Maybe there is a different way to look at Sheldon Haudenschild throwing his helmet on to the track at Weedsport Speedway last Saturday night.
I still don’t condone chucking your lid on to the racing surface during green-flag conditions, but there is something else to consider. It was a curious reaction from Haudenschild, who is normally pretty reserved.
This was out of character. I’ve never heard him utter a bad word about another driver or individual in the pit area, much less get in a scrum of some sort. Even when he wins, he is respectful and appreciative, flashing that boyish smile in Victory Lane.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about since Sunday night. If Haudenschild, a normally reserved driver who puts fans first, reacts the way he did, there must be a reason. I can’t speak for the 28-year-old driver, but I feel there is a problem with the lack of transparency and direction the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series is taking.
In case you missed what occurred last weekend, Haudenschild spun into the infield on the frontstretch in what could be deemed a dicey position. What I mean by that is he wasn’t behind a barrier of any kind. If his car got there, another car could do the same, which is a huge safety concern.
That alone should’ve warranted a caution. Unfortunately, I sometimes believe safety is determined on a sliding scale. It depends on the situation, circumstance, and convenience, because I’m still trying to figure out how the series ran a 2019 main event at River Cities Speedway with a Sprint Car stuck in the fence.
At Weedsport last Saturday, the caution never came, and Haudenschild and a crew member had the reaction they did. It should also be mentioned that Race Director Mike Hess was not in attendance at Weedsport. I have no doubt that if he would have been wearing the headset in the tower, the yellow lights would have been flipped.
The way it transpired was both curious and disappointing. The decision to not go yellow was as bad as the no-call on pass interference in the 2019 New Orleans Saints-Los Angeles Rams NFC Championship game. That was a bigger stage, of course, but it still caused a national outrage with the pro football fanbase.
In the aftermath of the incident in New York, I was patiently waiting for a release explaining what happened and the measures the series would take. I thought a give-and-take admission or joint release with the Stenhouse-Marshall team would make sense in this case. What I saw on Thursday was both weird and dumbfounding.
The release that was finally put out was pointless. By that, I mean it said nothing. The Outlaws didn’t take responsibility, and in my mind, put out something that might as well have stayed on someone’s laptop as a saved draft. Or better yet, in a nice manila folder with the stamp, “What not to do.”
This goes back to the transparency thing. I’m not saying fans are owed. People pay money to come through the gates, and the World of Outlaws, as a group, are required to provide the entertainment. That is where the commitment ends, but there comes a point when you have to admit your warts and make the necessary changes.
Even the NFL and NBA take that tact. When a bad call is made and seen on television by millions of people, the league office or official’s committee puts out a blurb or admission of guilt. Nothing changes, but it certainly soothes the masses.
We are a forgiving society. People still hold on to the anger for a while, but there is also a measure of respect for someone, whether it’s an individual or organization, that admits fault. It’s worked for the NFL … just look at the ratings.
But the World of Outlaws seem to be content on handling things in a very closed-door fashion. Similar to the way things were back in the 1980s and 1990s. That doesn’t work anymore, especially when you consider that the crowd in attendance is now joined by an even bigger audience streaming in from around the country.
If this was an isolated incident, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. You could chalk it up as a rare occurrence, or no-call, that is so infrequent that people struggle to remember it. Unfortunately for the Outlaws, there have been multiple setbacks this year that have teams questioning their platinum membership.
The biggest was when an official shoved a crew member in the Work Area at Cedar Lake Speedway. It was seen on DIRTVision by thousands of people, and the outrage is still evident over a month later.
As I’ve stated before, the Outlaws can’t legally release information about an employee in North Carolina, but that doesn’t exactly satisfy the masses. Perception is reality, and fans believe there was a cover-up. That, combined with multiple complaints from teams on a variety of issues, has raised the temperature in the Sprint Car room.
It’s a major concern, or at least it should be in the World Racing Group offices. This isn’t 20 years ago when the World of Outlaws, as a series, was the only game in town in which drivers had a chance to earn a living.
See, the Sprint Car landscape is changing. Weekly purses are on the rise, and big races are popping up at premier facilities. The High Limit Series, a brainchild by Kyle Larson and World of Outlaws regular Brad Sweet, is also joining the game and is in the process of putting a 12-race schedule together that features big paydays and a mid-week option.
In other words, there are more opportunities than in the past. The Outlaws need to recognize that and make the proper adjustments. It’s time to take the role of high school janitors and start cleaning up any messes left on the lunchroom floor.
The first step for the World of Outlaws brass is to admit there is a mess. Eat a little public crow, and then meet with the drivers to come clean and ask for any forgiveness. Address the concerns and make it your mission statement to do better moving forward.
This might sound soft on the surface. I know how it feels. Some people couldn’t wait to tell me on social media that I’m part of this new sensitive generation. On the contrary, I’m an old-school guy in some regard, but I also know that like it or not, the world is changing, and you can either adapt or die, as the saying goes.
Now, I’m not saying the World of Outlaws is going away or in jeopardy of becoming a thing of the past. The group is as strong as ever with stars in the pit area and the DIRTVision brand keeping fans engaged. Still, there seems to be an increased unrest among the rank and file.
The simple solution is to change your model. It’s better to improve by giving a little bit and taking the drivers thoughts into consideration. Take care of the lingering issues and work with others, not only to make the sport better, but also to stay at the head of the Sprint Car table.