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 Columns & Editorials

November 5, 2000

It's Time to Stop the Violence!

Most of the following commentary on Florida racing was written on Friday the 3rd day of November. Saturday night, a somewhat similar scene to what happened at New Smyrna Speedway occurred at the Leo Musgrave Memorial, Sunshine Speedway's tribute to the founder of the track. Saturday night Jimmy Cope and Andy Werden did their part to destroy the family atmosphere that Sunshine tries so hard to create. At least in this case the ownership was wise enough to have police on hand to ensure the safety of the fans.

Now onto the Governor's Cup:
The Florida Governor's Cup is now three weeks into the history books. But there are too many questions and not enough answers.

I'm sure you have read at least some of the hundreds and hundreds of posts on the Florida Stock Car Racing message board, or at least have some knowledge of the events that Saturday night.

After 150 of the best laps of late model racing we have seen in recent times, a bizarre chain of events occurred which still has many fans shaking their heads....and questioning. What would cause a professional race driver, not some rank amateur, but a former NASCAR Slim Jim All-Pro champion, a five time All-Pro winner in 2000, and one of the most visible late model racers in Florida to go berserk? Why would a speedway hold such a major event with 5,000 fans and not provide adequate security to ensure the safety and well being of fans and participants? How could a near riot occur with fights breaking out all over a section of the track surface, people being beaten, kicked and worse, and never see an officer of the law? How could a fan, accompanied by wife and friends be beaten half to death in the pits after the race, in the presence of hundreds of witnesses and yet have no one held accountable?

These are just some of the questions that have been left unanswered.

Let's look at the issue with Wayne Anderson ramming David Rogers at full tilt while under yellow. I suppose anyone familiar with stock car racing can at least understand the competitive fire involved on the track. Wayne simply lost it. Not cool, he almost killed a track worker and made a fool out of himself, but if not excusable, at least understandable. The race had been a burner from the opening green flag, with he and his father Dick Anderson battling very early for the lead, with contact being made several times between the two in the early laps. By the time three-quarters of the race was in the books, the battle was between Rogers, Anderson, and Anderson. Contact was being made by Anderson, Rogers and Anderson on almost every lap for what seemed an eternity. This was racing.

What ensued at approximately lap 150 was not racing. It was a disgusting spectacle performed in front of men, women and more importantly children. At the conclusion of the race a thousand fans clung to the fence separating the track from the grandstands screaming their protests, drowning out the on track interviews with the winner Jimmy Cope and runner up Dick Anderson.

Within 15 minutes a fan would lie on the ground in the pits, beaten unconscious with a blood soaked face and head, surrounded by hundreds of spectators and race crews.

Perhaps thirty minutes later police deputies arrived on the scene. Wayne and Dick Anderson's names have both surfaced in connection with the beating, though as of this writing neither they nor anyone else has been charged by the authorities.

The event subsequently caused such a firestorm on the official New Smyrna Message Board the track owner shut the board down. Several TV stations ran a video of the on track fighting and the ramming of David Rogers race car by Wayne Anderson. It was not a pretty sight. Earlier in the year there were violent confrontations between Wayne Anderson and other racers during or after FASCAR events. If action had been taken by the General Manager then, perhaps the Governor's Cup race would not have been tarnished and perhaps Wayne Anderson would not have lost his head and the respect of Florida race fans.

And perhaps a young man would not have suffered a savage beating and incurred permanent damage to his eyesight.

A Disturbing Trend

A modified racer was arrested by Manatee Sheriff's Deputies at DeSoto Speedway Saturday September 23rd after a fight erupted at the conclusion of the Open Wheel Modified race. A fellow racer used the rules to 'claim' the other's motor. The upset driver in a fit of rage took to beating the other until the deputies intervened. The arrested driver was a former track champion, and received no fines nor penalties from the speedway. The ongoing feud between the two drivers was a well known fact at DeSoto Speedway. Perhaps if action had been taken earlier the incident would not have gone as it did.

