It has been six years since I witnessed live one of the most embarrassing on track moments as an Elliott Sadler fan. In many ways, I have been fortunate (or not so fortunate) to be sitting in the stands for some significant ‘Sadler’ racing events. The high point was witnessing the very exciting TMS win, to the low point of the endless flipping on the backstretch at Dega. But the ‘Helmet Throw’ was something that I never thought I would have seen from the ‘Southern Gentleman’. That being said though, there was a little bit more to the story then just a bad moment.Sadler became eligible for the ‘Winston’ in 2002 from his spring 2001 win at Bristol with the Wood Brothers. But 2002 also presented Sadler with one of his first career decisions, which was to announce that he was leaving Wood Brothers Racing for greener pastures. The All-Star Race meant a lot to the Wood Brothers and Sadler understood this, but his success with the team for this non-points event was more of Sadler getting pushed around. Two years before it was Mike Skinner pinching Sadler into the wall all the final laps of the ‘open’ while both were running first and second, and the year before it was Sadler getting caught up in someone else’s mess while running in the top five.
The 2002 All-Star race was a race where Sadler felt he had something to prove. At the time he was still denying the reports and rumors that he had already agreed to drive for Robert Yates Racing or DEI in 2003 (history shows that a verbal agreement had already been reached between Sadler and RYR that week) The Wood Brothers intermediate program at that time was still pretty competitive, (starting 2nd at TMS a few weeks earlier and a week after the All-Star Race starting 2nd once again) and Sadler had a knack for getting around those 1.5 mile high banked tracks as well as anyone. So his expectations were rightfully very high leading up to this race.
But those high hopes were dashed very early that night in what some would call a ‘move’ that was not prudent for that early in the race. What happened next was something I never thought I would see. Sadler had been known to show his frustration with other drivers from this race in previous years, but that frustration was limited to raising his arms in question. This time I guess Sadler had enough, and let his emotions get the better of him. While he was showing some athletic hand/eye coordination, it was very clear that from the moment that helmet came rolling off the banking after careening off the 12 car’s B post, Sadler was embarrassed. His almost immediate ‘apology’ to his sponsor and team was spoke volumes for the “Southern Gentleman”, although Nascar still levied him with a $5000 fine.
Staying in Concord that week at the track’s campsites the whole incident was the subject of many mid week campfires. Frankly, I was embarrassed and to this day take the stand that this was something that does nothing positive for racing. Others (some Sadler fans) felt that it was ‘about time’ Sadler finally stood up to other drivers who were being over aggressive especially at this non-points race.I think Sadler learned a lesson that night and in the past 6 years since, he has had plenty of reasons and opportunity to repeat this embarrassing act, however he has taken the high road and squelched those emotions. Good for him.