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Drivers Not Athletes? : Flat Out By Lee Bentham

Recently, a friend of mine, asked me what I thought of Villeneuve winning the Athlete of the year Award instead of Larry Walker. "I think that itís great and all but you know athletes, athletics itís not the same as baseball or something." I wasnít sure how to take his comments so I let them pass. I chose the gentlemenís way out of the conversation so as not to make him eat the rest of his foot.

I feel, however, that itís about time that I said something to honor and uphold the integrity of our great sport called racing. Because everyone else seems rather free in the assessments of their favorite games. I speak to those who support only their particular stick and ball sports when I say; "Get a grip." I am just about sick up to here of people voicing their uneducated comments such as the ones that Iíve heard recently. I also read an article in Starweek magazine a few weeks back, written by Garth Woolsey, with the preposterous notion that Walker and Villeneuve should share MVP honors for 1997!

Before I go any further with this Iíd like to wish all of my best to Larry Walker and congratulate him on a fantastic year. This is not because he is a ball player but because he is a Canadian athlete who excelled in his particular sport and was truly outstanding. I am however curious as to his apparent dissatisfaction of the decision to award Villeneuve as opposed to him. From what I have heard through various sources Walker thought that Villeneuve shouldnít have received the award because he hasnít lived here since the age of six. First of all, did anyone expect a six year old to say no mommy, I think Iíll just get an apartment and stay in Canada? Secondly, Jaques drove for the Canadian Playerís team in Atlantic and IndyCar, did he not? F1 is based primarily in Europe, níest pas? I suppose that Jaques should just make the commute from Berthierville every week then? The last time I watched an F1 broadcast, the flag beside his name was indeed still Canadian. Furthermore, there is a strong tradition with his Canadian father Gilles as well. Why shouldnít Canada be proud of him? He was born here and is still representing this country. How many other Canadian athletes of ours are presently residing in the U.S., and play for U.S. teams? Oh gee I wonder. Suddenly, one is not Canadian if one doesnít reside in Canada long enough. Gimme a break, weíre talking about sports that cover many countries and continents.

I do know, first hand of course, just how much Ďathleticismí and talent it takes to control a machine doing 180 plus mph. Knowing all of this, I respect baseball players and any other athletes for what they do, knowing full well that there are a multitude of skills, however different they may be, necessary to excel in any of those sports.

Having said that, I apologize if I may sound bias but racing is MY sport, MY life and, like many others who have one, this is MY opinion. Not to mention, my sole purpose is to get the Ďmisinformedí people out there to be fair to our sport.

Letís talk about athletics for a moment shall we ?! Physically speaking, could a baseball player jump into an Indy Car, F1, Atlantic or Indy Lights and Drive for an hour straight at a temperature of 120+ degrees in the cockpit, (losing 4 pounds of sweat in the process), and turn competitive times lap after lap within a half second of each other while being bashed around and pushed on with up to 3.5 Gís of lateral force on his body all without wheezing, puffing and stuffing it into the fence after perhaps 15 or 20 laps? Perhaps, but I seriously doubt it because heís a baseball player and not a driver. Many people fail to realize that to do all of this in a racecar, you need stamina, coordination, strength and extensive concentration. You must maintain these qualities while under intense and prolonged stress (mind & body), while making thousands of split second decisions at a sustained heart rate of 180 beats per minute. If any of these components are missing or a mistake is made, there is a very real possibility that life, as you know it, ends. As well, a driver canít just go sit on a bench fifteen minutes into a race and get a supportive pat on the back from his teammates. Weíre all alone out there except for brief radio communication. Now, if there is someone out there that can give me a reason as to why racing doesnít sound athletic enough, Iíd love to here it.

Likewise, could I go to a Major League ball game, and not only try to swing properly, but hit a 4 inch ball doing 90 mph? HELL NO! Iíd probably have problems hitting the thing if it was the size of a soccer ball! The point is that baseball is different. As hockey, football and racing are also different. But out of all those years that I watched sports on television and heard of MVPís and Athletes of the year being named for various things, never once did I say; "well, why should this guy get it all to himself. Why doesnít he share it with that racer who accomplished this. I mean itís not like that jock was doing anything dangerous. He was just running around with a ball, or chasing it. Hell, anyone can chase a ball. It sounds foolish when I turn those comments around doesnít it? Yet, time and time again I here those famous words uttered by someone who knows zilch about racing; "Hell, it canít be that hard, their sittiní down the whole time."

The point is, itís these kinds of narrow minded ignorant arguments that destroys the pride that the athlete feels when competing for his/her country. We all hear the same anthem when we are triumphant and stand proud with tears in our eyes. Donít assume that racing is all a stroll in the park, I just work hard to make it look that way. Iím proud of my heritage, my country and Iím damned proud of all of the athletes who represent us, because for Gods sake, there is much more to sports than Hockey and Baseball Canadian!

Ciao for now.


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