Columns & Blogs

Tom Talks takes on age-old debate: Are race car drivers athletes?

It’s unclear how Jeff Gordon might do on the basketball court, although here in 1996 he is introduced as the Charlotte Hornets' "sixth man."
It’s unclear how Jeff Gordon might do on the basketball court, although here in 1996 he is introduced as the Charlotte Hornets' "sixth man." Charlotte

Welcome to Tom Talks, the sports talk show of the printed page. We’re going to try something new today. I’m taking only calls from people in cities I know.

Gretchen from Greensboro.

I like that name, Gretchen. You never hear it anymore.

Thanks. I have friends coming for the Coca-Cola 600. Will you tell them that race car drivers aren’t athletes?

I didn’t grow up with racing, and when I moved to Charlotte I fell for the stereotype. I mean, the machines are the athletes. I was at the Daytona 500 one February and a wreck took place in front of Jeff Gordon. Smoke spewed from the damaged cars, and I grabbed the table at which I was sitting because Gordon had so little time and even less space. A spotter shouted instructions, Gordon moved almost laterally to his right and he avoided the carnage. Gordon looked like a guard putting on a crossover dribble. I don’t know what his 40-time outside the car was or how much he benched. But that move, instant and quick, was a testament to athleticism. I absolutely consider drivers athletes.

Tom, Grady from Greensboro. NASCAR, the PGA Tour and big-time swimming are in Charlotte this week. What’s the most popular sport in Charlotte and the contiguous suburbs?

Grady, I will not be asked an easier question in 2015. The NFL is.

Tom, Mike from Mebane.

I can’t hear you.

Tom, Mike from Mooresville. What do you like about the NBA playoffs and who do you like?

This is basketball at its finest, thrilling and intense, and we get it almost nightly. As critics complain, the playoffs do go on, and that’s the beauty of it. Stars are made and minimized, drama is created, villains emerge and if you think Game 5 was good wait until Game 6. I picked Golden State to beat Cleveland before the playoffs began – how daring – and I don’t get to change.

Walter from Winston-Salem. Why are so many people criticizing the penalties the NFL assessed against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots for doing nothing more than cheating?

Many football fans have decided that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is untrustworthy, incompetent, disingenuous, arbitrary and evil, and they’ve turned this into a referendum about him. Goodell is losing. What was he supposed to do, pick up the rule book, skip to the section about deflated footballs and go to article 5? If you’re good at your job, regardless of what you do, you adjust. Goodell did.

Lil from Rock Hill. What do you like about the Wells Fargo Championship?

I love the freedom golf confers. I can go where I want. I can follow a star or stumble upon somebody that could be. I can join crowds or avoid them, watch golfers in a variety of situations and feel as if I know their games. Several years ago I talked to Jason Day after stumbling upon him and watching him play. On Thursday I talked to Justin Thomas after stumbling upon him. Nice guys, and when their rounds ended they both acted as if they wanted to talk.

But shouldn’t you avoid writing about up-and-coming golfers? The Carolina Panther rookies you write about tend to get cut.

They find alternate professions.         

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

  Comments