The confrontation between Dale Jarrett and Shane Hmiel during a Busch Series race has left some veteran drivers wondering: Does Hmiel's disrespect toward the former series champion during and after the race reflect a trend?
Hmiel had caused an accident that knocked Jarrett out of the short-track race at Bristol Motor Speedway last weekend. An angry Jarrett confronted him, and Hmiel replied with an obscene gesture. He later intimated that Jarrett's opportunities to exact revenge were growing shorter.
The 24-year-old Hmiel apologized Friday and said he has the utmost respect for the veterans like Jarrett who have helped turn NASCAR into a booming sport.
Up-and-coming drivers almost always treaded lightly around the older stars. The respect stemmed from a desire to learn and from the understanding that it was the veterans who are responsible for the sport's fast growth.
Ricky Rudd, one of the seasoned NASCAR racers who will be competing today at Martinsville Speedway for the Advance Auto Parts 500 (12:30 p.m., Ch. 29; Radio 550 AM) in another short-track race, said that when he came up his heroes were David Pearson, Richard Petty and Bobby Allison.
"At that time I had a tremendous amount of respect for those guys," Rudd said, adding that young drivers then dreamed of one day working for one of the top owners.
"They paved the way for when I came into it, and now the same has to be said here," Rudd said. "Look at the money these guys are making. That wasn't always the case."
Jeff Burton isn't that far removed from his days as an up-and-comer.
"I think that inexperience and youth let things come out of your mouth that shouldn't come out of your mouth," he said.
Hmiel's comments demonstrate the point perfectly, Burton said.
"I think that when Shane did that, what he doesn't understand is that he offended a lot of people," Burton said. "He offended a lot of people that are in this sport that have been here for a while; he offended a lot of fans of this sport that have been here for a while; and he didn't accomplish a whole lot other than making a lot of people mad. In the end, Shane came out the loser."
Jarrett, the 1999 series champion, said he approached Hmiel's car right after the accident to "ask him where he thought he was going."
"It's not my duty to make sure that everybody out here understands patience and tell everybody how to drive, but I think in a situation like that, it could have been more of a helpful situation," he said. "But he obviously took it the wrong way."
Jarrett is 48, twice as old as Hmiel. Jarrett said the way young drivers arrive has changed. Many now start on quality teams before they've proved anything.
"When I was coming along, if we went to the veteran drivers it was for advice and because we looked up to them," Jarrett said. "I'm not sure that's the case in this day and time. . . . They come in with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder thinking that's the way they have to be."
That bravado can boomerang, Burton said.
"The way you race and the way you conduct yourself on the race track, that's what gains you respect," he said. "It's not about what you say."