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Woody: No News Is Bad News For Fans

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 14 2010
As daily newspapers turn their backs on NASCAR fans, the large crowds of reporters have shrunk to very small crowds. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

As daily newspapers turn their backs on NASCAR fans, the large crowds of reporters have shrunk to very small crowds. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Back when I began covering racing in the late 1960’s there weren’t many, if any, full-time “motorsports journalists.”

Most of the handful of ink-stained wretches who trudged to the track did so for one reason – our sports editors got tired of seeing us loafing around the office.

Basketball season was over, football season was months away and our minor league baseball team had skipped town. So I got shipped out to the track to write about people with names like Coo Coo, Flookie, Paddlefoot and Fat Boy.

Like most neophyte racing writers I was dazed at first, then quickly hooked on the sport. It was the wildest, most exciting thing I’d ever seen.

When racing was expanded to a full-time beat I had to choose between it my college beat and later an NFL assignment. I chose what some of my snooty colleagues called the “Bubba Beat.”

During the 1980’s stock car racing grew so big that not even out-of-touch newspaper editors and TV program directors were able to ignore it. The Bubba Beat exploded, and most major news outlets assigned reporters to cover racing full-time.

A media cadre became part of NASCAR’s  traveling circus.

They say what goes around comes around, and in terms of the racing media we’re about back where we started: skimpy to none.

Last week’s slashing of the staff at NASCAR Scene was the latest in a series of cuts that have reduced a one-time army of racing writers down to a few scattered squad members. Most major newspapers have virtually discontinued their racing coverage.

I’m biased, having spent 40 years committing various random acts of journalism, but I believe it’s a crushing blow to the sport.

Sports – particularly pro sports – live or die by publicity. The gush of media coverage in the 70’s and 80’s helped propel NASCAR to the pinnacle, and I fear that the current dearth will allow the sport to slip back toward oblivion.

Fans are likewise losers. They have to look hard to find a blurb about their sport in most daily newspapers or on the average TV sportscast.

I was discussing the sad state of affairs with a media associate last week and he wondered why I lament the vanishing print media. He pointed out that I contribute to Jim Pedley’s fledgling and well-received website, racintoday.com, and the decline of newspapers will send disenfranchised readers flocking to the web.

That may be true. But I’ve always been of the opinion that the more coverage the better, even if some of it comes from rival outlets. If a competitor has a story that generates interest in racing, maybe it will prompt other readers to check out the story I’ve written.

There’s no such thing as too much coverage. More coverage generates more interest, and that benefits everybody from the NASCAR front office down to the guy who sells hotdogs at the track.

From a personal perspective it’s sad to see. The racing media has always been a close-knit fraternity. My friendship with deposed Scene columnist Steve Waid, for example, dates back over 30 years. Mike Hembree, another displaced Scene writer, is not just a long-time friend but a racing scribe who rates alongside Ed Hinton, Clyde Bolton and Tom Higgins.

I hope they land on their feet. I hope the economy improves and newspapers and magazines recover. But we’ll never return to the Golden Era of motorsports journalism with its packed press boxes, boisterous media centers and saturated racing coverage.

Those rowdy, exciting old days are gone forever – like so many of the things that once made the Bubba Beat so much fun.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 14 2010
4 Comments

4 Comments »

  • Richard in N.C. says:

    Well since I’m a NASCAR fan I’m obviously not smart enough to figure all this out since the sports commentator for my local paper wrote several years ago that NASCAR fans are “ignorant and gullible.” That special alleged person still has his job, but our long-time NASCAR reporter (over 20 years) was let go, with no replacement – but, in the community spirit, I do get to talk to a nice young lady in Manila when I call customer service for the paper.

  • Richard in N.C. says:

    Since the newspaper industry continues to be so very successful even in these trying economic times, I guess it is clear that many papers made the correct decision to eliminate there racing reporters.

    • Jim Pedley says:

      Richard:
      Newspaper industry continues to be “so very successful”? I beg to differ. Major dailies have shut down in major cities like Denver and Seattle. Dozens of others are on the brink of shutting down.
      Others are paring back their print product from seven days a week. Others have declared for bankruptcy. All have made major staff cuts — cuts so deep that their abilities to cover their communities have been severely affected. Those reporters who have hung on are often young and inexperienced. The papers that have hung on are slashing wages, benefits and are making their reporters take furloughs.
      Newspapers are but a ghost of what they were two years ago. They have become little more than shoppers.
      My guess is that you will find very few other businesses in this world who are pining away for the kind of success which newspapers are now experiencing.
      If you want to get your racing news from people who cover your high school soccer and wrestling teams five days a week, you go, guy.

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