Thursday, January 12, 2017

Gone Too Soon: Why Edwards' Departure Leaves a Gaping Hole in the Sport

The loss of Carl Edwards will leave a hole in the sport that may be too large to fill.
Photo Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs

By Stephanie Landrey

On Wednesday, a calm, cool, collected Carl Edwards walked up to the podium at Joe Gibbs Racing and picked up a microphone. The first thing he said was that he didn't want the podium; he wanted to have a more open dialogue. But in the end, he reverted back to the podium, most likely at the request of some PR person wildly hand gesturing for him to get back there.

But being behind a podium just isn't his thing. He wants to speak to his fans, his friends, the people who have helped him along the way, freely, not tied up behind some podium. That's just part of what makes Carl Edwards one of the nicest, most respected drivers in the garage, and why his sudden departure is going to leave a gaping hole in the sport that's going to be almost impossible to fill.

It's hard to disagree with his reasoning. How can you not be satisfied with a career that has spanned 20 years, has brought you 28 wins at the sport's most elite level, worldwide fame and fortune beyond your wildest dreams, allowed you to see the world and has also allowed you to give back to those who needed it the most? Some will argue that Edwards is young (37 is relatively young in racing years), and he's been so close to grabbing his first championship, so why stop now? Edwards disagrees with those people. He's content with his successes.

He wants to spend time with those that mean the most to him. It's no secret that racing professionally demands a brutal schedule. Fly out Thursday, get home late Sunday (if there's not a weather delay that causes the race to run the next day). Monday is a team debriefing meeting, and there can be various sponsor commitments throughout the week, leaving a driver little time to spend with their family. If a driver is like Edwards, and doesn't want his family involved in the media circus that is NASCAR, that means leaving your family at home most of the time (Edward's wife, Dr. Kate Downey, is rarely seen at the track, as are his children Michael and Annie, and he does not allow photos of them to be taken), so weekends can get pretty lonely.

He also values his health. A lot of drivers got a wake-up call when Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to climb out of the race car for the last 18 races in 2016 because of a concussion and its lingering symptoms. While NASCAR has made strides in safety innovations, medicine still hasn't found a way to prevent a brain from bouncing around inside the skull; no one has. Edwards wants to remain the sharp, witty, intelligent person he is today 30 years from now, and to that end, he believes stepping away will offer him that opportunity.

But here's why he will be sorely missed in the garage and on the track.

He's just a good person. If he gets into a wreck with someone, he either accepts the blame, or accepts the apology. He doesn't let it linger. He practices good sportsmanship, grace and humility, which, quite frankly, is something a lot of athletes on any playing field today could learn from. A prime example is the incident during the Homestead-Miami Championship Race last season when he tangled with the No. 22 team of Joey Logano. After the accident, Edwards went on a tear down pit road, straight toward the pit box of the No. 22. The crew stood up, on edge, when Edwards got there, he climbed atop the box, and spoke a few words to Logano's crew chief, Todd Gordon, apologizing for the incident and told him to go out there and "win this thing." He then shook Gordon's hand. He's a class act. Lots of other drivers, especially those in the hunt for the title, would have thrown a temper tantrum, refused to speak to the media, and locked themselves inside the team hauler.

He's not afraid to take the blame for something if he did it. Accident at Talladega that wrecked half the field? He'll apologize profusely after watching the replay and seeing it was his fault. Someone spins out in Michigan and hits the wall pretty hard ending their day? He'll apologize for that too, after he hears the spotter communication advising him of the bad contact. He's also not afraid to stick up for himself. He knows when he's right, and he'll defend himself until the end of time.

Aside from a lengthy rivalry with Brad Keselowski that had them in the NASCAR hauler many times, and a problem that admittedly cleared up on its own (see @keselowski's blog for more on that, it's a great read), Edwards raced everyone mostly clean, and expected the same in return. Don't expect a ton of retaliation from him unless you really make him mad. Expect him to be a great teammate until it's down to the final laps, then he's going to fight for the win like it's just Edwards and one other car on the race track.

He respected everybody. Maybe it was because he was brought up in the Midwest, maybe it was just a part of who he was, but he just had a different level of respect for everyone in the garage area than most people did. He treated the employees on garbage detail the same way he did Mike Helton. He was also the only driver who ever took his sunglasses off when he was being interviewed by the media; class act move, didn't matter how hot or how bright, he always took them off, so he could look the reporter and the camera directly in the eyes. He respected the fans, signed many autographs, and was genuinely happy to see fans. He gave back to his community. NASCAR may never see a driver like Carl Edwards again. That's the impact that he had on the sport. The quintessential package; good looks, talent, media darling, business savvy, true competitor, bad ass -- all rolled into one.

We're missing your backflips already.

3 comments :

  1. Nice article Stephanie. I will certainly miss Carl in the garage area and on track!

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  2. After Carl was on the scene for a couple of years and people noticed he'd take off his sunglasses, some younger drivers began following suit. We used to say they must have gone to the Carl Edwards School of Media Relations.

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  3. Carl Edwards is a Class Act. He always has a smile no matter what the situation is. He has many fans that truly admire and love him. Hopefully he will return soon!

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