Schumacher’s Aborted Return Spurs NASCAR Imagination

by Patrick Reynolds on August 25, 2009 · 16 comments

This past weekend while a large portion of the stock car crowd paid attention to the long, late summer weekend in Bristol, TN there was a was an almost must-see event half a globe away.

Ferrari Formula 1 driver Felipe Massa suffered a serious head injury during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix last month. A suspension coil spring fell from Rubens Barichello’s car and bounced into contact with the Brazilian’s helmet. Massa was following at approximately 170 mph when the contact was made.

Felipe’s car then crashed through a sand trap and into a retaining wall. Massa suffered a skull fracture and a concussion.

Fortunately his recovery is proceeding well. He is back home in Sao Paulo after spending nine days in a Hungarian hospital. He is even discussing his return to the cockpit.

During the early stages of the Massa recovery, Ferrari announced just about every all-time Formula 1 record holder Michael Schumacher would come out of retirement to fill the empty seat.

The plan was to have the German great step in starting with the European Grand Prix held in Valencia Spain this past weekend. It reminded me of Michael Jordan coming out of retirement for the first time. Not everyone is a basketball fan, but just about everyone does want to see this. I used the red pen to mark my calendar and debated whether I should set my alarm clock for the early morning East Coast time start.

But as most things that sound too good to be true, it usually is. Within days of the announcement of Schumacher’s return came another announcement: he would not. A motorcycle accident earlier this year left him with some neck pain that simply would not stand up to the rigors of a Formula 1 race.

For a few days I was a very excited motorsports enthusiast. I always am, but I was jazzed with this subject and eagerly counting down to the Valencia date. C’est la vie.

Now my mind often draws parallels from the rest of the auto-racing world towards our heavily populated NASCAR community in which we are a part of. Is there a Sprint Cup driver that could pull off as much excitement by coming out of retirement that Schumacher did? And stay within the real world. No Dale Earnhardt or Neil Bonnett comebacks by bending the laws of the Universe (as much as I wish I could at times).

When I was a child I was a big Richard Petty fan. After he retired I never took up the mantle for that one driver to pull for. But at the end of his career it was a struggle. As a fan I choose to remember him when he was in his prime, when he would rub fenders and contend for wins. Being out of a racecar for seventeen years would not make him more competitive today. So no I don’t think that is our guy. He would laterally compare to Schumacher in statistics and championships.

Come to think of it that whole group of stars from that era that are still with us have not driven in a long time. I am thinking David Pearson, the Allisons, Darrell Waltrip, Harry Gant, Cale Yarborough, and Buddy Baker could not hop right in and wheel a car at the next race.

Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte, and Sterling Marlin are three of the greats that are still driving on a part time basis.

Dale Jarrett only recently hung up his helmet, but he too reminded me of Petty in his last races. I prefer to fondly remember a DJ that was taking names at the front of the draft.

Ernie Irvan chose to step away for his own health more than ten years ago. I think he should stay where he is while we look back on the hard charging style he was known for.

One man who could generate some return buzz was Ricky Rudd. He already did it once. While taking a year off from driving, Rudd filled in for an injured Tony Stewart during the 2006 spring Cup race at Dover. It was an exciting moment but not the Cinderella finish. Rudd was penalized for speeding on pit road and soldiered on to a twenty-fifth place finish.

Our fendered world’s most likely candidate for pulling a Schumacher-esque “I’m going to come out of retirement and win the darn race” for real would be Rusty Wallace.

He is a series champion from 1989, ranked seventh in all-time Cup wins with fifty-five, and has only been retired since the end of the 2005 season. I believe he could still climb through a window and be competitive and maybe surprise us all with a little bit more, especially on a short track.

Now please understand this is not an endorsement or a prediction, just a fun ‘what-if’ game. The European Grand Prix had me genuinely more excited than usual for a Formula 1 event. I see our closest comparison at this time to be Rusty Wallace filling the same role.

However neither occasion looks to be taking place anytime soon. Wallace is happy working in television, owning his Nationwide team, and has said repeatedly that he is not coming back. But Schumacher was oh-so-close to making the “one more time” chant come true. I was hoping for Jordan with the Chicago Bulls type of return. Not Jordan with the Washington Wizards though.

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1 Andrew G August 26, 2009 at 4:45 am

I wish Jeff Gordon would come out of retirement.

2 Andrew G August 26, 2009 at 5:46 am

Shouldn’t the title be “Spurs” imagination?

In all fairness, it would be cool to see Awesome Bill in the same equipment as Mark Martin currently has. I know he’s not fully retired but hey. And yeah, when I first started watching Nascar in 2006, I had no idea of the legacies of either Dale Jarrett (yeah I know now) and Sterling Marlin.

Rusty Wallace doesn’t do anything for me. Perhaps he’d be polarizing, and it would depend on the demeanor of his return. If he came in like Bobby Labonte and drove charity rides, then I’d likely feel sorry for him. However, if he came in to “teach these kids to race” then I’d laugh when he shared a pickup bed with Gililand and Menard.

3 Chris G August 26, 2009 at 6:02 am

I’d like to see Ray Evernham come out of retirement…
and Kevin Harvick (hahaha “Hurry up Kev or we’ll be late for qualifying 38th”).

4 Andrew G August 26, 2009 at 6:26 am

“Who’s on the short list?”
“Who else?”
“That’s what I call a short list.”

“Homes for the homeless, jobs for the jobless!”
“Vampires for the vampireless.”
“Oh, here’s a good one…Neverthe…for the Nevertheless.”

5 J.J. August 26, 2009 at 6:41 am

I’d like to see Jimmy Spencer come out of retirement. Not fully, but in a good car capable of winning, especially at the short tracks, where he could beat and bang on the other cars and maybe get sooooo annoyed that he’d get into a fist fight with somebody–y’know just for fun.

6 janine August 26, 2009 at 6:56 am

Most of these guys retired because they didn’t get the job done anymore. I say stay retired. Let the punks have some fun and get some experience.

7 Andrew G August 26, 2009 at 7:07 am

Jeremy Mayfield.

8 Chris G August 26, 2009 at 7:10 am

Oh man yeah Jimmy Spencer gets my vote! They’d have to add a new category of yellow flag: “wreck; debris; competition caution; rain; JS needs hot wings”

9 Andrew G August 26, 2009 at 7:11 am

MC Hammer

10 rick August 26, 2009 at 7:24 am

any fan of petty’s needs to check out the king did an audiobook of his life

11 Richard August 26, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Fascinating article!!!!! Thank you.

12 Bob August 26, 2009 at 12:28 pm

If Jimmy Spencer comes out retirement, he’ll have to remove his toupee’ to put the helmet on. While he is at it, he should get a new one that has some brains in it!

13 Patrick August 26, 2009 at 12:47 pm

@ Andrew G: Yes, it should be “spurs”. Nice catch. Need any work as a proofreader? LOL

Thanks for reading.

14 Andrew G August 26, 2009 at 1:04 pm

That’s a kindness.

I dig reading any article that catches my interest and doesn’t lament the fact there are not 43 cars running 43 wide every lap because of course Nascar in its hey-dey always looked like an episode of Pole Position.

15 jimmccoy22 August 26, 2009 at 3:16 pm

Another home run Patrick. Good read!

16 Clint Lovendahl August 26, 2009 at 7:59 pm

Michael Schumacher should come to NASCAR.

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