Corey LaJoie, meet NASCAR's thought police
“Is it stereotyping to ask TSA to cavity search the gentleman with a turban and a gray beard? I didn't think so”
Thanks to the tweet listed above, 22 year old NASCAR K&N East driver Corey LaJoie was indefinitely suspended and forced to undergo sensitivity training before he can return to the racetrack. LaJoie, who won five races and finished second in the K&N East season standings a year ago, has only run two races there this season and it seems NASCAR wants him parked altogether for the remainder of 2013. NASCAR's response to the tweet is a perfect example why today's drivers are long on cliches and short on personality. After all, the Thought Police in Charlotte are ever vigilant.
Fantastic finish from 2012 involving LaJoie, Brett Moffitt and Chase Elliott
It's not the first time the sanctioning body has taken this kind of action. Within the past week, Nelson Piquet Jr. was fined $10,000 for using the “other” F word on Instagram. Jeremy Clements received a similar indefinite suspension earlier this year that eventually lasted two races for an offhand comment to an MTV reporter- an action that made little sense at the time given the context involved (one NASCAR refuses to discuss to this day). In all three cases, the sanctioning body cited its policy that prohibits the use of “demeaning language” and LaJoie's tweet was an, “intolerable communication that has no place in our sport,” according to George Silbermann, NASCAR's vice president for regional and touring series.
Tony Schiavone called; he thinks you might be over hyping this just a bit.
The comment involve no racial slurs and was not a violent attack on another individual or driver. Had he gone on TV after a race and threatened to show up at another driver's house and assault him, LaJoie would be fine (just ask Boris Said). Or perhaps he could have insulted a former teammate as Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin did back in March before the wreck that broke Hamlin's back. That was a-OK according to NASCAR. Heck, he could have even taken issue with lactating mothers feeding their babies in public a la Kasey Kahne. All that might earn is a few nasty comments from a handful of people.
A little light NASCAR reading from Amazon
And lets put all of the cards on the table; what LaJoie said in jest is something many have thought at one time or another while waiting in line at the airport security checkpoint. The 19 hijackers on 9/11 that killed themselves and thousands more all came from one part of the world. Perhaps it is “racially insensitive” to point that fact out. Yet when you're walking down the jetway, you'd like to think that the persons most likely to fly it into a building haven't breezed through security. You'd hope that the TSA screeners aren't so afraid of being called racist that they don't do their job. When the lives on the line are yours and those whom you love, political correctness tends to take a back seat.
No, this isn't a true First Amendment issue. LaJoie is free to say what he wants; no one will put him in jail for what he's said and no law prohibits him from saying it as often and as loud as he'd like. NASCAR as a business is also free to allow or disallow someone from participating in their races. There is no inalienable right to racing- life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are a part of the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. In all walks of life, the freedom to speak your mind comes with consequences and NASCAR is no different.
Yet for those who support LaJoie's suspension, remember this moment when you bemoan how drivers aren't what they used to be. There's a reason why most drivers have such a carefully constructed public personae, why they politely thank their team, their sponsors and their fans- while saying virtually nothing else. While 1984 is long distant, the “Thought Police” of Orwell's novel are a very real part of racing today. They watch what the drivers say and are prepared to act whether there is a fan backlash or not. It's done in the supposed best interests of stock car racing, almost to protect the sport from its drivers at times.
In reality, the main goal seems to protect NASCAR itself and the difference is more than semantic. Denny Hamlin paid $25,000 back in March for saying in public what anyone who'd been watching already knew; the new car was a work in progress and nobody had figured it out yet. NASCAR's excuse in that case was that they felt Hamlin disparaged the product and discouraged fans from watching the races. Yet when is the last time you either watched or didn't watch a race because of what a driver said? Isn't it far more likely that fans turned off the races because of the actual product on the track? And if that's true, isn't what Hamlin said absolutely correct? Since that time no one has dared to question the Gen six car itself- which is precisely the chilling effect that NASCAR clearly hoped would happen by fining Denny in the first place.
Fair or not, drivers such as Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson are called vanilla and perceived as lacking a personality. “They ain't like Dale or the King used to be,” is a common refrain I've heard. “These guys today are just corporate sellouts.” Sellout is a bit much- but it's fair to say that both are circumspect when the camera lights are on. Stepping outside of NASCAR's box isn't just something that might cost them money. With points penalties, being placed on probation or even being suspended outright as the likely outcome, what incentive do they have to be honest? What good can come from talking and acting like a real person if it's going to put your livelihood at risk?
No, NASCAR and its drivers cannot let it all hang out as the generation before them did. For good and ill, NASCAR is a multi billion dollar business that depends on corporate sponsorship to survive. Without large companies spending tens of millions of dollars to put their logo on the car, none of the teams would have means to so much as show up at the track. Companies will not write those kinds of checks for an individual they view as a liability. Someone's who's a cross-burning KKK member will not fly in that environment and neither will someone who drops racial slurs like they're at a Lisa Lampanelli show.
But Corey LaJoie is no Klansman and to treat him as such is a disgrace. By indefinitely suspending him, NASCAR brought far more attention to the tweet than it ever would have garnered on its own. He has (as of this writing) fewer than 7,000 twitter followers and has yet to run a race for any of NASCAR's three national touring bodies. He's probably better known for who his father is than for anything he's accomplished in racing so far. Who would have noticed- or cared- had the sanctioning body not decided to make an example of him? Instead of pulling LaJoie aside privately and telling him to knock it off, NASCAR has made the tweet into front page news in the world of racing.
I suppose its something they can point to and say, “See? We don't tolerate racism in our sport.” Congratulations, Brian France. You've taken a 22 year old kid who's struggling just to find a ride in this sport and made him a public whipping boy. No matter how innocuous the actual comments were, LaJoie's chance to find a legitimate ride next year just became near-impossible. He's been branded with the scarlet R before the public and potential sponsors alike. His after the comma for the next decade is now, “Corey LaJoie, previously suspended by NASCAR for racial remarks.” It will be difficult for LaJoie to find a company even willing to take his calls, much less put their logo on his car. Look at the tweet again- does the punishment come anywhere near the crime here?
Mission accomplished for NASCAR's Thought Police.