The real reason I love racing

aarwbasm Just a few days ago, I attended the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association annual awards banquet at the John Force Racing shop in Brownsburg, Indiana. It was an evening of race drivers and personalities intermingling with the media that cover them in a relaxed, social atmosphere and that got me to thinking.  Yes I enjoy watching the action on the race track but I really love the friendships I’ve made at the race track.

I’ve always said that when I was involved with CART in its glory years as a member of their radio network, I was part of a family.  We travelled together, we stayed in the same hotel together, we worked at the track together and sometimes we cried together.

While racing is what brought us all together, it was the camaraderie and sense of family that made 30 hour travels to Australia, 12 hour days in 105 degree temperatures in Brazil and Mexico, and sadly sometimes tragedy that made it all worthwhile.

I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that it’s friendships that make racing so popular.

I’ve gone through the infield at Michigan International Speedway where I’m one of the track announcers and talked to those that are camping there.  They talk about the racing but they also repeatedly talk about the friendships that have been forged.  Many are parked side-by-side and make the race their “reunion.”

It’s the same in the grandstands.  People who haven’t seen each other for 12 months but have seats next to each other renew their friendship at the track.  They show pictures of their families and share what’s gone on in their lives for the last year.  They’ll remember the time they spent with their once a year friends.

I’m off to Daytona in a few days for Speedweeks.  I wonder how many new friends I’ll have when I come home.

Advertisements

Is gossip “journalism” headed to Nascar?

TMZ Nascar and every major racing series in the United States should be quaking in their boots.  TMZ is about to be unleashed on the sports world and the big bulls eye is squarely on Nascar.

That tidbit of information comes from my friend and fellow PowerUp Channel host Mike Knight on his Spin Doctor 500 blog. (www.spindoctor500blog.blogspot.com)

I won’t go into the details as you can get them from reading Mike’s post.  If this indeed happens, and I have no doubt it will, be prepared for some very dirty laundry to be aired. (Danica are you ready to be followed 24 hours a day as you may have the biggest bulls eye of all right now because of your star power?)

Speaking from experience, I knew things in my CART radio days about individuals within the series that I would never share with the public, with many of them that would have been highly embarrassing and possibly damaging to their careers. Why didn’t I report or talk about these things?  Because they had nothing to do with the sport.  They were part of their PRIVATE lives!

Somehow we’ve gotten to the point that a big part of America and the world have become voyeurs.  We want the dirt and we don’t care if it destroys someone’s life or livelihood.

I’ve done play-by-play for both professional teams and major college teams in my career.  I’ve seen many things that could have been shocking to many but none were violations of any law.  They were human mistakes most times made by bad judgment.

I have always approached working within the sports industry with one saying. “If the drinks are on the table everything is off the record.” 

Unfortunately in this day and age especially with cell phone cameras and Flip Video cams everywhere, any hope of privacy and “off the record” is quickly disappearing. Do we really want our sports heroes destroyed?  Be prepared because that looks like exactly what is about to happen.

Where are the heroes?

Much has been written and spoken about the dwindling audience for Nascar.  Attendance is down (primarily one would think because of the economy) but television viewing is also down which is free. The reason?  I believe because there are no heroes anymore in Nascar.

Who walks through the garage area in Nascar these days that you would find yourself in awe of?  Possibly Dale Earnhardt, Jr. might elicit that emotion today but mostly for his lineage than actual accomplishments.  Does four-time Nascar Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson leave you with a chill running up and down your spine?  How about Carl Edwards?  All are popular but hard to put them in the hero category.

In the past Nascar had Dale Earnhardt, Sr., The King, Richard Petty, Lee Petty, Fireball Roberts, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Ned Jarrett, Junior Johnson, David Pearson and Darryl Waltrip just to name a few.

These men were bigger-than-life to most fans.  They were fearless competitors who spit in the eye of death racing in equipment that any sane person today wouldn’t go near.

Part of the reason I believe these men were so revered is that we didn’t know every little detail of their lives.  This was before 24/7 coverage of Nascar.  There was an air of mystery and bravado associated with them.  Today there isn’t anything a person doesn’t know about a driver.

We see drivers not only on the endless weekend television coverage of races but also on shows like David Letterman, the Tonite Show, even Live with Regis & Kelly. Stories are written in newspapers (the few left publishing), magazines (how about Carl Edwards in Men’s Health?) and hundreds of websites.  It seems every moment of their lives is known to the public.  There is no mystery left to help build that “bigger-than-life” image.

This isn’t to say today’s drivers aren’t stars, they are.  But stars to me don’t automatically qualify as heroes of the sport and that’s what Nascar needs right now a hero to step forward. Tiger Woods has been a hero in golf, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird during their historic on-court NBA battles, even a Brett Favre of today or a Vince Lombardi from the past in the NFL.   Does anyone racing in Nascar today elicit the same emotions as those persons do?  I don’t think so and until Nascar finds that “hero” I don’t see fans coming back to watch its racing in huge numbers.