• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

DAYTONA 50

I'll be a guest on Racing Roundup Arizona next Monday (Feb. 18). The show airs from 7-9 p.m. (local time) on 1310 KXAM. It originates from Max's in Glendale. You can listen via KXAM.com or use the Racing Roundup link in the right-hand column.


In recognition of Sunday's 50th Daytona 500, here's my list of my top 50 memories of "The Great American Race":

50. PR rep for Marlboro's CART team getting in the press box for the Winston Cup event.

49. The first major impression left by Toyota -- the Michael Waltrip cheating scandel.

48. Go-or-blow Buddy Baker winning his way in 1980.

47. Politicians cruising for votes -- and campaign contributions -- in the garage area race morning.

46. NASCAR closing the garage area to the media . . . that was back in the old days.


45. Underdog, underfunded, Johnny Benson almost pulling THE upset in 2000.



44. Not getting to see Adam Petty race in the 500.

43. Richard Petty. The King.

42. Lee Petty's inaugural victory in 1959, decided days later following review of finish-line photos.

41. Ken Squier's nationally syndicated radio show at the Hawaiian Inn.

40. Cale Yarborough flipping in qualifying then winning in a backup car in 1983.

39. The First National City Travelers Checks' corporate luau in 1976.

38. A radio reporter admitting to me he was excited to snag a press box credential because "I'll be up there drinking beer and eating those sandwiches."

37. Good times at Down the Hatch, Gene's Steak House and the Chart House.

36. Sitting pool-side with Al Unser Jr. late afternoon before his only Daytona 500 start in 1993.

35. Darrell Waltrip's victory lane dance in 1989. The car owner? Some guy named Rick Hendrick.

34. The old, annual STP media breakfast at the Indigo Inn and the hospitality of Ralph Salvino, Jim Vogrin and Harvey Duck.

33. Sitting with Tony Hulman at a race week sponsor dinner in the mid-1970s.

32. Joe Whitlock's stories from the good old days at the 1979 Wrangler party.

31. Salvino riding on the hood of Petty's car on the way to victory lane in 1981.

30. Bill Broderick's fun, fun, fun annual Union 76 Racing Panel of Experts dinners.

29. Turn four -- "Calamity Corner."

28. Bill Elliott showing 'em how it's done in 1985 and 1987.

27. Ricky Rudd's barrel roll in the 1984 Busch Clash -- then coming back to race the next week. (And winning, at Richmond, the week after that.)

26. Richard Petty's barrel roll in 1988.

25. Benny Parsons lugging CBS' first box-like in-car camera in 1979.

24. Jeff Gordon pounding the hood of his DuPont Chevrolet in delight after winning for the first time in 1997.

23. Junior Johnson.

22. Smokey Yunick's "Best Damn Garage in Town."

21. Leonard Wood turning down my interview request in 1976: "I'm too dang busy." He got publicity for sponsor Purolator by winning a couple of days later with David Pearson.

20. Attending the news conference where Darrell Waltrip said he was "very, very happy" to be driving for DiGard.

19. "Golden boy" Fred Lorenzen.

18. "Golden girl" Linda Vaughn.

17. Dale Jarrett backing-off his radio promise to work with Mark Martin to pass leader Johnny Benson in the closing laps of '00. Martin got hung out and Jarrett got to victory lane.

16. Benny Parsons winning in 1975, then writing a poem about it.

15. CART refugee Scott Pruett whispering into my ear in the garage area in 2000, "These cars drive terrible!"

14. A.J. Foyt slipping out a side door at Halifax Hospital to avoid me and other journalists after an overnight stay following his 1978 flip. Soon thereafter, kidney stones made me an unexpected Halifax patient.

13. My friend, Al Holbert, doing interviews before the 1978 race. The subject? He was a "Yankee with a college diploma."

12. Reporter who had one-too-many leaving his rental car on the beach late one night -- only to discover the next day high tide had captured it.

11. Mario Andretti's tale-happy Ford keeping his competitors at bay in 1967.

10. Great guy Neil Bonnett, a couple of days after winning the 1984 Busch Clash, sitting on a stack of tires outside his garage and doing interviews for two hours. It was his first year with Budweiser and I was working on Bud's PR. "Keep sending 'em over," Neil told me. "Just bring me something to drink once in a while."

9. NASCAR suspends Tim Richmond in 1988 and every reporter in town tries to track him down for a comment. I bump into him in the lobby of the beach-front Hilton.

8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the winner's circle in 2004.

7. Dale Earnhardt's flat tire on the last lap in 1990, costing him a sure victory.

6. Bobby and Davey Allison -- father and son -- 1-2 in 1988.

5. My 35-minute one-on-one interview with Bill France Jr. in his office the week of the 1978 race, in which he predicted NASCAR would eventually become as popular as baseball and football.

4. David Pearson-Richard Petty coming to the checkered flag in 1976.

3. Last turn, last lap, 2001. Then, watching Dale Jr. hurry over to the infield medical center.

2. The 1979 finish -- maybe the moment that "made" NASCAR. Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison wreck; Cale, Donnie and Bobby Allison fight; Richard Petty wins.

1. 1998. Dale Earnhardt wins. The entire pit road population celebrates.
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The opening weekend of NASCAR TV coverage calls into question whether there really is such a thing as "broadcast journalism." How any announcer can put a "live" microphone in front of Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch and NOT ask if they had a physical confrontation in the NASCAR hauler after their practice crash Friday is beyond my comprehension. Ditto for mentioning a Cup team owner by name yet failing to say that owner is currently in federal prison. Ditto for the interviews by smiley-gushy pit reporters who sound more like the president of the driver's fan club.

Don't tell me how pretty the pictures were, or how crisp the audio, or the usefulness of the graphics. There's nothing more basic, necessary, or important than straightforward reporting from the "broadcast journalists."

Looks like it's going to be a long season for anyone interested in knowing the NEWS.
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Sad Sign of the Times: Longtime Detroit-area radio man Larry Henry recently was informed his broadcast position had been eliminated. Larry is available for multi-media work or a PR assignment. He can be reached at LarryHenry@pitpassusa.com .
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If you missed it last week, please check out my new Business of Racing video commentary -- explaining how the national economy affects the racing economy -- on 1320tv.com. Here's the link:
http://www.1320tv.com/dialed_in/article4.asp?vid=dialed_in/dialed_in_bor_feb08&title=COMMENTARY:&des=The%20Business%20of%20Racing%20with%20Michael%20Knight

Here's a link to my notebook in last Friday's Arizona Republic, featuring Emerson Fittipaldi on NASCAR, A1 and A2, U.S. open-wheel racing and driving the Corvette pace car at the Indy 500:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/0207racingnb0208.html


[ more next Tuesday . . . ]