Also in October just weeks after a speedway death at Charlotte County Speedway brought track violence to the forefront, one of their most distinguished racers, was suspended and fined $200.00 for fighting in the pits. Big deal.

Sunshine Speedway has had similar episodes. Earlier his year at DeSoto Speedway a racer decided to sell his car after being threatened with violence at the track.

Regardless of the reasons, this kind of behavior is not tolerable in the year 2000. The wonderful little stories about fisticuffs by the NASCAR heros of yesterday, told with a grin are as outdated as hooded hate mongers instilling fear into the populace. The idea that it's acceptable to have local stock car racers act like play yard bullies is fine if you want to close the doors and quit inviting the paying public.

Or call it something other than family entertainment. All the radio commercials, newspaper ads and big mouthed promoters, all the benefits and community activities will not bring the family atmosphere to a race track when the owners and managers handle this unprofessional and uncivilized behavior with a wink and a nod.

Is this really the kind of morality and lesson we really want to teach our children? Promoters quick to try and sweep these incidents under some rug, and yes Virginia they do exactly that, are dangerous to the future of the sport. But not nearly as dangerous as track owners who refuse to lower the boom on this nonsense. They are the ones who set the standards for the level of professionalism they expect at their facilities.

A few days after the event there was a photo of the owner of the New Smyrna Speedway on the top of the Florida racing message board. It was accompanied by a caption labeling him as the 'most dangerous man in Florida racing'. One promoter type thought that was too 'personal'. He runs multi-million dollar a year entertainment venue. He put people's lives in danger. He is the only track owner to my knowledge too cheap to pay for adequate police protection.

I stand on the opinion that Robert Hart should be held accountable to the fans for his operation of an unsafe racing facility. After having asked thirty or more race track owners from around the country, interviewed a dozen or more event promoters and organizers, and spoken with hundreds of fans, I could not find one person who would condone having a major event such as the Cup race with no law enforcement on hand. Many had the opinion on the order of 'who would be foolish enough to do something like that'.

Robert Hart, owner of New Smyrna Speedway, the same owner who allowed drivers to race in firetraps without any serious fire safety. The same owner who had a fan beaten senseless at his track and didn't make the effort to contact the man's family to see of his condition. That in itself is shameful.

No apology from him, business as usual.

If that's acceptable for the racing community, then it is indeed a sad day for stock car racing in Florida. As for the Governor's Cup, Robert Hart and his operation have trashed the tradition. Perhaps some illumination may come and a business or person will offer him enough money to move Florida's most prestigious race to a speedway that will give it the respect it deserves.

Whoever would do so would earn the respect of thousands of race fans.

Then of course there's the issue of who beat this fan so unmercifully. Those with knowledge of the events and who for their own reasons are withholding evidence from the authorities will have to live with their own conscious, and will inherit the karma they create. Many said the fan brought it on himself. Isn't that for the authorities to sort out, or as some believe a race track is a world unto itself with it's own rules, which exist outside of the rest of the society?

I personally don't see how we can promote racing a family oriented sport and activity while condoning such behavior. Brutality and family activity don't really belong together. Beyond that the respect that fans have had for the drivers is quickly eroding and ticket sales, contrary to the beliefs of a few misguided relics form the past, will continue to falter unless the tracks do something to stop it.

Fining or suspending drivers by a single track owner is as foolish as allowing this level of sportsmanship in the first place. Fines are just more money in somebody's pocket, and the driver simply packs up and moves to the next convenient track to do his thing. Until the track owners work together on these matters it will not change the game. 98% of the fans in survey after survey say common rules would be a positive move for Florida racing.

Not it's not about competition rules. It's about making your track a safe environment to take the family. And making it a place where the entertainers don't destroy the values you try to teach at home, and teachers try to teach in school.

Remove the thugs from racing so the rest of us can enjoy the sport.

by Jack Smith

More:Listen to a few fans from the Governor's Cup.

More: What Really Matters

More:Reward Offered in New Smyrna Beating

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