Speaking out with one voice

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ATLANTA --- Mondays generally are coveted in NASCAR because for most drivers, it offers a break away from the cars and fans.

That's why when Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and Casey Mears showed up at Darlington Raceway two weeks ago to watch a tire test, officials from NASCAR and Goodyear Tire quietly took notice.

Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman had to be at the track on their off day to test tires. The others didn't. But as a group they asked enough questions to lead to a second test at the famed 1.366-mile speedway in preparation for the race in May.

On the surface, the tire test, which helps Goodyear select from its group of 24 different rubber and construction compounds, seemed like a thousand other tests over the years. But in reality, it marked one of the few times drivers banded together to join the decision-making process.

After getting frustrated with the rock-hard tires at Atlanta, the drivers demanded a greater voice. This time they got it. And for once, a sport that has stood against any kind of formal organization by the rank and file paid attention.

Just about everyone agrees NASCAR won't allow a union. A memory of the lifelong ban against Curtis Turner for trying to organize the drivers in 1961 still serves as a reminder of the consequences.

But that doesn't stop drivers from believing they deserve a greater say.

"There is a million different ways that could be done," Earnhardt said. "It is obviously not likely, but, I think 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 racetrack or how things need to be, or should be or this is the way to go."

Earnhardt would like to believe there's a "secret society" of veteran drivers who can influence NASCAR. At the least, he hopes everyone understands the problems at Atlanta prove the drivers need to be more involved. Tony Stewart was so upset by the tires at Atlanta that he unleashed a wave of criticism at Goodyear that continued for days. He said he was upset with a process that uses drivers for tests but excludes them when picking a tire.

When Stewart gained support from veterans such as Earnhardt, Gordon and Dale Jarrett, his tirade gained significant traction. It also spawned yet another attempt by the drivers to organize.

It also got him a meeting with Stu Graham, the man in charge of Goodyear's racing program. In that meeting, Graham vowed to make things better.

"My opinion on this is that I believe that a group coming together to make good decisions is a positive thing," Gordon said. "I've seen unions run things into the ground. ... So to me a union can be a good thing if the right people are managing it, the people have the right intent."

NASCAR insists it won't happen because it is an organization of racetracks, not race teams. Teams that show up for a NASCAR-sanctioned race are independent contractors.

Drivers said they don't want control, just a voice.

"We're partners in this whole thing, and I would love to work with them further on that," Gor-don said. "But I'm out of breath doing it individually because it doesn't go anywhere."

Reach Don Coble at don.coble@morris.com.


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