Everywhere I look, I see trouble.
NASCAR has problems -- don't let the spin doctors tell you otherwise. You don't have to look any further than the TV ratings, grandstands (Sunday's Indianapolis Embarrassment), or that even Jeff Gordon has expressed concern about his own sponsorship situation for 2011. Yes, that's right: Jeff Gordon!
I haven't and don't always agree with former Charlotte Motor Speedway President Humpy Wheeler, but he was 1,000 percent right with this recent quote: "The fault lies with some of the sponsors. Some of these companies have people that don't understand the race fan and are making bad decisions."
You better believe it!
What prove that to me, totally, is how many sponsor reps (and team owners) have no clue how poorly represented they are by their "PR" people. As I've said to NASCAR on more than one occasion, try this: Put a sign-up sheet in the media center and see just how many don't even bother to come to the media center, say hello, introduce themselves to journos they don't know, offer information, ask if any assistance is needed. The answer would be shocking to some, but, absolutely not to my trained eyes. Take away maybe a half-dozen pros, and the situation is BS. As the guy who had the completely unprofessional Twitter photo amateurishly said to me earlier this year (I still have the recording), "These things happen."
I had the pleasure of working with sponsor managers like Ron Winter (Budweiser), Jim Melvin (Beatrice), Darlene Park (Kmart) and Barry Bronson (Valvoline), who actually wanted to have their own good relations with media. They knew the key players by face and name, reached out, and had well-earned reputations for being available and cooperative. How many can say the same these days?
Meanwhile, everyone should be scared by the intentional crashing antics of this season. I'm personally sick of hearing, "The fans like it," and even some in the media encouraging it. Don't all of these people realize how this will reflect on them, their credibility, when the inevitable happens and someone gets killed? I know we live in a short-attention span nation, but do all of these people really not remember the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500?
Over in the Izod IndyCar Series, enough time has passed that I can accurately say reaction to the 2012 car "strategy" announcement has been less-than-enthusiastic. I still can't believe all those involved don't get it that no Roger Penske, A.J. Foyt, Michael Andretti, Chip Ganassi, Dario Franchitti, Danica, Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, etc. etc. etc. in the audience sent the absolute wrong signal. Hey, folks, APPEARANCES DO MATTER!
I have a feeling Eddie Gossage, the Texas Motor Speedway president and member of the recommendation panel, sensed what was ahead when he issued this statement the day of the announcement:
"Anyone who does not get on board and help row this boat in one direction clearly has another agenda. While I know we won’t agree on everything that comes up down the road, I do know that anybody that loves IndyCar racing needs to work together from this day forward. The series may be hesitant to say it, but the day is here for everybody that loves IndyCar racing to link arms and help each other out. Anybody who doesn’t want to do that needs to find something else to do with their time.”
I hope this after Sunday's embarrassing finish at Edmonton: I hope that, after one season, Randy Bernard will feel strong enough to make the needed changes on the competition-side of his business. That means dumping incompetent Brian Barnhart. Add the arrogant Kevin Blanch to the out-the-door list. If Randy is interested, I can offer other names, too. He does not need to be tied to the Tony George hires any longer -- too many of them are part of the problem, not the solution.
In NHRA, after extensively reporting and interviewing for a long story for last Thursday's Arizona Republic (see link below), I'm left shaking my head how many in the pit area don't seem to get it: After one spectator and two driver deaths, pit-area arguing and an incident that seemed to have racial overtones, drag racing has a serious and growing national image problem. Pathetic that someone in-the-know whispered to me last week, "I don't think they (NHRA) think they can do anything about it." At least Alan Johnson, Jack Beckman, John Force, Bob Tasca III and Graham Light stepped-up to address the issue with me -- that's more than I can say for some others.
Oh, by the way, did you know there are two professional sports car series in this country? It only took winged sprint car racing one season to figure out how destructive it was to run two tours. The 15-year IRL-CART split changed the sport forever -- and it will never again (at least, not in my lifetime) be what it once was. But ALMS and Grand-Am continue to sputter along in a fog of ego, with ALMS, in particular, constantly overstating its real and true standing and importance (with only a couple of ticket-selling, headline-generating prototypes). Come on -- Let's take a walk and see how many people can name one ALMS driver or give an accurate one-sentence description of what the series is about.
Finally, what a terrible, TERRIBLE week for the American media, old and new.
I'm just being realistic. I'm just being honest.
FAST LINES: ESPN's SportsNation -- a show that can best be described as "stupid" -- reached a new low last week. Comical sound effects were added to replays of Texas Rangers' pitcher Dustin Nippert getting struck on the right side of his head by a line drive. Yes, SN, that surely was funny. Around The Horn has real competition now for worst on ESPN . . . No surprise in our celebrity-driven society: ESPN's British Open ratings tanked with no Americans in contention and a runaway win by a true no-namer. This should be yet another reminder to IRL management about what must be done to help cure what ails the IndyCar series . . . What a hypocrite: AnchorActor Matt Lauer, blasting other mediaites on last Wednesday's Today, for having an "agenda." And you tell the story 100 percent straight, right Matt? Look no further than the 2008 Summer Olympics in China, where fraud Lauer gushed over the Chinese (dissenters had been jailed and Internet access restricted despite promises to the contrary to the IOC), especially the zombie-like children used for the opening ceremonies. All, of course, to advance employer GE's business ambitions in the Communist nation. And then, there was CNN journalistic sleezebag Rick Sanchez Friday night, lecturing on the importance of "truth" . . . Credit to Justin Wilson, who, after blowing what looked like a sure win in Toronto, made himself available for everyone who wanted an interview . . . Wow! John Force taking a shot at Fox News, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck Saturday on ESPN2 . . . Three more terrible, inept TV victory lane interviews from last weekend, where either the obvious questions that had to be asked weren't, or where the microphone-holder felt the need to be buddy-buddy with the driver: Jack Arute at Edmonton, Dave Burns at Indy, and Jamie Howe at Lime Rock. Despite what the egos think, it is NOT rocket science!
Here's a link to my NHRA safety story in last Thursday's Arizona Republic. At almost 1,100 words, it's the longest auto racing story of any kind to run in the paper since I did 1,250 words on Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2008. All original reporting, with quotes from one-on-one interviews with Jack Beckman, John Force, Graham Light, Alan Johnson and Bob Tasca III:
As I've written before, ESPN made an inspired choice in selecting TV legend Don Ohlmeyer as its Ombudsman. Here's the latest example why:
A "must read" from Dustin Long:
Upcoming The Race Reporters guests:
(Show is live Wednesdays at 7 p.m. EDT, downloadable, and available on-demand at no cost. Click on TRR page logo in upper right-hand column.)
July 28 -- Newsmaker: Joey Saldana. Panelists: Dave Argabright, Mike Kerchner. Plus, Jeff Burk.
[ Joey Saldana news note Thursday . . . ]