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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

DISRESPECTING THE FANS . . .

I've said it before -- in this very blogspace last July 25 -- but clearly I need to say it AGAIN.

It's wrong for NASCAR drivers to turn their backs to the fans to do TV interviews while they are being paraded around in pre-race ceremonies. It is disrespectful and unnecessary.

I'm not going to repeat all the reasons I wheeled-out in my "Eye-to-Eye: NASCAR Must Protect Fan-Driver Moments" posting about 10 weeks ago. If you missed it, please click into the July archives. As the Chase rolls on, however, I've been disspirited by what I've seen.

At New Hampshire: Mark Martin had his back to the paying customers throughout a longer-than-usual talk on TNT. That time, when drivers are supposed to be clearly visible from the grandstand as they ride in convertibles or the back of trucks, is the fans' time. I've liked it that Mark has made it a point to thank the public in many of his interviews this year, but this wasn't the way to show his appreciation to those who probably believed they'd be seeing him in a Nextel Cup car one last race. Meanwhile, Jeff Gordon could be seen waving, until Allen Bestwick had him turn toward the almighty camera. Credit to Ryan Newman, who pretty much continued to wave and look at the people, during his chat.

At Dover, it was almost-always polite Jimmie Johnson who was put into the position of turning away from the ticket buyers. Come K.C., it was a N.H. repeat for Martin and Gordon.

I would like for a responsible executive from the Auto Club or any of the other sponsors impacted by this to explain to me just how this is good business. Memo to the TV producers: You have many other opportunities to do interviews.

The sport asks much of its fans. Even with the facilities built-into newer speedways, and improvements made to older ones, most tracks don't have the same level of amenities and creature comforts of most baseball/football stadiums or basketball/hockey arenas. They endure traffic headaches, hotel price ripoffs, high concession costs, restrictions on coolers, and the uncertainties of weather. NASCAR apparently will go to later starting times next year, another bow to the wishes of the television gods, meaning spectators will have even longer days and later arrivals at home before work or school Monday morning. Let's not deny the ticket-holders the simple pleasure of a smile and wave from the drivers they have paid to see.

Any track operator truly committed to customer service should take this up with NASCAR. The only thing that should come between the patrons and their heroes is a safety fence. A TV camera should not.A few things need to be said about Talladega:

* When Mark Martin climbed out of his truck after winning Saturday, he had a towel drapped around his neck. (See last week's "The Terrible Towels.") Early in his SPEED interview, Mark pulled off the white cloth (I couldn't tell what identity was on it) -- magically revealing the logos on his uniform of Scotts (his primary sponsor), Ford (manufacturer), Pennzoil (associate) and, perhaps most politically important of all, the Craftsman Truck Series. (!)

* Saturday's last-lap crash, and subsequent scoring review, frustrated fans trying to track the relatively close championship battle between Todd Bodine and Johnny Benson. While all media reports agreed Bodine finished fourth, depending on whether you read the Associated Press, NASCAR.com or the Charlotte Observer's site, Benson placed ninth, 10th or 11th. Which was it?

* It was one hour and 42 minutes from the time NBC came on Sunday until the green flag waved for the UAW-Ford 500. That is way, way too long a "pre-game" -- more than the broadcast networks do for the NFL. (!) NASCAR fans may well enjoy all the talk -- but average sports fans want to see ACTION. That means RACING. With the ratings down, it's not unreasonable to suggest that channel surfers might quickly tire of all the interviews (most of which don't yield much of interest), and so switch over to football -- and not come back. At major races, it should never be more than an hour from on-air to the green, and 30 minutes is enough elsewhere.Plenty of racers could learn a lesson by watching the videotape of the Detroit Tigers' joy last Saturday after defeating the New York Yankees to claim their American League Divisional Series. After briefly retreating to their clubhouse, to grab bottles of champagne, many players quickly returned to the field to share the moment with the home-town ticket-buyers. Several ran the perimeter of the field to high-five fans and a few even sprayed bubbly into the stands. Great stuff. And, given the image fostered by too-many professional athletes these days, even better PR.No doubt inspired by what's been happening in this spec of cyberspace (yeah, right!), my friend Larry Edsall has added his blog to the IZoom.com automotive site. Larry is the former AutoWeek motorsports editor and sports editor of the Jackson Citizen-Patriot among other adventures. Check it out: http://IZoom.com

[ more Blogging the Chase next Tuesday, if not before . . . ]