NASCAR’s Fence Climber Highlights Pervasive Issues Within Car Racing Culture

December 26, 2014 by No Comments

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The chain-link fence is typically regarded as a practical way to enforce security, and to keep people and things out of a given area.

But it seems nothing — not even the Richmond International Raceway’s fence — could stand between one man and his love for NASCAR.

Back in September, Richmond resident James Dennis climbed atop the fence that separates the racetracks’ audience from the actual track itself during a crucial NASCAR race. Dennis’s actions caused the race to literally stop in its tracks, which is what he apparently intended.

According to a December 11 USA Today article, Dennis, 53, told police officers he climbed the fence because it was his birthday and he wanted to stop the race so he could be on TV.

Dennis’s actions resulted in a one-year jail sentence, but all except one month of that sentence was suspended, so he will only serve one month, USA Today reports. The court found him guilty of disorderly conduct and being intoxicated in public.

On September 6, Dennis sat atop the NASCAR catchfence for at least two minutes, with cars racing beneath him. Officials didn’t stop the race and turn on the caution lights until Dennis had begun to descend, at which point he was promptly arrested.

USA Today reports that the race was supposed to determine the 16-driver lineup for the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup, making it an important race for any driver who wanted to move on to the next competition.

But how could something like this have been allowed to happen? Shouldn’t racetrack security have stopped the obviously drunk Dennis as soon as he made his fateful ascent?

In a culture like NASCAR’s, in which fans are increasingly catered to in order to keep their interest from dwindling to other sports, the video footage revealing oblivious security guards shouldn’t be much of a surprise, a September 7 USA Today article explains. The event points to a “systemic incompetence” that lets fans pretty much do whatever they want as NASCAR’s popularity has fallen.

If Dennis had fallen from the catchfence onto the racetrack, that would have been a 20-foot drop into the middle of a pack of three-ton cars speeding at 130 mph. If that had happened, it’s safe to assume that NASCAR’s reputation with the general public would be tarnished for a very long time.

So NASCAR should be thankful that Dennis survived his fence-climbing hijinx. If it had turned out any other way, it might well have been the death knell of stock racecar driving.

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