The Truth Part II

Yesterday I touched upon the lack of significant “news” that comes out of a NASCAR press conference. Often times, writers search for something of interest to the fan. This can be a difficult task. Because one must first ask “Who is the NASCAR fan?”

White, male, over 45 and Republican is a pretty good answer. I’d love the answer to be “Broad spectrum, multi-racial, primarily male with significant female engagement and (most importantly) 18-44 and yes, we know they love President Obama, but we’d take them anyway.”

The first is reality. The second is a good target, but for the moment, more fantasy than reality. The reality is, the second fan base, you know, the multi-racial one, is more apt to watch Red Bull’s Global Rallycross than NASCAR. The races are short – designed for short attention spans. They feature a variety of automobile manufacturers: Ford, Hyundai, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Volkswagen (you must check out the new Beetle – its ridiculous!), Chevrolet and there’s even a Citroen (a French make). The car models are the cars those 18-44 year olds buy and drive on a daily basis, minus the bodywork, the suspension set ups and of course, the 600-plus horsepower engines. And more importantly, the drivers are likable, engaging with the fans and do what they do even though they’re not being made millionaires doing it. That’s not to say that NASCAR drivers aren’t doing what they do because they love to race, but the big paycheck that comes with a NASCAR Cup driving gig is pretty nice, too.

It is tough to pin down exactly who the NASCAR fan is these days, despite all the data and reams of research. When asked, people don’t always answer with the truth.

There’s a lot to keep the older, white male interested in NASCAR – at least until Dale Earnhardt Jr. retires. And there’s plenty to attract females of all ages – many of the drivers have matinee idol good looks (yes, they do). There’s also some fascinating new digital stuff going on if you check out the Raceview function on NASCAR.com. But, I’m wondering how many of those 45 year-old plus dads sitting in the living room, having an adult beverage or three with their buddies on Sunday know that adding Raceview to their television viewing, either via an laptop or tablet, would add a remarkable new dimension to their viewing experience? I would expect very few of them.

Yet, the generational shift this sport requires continues at too slow a pace.

So, who really is today’s NASCAR fan? Is it you? And how much do you care about what goes on behind the scene that makes the racing good or bad? Or are you more interested in the soap opera and who got the new puppy or moved into a new home or if so-and-so has signed a contract with Joe Gibbs Racing? Maybe both. But, that’s for the next blog.

Thanks for stopping by.

The Truth? You Can’t Handle the Truth

I watched in disbelief at the post-race press conference from Sonoma on Sunday afternoon with race winner Carl Edwards, team owner Jack Roush and crew chief Jimmy Fennig. It was a wonderful triumph for Edwards, who already had a win (Bristol) this season. With this second win, it assures him a place in the Chase.

However, I was amazed at how soft the media inquiries were.

The presser was nothing more than a theatrical exercise in lameness. There were lame questions, about momentum, of all things:

“Coming off a race where as an organization a place that you guys have typically run very well and did not at Michigan, and then coming to a place where you have not as an organization won many races and ending up in victory lane today, I know the two tracks are not similar at all, but is it somewhat of a good momentum boost or a confidence booster?”

followed by equally lame answers (this from Carl Edwards):

“Well, these two guys sitting next to me, they give everything they’ve got all the time, and even though we’re not obviously running as well as we want at the bigger tracks, like Jack said, we prepared for this race the very best we could, and we’ll prepare for Kentucky the best we can. We’ve got to go out and take advantage of the places where we run well, and this year it’s been the short tracks, and the road course looks like we’ve got that program going pretty well.”

What were we supposed to learn from having this softball thrown at Edwards other than an equally soft swing-and-a-miss answer?

This is a team and an organization in turmoil. Its driver is planning to leave the organization at the end of the season. Why didn’t anyone ask both Carl and Jack, who were conveniently together, “Why are we hearing that you’re leaving the organization, Carl?” and to Jack “What have you done to prevent this?”

There were several questions to crew chief Fennig about race strategy, but none regarding what he feels the Roush Fenway Racing cars have been missing this season, because it can’t be Edwards’ fault that the team and the organization are not firing on all cylinders.

Believe me, if someone had asked Roush a question about his team’s performance this season and what needs to be done about it, they would have gotten a real live answer from a man who knows when to tell the truth and where to tell it. But, no one bothered to ask the man.

Roush made a farcical reference to the win being “good karma” but we’re left to wonder if it was Roush’s, Edwards’ or Fennig’s good karma that got them sitting there in front of the media. Karma had nothing to do with it. It was sheer talent behind the wheel, from a driver whose career is filled with also-rans and shoulda, woulda, coulda moments that didn’t need to happen.

Post-race press conferences are rare moments when a good media person understands that they have at their disposal an athlete and his support staff in a rare moment when their emotions are driving much of what they say. It is an ideal time to discuss those things that fans really want and more importantly, need, to know about the sport.

