DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Are the 43 drivers in the Daytona 500 the best drivers in the world? The highway patrol apparently doesn’t think so.
Few would disagree it takes a level of skill and nerve few would understand to run 200 mph at the Daytona International Speedway. Most of them, however, have the same heavy foot when it comes to racing down the highway.
Only one driver – Jeff Gordon – said he hasn’t been ticketed – although he recently came close.
“I got pulled over and I was on the phone with Dale (Earnhardt) Jr.,” Gordon said. “I gave the officer the phone and he talked to Junior. I don’t know if I was going to get a ticket or just a slap on the wrist, but after he talked to Junior he let me go.”
Others haven’t been as fortunate. Defending Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne admitted already having “eight to 10” speeding tickets. He turned 21 last week.
As long as there are speed limits and radar guns, the law firm of Hartsell and Williams, P.A., in Concord, N.C., will be busy. Tom Grady is an attorney there and he represents a lot of the drivers in traffic court. He specializes in getting charges dismissed or reduced to minor offenses for a lot of the sport’s drivers and crew men.
“It’s a game, really,” Grady said. “When you do this, your name gets thrown around quite a bit.”
Grady said there are several areas known for writing tickets, especially at race time.
“It’s been 20 years since they had a race at Darlington (S.C.) when I didn’t get a little business,” he said. “There are spots going to Bristol (Tenn.) and down to Columbia (S.C.) where they eat you up.”
Getting out of a ticket isn’t cheap. By making a plea deal for improper equipment like a broken tail light or bald tires, drivers pay more in court costs, but less in insurance. The money collected by the county for improper equipment goes to the local school districts, Grady said.
“That makes it a win-win for everyone,” he said.
David Ragan was cited for driving 60 mph on a stretch of Interstate 77 near Statesville, N.C. – an area known for its speed traps – three weeks ago. He was in court last Monday to make a deal for driving with improper equipment.
“This is why I get my tickets thrown out,” Ragan said. “How strange is it to say you got a speeding ticket for going 60 on the interstate?”
When Denny Hamlin joined Joe Gibbs Racing, he was caught speeding several times in his first month with the team. He managed to get all of them thrown out or reduced.
Jimmie Johnson’s only ticket came when he was 16, and that was for not wearing his seatbelt. He’s never made that mistake again.
Mark Martin used to get a lot of tickets, including one for driving without a license. Now 53, it’s been 23 years since he’s been stopped.
“I finally figured out what causes you to drive too fast – the gas pedal,” he said. “Now I always use cruise control.”
Jamie McMurray got two tickets in a two-week period by the same patrolman in 2003. That’s all it took to get his attention because he hasn’t been caught since.
There have been some unique citations. Casey Mears was caught by a traffic camera in Phoenix using his knee to control the steering wheel while he was sending a text message with his hands. That ticket came in the mail.
Greg Biffle was ticketed for a loud muffler, bad tires and an assortment of burned out light bulbs.
“I lived in a small town and I had an attitude,” he said. “Other than that, I think I’ve only had about six speeding tickets.”
Some of the violations had serious ramifications. Police said Rob Moroso was drunk when hit a turn more than 40 mph over the posted speed limit in 1990. He struck another car head-on, killing the NASCAR rookie and a woman in the other car.
Police said alcohol contributed to an accident involving Michael Waltrip in 2009 when he made a u-turn in front of a motorcycle ridden by Ronald Hausman. Waltrip’s blood alcohol was measured at .06 – just under North Carolina’s .08 limit. The rider suffered minor injuries in the crash.
Kyle Busch was caught driving 128 mph in a 45 mph zone last year in an exotic sports car. Kurt Busch was arrested in Phoenix in 2005 for reckless driving after he sped through a stop sign.
Last summer Robby Gordon participated in a Cannonball Run-like race from Las Vegas to Miami called the Bull Run. He got two tickets on the drive, including one for nearly 160 mph in Texas.
“We averaged 120 mph while we were in Texas,” he said. “Kyle Busch would get scared to death doing this.”
Even the sport’s King, Richard Petty, hasn’t been able to escape the long arm of the law. In 1996, he rear-ended a slower car in the left lane of Interstate 85 after the driver, James Rassette, wouldn’t move out of the way.
Rassette flagged down a highway patrol officer who eventually wrote Petty a ticket for reckless driving and hit and run with property damage. Petty was a Republican Party candidate for the North Carolina’s Secretary of State and the ticket eventually doomed his campaign.
With Grady’s help, Petty had the charges reduced.
But the game between race drivers and the police continues – along with the tickets.