This past weekend was my first time in the hot pass areas of the garage and pits of a NASCAR race.
There was a lot in the infield. Haulers, stock cars, tires, drivers, pit crew members and whole lot more, but one thing I didn't see much of: fat guys.
NASCAR is a sport that requires significant athletic ability; there's just no place for the overweight in a garage.
Unlike other sports, you can't park a big guy in the lane to collect rebounds or line him up at nose tackle to bowl through an offensive line. There's no designated hitter or first base position in NASCAR where you can hide a player that lacks mobility. Cars travel at well over 100 miles per hour (sometimes 200) in this sport, and a four-tire pit stop with a full tank of gas and token chassis adjustment takes 15 seconds (hopefully less, if you want your driver to win).
There's nowhere for the slow or out-of-shape in this sport. Reese Bobby said it best in Talladega Nights when he gave Ricky the advice: "If you're not first, you're last!"
Golden Tate must not have watched that movie...
...Ok, a week ago, I would have seen a lot of blank looks. Before the ESPYs, Golden Tate was just some no-name wide receiver with the otherwise forgettable Seattle Seahawks that formerly caught some touchdowns for a similarly uninspiring University of Notre Dame team. Among the people that had no idea who he was: "Five-time" Jimmie Johnson, whom Tate tweeted about
In response to Johnson's nomination for Best Male Athlete, Tate tweeted: "Jimmy johnson up for best athlete???? Um nooo .. Driving a car does not show athleticism"
The first sign of ignorance is that he can't spell Jimmie's name properly. For the record, I have to suppose that he wouldn't have considered Toni Stuart or Kile Bush athletes either.
Aside from him exuding the average spelling of a wide receiver, he continued to perpetuate the self-centered mentality of a wideout by going on to make the classic, outlandish guarantee. "Guarantee he couldn't in million year play any SPORT," he tweeted.
Wow, despite all the years of Terrell Owens and Chad "Eight-Five" Ochocinco, I haven't heard something that dumb since Roy Williams played for the Detroit Lions and stated after a game, "It's stupid how close we were to putting up 40 [points]." (The Lions scored six points that game - both field goals.)
When asked about the comments this past Friday, Jimmie Johnson seemed very level-headed. "As a race car driver, that's something we've fought all along, so it wasn't anything new. I didn't take great offense to it." He went on to admit he'd never heard of Tate before the tweet but made an open invitation for the football player to attend a race and learn more about the sport.
For Tate, his learning began immediately after he hit "Tweet," as he incurred the wrath of the most united fan base in the country: NASCAR. Fans were quick to jump on Tate and make him realize just how wrong he was.
"I took great pride in watching our sport and all the motorsports fans out there express themselves and share their thoughts," Johnson said of the Tate-induced tweet-up.
Around the garage, drivers shared a similar sentiment to Johnson's.
Nationwide Series contender Elliott Sadler pointed out that [Phillies pitcher] Roy Halladay wouldn't go out and hit a three-pointer for the Dallas Mavericks, but he's definitley one of the best players in baseball.
Top Cup contender Carl Edwards was more blunt. "I thought it was pretty comical," Edwards said. "I, personally, would invite anyone, including Golden Tate or anyone that thinks that Jimmie Johnson's not an athlete, to come out and compete with him in just about anything...a lot of people don't realize how much of an athlete he is."
What most people, especially Tate, don't see is the amount of athletic ability required not only from the drivers, but everyone involved in a successful race team.
It was a big moment for me when I was walking through the pits before Sunday's race and heard one crew member greet a rival crew member. "What are you up to Shaun Peet?"
"Shaun Peet!?" I thought to myself as I turned to look at the guy.
I once watched a Shaun Peet plod around Thompson Arena as a member of the Dartmouth Big Green's ice hockey team in the late 1990s. He was a big, hulking defenseman that totaled just 16 points in four seasons, but brought a fist full of knuckles and spent a good amount of time in the penalty box. After graduating from Dartmouth in 1998, he cruised around the minor hockey league world. Over the course of the next seven years, he played in 336 games, scoring only 16 goals, but racking up 995 penalty minutes.
As I looked over at this Shaun Peet, he appeared to be the same guy...he was!
Perhaps Peet didn't want to see his career penalty minutes go over 1,000, ort more likely he just found a new calling and traded in the penalty box for the pit box.
Now the jackman for Brian Vickers' #83 Red Bull team, Peet still cuts the same striking image he did on hockey skates. He is an example of the athleticism you'll see in the pits and garages of NASCAR.
Most crew members were strong athletes in other sports before joining auto racing; perhaps an all-state high school football player, a small college basketball stand out, maybe even a minor league hockey goon.
No matter what way you dice it. NASCAR is a sport full of athletes, and even Golden Tate seems to be coming to grips with that.
Ultimately, Jimmie Johnson didn't win the award last Wednesday, but it seems that the fallout from the tweets of Golden Tate have only made people more aware of the athletic ability in NASCAR. Hopefully, some day soon everyone will respect drivers as such and one will take home the ESPY for Best Male Athlete. They deserve just as much as the top competitors in the rest of sports.
*A special thanks to Travis Barrett for picking up the blog's slack last week, while I ran around getting prepared for race week.*