By John Close:
The Jerry Springer Show featuring guests Max Papis, Kelly Heaphy and Mike Skeen will air in various markets this week. Check your local television guide for a time and station near you.
Papis, Heaphy and Skeen already staged their made-for-TV moment this past weekend at the conclusion of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Bowmanville, Ontario. At this point, a Springer guest appearance would only be a staged rehash of the real thing.
In case you missed it, Papis and Skeen crashed while racing for third place on the last lap of the Chevy Silverado 250 Truck Series race Sunday. That set off a wild scene in the garage area afterward with the ‘disagreement’ culminating in Heaphy – Skeen’s girlfriend – slapping Papis across the face.
Papis later claimed the open-handed blow dislocated his jaw.
Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!
The post-race controversy and battle royal has since gone viral not only knocking NASCAR’s Sprint Cup division’s ‘Championship Chase’ into also-ran media status, but it also displaced many top moments from a sporting weekend filled with college football, major league baseball pennant races, and the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament off the list of top stories.
Not even Springer can beat this kind of reality TV.
With NASCAR sanctions and possible legal action on the horizon, it’s hard to say where this will end up. That said, here’s a few observations that I took away from this episode of NASCAR TMZ –
It’s no surprise Papis was involved in this incident. Since coming to NASCAR in 2006, he’s had numerous run-ins with other competitors, many of them for late-race dust ups like the one in CanadaSunday.
Frankly, most drivers don’t trust Papis or try to race him – they try to avoid him. In garage speak, Papis is a ‘rolling pylon’ – someone who is completely unpredictable lap after lap. The goal is to try to stay away from him. As a former NASCAR spotter, I can tell you passing Papis was always a tense adventure.
The fact that Papis hasn’t been slapped around by another NASCAR competitor before this past weekend is a bit of a surprise – or at least a testament to how gentile NASCAR has become.
For instance, earlier this year, Papas slapped fellow competitor Billy Johnson after the NASCAR Nationwide race at Road America. Not much was made of the incident because Johnson still had his helmet on.
Johnson, driving in his first NASCAR race, didn’t hit back. Papis was lucky that day as most of the drivers I spotted for in my 15-year NASCAR career – guys like Rich Bickle, Jimmy Spencer, Donny Lia and others – would have been on the ground beating the crap out of Papis at that point.
As Bickle would say, “mess with the bull, you get the horn.”
Whether Papis deserved the opened-handed greeting Sunday remains to be seen as there’s really no clear video of the on-track incident between he and Skeen.
What is clear is that Heaphy had no business being the one doing it. On-track incidents are between the drivers and nobody else. Period. They are the ones holding the steering wheels. If they want to ‘slug it out’ or ‘hug it out,’ that’s up to them – nobody else.
That said, Heaphy should have stayed out of it. So should have one of Skeen’s crewmembers that tried to get to Papis while he was still in his racer on pit road after the event.
If anyone needs to be suspended from NASCAR for a while, it’s this guy. It’s too bad they can’t take away his man card as well because there’s nothing honorable or brave about trying to punch someone who is strapped down in a prone position and can’t fight back.
Given NASCAR’s penalty system is almost as erratic at Papis’ driving, there’s no telling what punishments will be handed out to Sunday’s combatants. Secretly, NASCAR execs are probably dancing in the halls as the altercation boosted the brand to the top of the national sports and social media charts. Any penalties now are anticlimactic.
Finally, Papis has hinted he may take legal action against Heaphy. He’s playing the dislocated jaw angle to the hilt in the media. If he really is injured, he’s probably got a beef. After all, if you hit someone and cause injury at a job in the ‘real world,’ you’re probably going to face litigation.
So we’ll see if Papis lawyer’s up against Heaphy. If he does, forget Jerry Springer. Tune in Judge Judy instead.
Almost lost in the Papis tapas in Sunday’s Truck Series race was the rock ‘em, sock ‘em race for the win between Ty Dillon and Chase Elliott.
The pair crashed right in front of Papis and Skeen in the same corner on the final lap. Dillon, the leader heading into the bend, got the worst of it pounding the retaining barrier while a battered Elliott limped on to win his first- ever NASCAR Truck Series race.
Afterward, Dillon – like the Skeen crewmember – got up in Elliott’s grille while Elliott was still strapped in his Truck.
Bad form, dude.
Later in a post-race interview, Dillon sniffed to the assembled media that he had been wronged, that he’d lost a top finish, and valued championship points thanks to Elliott.
He also vowed retaliation at a future race.
Video replay of the incident, however, paints a slightly different picture than the one Dillon presents as Elliott had caught Dillon’s gas-starved truck and was clearly inside – up to Dillon’s door – as they entered the turn.
If I’m spotting Dillon, I’m screaming ‘Inside, Inside, Inside!’
Dillon had to know Elliott was there, yet he still pinched Elliott down to the curb running him out of racing room in the process. The ensuing contact had Dillon eating the retaining wall and Elliott getting his first taste of Victory Lane in the Truck Series.
If Dillon had used his head, he would have given Elliott room and raced him clean to the checkered flag. Even if Dillon had lost, second is still always better than being in the fence with crappy finish and a torn up race vehicle to boot. The runner-up result would have also provided Dillon the cherished championship points he so desires.
Instead, Dillon tried to block Elliott and it cost him.
Hopefully, Dillon will remember Sunday’s result as he advances up the NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup ladder because if he makes the same kind of on-track choices there, he’s bound to have a lot more wrecks and disappointing finishes.
About John Close
John Close covered his first race as a professional media member in 1985. Since then, Close – a former Associated Press newspaper sports editor – has written countless articles for numerous motorsports magazines, trade publications and Internet sites.
Close has also authored two books – Tony Stewart – From Indy Phenom To NASCAR Superstar and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series – From Desert Dust To Superspeedways.
Close also spotted more than 150 NASCAR Cup, Nationwide and Truck events from 1995-2008. His third book – On The Spot – a volume about the history of NASCAR race spotting, will be published later this year.
You can direct comments/inquiries to Close at closefinishes@carolina.