Does “Jeff Gordon Raceway” cross the line?
Photo by Mike Sepsick / Phoenix International Raceway Photo
Jeff Gordon poses for a photo with Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and Phoenix International Raceway president Bryan Sperber. PIR will be renamed on November 15, 2015 to "Jeff Gordon Raceway" to honor the four-time champion's final start at the track.
DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
While a NASCAR racing legend’s respectable career is
coming to an end, one track has overstepped its boundaries in honoring him,
creating favoritism and a conflict of interest in the process.
Jeff Gordon is set to retire after the 2015 Sprint Cup
season. And Phoenix International Raceway, home of the second-to-last Chase
date on November 15th, will
officially be renamed Jeff Gordon Raceway on November 15th, 2015 for the NASCAR
Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500.
“Jeff has had an amazing career in NASCAR, both as a tremendously successful competitor and as an incredible ambassador for the sport,” said PIR President Bryan R. Sperber in a press release, adding “When we thought about how to recognize his accomplishments for the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500, we knew we had to put together a celebration that was bigger than anything we’ve done in the past.
“It doesn’t get bigger than renaming the race track and Jeff Gordon is a person who is truly deserving of that honor."
Serber is right; it doesn’t get any bigger than renaming the track, but is it proper to rename a neutral site for one person specifically for their last race at that track of their career?
Photo by Benjamin Palmer / TheRacingExperts.com
Jeff Gordon turns laps at Phoenix International Raceway in March 2014.
Consider this, Yankee legends Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter both retired after decades playing for the same team, producing World Series championships, Gold Gloves, and many All-Star appearances. While the Yankees and other opposing teams did honor them with gifts and special tributes, did Yankee Stadium get renamed to be Rivera-Jeter Field at Yankee Stadium?
And even if the Yankees did that, those players were employed by that team. Hendrick Motorsports is the employer of Jeff Gordon, not Phoenix International Raceway. When a neutral site such as a racetrack makes special considerations for a driver competing there, blatant favoritism is being shown towards that individual. PIR is only meant to host the race, not clearly show who they want to do well during their race date. It’s a clear conflict of interest to host a race while naming the track after a guy competing in said race.
Other tracks have honored Jeff Gordon by other means, and while it may not be exactly right and could be showing bias towards Gordon, it was far more mild (and fitting) than completely renaming the host track to fit one driver before their retirement.
When legends such as Dale Earnhardt or Fireball Roberts died, no tracks renamed themselves for a race to honor him. And even if they did, posthumous remembrance of a driver by renaming the track would be more appropriate than doing it for a guy who is still alive, healthy and will continue to contribute to the sport beyond his driving days.
The name change is only for one day, and afterwards, will continue to be Phoenix International Raceway after November 15th, but they’re other ways to honor a legends career in the sport than by naming the track after him during a race he is competing in. By doing so, Phoenix is shifting their attention to one specific individual and their hopes of winning the race than standing back, being neutral and letting all 43 drivers be equal in their hopes of winning.
If this is how tracks will honor Jeff Gordon in his final season and final race at a respective track before his retirement, what kind of attention will Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and other icons receive?