Travis Kvapil has to go. Now.
After a 911 call Tuesday night, Mooresville, NC police arrested NASCAR driver Travis Kvapil on domestic assault and false imprisonment charges. He was released after spending the night in jail and posting bond the following morning. While the legal process has yet to play itself out, there should be no question at BK Racing on Kvapil's status. He needs to go away and go away now. Anything else sends an impossibly wrong message on a subject that threatens to give the sport yet another black eye. And if BK Racing won't remove him, it's incumbent upon NASCAR to do it for them.
Details on the incident are in short supply but what's known publicly is enough. Kvapil, whose team is supporting Domestic Violence Awareness month, is married to wife Jennifer and the couple have three children. Police were called to their home Tuesday night and according to a police spokesman, Kvapil was taken into custody at that time because officers felt there was probable cause of an assault. His next court date is undetermined at this time but as charges have already been filed against the driver it's clear that the responding officers saw enough to proceed with or without the victim's cooperation- an important point in any domestic violence case.
To understand the gravity of what took place it's worth looking at how the state of North Carolina defines the charges involved. First, in statute 50-B-1 NC law defines domestic violence as:
Domestic violence means the commission of one or more of the following acts upon an aggrieved party or upon a minor child residing with or in the custody of the aggrieved party by a person with whom the aggrieved party has or has had a personal relationship, but does not include acts of self-defense
Attempting to cause bodily injury, or intentionally causing bodily injury; or
Placing the aggrieved party or a member of the aggrieved party's family or household in fear of imminent serious bodily injury or continued harassment, as defined in G.S. 14-277.3A, that rises to such a level as to inflict substantial emotional distress; or
Committing any act defined in G.S. 14-27.2 through G.S. 14-27.7 (First and Second Degree rape, First or Second Degree Sexual Offense, Sexual Offense with a child, Sexual Battery, Intercourse and Sexual Offenses with certain victims).
Meanwhile, common law defines false imprisonment as:
The abuser/suspect holds another person against his/her will and/or engages in behavior which results in the person’s inability to freely move about or seek assistance. Confinement defined is, “some form of imprisonment within a given area such as a room, a house, or a vehicle.
In other words, you don't need to have that much of an active imagination to put the pieces together here. Whatever took place at the Kvapil home on Tuesday night was bad enough to make Jennifer Kvapil afraid enough to contact the police in the first place. And the responding officers saw enough with their own eyes to take Travis into custody and charge him with the above offenses.
Yes, Kvapil is entitled to the the assumption of innocence until proven guilty under the law. If his case comes to trial- and at this point, there's plenty of reason to believe that won't happen- he will be judged by a jury of his peers. Prosecutors will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Kvapil committed these acts. His attorneys will have the opportunity to cross-examine the officers and any other witness called by the prosecution. Travis himself will have the opportunity to explain his actions if he so chooses. His attorneys will have ample time to present evidence of Kvapil's innocence and to make any and all arguments they feel appropriate on his behalf. In the eyes of the law he is an innocent man.
Yet the eyes of the law have absolutely nothing to do with the laws of perception. And those laws have an entirely different set of rules- rules that make Kvapil radioactive right now. During Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Kvapil is arrested for domestic violence. The arrest didn't come from a private criminal complaint filed by a vengeful ex-spouse. It didn't come because someone else read into a public confrontation. It came because the victim called police and the police saw enough first-hand to put Kvapil in the paddy wagon.
While drug abuse isn't directly comparable to domestic violence, consider the case of A.J. Allmendinger. He fell afoul of NASCAR's drug testing policy last year thanks to a positive test for a banned stimulant. Despite having recently brought the driver aboard, team owner Roger Penske cut bait and fired Allmendinger after the backup test also showed positive. Penske could have easily waited for “the process to play out”. He could have kept Allmendinger on the roster while A.J. worked through NASCAR's Road to Recovery program.
Instead, Penske acted without hesitation and released Allmendinger. He did so because he did not want his team publicly associated with a drug user. He was willing to provide A.J. with moral support and a shoulder to lean on. But he wasn't going to put Allmendinger behind the wheel of a Penske Racing car until he proved to the Captain that what happened was in the past- that what happened could not and would not be associated with Penske.
BK Racing faces a similar dilemma. While the easy answer is to let the legal system play out, the team will receive an enormous amount of negative publicity as long as Kvapil remains a part of the operation. If fans were willing to organize boycotts over “race manipulation” at Richmond, just how motivated do you think they might be for a perceived wife beater? How long will Burger King, Dr. Pepper and others keep cutting checks to BK Racing when their driver is NASCAR's face of domestic abuse?
And no matter how bad it is for BK Racing, it's an even bigger loser for NASCAR as a whole. The series is already fighting an impossible battle in some parts of the country. Thanks to its Southern roots, many view the sport and its fans as backwards rednecks turning in a circle all day. It's a perception battle the sport has fought (and mainly lost) the last 20 years. To them, a NASCAR driver being arrested for domestic battery is almost expected- as if that's all you can expect from “people like that”. It reinforces their preconceived notions about what NASCAR is and sets the sport back decades in its fight to become a true national sports power.
It'd be nice to think that closed-minded people of that ilk don't matter but the problem is that too many of them are exactly the kinds of people NASCAR needs to survive and grow in the years to come. Advertising executives for major companies will read articles about Kvapil. So will board members of America's largest companies. And when a NASCAR team comes looking for a sponsorship, this is exactly the kind of thing that will be thrown back in their face. “Sorry guys, we like what you have to say and all. But we're not into associating with wife beaters. Why don't you try the WWE up in Connecticut?”
So whether it's BK Racing or NASCAR, someone needs to pull the plug on Travis Kvapil right now. If they need a reason, there's always the old standby of, “Actions detrimental to stock car racing.” It's hard to think of anything that could potentially be more detrimental to both BK and NASCAR in the long run. Kvapil is entitled to due process under the law and he'll get it. He's not, however, entitled to a job after laying this enormous embarrassment on his employer. No matter what crime he ultimately is or is not convicted of, he's already guilty of bad judgment and he needs to go. Now.