• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, April 20, 2008

IRL OWES DRAG RACING AN APOLOGY

I am posting early this week as I'm on jury duty:

* Despite what was written in the Indy Racing League's official news release -- and repeated by Curt Cavin on the Indianapolis Star's website -- Danica Patrick DID NOT become "the first female to win a major auto racing event." Her victory in Japan WAS the first in IndyCar. Congratulations. But to imply that the NHRA Top Fuel victories achieved by the legendary Shirley Muldowney, plus Melanie Troxel, Shelly Anderson, Lori Johns, Lucille Lee and Cristen Powell are anything less than "MAJOR" is ELITIST and factually dishonest. One might have reasonably expected the Star to know better, since drag racing's most prestigious race -- the U.S. Nationals -- takes place not far from its offices. This, once again, proves that some other sanctioning organizations and wide sections of the mainstream news media look down on drag racing as "blue collar" and not up to their white-collar "major" status. What the IRL PR department does not seem to understand is this kind of thing UNDERCUTS THE CREDIBILITY OF ALL ITS "NEWS" RELEASES. (Recall that the League issued a historically inaccurate media bulletin on the unified series before Homestead and, even after being provided with the true facts, did not correct the record.)

UPDATE: A staff-written story on the New York Times' website also refers to Patrick's win, in the headline and text, as the first "major" race win by a female.

I call upon the Indy Racing League to issue a formal CORRECTION and APOLOGY to NHRA, Muldowney, etc., plus all the drag racing fans it has insulted. The Star and all other media outlets who parroted this PR falsehood are required by professional standards to do the same.

* It's a tough economic environment for sponsor searchers. The rising cost to remain competitive translates to requests for more corporate support and even more demands on drivers to satisfy sponsors' needs. Jeff Gordon was promoting Nicorette's quit-smoking program at the Phoenix race when I interviewed him, and this quote is revealing, in part because Gordon has an ownership stake in Hendrick Motorsports:

"I see a side of it most drivers don’t. When I see how much it takes to keep Hendrick Motorsports going, it’s scary. So much of that is dictated by sponsorship and we’re fortunate to have good sponsors. It makes us try to not take things for granted. We’re constantly asking for more so we have to continue to give more."

* Even if you don't normally follow drag racing, I suggest keeping an eye on the developing storm between Don Schumacher and NHRA over the $100,000 fine leveled against the team owner at Las Vegas for a fuel violation. To me, this has the look of something serious -- maybe ugly. Chris Dirato crafted a well-worded statement from crew chief Alan Johnson in defense of his Army Top Fuel team. For the life of me, I can't understand why NHRA was in such a rush to announce this penalty at Vegas. There are good reasons NASCAR waits until mid-week for such pronouncements -- collecting all the facts is one -- and another has to do with not having journalists gathered in one place, ready-and-eager to blow up anything resembling a controversy. Stay tuned.

* For those who still think open-wheel reunification ended all the problems, I offer this media bulletin from the IRL: "IndyCar Series drivers Enrique Bernoldi and Franck Perera, and Firestone Indy Lights driver Sean Guthrie were guests on today’s Indy Racing League teleconference." I bet that had 'em lined up to ask questions!

* Finally, a last comment on the end of Champ Car. Without question, the WORST and most OFFENSIVE decision in the modern history of motorsports was Champ Car's to go ahead with its 2001 race in Germany the weekend after the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. The fact is Alex Zanardi should never have lost his legs -- because that race should never have happened. It was virually the only "major" event involving an American sports organization to have gone ahead that weekend. Champ Car's in-over-his-head PR man at the time -- one in a string of many -- said CC management wished it had known sooner that the NFL was putting off its games that weekend. In other words, Champ Car management needed someone else to tell it to do the right thing. To me, that was, and always shall be, an unforgiveable mistake. The Board of Directors should have immediately voted to overturn the decision to race. As far as I'm concerned, Champ Car was dead at that moment. The American sports public -- if not some obvious media cheerleaders, glorying one final time in Long Beach -- would have been better served if the whole thing had ended right then and there.


Here's a link to last Friday's Arizona Republic story on Adrian Fernandez. Be sure to note what Adrian has to say about Juan Pablo Montoya!:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/04/17/20080417racingnb0418.html

I'm quoted in Robin Miller's "Brief History of CART":
http://auto-racing.speedtv.com/article/miller-a-brief-history-of-cart/



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