• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

WHAT NASCAR DID RIGHT

I intentionally waited a week before commenting on the Debacle at the Brickyard, because I wanted to soak-in as much of the punditry as possible. Depending on who was talking or writing, NASCAR was at fault, or Goodyear, or the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, or two of those three, or all of the above, or George W. Bush (just kidding). I heard Brian France blamed for the new car, Tony George for diamond-grinding the track, and Goodyear for not bringing enough tires.

Now that the emotional fog has lifted, I would say this much is clear: NASCAR and Goodyear were inattentive, surprisingly so, since it was INDY and the first Allstate 400 with the CoT. Too much was taken for granted even though evidence that the track would "rubber up" should have been discounted since that history was with the old car. Pointing the finger at IMS was ridiculous as no new work had been done on the surface since the 2007 event. IMS -- actually IMS and its paying customers -- were innocent victims of NASCAR/Goodyear brain-fade.

Brian France isn't -- and has never claimed to be -- a "technical" guy. He didn't design or develop the CoT. Yes, as chairman, he's ultimately responsible for those hired to do the job, but to finger him for the CoT's problems is silly. Commentators who don't like the CoT should point specifically to NASCAR's tech guys if that is their complaint. The "not enough tires" yap was equally silly since a reported 400 sets of Pocono-spec tires were brought in (but not used), just in case.

The best analysis came from Bob Margolis, on Yahoo.com, who correctly stated that NASCAR is the only major series in the world with on-going tire issues. I'm not an engineer, but I think it's increasingly obvious the CoT requires a wider tire, and quite possibly a taller one, too.

After all the media sound-and-fury, it's time to say there are two things NASCAR did right:

1. They offered an apology. People usually respect it when a mistake is admitted. I'm still waiting for Tony George and the assorted CART/Champ Car executives to say they're sorry for making a mess of American open-wheel racing.

2. They did the best that could be done under the circumstances. The reality is there are going to be days when things go very wrong. That's not an excuse; it's a fact. When it happens, the obligation of the sanctioning body is to keep the drivers as safe as possible and put on the best possible show for the fans. NASCAR did that at Indy. The 400 wasn't fun, but the show went on, running to the full advertised distance. Given the demands of the Cup schedule, the size of the crowd, and the amount of time needed to understand and fix the problem, postponement wasn't an option as it was for CART at Michigan in 1985. That happened when a 500-mile race was pushed-back a week so Goodyear could build bias-ply tires to replace radials that weren't holding up. CART officials showed exactly how NOT to do it at Texas in 2001 and Australia in 2002. As did Formula One at Indy in 2005. In those cases, officials made the situation worse.

NASCAR shares responsibility with Goodyear for ruining Cup's second-most important event of the year. But it's fair to recognize two important things they did right.
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* Ooops, He Did It Again: For the second time in the last three Rolex Series shows on SPEED, Leigh Diffey blew the call of the race winner. Friday, at Montreal, Diffey shouted Darren Law as the winner. Only, Law ran out of fuel yards from the checkered flag, and finished third. Inexcusable, especially since this was a delayed telecast, although I'm sure it was done "live-to-tape." (Equally inexcusable was no post-race Law interview.) Even Bob Varsha acknowledged this mortal sin of broadcasting. On Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix, when Felipe Massa's first-place Ferrari broke with three laps to go, Varsha said: "I'm not going to do a Leigh Diffey" and call the winner too soon. (!)


* And Some So-Called 'Big Time' Racing Teams Have Nobody: The Green Bay Packers hired former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer as a consultant for one month to guide them through the Brett Favre media circus. Just goes to show you how "small time" many motorsports operations really are.

* Jim Chapman Wouldn't Believe We'd Ever See This: During a news conference in Indy, Tony Stewart's 2009 sponsors were announced. Old Spice will continue its association with Stewart. Alex Keith, GM of Procter and Gamble Beauty, North America Deodorants, proudly pointed out the "creative use of Tony Stewart’s arm pits in our television advertising."

* Finally: The transcript doesn't reveal the name of the questioner, but at that same news conference, someone finally asked Stewart about Gene Haas. He's the other half of Stewart-Haas Racing, and currently serving prison time for a tax-evasion conviction related to Haas Automation Inc., and not the race team. I'll just print Stewart's answer here as provided:

“Obviously Gene is a partner. We’ve looked at the situation. Obviously there was no way we would not look at the situation. There was a mistake in the company, from what we understand, and the admirable thing about the whole thing is that Gene took responsibility for it. And you don’t ever want to see anybody in that position. But at the same time to see somebody that saw a flaw in it and that a mistake was made and for him to take full responsibility for it, I think is something that’s pretty admirable.

“There’s nothing positive about that, but at the same time there’s a lot more cases that are out and are more negative than the situation that Gene is in there.”
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REALITY CHECK: The other week I pointed out that enough-is-enough with the wretchedly managed airlines, citing U.S. Airways' new policy to charge for WATER. The Wall Street Journal had a story about this last week: $2 per bottle. Oh-so-generously, the carrier will "provide water and drinks for passengers in cases of medical emergency and during extensive delays." Thankfully, the airline isn't looking for passengers to drink tap water from the plane's bathroom.

"Frankly, that's just not classy," was the comment from U.S. Airways spokesman Morgan Durrant.

Neither is that quote. Or the way U.S. Airways treats its customers.
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Here's last Friday's Arizona Republic notebook, leading with Johnny Benson:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/07/31/20080731racingnb.html

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]