It was truly a sickening, disgusting sight to see Jeff Gordon do a victory lap in Phoenix holding a Dale Earnhardt 3 flag after Saturday night`s race. Many, many Earnhardt fans felt that Gordon`s actions were a deliberate insult and tacky way of bragging to the world that he had tied Dale`s career wins at 76. Feelings on this topic run deep with Earnhardt fans, and we certainly have a right to our opinions as well. I didn't like it. It was two-faced and insulting. I don't have to like it, and I don't appreciate Gordon's self-aggrandizing actions nor think it was necessary to rub in the fact that he's still racing. Some of us have lived and breathed racing for better than 40 years, and we feel intensely about our sport--who we like and who we don't. Racing is nothing if not passionate, and Earnhardt fans are as passionate about Dale Sr. today as they were when he was racing. Gordon might as well have been 'flipping the bird' at the Earnhardt fans--that's exactly how that gesture came across.
It was definitely not a friendly "rivalry" when Earnhardt was racing Gordon and to pretend it was is insulting and tasteless. If Gordon wishes to revise history, this is not the way to do it. His actions smacked of sheer gloating, ignorance and irreverance. And, whether or not he said anything in Victory Lane (and the first thing out of his mouth was about Dale Earnhardt), the fact remains that he is so keen on trying to be compared to Earnhardt, he will do anything to further that goal. It would have been a helluva lot more classy had he used a Virginia Tech flag, to salute the University after last week's tragedy. But, that's right--Gordon was born in California. He's not a native Southerner...Gordon plays the humble role well, but sincerity is not one of his better personality traits. Revisionists try to portray Earnhardt and Gordon as being close friends. They were business partners in many efforts, but Dale was the consumate businessman. Every driver wishes he were Dale's best friend, but from all accounts that role still fell to Richard Childress and a few others. All of a sudden we're hearing what great friends Dale and Gordon were. Come on....get real. A friend is someone you chat with on the phone, go hunting with, or socialize with. I don't ever recall seeing a photo of Dale and Teresa and Jeff and Brooke out on the town having dinner.
Dale Jr. is too nice and too much of an ambassador for the sport than to do anything other than he did and congratulate Gordon. Junior has a lot of clout with the fans--but this is not about Dale Jr. It is about honoring Dale Sr. -- something a great many race fans feel was NOT done. Bet you won`t see Gordon driving around with a Cale Yarborough or Darrell Waltrip flag when he likely ties their records.
This sport truly changed for the worst when Dale Earnhardt, Sr. was killed at Daytona in 2001. A fake-feeling tribute by a driver who is widely disliked because of his owner and team`s history of bribery and cheating was a poor choice, done in poor taste. As my mom used to say, "Consider the source."
All week long there have been articles defending Gordon`s actions, trying to portray this as a "tribute." A tribute is a very honorable and personal thing--and this did not feel that way. It felt more like a "Na-Na-Na-Na-Na-Na" braggadocio. It was not spontaneous. It was premeditated, as we heard on the voice feed on the television broadcast. Perhaps if so many of Gordon`s wins had not been under questionable circumstances--even this one, with the so-called safety problem of not having his radio work so the race was delayed til he got a new helmet (wonder if it had been Kenny Wallace or Mike Bliss - would they have been allowed to get new equipment while NASCAR put the start on hold? Past history of NASCAR says No Way)....
If Gordon wins 100 races, it will not make him one bit more popular with the fans who have seen too many shenanigans out of the Hendrick camp for them to ever like him. Even with NASCAR`s blessing, though, he will never match Petty`s 200 victories. And, even if he did, that would not change the feelings of the fans who detest Gordon and what he represents. And, like it or not, the fan is the backbone of the sport and the fan has a right to voice an opinion, whether the Gordon fans like it or not.