The Rise and Fall (and Almost Rise Again) of Shane Hmiel

First some background, young Shane Hmiel began his NASCAR career in what was then known as the Goody’s Dash Series, where he won rookie of the year honors in 2001. In 2002 he joined what is now known as the Nationwide Series, there he impressed many of his fellow competitors and showed great promise in his future and for the sport. However in 2003 Shane hit the first of his many future road blocks. In September of 2003 he was suspended from NASCAR following a drug test in which he tested positive for marijuana use. After following NASCAR’s demands he was reinstated in January of 2004. The 2005 season showed a lot of promise for Shane, he had rides in all three of NASCAR’s top touring series (Nextel, Busch, and Craftsman Truck). His efforts were mainly concentrated in the Busch Series where Shane was driving for Braun Racing’s #32. Shane was known for his aggressive driving style which seemed to be out in force in a now infamously documented (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXH_dSO-Hn0) incident between himself and Winston Cup champion Dale Jarrett during a Busch series race at Bristol in which Hmeil wrecked Jarrett. The end result of this incident was Shane being fined $10,000 and being docked 25 drivers points for his gesture towards Jarrett (which as seen in the link was caught on television). It wasn’t long after this incident in 2005 that Shane had once again tested positively for marijuana and cocaine and as a result was suspended indefinitely in May of 2005. He was offered an opportunity to be reinstated but failed another drug test during this process and was banned for life from NASCAR.

After that, everyone pretty much thought it was the end of Shane Hmiel and his racing career. However, Shane never gave up; in fact today he races in the United States Auto Club (USAC) in all three of its national divisions (Silver Crown, Sprint Car, and Midget Series). He has been on a personal mission to redeem himself, and was well on his way to a successful open wheel career. In a July 2010 television appearance on “Wind Tunnel”, hosted by well-known auto racing journalist Dave Despain, Hmiel stated that his ban was “the best thing that’s happened” for him. Sadly Shane’s road to redemption has hit yet another major roadblock. On October 9, 2010 Shane was involved in a serious accident while qualifying a USAC Sprint Car; the roll cage of his vehicle collapsed on top of him after he hit the wall. It was last reported that he suffered two compression fractures in his neck and two in his back and as of this blog post is still in a medically induced coma but in stable condition and expected to survive. His mother has created a Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Shane-Hmiel-Road-to-Recovery/156856564346848) in order for fans and well wishers to keep track of his progress. I along with many others hope that this accident is only a minor setback for Shane; he’s been through a lot (granted most of his own doing) but he has since proven that he has changed for the better. I’m sure once he fully recovers it won’t be long before we see Shane competing in the IZOD Indy Car Series. GA

South Park “Poor and Stupid”

In a time when NASCAR is diligently fighting against the image of stock car racing as a “redneck” sport, the airing of South Park episode “Poor and Stupid” may set it back. The episode portrays a young boy (Eric Cartman) as wanting to race in NASCAR but he feels that he is not poor or stupid enough to compete. South Park has been making parodies for many years about popular events, sports, and people, but at a time when NASCAR is struggling to keep viewership and fan levels high, is this parody going to have a negative effect on the sport?

In the episode Cartman and his pit boss, Butters, portray themselves as stereotypical “rednecks”, using racist language, anti-gay phrases, and anti-Obama remarks. This is the image that NASCAR has been trying to escape as it continues to push for diversity in the sport. I believe that most people who have an understanding of NASCAR as a sport will not be fooled by the negative persona South Park gives to the fans and drivers, but others may not view the episode as being too far removed from the truth. This could create a problem for NASCAR as it reachs out to different venues for new fans who already perceive the sport in a stereotypical way.
Beyond what is being said in the episode, the actual images of the fans are also stereotypical; the infield is littered with confederate flags and a fan wears a shirt that says, “Big Doggy.”
A few drivers have commented on the episode, and do not feel that it will have a negative impact on the sport. In fact, there is a consensus that any publicity is good publicity for NASCAR. Let’s hope that these drivers are right and the episode will not further hinder NASCAR viewership, because as we all know the sport is far from “Poor and Stupid” as the second most watched sport in America. TQ