Broken Wagon 2

She’d chosen to watch the race on the TV screen in the living room of Jack Roush’s RV. The choice had been given to her as to whether or not to meet Dusty before the race. She’d thought about it for the week leading up to the race and, after a look at the schedule that Jack’s PR team had set up before they’d hired her on to represent Dusty, decided that it was better for her to stay out of things.  She hadn’t chosen to hide, merely to eliminate herself from the day’s events.

She tended to find that situations of this nature were stressful enough on a good day with no Public Relations nightmares hanging over a driver’s head, and she felt that their confrontation—and she knew it would be a confrontation—should happen hopefully after he’d gotten through shock of being back in the car, on the track and in front of the cameras again.

As the cars took their first turns around the track she let her eyes stray for a moment from the laptop computer in front of her to the stack of newspaper and magazine articles in front of her.

CLOUD OF DUST…

June 10, 2003--Normally, we’d laugh this off and give Dusty his due.  He can drive; he has learned from the best; and his talents keep growing.  He has “future Nextel Cup” champion written all over him, and he'll do it based on merit not puppeteer magic.

But at Bristol Motor Speedway on the first Sunday in April, NASCAR seemingly forgot its own rule book and temporarily allowed Dusty to get away with an intentional spinout on Lap 431, which he admits he did to bring out a caution flag so he could pit under yellow and not go a lap or more down.

"I had a loose wheel and I didn't have any choice but to spin the car out to get a caution," Dusty told reporters after the race.  "So I went down in the corner, I thought had some clear room behind me, and I just spun it out.

"The caution came out; I put the clutch in and got going.  What the hell else was I supposed to do?  Go a lap down?  Go two laps down pitting?"

Well, that's what everyone else would have had to do, according to NASCAR rules, or suffer penalties.

Section 12-4 (N) of the 2004 Nextel Cup Rulebook says, "Any driver who in the judgment of NASCAR officials intentionally causes or attempts to cause a caution condition by stopping or spinning out or any other action [shall suffer]: a fine, and/or loss of points, and/or loss of finishing position in event."

Dusty broke the rules and finished 11th -- safely on the lead lap -- and earned 135 points for that finish (he also earned bonus points for leading at one point), along with $118,748.

What he didn’t earn was the respect of the fans and of NASCAR officials when the intentional spin out that got him his yellow flag also caused an accident.  It also threw Quincy Herron into the wall of turn four, slamming the driver’s side door into the wall, causing what could have been a life ending injury.

Luckily, with NASCAR’s implementation of the Head & Neck Safety Device [HANS] available to drivers after recent deadly accidents -- involving most notable wreaks that claimed the lives of Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, and Craftsman series driver Tony Roper.  Herron’s life was merely thrown into disarray instead of destroyed.

With a car mangled so badly that it took the Jaws of Life to get him out of it and a body beaten so badly that Herron couldn’t see for most of the week after, NASCAR Officials and doctors recommended that Dusty Tatum be suspended from the rest of the 2003 season with a hearing to sort through his status for the 2004 season.

In a press release a week after the accident, Tatum made a not so welcomed public apology to Herron, NASCAR and the general public.  It is not clear when Herron will return to life outside the rehabilitation center he’s been living in since the accident.  At best, the recovery period will continue through the 2004 season.

While Dusty may be able to prove himself to the sport and the country, the injuries that Herron now faces will end his career as a NASCAR driver outright.  A press release issued early Wednesday morning confirmed that after his rehabilitation of his injuries, Quincy will take the helm of HQ Racing and will take a silent seat to support Tatum rival (and rookie) Brian Vickers’s race efforts as a co-owner of the number twenty-five (25) car with Hendrick Motorsports for the 2004 season.”  **

Putting the paper down she let out a sigh.  “Thank God they didn’t let him get up there and make that statement live,” she mumbled to herself.  “I’ve got a big enough hole to fill as it is.”

It had been a hard few months for all of them and finally getting face to face with Dusty was what she’d been waiting for, not only career wise, but personally.  She hadn’t wanted to believe that Dusty was a monster, the way that many of the media stations had portrayed him after the accident, but seeing him face to face that weekend would definitely leave a mark on her whether she liked it or not.

Earlier she’d snuck into the driver’s meeting, standing in the back with a Hendrick MotorSports baseball hat and sunglasses on hoping that her plain t-shirt and jeans and press pass safely tucked into her back pocket would keep her out of the media’s eyes as well as Dusty’s sight line.  She knew that eventually her new job would force her into the spotlight, but for the moment she wanted a chance to observe instead of disturb the meeting.

She’d been able to stand there for only a few moments, finding that when Dusty slipped into the back row, mere feet from where she was standing, she’d been overwhelmed by confusion and guilt and a whole list of reasons why she should run for the hills.  Heart beating out of control and the acid taste of vomit rising in her throat, she found herself doing the one thing she’d never thought she’d do.

Running.

