INDIANAPOLIS — So why would Carl Edwards walk away from a cushy gig that pays a bunch of money and allows him to live like a movie star?
To properly understand that question you have to realize the perception most people have about life at the highest level of the sport is not based on reality. Yes, NASCAR Cup Series racers make a lot of money. Yes, they are treated to celebrity worship. Yes, life is exciting and wonderful. Or so it seems.
The typical life of a Cup Series driver is one of constant chaos and commitment. Appearances, team meetings, test sessions, media accessibility; everything combines to create ceaseless pressure from your first breath in the morning until you close your eyes at night.
When Cup Series stars try to describe this atmosphere, they are often labeled as whiners. After all, wouldn’t 99 percent of Americans be happy to trade their mundane daily routine for such a glorious life in the spotlight? But the fact remains that life at the top of the racing food chain is suffocating, both physically and emotionally.
In a sense, racing at this level is almost like selling your soul to the devil. You get all the perks: fame, wealth, adulation and the chance to race on somebody else’s dollar. In exchange you give away everything else: your identity, your time, your privacy, and … every waking moment of your life, at least while you’re under contract.
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A whole bunch of people would gladly take that deal, and I get that. But what is interesting is that nearly everyone who takes that path eventually finds themselves wondering if it’s all worth it.
Apparently, Edwards woke up one morning and wondered that very thing.
Life is short, and the clock is ticking. Every year you spend in an unhappy job — regardless of how well it pays — is another year gone. One year passes, then another, then another, and pretty soon …
That is a fact of life that nobody — not you, not me, not rock star Cup Series drivers — can avoid. When you look around one day and realize you’re not spending your time — the most precious commodity — doing what you enjoy, you’re likely to start thinking about alternatives.
Edwards has alternatives. I know nothing of his financial situation — that’s none of my business — but I would guess there is little danger of him going hungry anytime soon. I suspect he and his family had the discussion — the one where you say, “Is this job worth it?” — and simply decided it was time to take life in another direction.
Yes, it’s possible this is a ploy to take a year off from Joe Gibbs Racing and explore other opportunities for 2018. I very much doubt that. My experience is that when Edwards tells you something, he’s sincere and truthful. If he says this is about stepping away because of a life decision, I believe him.
His path to the top was filled with difficulty and challenge, much more so than most racers of his generation. He didn’t come from money and he had to make his way on talent and determination alone. He proved to have an abundance of both. From the days of putting an ad in the back pages of the weekly edition of National Speed Sport News to solicit rides, to hitch-hiking through the night after the races to get back to his Missouri home, Edwards was a different sort of person. His sheer tenacity proved to be the catalyst and it’s impossible not to be inspired by that.
I’ve lost touch with Edwards in recent years, but in the early period of his Cup Series career he was refreshingly humble, never losing touch with the grassroots world from which he came. Even at the pinnacle, while surrounded by the glaring spotlight, he maintained a sense of dignity and compassion that today is too often missing throughout the sport.
A long time ago I realized it’s not cool to tell other people how to live their life. So I hesitate to say this, but I hope Edwards stays involved in the sport, and not necessarily as a driver. I would love to see him return to short-track racing — in any one of many potential roles — turning his passion and conviction in a new direction. Hey, life here in the short-track world isn’t glamorous or wealthy, but it can be immensely enjoyable.
So, Carl, if you have some spare time in 2017, come join us at the races. Yes, we still have fun here at the short tracks. And we’ll always have a place for a guy like you.