This is the fifth anniversary of this blog. Back on July 10, 2006, in the first writing titled "The Great Adventure," I explained how I hoped this would be a journey of learning for all of us.
Now, almost 325 postings later, I take satisfaction in what I've learned from this effort. And, in what others have told me they've learned from reading my words.
The late Paul Newman -- I had the pleasure of working for him at Newman/Haas Racing -- gave me a tremendous bit of advice when he told me, "Know your audience." As I've said before, but it's worth repeating on this occasion, this blog is written from a Business of Racing perspective. It's written for those in the industry and is read primarily by sponsor/team/track/sanction PR and marketing representatives, corporate people, track presidents, TV types, journalists and sanctioning body executives. Of course, fans interested in learning about the B of R -- and, as I have said many times, these days, it's impossible to be an in-the-know fan (or journalist) without knowing something about the B of R -- are welcome. But the primary audience is for those within the motorsports industry and so I write to that audience. This is not a "fan" site and the difference is very important.
If you need an example how they are different, here's an obvious one: My name is on every blog. My decades of experience are outlined next to every blog and every reader is welcome to determine for themselves my qualifications. That's in polar-opposite contrast to the chatrooms, where "brave" posters with unknown B of R credentials are free to engage in personal attacks, protected behind their on-screen anonymity.
My friend Paul Page addressed this issue very directly in response to a question I asked for my May "Drags, Dollars & Sense" column on CompetitionPlus.com:
“I used to (read Internet comments.) A lot of us used to. When the Internet, when (the late) Mike Hollander had his Racing Information Systems and all that, I think a lot of us paid attention because it was people that we knew, out of the racing community, but then it became a fashion to get on there and flame everything and then people started making stuff up. Gary Gerould and I called it, the ‘Jon Beekhuis Rule’ because he kept reading all that stuff. He was a new guy in broadcasting (CART) and he’d come in totally depressed. Finally, his wife said, ‘You may not read any of those anymore.’ If we’d catch him reading them we’d say, ‘What happened to the Beekhuis Rule?’
"If I get a letter, that’s serious. I pay attention to a letter. A phone call, a fan coming up to me at the track, it gives me several things. It takes anonymity away from them. They are probably being very sincere. It gives us a chance to have a conversation and point out why we do something someway. I had an event last year, not an NHRA event, and it was horrible. None of the scoring worked and, as the announcer I know, because people told me, I got creamed for the event. None of the things they were creaming me for were things that I did. The scoring didn’t work – I don’t put those numbers on the screen. The producer makes the decision on where the show is going to go. Many times those things that you are accused of actually come from somewhere else. A really good example in drag racing is I’m not the guy that puts a show on that’s supposed to be on at 11 at night on at 1:30 in the morning. That’s not in my best interest. But it happens. I tell the fans when I get that question, ‘Write the company. Give them a letter. Don’t do an E-mail. In today’s world, E-mails don’t have a lot of impact.’"
Another friend, Paul Tracy, recently told me of his journey into social media. In brief, he started posting as a way of outreaching to the fan base, in part because he was led to believe that group wanted his "inside" perspective -- and because of PT's well-earned reputation for non-politically correct talk. But as soon as he wrote something some didn't like, they responded with personal attacks. Paul quickly decided to say "see ya" -- at least for a bit -- and I don't blame him.
Having worked on both sides of the CART/IRL split, it's not unusual for me to be asked to reflect on that sad history. A few years ago I calculated it, in financial terms, to have been a $2 billion blunder. (Someone who knows more about the botton-line B of R than me told me I underestimated that by maybe $1B.) Even more costly and gut-wrenching, however, is this: It separated fans into two distinct, "Us vs. Them" sides (with a tiny sliver of people in the middle), that flamed passion into sometimes outright hate. This needs to be said because that ugly attitude didn't exist before the split. Period.
Reasonable -- fact-based -- debate became near-impossible and if you weren't gulping the Kool-Aid poured-out by either side, then you were the "enemy." Somewhere along that path, personal attacks -- not facts -- became the ammo. I've seen it. I've felt it. The passion of the fans is one of the things that makes racing great -- and keeps many of us in business -- but it's simply not acceptable for that passion to cross the line into personal attacks.
All too often, it became impossible to have an HONEST difference of opinion. All that mattered to too many was throwing the most toxic waste in the dump. And that was a tragic turn of events and, quite possibly, the worst thing and most lasting effect of the split. Happily, the advance of technology has brought with it experts in such things as filters and keyword searches capable of directly depositing such PA Es into spam/auto delete. Which, actually, is too polite a way to handle such garbage, in my Constitutionally-protected opinion.
How silly/sad/stupid has it gotten? When Tony Stewart said he wasn't interested in driving at the Indy 500 or going for the $5 million Las Vegas challenge, chatroomers attacked him as being something less than real racer. When I asked Jimmie Johnson in January about trying Indy, and he explained his wife's wishes that he didn't, he was blasted as being something less than a man and I was criticized for reporting what he said -- supposedly because I was/am "pro-CART" -- a know-nothing comment from someone who couldn't be bothered to check the FACTS.
As we say here in Arizona, some people don't know if they're on foot or horseback.
Paul Page referred to Mike Hollander, who was another great friend of mine and founder of RIS and the pioneer of Internet motorsports journalism. Mike died of cancer a few years ago. About four months before his death, we were talking about the Internet communications revolution and the horribly wrong turn it had taken in terms of bomb-throwing. Since Mike was my personal guru on all-things-computers, I asked him what would happen if anonymous posting could be eliminated and personal attacks banned.
"Those sites wouldn't exist any more," he replied.
Meanwhile, five years later, we try to keep 'em honest in the media (especially in Indianapolis) and in PR (especially in Indianapolis) and bring some attention to important Business of Racing news and trends and issues. That's who we are and what we do. For those who -- like me -- believe we can and should never stop gathering true facts, learning the lessons of history, and insisting on high standards of professionalism throughout the industry, "The Great Adventure" will continue next week.