So she had, moving backwards quickly out of the tent as Mike, NASCAR’s President began to warn the other drivers that there would be no tolerance for retaliation against Dusty that day.  Her feet had carried her across the pits, running her into at least two people and almost hitting a third before she’d been able to shut herself into the RV.

Her hands moved away from her keyboard as her ears picked up the sound of the crowd getting louder, then the sound of roaring engines filled the air and she could feel the rumble of the ground as the cars moved their way past the end of the track where the RV was parked.

Pushing herself from the make shift desk she’d made of the small kitchen table in the RV, she found herself moving to a better seat in front of the huge flat screen TV that took up the opposite wall.  Watching racing hadn’t been a part of her life for the last year.  She’d been a fairly dedicated fan in years before, but she, like Dusty, had taken some months away from the sport.  She’d needed the break probably as much as Dusty.  For a while there she’d been so obsessive about it, that her family had been worried about her social life outside of the sport.  Now, months later, she knew that Public Relations, more specifically, her Public Relations position working NASCAR races was only a job and not a lifestyle.  Balance was the key to everything in life.

As her fingers flipped through to the channel she wanted, that same acid taste rose in her mouth, causing her to stop more than a few times to grab up a bottled water to drink.  She’d stayed away from racing in the last year.  No one blamed her for that and as she’d been accepting the job as Dusty’s new PR Representative, she’d explained to everyone involved that being back at the races wasn’t something that she was going to ease into.  It would be a hard fought battle, but it was a sacrifice of mind and body that she knew she needed to make.

Finally, frustrated with the noise of the channel, she hit mute to forego the Speed Channel’s coverage of the opening ceremonies, finding her way to the coverage that Fox Sports was presenting that day.  She needed a real view of the race today.  Seeing an overall picture of it seemed easier than having that surreal feeling that came along with watching the race out the driver’s side seat on The Speed Channel.  Fox Sports would give her more access to the other drivers; she wanted to hear what the general buzz was when it came to Dusty’s reappearance.

When a knock sounded at the door she quickly got up and went to unlock it.  She hadn’t meant to lock the rest of the world out, only the images of the crash and the man that she now would work with.

“You ok darlin’?”  Jack asked from under his big hat, pulling off his headphones so that he could hear her.

Despite not having worked for Jack for more than two weeks, she felt a certain connection to the man.  He was known as a hard-nosed business man and she admired that about him.  When she’d begun her research for this project, he’d been very different from what she expected.  He’d handed over reports and press releases and his time and patience as if Dusty’s career being in shambles was the only thing the man had to think about.

That was totally laughable.  Roush Racing wasn’t just a mom and pop operation and Jack had his hands in every aspect of the business, leaving him with what she suspected was a very busy schedule.  To have him call her personally to invite her out to the compound to work under the radar on preparing her for this assignment was something that she knew he’d had to juggle to do.

“Come in!”  She motioned to her ears as the cars started into their second lap.

Once inside nervous energy overtook her and she found herself beginning to straighten up the place.  She’d only been in there for two hours, but she was a guest and didn’t want to cause any more trouble than she knew her being there would cause.

“You ok?” he asked again.

“Yeah,” she nodded and reached for her bottled water again.  She shook it a few times, then opened the lid and drank from it.  “This is hell, but I’m handling it ok.”

Jack moved to the kitchen part of the RV and opened a few cabinets.  He really didn’t seem to be looking for anything in particular, but seemed as nervous about all of this as she was.  “Do you want to go up on the roof and watch?”

“And add to my already acute fear of heights and falling?” she asked sarcastically.  Her eyes skimmed the room and she soon found them waiting for the cars to fly by the huge front window of the RV as they continued to race.

When the roar of the cars passed again she found herself looking back at Jack again.  “How was this morning?”

“Not great,” he said, “But ok.  Disney really is excited about having all this coverage and despite their initial hemming and hawing over having Dusty as their driver; I think they finally are seeing that even bad publicity is publicity.  Every time anyone talks about Dusty today they’re getting their name on the air.”

“I hope it doesn’t backfire on us all,” she said.

Jack finally found what he was looking for, pulling a bottle of suntan lotion out of the cabinet.  He flipped off his hat, setting it on the kitchen counter next to his headphones before he opened the bottle and began to apply it to his cheeks and nose.  “You worry about getting Dusty to seem more approachable and I’ll worry about pushing people towards him.”

“This isn’t going to be easy,” she said, “I hope Dusty doesn’t put two and two together and figure out—“

“Dusty will do what he’s told.”  Jack was unwavering in his opinion of that.  “He’s spent the past six months trying to get his butt in gear so that he can race, and I have a feeling that after a few times around the track he isn’t going to be able to be pulled away from all of this again.”

**I manipulated articles about an incident that happened to Dale Earnhardt Jr and Dale Earnhardt to fit the storyline.  Information comes from:
G&G: Junior's spin broke the rules  http://sports.espn.go.com/rpm/news/story?page=gasandgo/040330

MPH Motorsports:  What Happened?  http://www.mphmotorsports.com/dale_earnhardt_sr_what_happened.htm

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Last updated: 09/19/04.