Why should we care that rumors persist that Edwards is leaving his team at the end of the season, unless someone is willing to ask the tough questions and press Edwards for an answer? And is Edwards’ leaving (or supposed leaving) indicative of his lack of faith in RFR’s ability to give him race cars and support that will complement his massive talent in the same way it works at other racing organizations?

Why were there no questions to Roush about this?

Is this post-race press conference indicative of what NASCAR has become – an orchestrated performance for the media and race fans? With the introduction a few years ago of the Integrated Marketing and Communications crowd, a group dedicated to making sure the message coming from all sections of NASCAR is positive, politically correct and adheres to the organization’s marketing strategy, we’ve ended up with a sport that has lost much of its appeal to a broad section Americans. There are no ugly moments to capture the public’s attention – the ugly moments that come when the truth creeps through all the BS that’s being pushed out as news about NASCAR.

Isn’t it time fans start hearing the truth? NASCAR has been homogenized and pasteurized to the point where it is no longer interesting, except for the racing. NASCAR can’t survive on those three plus hours of entertainment every weekend. Most fans don’t understand the intricacies and well thought out strategies that take place during those three plus hours anyway. If they did, they might have a far deeper respect for those who do all the hard work behind the scenes at the race shop. But instead, what we get is news that Danica Patrick and her boyfriend have gotten a new puppy.

NASCAR has to show more of what makes the sport appealing to an increasingly jaded and hard to impress American sports fan. It is an incredibly appealing sport for those who experience it in person for the first time. In order to maintain their interest, it means that the media must ask those tough questions more often and those being asked those questions need to be able to answer them without fear of retribution. Isn’t it remarkable how quiet Brad Keselowski has become? And even Jimmie Johnson, whose every word would be listened to by everyone, isn’t heard from as often as most fans would like.

Has it come down to Kyle Petty being the only voice that fans recognize as a no bullshit zone?

Despite the claims of 40 million or more fans and its undeniable cable television ratings, NASCAR has allowed itself to become a niche sport. That is how it is viewed by sports editors across the country and as a result, that is how it is covered.

Tough questions and equally tough answers are what define the coverage of stick and ball sports. NASCAR’s fans need and deserve to be treated to more of the truth and less of the bullshit they’re being handed these days.

Thanks for stopping by.

And the dog ate my homework

I really don’t know where to start. Maybe with a (quick) apology for not updating this blog as often as I should. Yes, yes, I know. I had cancer and that’s as good an excuse as any for not keeping up with one’s responsibilities. And writing this blog for you, my friends out there, is a responsibility I do take seriously.

So, why then haven’t I been dazzling you all with my wit and wisdom like I should?

First of all, I started writing for Bleacher Report. It’s a really different kind of sports web site that uses a mixture of professional and amateur writers. The pros on the site are some of the best in the business and I feel honored to share a site with them. The amateurs are all great sports fans, some have good writing skills but little storytelling skills, other have great storytelling skills but lack good writing skills. Bleacher Report has a protocol for helping those amateur writers who lack the writing skills by offering up a sort of writer’s university. Even I got involved with the writer’s university because while I may call myself a professional, I will always be open to learning and the Bleacher Report university taught me some really good stuff and made me a better writer.

The editor who hired me at Bleacher Report told me he wanted me to be an analyst, not a reporter, which was something different from what I had been used to while writing about NASCAR. I had written plenty of analytical, opinionated columns, but I’d always considered myself a reporter at heart. I’m still a reporter, but to be honest, I like playing the role of an analyst a lot more. I write a lot of slideshows, which at first I balked at because on an easy glance they look lightweight and forgettable. But they’re not. I spend a good deal of time writing my slideshows and put a lot of thought into each slide and I think you’ll enjoy them. Please check them out when you can.

http://bleacherreport.com/nascar

The folks at Bleacher Report know about Sledgehammer and they’re fine with it, so long as I don’t publish the same stuff in both places. That will never happen. I can say things here that I could never say over there. And I write about other things besides NASCAR here, although my racing stuff in general is why most of you come here to read.

I’ll make this short, like it should be. A quick recap…

My cancer is gone. Two scans in a row and nothing. Nada. A couple of dried out, tiny lymph nodes, decimated by the toxic chemicals they use in chemotherapy into the tiny, shrunken dots on a scan they are today. I feel good. My weight is back up, but nowhere near what it was pre-cancer this third time around. And my hair is slowly growing back. What I wouldn’t give for my ’80s mullet again!

God has blessed me once again with the gift of living and believe me, every day I can roll over and shut off the alarm is a day I know will be lived to its absolute fullest, with little time wasted with all the crap I used to think was important.

