• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

PARIS and DANICA WEEK

There were two ridiculous media spectacles last week: Paris Hilton and the "Rumble at the Speedway."

When the Nextel Cup race at Dover was rained-out Sunday, June 3, the "everything is great" Indy Car crowd I've referenced the last few weeks seemed to get more excited than viewers of Hilton's infamous Internet sex tape. They couldn't wait to say and post that "now the NASCAR fans will HAVE to watch the IRL."

Actually, NO!

REALITY CHECK: The NASCAR fans, no surprise to me, did NOT watch Milwaukee. That "live" two hours on ABC -- one week after the Indy 500 -- generated an embarrassing 1.0 rating. (That made the Stanley Cup finals on NBC numbers look healthy.) Nextel Cup's wet-weather time-filler got more than DOUBLE that and so it should be obvious the stock car viewers found better things to do than tune-in to a race that immediately strung-out into single-file formation in front of vast expanses of empty aluminum grandstands. The announced attendance of more than 30,000 was an insult to anyone of intelligence. I checked with someone intimately familiar with the Wisconsin fairgrounds oval and the analysis I got back was the people-in-seats total was closer to 10,000 than 30,000.

THE "news," though, was Dan Wheldon-Danica Patrick. Anyone with five minutes of experience knew that was a classic "racing deal" -- and a minor one at that -- but another dose of bad behavior by Danica (the man paid to look out for the best public image for her team and sponsors stood off on the side and just watched) afterwards set-off yet another ripple of shallow story-telling disguised by bold headlines as "journalism." You betcha. May those media outlets which played this triviality as more important than the death of Bill France Jr. be forever shamed.

Down at Texas Motor Speedway, naturally, they got breathless over this unexpected bit of "opportunity." Overnight, the already phonied-up "550" (not clearly labeled as "kilometers") became: Dan "The Battlin' Brit" Wheldon and Danica "The Phoenix Firebird" Patrick who fought to a draw at The Milwaukee Mile on Sunday and a rematch already has been scheduled for the unofficial IndyCar Series featherweight championship belt. The "Rumble at the Speedway" a.k.a. the Bombardier Learjet 550k will take place Saturday evening at Texas Motor Speedway.

Sad, to me, that nonsense has replaced substance. I guess we should be thankful for small favors; in this case, TMS didn't feel compelled to duplicate Charlotte's joke last fall when it announced extra security was assigned to Brian Vickers after he wrecked Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson on the last lap at Talladega. Apparently, Wheldon was in no-such-danger from those passionate Danica fans.

What I really would like to know is this: IF, after having ginned-up Dan-Danica as some sort of serious "fight," they had had a major crash with life-threatening or fatal injuries -- something not unknown at Texas Motor Speedway -- just how would management, and the broadcast and print enablers who beat this hollow drum, have felt? I mean, felt deep down inside. I'd suggest this: Guilty. There are legitimate ways of selling tickets. Those take time, thought, imagination and hard work. (An observation about hard work: At the Indy 500, TMS' PR director turned down an invitation to the AARWBA breakfast -- he should be a member, but isn't -- because he was going to play golf. That golf outing also involved media, but I found it most revealing that several others in positions similar to his made the effort to do BOTH!)

There are legitimate ways, then there are methods that could just as easily have come from the Paris cotton-candy-for-brains crowd.

Here's the most revealing TV tale from June 3: NHRA, same-day delayed tape from Topeka, was on ESPN2 for all of Milwaukee plus an additional hour. The drag racers produced their BEST number of the season for final-round competition, .69 in the cable universe, with a .74 the day before for qualifying (second best this year).

The fact that more people last week were interested what happened to Paris Hilton than what happened to another famous offspring -- the IRL -- should be a source of great embarrassment to everyone who has or who has ever had any role in birthing this wretched mess.
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Brian Barnhart and Marty Reid are moving closer to joining the long list of those who have lost their credibility in the 12-year-old American open-wheel split. Barnhart is the IRL's competition president. At Texas, he AGAIN allowed a bogus start, this time with outside front-row man Sam Hornish clearly ahead of pole winner Scott Sharp at the green flag. (Sharp should have been sent to the back after twice lagging the pace.) Later, after Tomas Scheckter (who drives for Barnhart's boss, Tony George) ran to the track's edge and threw his gloves at Marco Andretti, Barnhart allowed Scheckter to rejoin the race in his repaired car. PENALTY? Meanwhile, Reid opened the ESPN2 telecast (man, was Texas the wrong track for the network to stop its "side-by-side" commercial format!) by describing the Danica-Dan incident as the "topic of conversation at every water cooler across the country." Well then, Marty, I expect the ratings will show more than 100 million people were tuned-in Saturday night! I would remind Marty one anchor already has lost his position after worshiping at the altar of Danica. (Separately, Scott Goodyear said Jon Herb "did such a great job to qualify in the 19th spot." There were ONLY 20 starters! )

TNT began its six-race Nextel Cup schedule at Pocono. Why is it, so often, that reports from Marty Snider turn into something ABOUT Snider? (Often set-up by Bill Weber and Wally Dallenbach Jr.) Is it too much to expect that TV would keep the focus on the athletes, NOT a pit reporter?
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Here's a fair question: What's up with the Indianapolis Star? In years past, when Monza was the Formula One race prior to the U.S. Grand Prix at IMS, the paper went to the expense of sending writer Curt Cavin all the way to Italy. No one went to Montreal last weekend ahead of this weekend's "home game" for the paper. As far as I know, the Star has not staffed a single Champ Car event this season, either. Then, last Friday, the paper went with this headline: "Waltrip's rough season heads in right direction". A few hours later, at Pocono, both Michael Waltrip and teammate Dale Jarrett failed to qualify -- AGAIN!

Over at the AP, Dan Gelston wrote this about Pocono International Raceway's history: "In the mid-1970s, when the CART-USAC fight helped cause financial problems at the track, (owner Joseph) Mattioli wanted to sell until he received a call from (Bill) France Jr." Sorry, not accurate. The CART-USAC split didn't happen until 1979! I was working in Philadelphia back then and personally reported on Pocono's early financial woes, which were triggered by weather-related postponements and construction costs, among other issues. Pro-USAC Mattioli didn't point a finger at CART until its teams no-showed for a 500-miler in '79.

The most interesting part of the AP report, however, came at the end. In response to annual complaints that 500 miles for stock cars at Pocono is too long, Gelston quoted Mattioli thusly: "The day Humpty Wheeler cuts his 600 mile down to a 500, I'll cut mine down to a 400."

Did Gelston do a typo? Or did Doc Mattioli actually call Wheeler "Humpty" ?

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In case you missed them, I posted TWO blogs last week . . .


Some have asked to read my AARWBA Journalism Contest winning column. It's "What Must Happen IF Merger Happens," from May 2006:

http://www.valvoline.com/pages/racing/rn_article_viewer.asp?nid=1898

The May/June issue of Race News magazine has my "The Bottom Line" Biz of Racing column. On the occasion of A.J. Foyt's 50th anniversary in Indy Car racing, I also wrote a feature, with my 14 (yes, 14) personal remembrances of SuperTex.


[ more next Tuesday . . . ]