Some drivers support notion of panel, not union, to help NASCAR's issues

Updated: March 14, 2008, 8:37 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Major League Baseball has a union. The NFL has a union. The NHL has a union.

Is it time for NASCAR to have one? Would a union help settle issues such as the Goodyear tire controversy at Atlanta last weekend?

Four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon isn't sure.

"I've seen the unions run things in the ground," Gordon said during a rainy Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway. "It bugs the heck out of me when I think of the strikes that have happened in baseball. Look at the strike that just happened with the writer's strike in Hollywood.

"While there are positives for the people they're representing, sometimes if you look at the sport as a whole or an industry I've seen where it's done a lot of damage. I see it happening right now with General Motors."

Gordon said a union is a good thing only if the right people are managing it and the proper intent is there. The problem, he said, is nobody can guarantee that.

Jeff Gordon

I've seen the unions run things in the ground. ... While there are positives for the people they're representing, sometimes if you look at the sport as a whole or an industry I've seen where it's done a lot of damage. I see it happening right now with General Motors.

--Jeff Gordon

"We all have so many different agendas and ideas, to see them all come together as one could be tough," he said.

Gordon said NASCAR would be better suited to have a quarterly meeting in which all drivers are brought together to discuss hot topics.

"Allow us to vent or share our opinions and just listen to us," he said. "This going up into the trailer one at a time, when one guy says the exact opposite of what the next guy comes in, I think all it does is confuses them.

"So we're not going anywhere. ... I would like to work with them further on that, but I am out of breath doing it individually because it doesn't go anywhere."

NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said the current system remains effective.

"NASCAR always has had an open-door policy and always will," Tharp said. "Drivers, owners, and crew chiefs are regularly in communication with our sport's leadership. It is a system that has worked and continues to work well."

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said the drivers need a spokesperson to represent them as his father once did. Dale Jarrett would like to see a panel of three to five drivers, and not necessarily the same every year, become the voice of the garage.

"We won't use that word union," said Jarrett, who is driving in his final points race this weekend. "That gets people stirred up. Does there need to be a panel? Yes, it could be really helpful."

Jarrett said that would prevent situations such as last weekend when Tony Stewart took on Goodyear in the media, saying the hard tire was the worse he'd ever competed on and that it might be time for the manufacturer to get out of the sport.

He said many of the people making decisions don't know what it takes to drive a car.

"The drivers need to be represented, not just to tell them how to run their business, but to help make better racing," Jarrett said.

Earnhardt agreed.

"The main situation is that you as a driver, you have a hard time listening and believing someone that has never been behind the wheel trying to tell you what needs to happen out on the track or how things need to be," he said.

Earnhardt said the infield wall that Hendrick Motorsports teammate Gordon hit at Las Vegas is a great example. The company that put in the SAFER barrier didn't think it was necessary at that section of the track. It took a hard hit and complaint from Gordon for that to change.

Earnhardt said Atlanta is another reminder that "the driver's opinion matters."

"We are paid a lot of money to do what we do and we all do sound off and go push buttons a little too hard sometimes, but for the most part we don't want to ruin the racing for the sport," he said. "We don't want to make it worse for the fans.

"We want to make it as big as we can make it. Just like the rest of those guys in that trailer down there do, we have the same thing at stake. When we go home; we have the same deals at stake. It is just as important to us that the racing is great."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

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