mountains.
Which is why everyone in the Sunflower State, from Liberal to Leavenworth, was smiling when Roy Williams (above) defied the fates and turned down North Carolina to remain as basketball coach at Kansas. Here was a Carolina native, a former Tar Heels assistant who had been offered his dream job, and not a soul outside the Great Plains thought he would stay in Lawrence. Last Thursday, in fact, the Durham Herald-Sun ran a banner headline on its front page screaming WILLIAMS SAYS 'YES' TO HEELS.
Dewey defeated Truman, too, didn't he? Williams stayed, he said, because of his players, but there was more to it than that. Maybe it was the 1,800 E-mails begging him not to leave (Williams's secretary, Joanie Stephens, printed out every one for him) or the offer of a lifetime supply of Krispy Kreme doughnuts by a local franchisee or the HONK FOR ROY sign on Naismith Drive outside Allen Fieldhouse, one of the hundreds of signs all over the Kansas campus imploring the coach to stay. "This is truly a fantastic place," Williams told the nearly 20,000 supporters who gathered at the Jayhawks football stadium last Thursday to hear him announce his decision. "I had a dream of North Carolina being my dream place. But my players and the fans showed me this is the place."
So Williams, 49, the fastest coach in history to reach 300 victories, is staying in Lawrence, where he can chase Dean Smith's alltime mark of 879 without having to do it in Smith's shadow. But here's something not all of you coastal folks may understand: By choosing Kansas over Carolina, Roy Williams gave Kansans—all of us, not just Jay-hawks fans—a victory worth more than anything we could have earned on a basketball court. We've won somebody's heart.
KENNY IRWIN CRASH
Don't Blame The Track
For the second time in two months a NASCAR driver was killed in a single-car accident on Turn 3 at the New Hampshire International Speedway. Kenny Irwin was the victim during Winston Cup practice last Friday, eight weeks to the day after Adam Petty died while practicing for a Busch Series race. Despite the similarities in the crashes, responsibility for neither fatality lies with the track. "People start pointing fingers at the racetrack, and I don't think it's fair in this case," says NASCAR chief operating officer Mike Helton. Adds driver Jeff Gordon, "There's nothing wrong with New Hampshire."
That's not to say NHIS isn't tricky. It's a 1.058-mile oval with long (1,500-foot) straightaways and flat (12-degree) turns. Drivers reach 160 mph approaching Turns 1 and 3 before they brake hard and slow to about 100 in the turns. Though the causes of the Petty and Irwin crashes have yet to be officially determined, in both cases fellow drivers speculate that the culprit was a stuck throttle. ( NASCAR said last week that it could find no evidence of mechanical failure in Petty's car, but that doesn't rule out a stuck throttle, which might have come unstuck by the force of the impact.) When a driver's throttle hangs open, about the only thing he can do is kill the engine manually by flipping a switch on the dashboard. NHIS's configuration makes that difficult, because the flatness of the turns means an out-of-control car will go straight into the wall before the driver can react. But the New Hampshire track isn't unique in that regard; it's neither the flattest track on the Winston Cup circuit nor the one with the tightest turns.
Rather than blaming the New Hampshire oval, drivers were suggesting that damage caused by the impact of crashes could be reduced by placing energy-absorbing barriers against the concrete walls at some tracks, a proposal Helton says is among those that NASCAR is looking into. But, he says, "we don't want to use the guys in the car as guinea pigs when it comes to wall materials."
As for the throttle issue, some drivers—including Rusty Wallace and Terry Labonte—have begun using devices that allow them to unstick a hung throttle with one of their feet. Darrell Waltrip, a 29-year veteran, would like to see them become mandatory. "There has to be a solution in these throttles sticking wide open," he says. "I'm so sick of hearing, 'Well, he was doing what he loved.' I do a lot of things I love. I don't expect them to kill me."