• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Monday, April 06, 2009

VIEW FROM THE TOP END

ANNOUNCER ALAN: Reinhart (left) interviews Greg Anderson after his Friday qualifying pass.

As I've written before, it's hard to find two people who enjoy their time at the racetrack more than NHRA announcers Bob Frey and Alan Reinhart. Last Friday, for the first round of Full Throttle qualifying at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway's SummitRacing.com Nationals, I went down to the top end with Reinhart to check out the scene as he interviewed drivers post-run.

Rain delayed the open of Pro Stock qualifying, followed by a long pause to fix starting-line electrical problems. Bob Bode (Bob Bode!) was quickest in Funny Car. Top Fueler Arley Langlo blew an engine big-time, whereupon high wind gusts blew debris on the track, ending "action" for the day.

As Frey called it, "a bizarre day."

Nevertheless, it was an interesting experience to watch alongside Reinhart. He got lap times via radio, passed them on to drivers, bantering and interviewing. In short, despite the conditions, having a good time.

His announcing philosophy?

"Three fold: 1. I love going to work in the morning. It doesn't matter what you do, if you like your job, you're going to do it well. 2. I'm a car guy. I have a '67 Mustang that I got when I was 17 years old (used) that I still own. I grew up with friends who had the big-block Camaros, Road Runners, the hot rod cars, and I just loved it. 3. Having raced a little bit -- I'm not anywhere near good enough to mess with the guys who do it regularly -- I understand the mentality. I know what the guys are going through when the car makes a perfect run or goes red by two-thousands of a second. One guy is jumping up and down and the other is ready to slit his wrists. I try to impart some of that.

"The late (broadcaster) Steve Evans told me a long time ago, 'One thing you've got to remember when you're up there (booth), everybody is somebody's hero.' Even a guy driving an old station wagon he got from his mom has got a buddy on the fence that wishes that was him out there. There's something special about every race."

Alan began announcing in the early 1980s at Arizona's Tucson Dragway. Then, on to Firebird International Raceway when it opened. "I went out to Firebird one night for a bracket race and, absolute dumb luck, their announcer didn't show up. Somebody said something to somebody and, for seven years, I was the announcer there." He helped out at the NHRA national event a couple of times, doing various jobs. "I mentioned to them that I was an announcer. They gave me an opportunity one year as a volunteer to come up in the booth for Super Gas and Stock Eliminator. The next year they put me on the payroll."

Reinhart says he's a NASCAR fan, too. "I follow it closely. (But) I believe everybody is a drag racer. At some point in time, you've tried to beat the guy to the merge lane. You've taken off across the intersection to beat the guy into the 7-Eleven."

The job mixes reporting with showbiz. Especially when fans need to be entertained (or distracted) on a challenging day.

"The sport needs the rivalries. Everybody gets out of their car and says, 'We were really lucky to beat the other guy. They've got a great team.' It's not the same as, 'I want to rip your throat out.' When John Force was racing Whit Bazemore, everybody in the stands wanted somebody to win, and somebody to get their butt kicked. That's what gets the fans into it. It doesn't have to be disrespectful."
********************************************************************
I spent a lot of time last weekend interviewing and reporting for a two-column ESPN2-on-NHRA series for the May and June issues of Drag Racing Online. (Where I write the monthly "All Business" column.) Can't wait to share this, though, courtesy of 22-time national event winner and ace analyst Mike Dunn.

Dunn's three-step process for racers who want more coverage:

1. Win races.

2. Crash and burn.

3. Cry during an interview.
********************************************************************
There is and probably always will be some grumbling in the NHRA pit area that John (and, now Ashley) Force get too much TV time. But ESPN has data to prove Team Force drives ratings. In contrast, Saturday's ALMS race on ABC tried to lure in viewers with a video blog from Chapman Ducote. I'd love for some producer to explain that one to me.

Meanwhile, as IRL debuted on Versus, we learned during qualifying that in the off-season Danica Patrick got a bread maker and hosted dinner parties. Just what she did to make herself a BETTER RACE DRIVER went unasked by the Vs. microphone holders. But, hey, why would they ask that when they can show swimsuit photos?

As much as anyone, I believe in innocent until proven guilty. This, however, must be noted: From the tone of the Versus announcers, the uninformed would have thought Helio Castroneves was recovering from illness or injury, not someone on trial for federal tax evasion charges. If Castroneves is found not guilty, I'm under the impression Vs. will treat him like a conquering hero. It's already obvious Versus is the place where seldom will be heard a discouraging word about IndyCar racing.

Yes, I KNOW, April Fools' Day gags are an American tradition. But last Wednesday's Car and Driver posting, that President Obama had ordered Chevrolet and Dodge out of NASCAR, wasn't funny. Not in this economic environment. The Internet already is the Wild West when it comes to so-called "news reporting" and this took it down another notch in terms of credibility.

I started buying C&D before I was 10, mainly to enjoy its rich sports car and Formula One articles. Post-Brock Yates, it's pretty much become a non-read.

The bigger issue is bogus April Fools' stories have outlived whatever humor they might have had. It was sad to see shows ranging from ESPN's Pardon the Interruption to Golf Channel's 19th Hole, and any number of websites, resort to this.
********************************************************************
I spied former Champ Car President Steve Johnson cruising the pits Saturday at The Strip. He was pointing out the sights to a couple of followers. Looked to me like he was trying to sell something. I'm told Johnson is doing some consulting for Heartland Park in Topeka.

I'll have a feature on Tony Stewart, as owner-driver, in this Sunday's Arizona Republic. Mark Armijo, Jim Gintonio and I will have coverage of NASCAR-in-Phoenix all next week.

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]