And so much is going on in the world of motorsports.

The women have finally taken over the NHRA, even as the motorsports and mainstream media ignore that story completely. I’ll have something to say about that in the next week.

Gene Haas is absolutely out of his mind for wanting an F1 team. Either he’s OK with spending a good deal of his own personal wealth in starting this new all-American team based in Charlotte, or he’s got an ace up his sleeve in the form of an half dozen very solid business partnerships who see the b2b value of being in F1 and are willing to help ol’ Gene offset the ridiculous price of admission into what most of the world consider to be the No. 1 motorsport.

NASCAR is better than ever and no one is watching. I wrote about that at Bleacher Report. But what I didn’t get into over there is that the network television broadcast has to dramatically change in order to keep up with the changes in the world of sports entertainment, or be rendered nothing more than the place where NASCAR fans can get a visual on a small part of what is happening at the track. So much more is available online during a race nowadays that during a NASCAR television broadcast the talking heads in the broadcast booth are often the last to know what is really going on.

It’s scary stuff.

Damn, don’t get me started. I promised this one would be short.

If you were once a NASCAR fan and you no longer follow the sport, NASCAR has a name for you. You are a “lapsed” fan. And whatever your reason for not following the racing, it’s bullshit. Stop living in the past. And the folks out there who stopped following IndyCars and haven’t come back? Have you seen the potential roster for this year’s Indy 500? Jacques Villeneuve, John Pablo Montoya and now Paul Tracy! Come on. Stop making excuses and start living. And what’s better living than watching someone cheat death? Believe me, I live that life every day. It’s incredible!

There us much more to write about here…like the non-profit organization I co-founded that will help those who may have cancer with early detection and for those who don’t have it yet, a way out and a way to prevent it. http://www.highperformancevoices.org I will make this come to life and bring it to the hundreds of thousands of race fans across America every weekend throughout the racing season. Stay tuned for this!

Until next time…

Thanks for stopping by.

Storylines heading into Fontana

You can click HERE for a quick link to my newest entry on Bleacher Report.

It’s my take on what to watch for as the Cup series heads west to Fontana this weekend. Enjoy the read!

Thanks for stopping by.

Of Jayski and all things Danica

I appreciate that I’ve got a few hundred people who regularly check this website on a daily basis. Believe me when I tell you it gives me a very warm feeling to know that.

I’ve started writing for Bleacher Report. They’ve asked me to be a NASCAR analyst. I like titles. It always makes things sound so much more official. I like being referred to as a NASCAR analyst. It does make me feel official.

I’m spending a good deal of my time working on the things I write for Bleacher Report, even the slideshows, which the editors love and the readers apparently love even more. I would like to think that I’ve been able to make a difference in the NASCAR content at Bleacher Report with my work. I guess time will tell. But there are a lot of people reading what I write.

NASCAR website Jayski, who I really like and I appreciate for what he does, (offering the best up-to-date, one-stop shop for all things NASCAR) well, Jayski likes what I do here, but he doesn’t pick up on the things I write at Bleacher Report. Maybe that will change at some point. Or maybe I just shouldn’t worry about it.

My current column at Bleacher Report is about NASCAR’s addiction to Danica Patrick. They wouldn’t let me use the word “addiction” in the headline at B/R, so they posed it as a question instead.

I used to be a big-time Danica hater when I was writing for Yahoo! Sports. At first it was genuine. Then after a while my attitude towards her changed, but the editors there liked it so much (because people clicked on my work just to get pissed off at me) that I kept on doing it, even after I had changed my mind about her.

Now that Ms. Patrick has been racing in NASCAR my attitude is one of full support. I want her to do well. It is important for all the women drivers who will follow in her footsteps. There will be a few very good women stock car drivers in our future.

So, please excuse me if I’m not updating this blog as often as I should.

There are so many things to write about that are not NASCAR. For instance, sports car racing needs to attract more fans in America. There are a few things I think IMSA should do to attract the fans it should have.

It bears watching if the NHRA will recover from more than a decade of media neglect. It’s shameful that there are so few major media outlets covering professional drag racing and even more embarrassing that the various NHRA team PR efforts haven’t figured out a way to overcome this problem. Professional drag racing too good to be ignored.

Ah…I wish I could get into it now. Perhaps in the next week or two.

For now, my focus needs to be on my work at Bleacher Report. However, I do expect to find more time to write here. For me, Sledgehammer! is the Zone of Real.

Thanks for stopping by.

Observations for the 2014 Daytona 500

A few thoughts, observations and a questions following the 56th running of the Great American Race:

Was it just me or was the choice of O Fortuna from Carmina Burana the wrong music for driver intros? It’s a bit too ominous for auto racing. It’s almost as if the drivers were about to do battle to the death. Ugh! Maybe something a bit more up tempo next time guys? The way the introductions were staged was pretty lame, too.

