Medlen would discover silver lining in darkest clouds


It was a struggle coming up with a column topic this week.

It's not because NASCAR took last weekend off or I'm immersed in the NCAA basketball tournaments. I haven't even filled out a bracket.

It wasn't until Wednesday that I realized why I'd hit a roadblock: Two years ago Thursday, Eric Medlen was severely injured in a Funny Car testing crash in Gainesville, Fla. He died four days later.

I often think of Eric. I like to look at a picture of him straddling a bucking bull on the dragstrip starting line at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

A professional bull rider had visited the track a few years ago, and Eric was the only drag racer willing to hop on the animal brought along to promote a bull riding event. Eric was a rodeo athlete before becoming a drag racer, so he could tell the "bull" was a harmless steer and didn't have any DNA linking it to Bodacious.

These are tough times for many of us, and we could use some of Eric's wisdom. He would smile, say things will get better.

But I don't know if even he could have found a positive spin with a few recent developments in motor sports.

Last week, Budweiser announced that after 30 years it will end its sponsorship of Kenny Bernstein and the National Hot Rod Association.

This comes about a year after InBev of Belgium bought American brewer Anheuser-Busch. Motor sports fans are noted for being brand-loyal to sponsors, so if you drink beer, find one that's made in America. Dump Bud.

I don't drink beer, but I'm boycotting Belgian chocolate and waffles.

And, my gosh, two weeks ago during the Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, about 64,000 bags of Georgia peanuts were handed out as part of Peanut Farmer Appreciation Day.

Armageddon must be the next stop on life's pothole-lined freeway if foreigners are controlling America's "king of beers" and a peanut byproduct has been killing people.

The last thing we need are killer peanuts, considering crowds at races this year have been smaller than a year ago.

Granted, 140,000 at the Cup race three weeks ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was impressive.

A few thousand free tickets were needed to nearly fill the stands at Las Vegas, and considerably more freebies and discounted ducats were used to bail out Cup crowds in Daytona Beach, Fla., Southern California and Atlanta.

A streak of 53 straight Cup sellouts over 13 years at Bristol Motor Speedway could end Sunday. But Eric would point out that the crowd still will be close to the 160,000 capacity at the half-mile oval in Tennessee.

A bigger problem is a decline in television viewership for Cup races. NASCAR and tracks can use the economy as a scapegoat for a drop in attendance, but TV coverage is free.

Each Cup race this year has had a smaller viewing audience than the previous year; Las Vegas dropped by 1 million to 11.1 million, and Atlanta fell by about 14 percent.

About now Eric would counter my points with his optimistic views. He would point out Cup races still have been the most watched sports event each weekend.

"Sure, there are some bad times, but at least tracks are cutting some ticket prices. Aren't they?" he'd ask.

He'd be right.

You can buy tickets for $5 today for Saturday night's NASCAR All-American Series opener at the speedway's Bullring. And you have until Monday to get $19 general admission tickets for the speedway's April 2 to 5 NHRA SummitRacing.com Nationals.

I guess the clouds I see have silver linings. Thanks, Eric.

The NHRA's pro tour, though, will arrive for the third time without Eric.

"I have no regrets," he'd shrug. "Heck, I won races, drove a hot rod for John Force and worked with my dad. That's a good life right there."

Next time negativism burdens me, I'll try to imagine how Eric would look at the situation.

I'll always miss him. Sorry, Eric, but not even you can make me smile about that.

Jeff Wolf's motor sports column is published Friday. He can be reached at 702-383-0247 or jwolf@reviewjournal.com. Visit Wolf's motor sports blog at lvrj.com/blogs/heavypedal/ throughout the week.

 

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