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Will insurance push NASCAR to act?

Published October 11, 2012

NASCAR has lost its biggest star, right in the middle of its playoffs.

Although everybody walked away from last Sunday’s Big One at Talladega Superspeedway, it was revealed Thursday that Dale Earnhardt Jr. had been diagnosed with a concussion that’s serious enough to keep him out of the next two Chase for the Championship races.

It’s not the first time that Junior has had his “bell rung.” He raced in 2002 with a concussion (his admission after the fact prompted NASCAR to take a closer look at drivers with possible head injuries) and during the  press conference at which he announced he had to step away from the car, he admitted to being concussed as the result of a crash during tire testing at Kansas Speedway in August.

Regan Smith, who was unceremoniously dumped from his ride with Furniture Row Racing to make way for Kurt Busch, will drive for Hendrick Motorsports in Earnhardt’s absence. And A.J. Allmendinger — that’s correct, the A.J. Allmendinger, who was fired by Roger Penske after flunking a drug test earlier in the year, will take Smith’s place at Phoenix Racing.

Now, whether Earnhardt will make an insurance claim over this, or whether it will be Rick Hendrick, no one knows. But you can bet that employment insurance will come into play over this because Hendrick is going to have to pay Smith to race for him, as well as continuing to pay Junior, and it’s for times like these that you buy the stuff.

In a strange way, perhaps this will prove to be the catalyst needed for NASCAR to do something about pack racing at restrictor-plate tracks. The fans might like God-almighty wrecks but I know the drivers don’t. NASCAR, ever aware of the value of crashes as entertainment, has been hesitant to act.

But money, as it always does, talks. If, all of a sudden, all the drivers — and NASCAR itself — were told by their insurance companies that their premiums were going to double, and to double again every time there was a Big One and somebody like Earnhardt was hurt, you can bet there would be some pretty quick and decisive action.

For the sake of the drivers, who must worry that one of these times their luck will run out, we can only hope.

Racing drivers get all the glory. But without the people behind the scenes doing the work to make the racing possible, those drivers wouldn’t have their moments in the limelight.

In the case of open-wheel racing cars on oval tracks, the unsung heroes forever and ever have been the push-truck drivers. Most of that type of car — sprints, midgets and supermodifieds — don’t carry on-board starters (although that’s changing) and the racers have to depend on push-trucks to get going.

Although they number in the dozens, the push-truck driver for the Can-Am Midget Club for many years was Bob Stanley, 71, of Elliott Lake (photo above). Wherever the midgets went, you’d find Bob. And when the midgets went to self-starters, he joined the Southern Ontario Sprints tour and took pleasure in pushing off the sprint cars.

It is my sad duty to report today that Bob Stanley died Oct. 2. According to my sprint-car racin’ friend Dick Mahoney, Bob was the “world champion of push-truck drivers.”

“He was the best,” Mahoney said. “You could always depend on him. He’d slowed down a bit in recent years but we saw him at Brighton (Speedway) on Labour Day weekend and he was planning to go to the Chili Bowl in Tulsa (Okla.) in January. He’d seen his first Chili Bowl this year — it’d been on his Bucket List.”

Bob Stanley’s daughter, Karen, is married to sprint car racer Warren Mahoney, Dick’s son.

A funeral service was held in Guelph on Friday. The racing world’s lost another of the good ones.

The first 13 drivers to be inducted into the Flamboro Speedway Hall of Fame have been selected and will be honoured at a banquet and ceremony next Jan. 26 at the Waterdown Royal Canadian Legion Branch 551.

Anybody who’s ever attended the Hamilton-area speedway would recognize these names:

Earl Stroh, Junior Hanley, Glenn Schurr, Don Biederman, Ken Stenhouse Sr., Harvey Lennox, Jack Greedy, Earl Ross, Billy Lyons, Jimmy Howard, Ray Gowan, Randy Slack and Sam Snider.

Stroh was a street stock and hobby car racer, as was Gowan and Lyons, while Hanley, Biederman, Ross and Slack raced late models. Stenhouse built race cars. The rest — Schurr, Lennox, Greedy, Howard and Snider raced supermodifieds.

Schurr, as well as competing, was one of the original owners of Flamboro.

The judges had to make some tough choices. On the ballot were such champions as Howie Scannell, Jack McCutcheon (my sister’s all-time favourite driver), Jack Cook and Russ Urlin. And not to forget Dean “Dizzy Dean” Murray, who announced at Flamboro, promoted on occasion and was one of the founders of Wheelspin News.

Maybe next time.

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