James Hylton has become the oldest driver to make the field in NASCAR's top three divisions with his start in Friday night's Nationwide Series Royal Purple 200 at Darlington Raceway. The 76-year-old Hylton, who started his first NASCAR race in 1964, will shatter the mark he previously set when he took the green flag at age 73 three year ago in a Nationwide Series race in 2008.
Some are applauding the record being set by the affable Hylton, who has been one of the sport's long-time independent drivers and deserves credit for the time he's given to NASCAR.
But the time to walk away has come.
There's a bit of a credibility factor in my opinion that comes into play with having a 76-year-old participant in what is considered a major league level sport.
Sure you can point to guys like Gordie Howe and Chris Chelios in the NHL or baseball's Jamie Moyer as athletes who performed well much later in life. But we're talking about guys in their 40's and 50's. Hylton has them beat by at least a couple of decades.
While Hylton has certainly shown he's been capable over the years of competing at even the top level of stock car racing in the Sprint Cup Series, how wise is it to have someone at his advanced age driving at speeds in excess of 180 mph?
Actually that won't be the case Friday night unless Hylton picks things up drastically. In Friday's only Nationwide Series practice session he was almost 30 mph slower than Kyle Busch who led the speed charts.
NASCAR does have a minimum speed requirement during a race and if Hylton follows his practice performance once the green flag flies he'll be black flagged out of the event.
But safety should be paramount at all times and allowing Hylton to compete has potential disaster written all over it.
Let's be clear. I'm not prejudice against anyone's age and believe everyone should have an equal right to do whatever they want no matter how many candles are on their birthday cake.
But that has its limits and driving a high speed stock car is one of them.
There can be no argument that no matter how sharp a 76-year-old man James Hylton may be, his reflexes and athleticism are nowhere near the younger drivers like Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne and the rest of the field in tonight's Nationwide Series race.
I watched in horror last year when a special legends exhibition race at Bristol ended in a horrific crash that saw Larry Pearson nearly lose his life when he was t-boned at full speed by 71-year-old Charlie Glotzbach. And that race featured late model stock cars on a half mile track not the more powerful Nationwide machines on a much larger - and thus faster -track like Darlington.
Darlington is one of the most feared tracks in NASCAR and drivers half Hylton's age have expressed their concerns about racing on the narrow and lightning-fast speedway.
It seems like a recipe for disaster.
I'm not sure what the answer is and whether NASCAR should simply impose an age restriction or put drivers over a certain age through a test of some kind, similar in nature to what young pilots do in a rookie test session.
But it's a situation that needs addressing and is riddled with possible disaster.
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