Thursday, July 20, 2006


On Sunday, July 2, the Arizona Republic (circulation 600,000) published a guest op-ed (not sports) column I wrote on the proposed Champ Car race in downtown Phoenix. (Link below.) My purpose was to use my experience with CART temporary course events – going back to the first few in Cleveland, Las Vegas and the Meadowlands -- to provide perspective and context. I hoped this would contribute to the public debate of this hot issue in the Valley of the Sun (see my July 18 blog).

What I got was a lesson on the “passion” of racing fans.

The column clearly laid-out my history of involvement (sometimes, hands-on, like helping to move concrete barriers at Burke Lakefront Airport in 1982 at 1 a.m. in the company of mosquitos) in these events. I specifically wrote that I am professionally neutral on this plan. I outlined several legitimate issues that I had not seen or heard covered elsewhere, including at a Phoenix City Council subcommittee meeting I attended.

Several friends and colleagues in the industry promptly E-mailed me. Larry Edsall, former AutoWeek racing editor (now an author and freelancer), kindly wrote that his one-time boss, the late legendary motorsports journalist Leon Mandel, often “lectured” about the importance of perspective and putting context into stories. Since I knew and respected Leon, that was (and is) a great compliment.

Faster than A.J. Allmendinger won three races for Gerald Forsythe, though, came some not-so-generous messages. Within hours, a web site that apparently specializes in throwing red meat to the anti-IRL crowd, linked to the column and put this headline on its home page: “Former PR Director for CART Stabs Champ Car in Back.”

The handful of E-mails this caused had an interesting commonality. Not one disputed any fact I presented. Every one dispersed personal attacks. My “favorite” one opined that I’m “full of hyper blow” and concluded with this: “My guess is ISC/NASCAR will be putting an extra shrimp or two in your shrimp cocktail at the next who ha [sic] they host at the 21 Club.” I made it a point to promptly and politely reply to each-and-every writer. I did explain to the sender of the above that, as I am allergic to all seafood, I definitely would not be accepting an extra shrimp!

My view is several of the race opponents haven’t distinguished themselves. The same can be said of some of the proponents. Before my op-ed was published, I was copied on an E-blast encouraging fans to vote “Yes” on a Phoenix Business Journal online poll about the Arizona Grand Prix. A couple of links were included, one prefaced this way: “If you're NOT in favor of this race, this link will lead you to a site with computer viruses galore, an early onset of Alzheimers, and various sexual dysfunction symptoms.”

(I’ll give ‘em the benefit of the doubt and assume this was supposed to be a joke. Anyone who has witnessed the tragedy of Alzheimer’s Disease in their family – which I have in common with the Frances – will tell you it is an unacceptable subject for any attempt at humor.)

I love the passion of true racing fans. It’s essential to making the sport great and successful. But the attack-which-ignores-fact mindset has to go the way of the Honker. It was impossible for me not to notice that chatroomers, who have gushingly posted about Danica Patrick for two years, suddenly did 180s when she (and her father) admitted she’d consider NASCAR if a suitable contract wasn’t forthcoming from an IRL team. It’s almost frightening to consider how these people would react if Danica went to the Champ Car World Series!

I’m a political junkie. I’m saddened our national discourse too-often has devolved into the politics of personal destruction. Motorsports must not travel that road.

[ more Tuesday . . . ]