From The Allisons and Cale Yarbrough throwing down in the infield at Daytona to Ty Gibbs’ infamous helmeted attack on Sam Mayer on Saturday, the annals of NASCAR lore is filled to the brim with tales of scuffles. The reasons are varied, sure enough, and the race winner is hardly ever involved with the fight but there’s one thing most of us can all agree on:
You take your helmet off before you throw a punch at someone else.
Obviously a helmet is imperative to racing and designed to protect your head in the event of an impact and what not, but to wear one in a fist fight just seems…wrong. Take a fight in hockey for example. Those guys are covered in various pads and wear helmets with face shields. They have similar disagreements to drivers, over dirty moves and real estate on the ice. So they throw off their padded gloves and helmets and go at it. In my opinion that’s what you’re supposed to do.
What Ty Gibbs did Friday was in many ways inexcusable. I didn’t feel one way or another about the guy at all until I saw him walk up to Sam Mayer, who had removed his helmet, and laid two punches onto his young rival. Again, Gibbs had his helmet on. There was no way for Mayer to give back anything during this altercation, an official got hurt, it was just a really ugly event. Worst of all, Gibbs claimed that Mayer had gotten out of his car and “got in my face,” which honestly isn’t what happened. Gibbs was the one flying out his car (all five feet of him) and making a beeline for Mayer.
Gibbs showed he has a general lack of self awareness, which of course, comes with age. But the worst thing he did was leave that helmet on. Scrolling on Twitter was like scrolling through my inner monologue as I saw tweet after tweet after tweet echoing my opinion. It’s just a weak move. He showed no strength, no resolve and certainly no maturity doing what he did. I’m not condemning nor am I condoning fighting in our sport. I do think it’s entertaining and it’s certainly a needle mover. You have to do things the right way though if you don’t wanna be forever known as “the guy who hit a guy while you had your helmet on.”
Maybe Ty doesn’t care. Honestly, I don’t think he does. You can tell by the way he races people aggressively, no matter who they are. If that’s the case then good for him. You look at past altercations though, and maybe he should. The Allison and Yarbrough fight is so revered because that was a bunch of guys fighting it out with no helmets on and no pit crews to break them up. Matt Kenseth went after Brad Keselowski in 2014 with reckless abandon between haulers and neither one had a helmet on. Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton had a shoving match on a live race track in 2010 and NOBODY had a helmet on. See what I’m saying here?
The most similar incident that I can remember involved two guys that I mentioned in the paragraph above. Matt Kenseth spun Jeff Gordon in the spring race in Bristol back in 2006. Kenseth walked towards the iconic red and blue number 24 looking to have a civil conversation. Instead he got a helmeted four time champion looking like the littlest Power Ranger shoving him backward. Don’t get me wrong, Jeff Gordon is my hero. In my humble opinion he is the greatest driver to ever sit behind a steering wheel. But the only reason I truly remember this incident was how thirteen year old me thought Jeff looked weak doing that with his helmet on.
Is that how Ty Gibbs wants to be remembered? Like I said I honestly don’t think he cares. But history remembers the drivers who took off their helmets and let the emotions that come with loss and disappointment boil over and start throwing hands at each other. They remember them as gladiators, as real “tough guys.” The only reason I forgave Jeff Gordon for doing it was that he seemed to learn from his mistake, as in his various scrums throughout the early 2010s, he didn’t leave his helmet on for any of them. He even sported a bloody lip and bruises after fighting with Brad Keselowski and his crew at Texas in 2014. Gosh Brad Keselowski had a violent 2014.
The point I’m trying to make here, is even if Ty Gibbs wins 8 championships and 250 races and becomes the clear greatest of all time, most of us will always remember his behavior Saturday. Hopefully Gibbs takes lessons from the heroes of the past and the next time he gets into a fist fight (trust me, he will), he’ll take that helmet off. But for right now, and the foreseeable future, he will be remembered as the guy who hit another guy while he had his helmet on. And as the guy who did that and then tried to blame the guy he punched first. And as the guy who didn’t apologize for getting the official who broke them up, hurt.
I know it’s early on in his career, but it’s never too early to start building a legacy. Unfortunately for Ty Gibbs, he’s already damaging his.
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