NASCAR weighs plan to stop autographs in garage area
By JENNA FRYER, AP Sports Writer
January 8, 2003
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- NASCAR is considering a plan to prohibit drivers from signing autographs in the garage area at tracks to reduce fan congestion.
NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. said Wednesday the possible ban is part of the sanctioning body's ongoing effort to restore order in the garage.
``We need to get the garage area back to where the guys can work on the cars,'' France said in an interview with The Associated Press. ``So if we do this, when a fan asks a driver for an autograph, the driver will be able to say `NASCAR won't let me.' ``
A sport that has long prided itself on the level of access that fans have with the teams, NASCAR in recent years has seen an overcrowding that has led to numerous complaints from drivers and crews, as well as injuries among spectators.
Jeff Gordon is swarmed by dozens of fans every time he's in the garage. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has taken to sprinting to his destinations.
Crew members have griped that people surround the cars, making it impossible for them to move around, and fans have been treated for injuries from being run over by heavy tool carts or being knocked down in the crowds surrounding drivers.
Last season, a Tennessee woman charged Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart with assault for allegedly shoving her against a hauler when she tried to get an autograph, but a grand jury declined to indict him.
The Stewart episode forced NASCAR to re-evaluate its near open-door policy on letting fans into the garage, especially after several drivers went to the sanctioning body in support of Stewart saying the current garage access was creating near chaos.
So France said he's proposed only allowing drivers to sign autographs in the area immediately around their hauler and organizing a period once a weekend where all 43 drivers would take turns sitting at a table to sign autographs in 10-minute increments.
Punishment for signing autographs at any other time could be monetary -- perhaps a $500 fine -- although France said he preferred penalizing offending drivers by sending them to the back of the field at the start of the race.
``Obviously, it would be a judgment call on when a driver would be punished for it, but we've got to do something because these guys can't even walk around anymore,'' he said.
NASCAR plans to unveil the new rules for garage access later this month, France said.
But its goal is to reduce the total number of individuals in the garage during competition by some 20 percent.
Expected to be introduced this season will be special ``hot'' passes that will be given to team members, NASCAR officials and media that allow entrance into the garage while cars are on the track in practice, qualifying or the race.
Without the pass, access to the garage won't be granted. The rule is likely to be enforced on pit road during the race, but not during practice and qualifying.
Teams and sponsors will receive an allotted sum of passes each week, ending the near limitless supply they used to have.