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Ingram: Winter Chill Slams Racing

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, January 11 2010
January testing at Daytona always had a little bit different look to it. There were lots of gray days. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR)

January testing at Daytona always had a little bit different look to it. There were lots of gray days. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR)

From the Monday Morning Crew Chief:

There are some things I’ll miss in the coming NASCAR season, but January testing at Daytona is not one of them.

Testing at Daytona in the dead of winter is a lot like qualifying for 500-mile races. It has more to do with publicity than with racing. How absurd to spend the month of January testing for the only event on the calendar that takes more than a week to run.

How ridiculous it was to prepare for a 38-event season by going on the road during the month of January just to get ready. Everybody would have been better off staying home to study the Daytona 500 qualifying procedures, which still take about a month of Sundays to figure out.

So what are Sprint Cup drivers doing to keep from getting rusty during the long off-season?

They are racing a Ferrari in Dubai (Michael Waltrip and Marcos Ambrose), sprint cars in Australia (Tony Stewart) or driving Daytona Prototypes (Jimmie Johnson, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jamie McMurray and A.J. Allmendinger).

Instead of getting chilly in the north Florida winter, Robby Gordon has been having a Chilean jaunt in the Dakar rally.

For those who just can’t do without winter testing, there’s the bobsledding challenge hosted by Geoff Bodine at Lake Placid, where this year the good ol’ drivers faced off against the NHRA’s straightliners to raise money for the U.S. Olympic bobsledding effort.

Which brings me to my point. What do writers do in the off-season to prepare for the upcoming campaign?

According to the late NASCAR chairman, Bill France Jr., our jobs during the regular season are comprised strolling through the garage with our notebooks to pick up a few quotes, a little innuendo and some gossip, then jotting down a story and spending the rest of the afternoon on the beach or doing some elbow-bending back at the motel.

I guess that explains a) why Bill Jr. never made it as a racing writer; and b) why not many writers ever spent a lot of time covering testing at Daytona in January. It was self-evident that racing began in Daytona during the winter months because it was too damn cold to do anything else on the beach.

Well, it’s been a cold winter in more ways than one for a second straight year for racing writers, whose numbers have dwindled once again. I, for one, will miss the writers who lost their jobs, and everybody else in the sport will feel their absence.

Last winter, many big city newspaper sports editors decided to cancel in-house racing coverage and cut loose those who had spent decades bringing the sport to life with the written word. Racing wasn’t local, said the editors, even those in cities that hosted major motor racing events.

This winter, racing publications are finding ways to cut back on content and those who produce it, leaving more dedicated souls asking themselves how to keep doing what it is they do.

It’s a fun, difficult and a little bit peculiar job, writing about racing. One is always around a lot of interesting and sometimes charismatic people who make excellent incomes versus the not-so-grand salaries for journalists, who used to be able to at least believe there was a trade-off when it came to job security.

A lot of  participants in the Sprint Cup Series have lost their jobs in the last two years, as well as many others across the country and elsewhere. What makes racing writers somewhat unique in this scenario is the difficulty of transporting the skills anywhere else. There’s no minor league or support series for racing writers or alternate universe as there might be for engineers or mechanics.

The print media industry in general is among the most devastated by the collapse of capital structures. In the case of the newspaper business, poor management of capital assets after years of huge profit margins is the culprit far more than the Internet or Google.

No matter what medium, racing writers add wedge to the sport, give it specific gravity. It’s amazing to me how much wrong information appears in comment sections on the Internet and how much gibberish emanates from officials in the sport and how forgiving knowledgeable reporters are about both. Given the amount of information they deal with and regular misinformation, it’s also amazing to me how well racing writers execute when it comes to getting it right.

It is, in many respects, a group effort, because we’re all aware of each other’s stories. (And have been long before web logs.)

There are those, such as my fellow writers at RacinToday.com, who are dedicated to the idea that content is king. It’s the first, last and only refuge writers ever really have. There’s no off season, unless there’s no season at all.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, January 11 2010
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