Speaking of music...As a NASCAR beat writer for several years I had the opportunity to hear a lot of different versions of our nation anthem. Now, before we go any further, you should know that while I dearly love to hear The Star Spangled Banner, it is a difficult song to sing for most and it does glorify victory in battle. I would prefer our national anthem be America the Beautiful, which is much easier to sing and is about purple mountains majestic and amber waves of grain.

Sorry to get off track. Back to the national anthem. I was wondering if the person who chose the rock band Madison Rising (which bills itself as “America’s Most Patriotic Band”) to do the anthem prior to the Nationwide Race on Saturday auditioned the band’s version prior to hiring them. If you’ve not heard their version of the anthem…

Now that you’ve clicked away from that before the end, you should know that before their unbelievable version of the anthem this past weekend, most observers felt the worst rock version was done by Steven Tyler, sung before the 2001 Indianapolis 500.

I don’t know about you, but Tyler’s version, while a bit out of place for where it was being performed (maybe), at least he didn’t turn it into a really bad rock song like the guys from Madison Rising did. It really is hard to get through their version, isn’t it?

My pick for best rock version? That’s an easy one. Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock

Hell of a way for Martin Truex Jr. and Todd Berrier, two of the good guys in the sport, to start off the new season, isn’t it?

The hysteria surrounding the return of the No. 3 car was over the top during Speedweeks. At one point, Fox television announcer Chris Meyers actually wondered (aloud) during the pre-race show “Who would the fans be rooting for if the finish of the race came down to the 88 car of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the 3 car of Austin Dillon?”

Race fans didn’t have the chance to see such a finish as Dillon was too busy bumping into much of the field. I counted at least three of the big wrecks where the television announcers began with “And it looks like the three car ran into…”

It might be that Dillon’s first 500 in the 3 car was a real eye opener, as he had a “deer in the headlights” look to him in the post-race presser. He’s good though and he’ll be fun to watch the rest of the season.

So will Kyle Larson, who had issues early and often. This year’s rookie crop has some strong talent and is well worth watching. I would guess that six of the eight rookies will end up driving in the Cup series for a decade or more.

You’d think with all the money he has that Jeff Gordon could find a good barber. Doesn’t it seem like he cuts his hair himself? Or could his new hairstyle be hiding something? Like a receding hairline maybe?

If you’re wondering why the Joe Gibbs Racing cars aren’t winning championships look no further than the missteps and mistakes all three teams made during the Daytona 500. Their pit road etiquette leaves quite a bit to be desired.

Did you notice that before she crashed out of the 500, Danica Patrick hit both Richard Petty Motorsports cars?

The rain delay made for two different races. The first one, before the rain, was lame and for a minute, I was afraid it would be another sleeper. But when the rain turned the 500 into a night race, it made for a much better show. I wrote about it for Bleacher Report.

After he drove into victory lane, Earnhardt Jr. climbed from his Chevy and before doing anything else, he hugged and thanked everyone of his crewmen. A real class act! Having Earnhardt Jr. as the 2014 champion would be the shot in the arm that NASCAR is desperately searching for. I’m not sure if this team can get the job done down the stretch, but with this win it looks as though they will get a chance to try.

Postscript

I don’t know what you did during the rain delay on Sunday, but I ended up watching several episodes of Season 2 of the House of Cards. It really was a long day, especially since I was writing a post-race piece for Bleacher Report that I started just before midnight and didn’t file until 1:15 AM.

The wait for the rain to stop and for the track to dry was worth it. It was a fast and exciting race.

When the cars flashed by the camera on the backstretch it was just unbelievable. There was little mention of it during the television broadcast, but I’m sure that for much of the race, the speed of the main pack was well over 200 mph. The speed made the race the kind of edge-of-your-seat entertainment that they need more of in NASCAR.

The real season starts next week on the short track in Phoenix. That’s when we’ll have a better idea of who’s on it in 2014 and who’s not.

Thanks for stopping by.

Predicting the 2014 NASCAR Chase Field or not

I usually don’t do predictions for anything that involves racing. They’re often wrong and usually a great source of embarrassment.

My editor at Bleacher Report.com, where I now write regularly as a NASCAR analyst, asked me to produce a slideshow with my picks for the 16 drivers who will make the Chase this season β€” even before the Daytona 500!

I think I did a pretty damn good job. Please take a few minutes and check it out:

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1968679-preseason-prediction-for-the-2014-nascar-sprint-cup-chase-field

And then leave a comment there or here and let me know how good a job I did, or how badly I screwed up and left out your favorite driver.

Happy Daytona 500 weekend to you! And I will be publishing my post-500 Observations column for Bleacher Report on Monday

Thanks for stopping by.


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