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Memo: Only Engines Should Whine In Daytona

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 3 2010
Thursday is Media Day at Daytona and the hope is whining will be kept to a minimum. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Thursday is Media Day at Daytona and the hope is whining will be kept to a minimum. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Let’s see what’s in the Morning Memo today:

Media Day for the Daytona 500 is just a couple of hours away. It will offer reporters their first chance to ask many of the scores of drivers who attend it their thoughts on the recent announcement by NASCAR that purses will be cut by 10 percent this year.

Here’s hoping that all drivers have the good sense to either endorse the move, or at the very least, say nothing because there is a lot more at stake here than just a zero or two on those giant ceremonial paychecks they hand out.

If you smell a personal anecdote coming, you have a very good nose.

Time was, I was a sports fan. All of the major sports in this country. As a newspaper sports reporter, I got pretty close to them and the athletes and, even after getting nauseatingly close to the warts of the leagues and the athletes, still loved sports.

But two events changed all that. Changed it to the point where I now follow a couple of select teams and players, but love? That stays home.

Both events came during player vs. management labor problems. Both inadvertently gave fans a wonderful look into the minds of the modern stick-and-ball athlete.

The first featured Detroit Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker. It was during the early 1990s when a particular ugliness surfaced between players and their teams as baseball steamed toward a labor shutdown.

Reporters had gathered outside the place where a players union meeting was going to take place. Up pulls Whitaker in a stretch limousine. Gets out in a suit the cost of which would pay a year’s worth of electric bills for a real union man from Detroit and he glides into the meeting.

Asked afterward if it might have been in poor taste to stage such an imperial entrance at a union meeting, Whitaker defended himself and killed my love of baseball by simply saying, hey, I’m rich, what am I supposed to do?

The second incident cost me my love of the NBA. It involved New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing.

The players, virtually all of whom were millionaires many times over, wanted more. It was pointed out to Ewing that basketball players already were making obscene amounts of money for their “services”.

Ewing blurted out: Sure, NBA players make a lot of money, “but we spend a lot, too”.

Those two incidents performed a seemingly impossible task: They transformed blundering, greedy, monopolistic, wealthy sports franchise owners into sympathetic figures.

And they cut at least one lifelong bond between a fan and stick-and-ball athletes.

NASCAR and its stars are facing a similar situation these days. The best drivers and team owners, and even some crew chiefs, are amassing big wealth.

And, as Ewing would say, they are spending it. Often in very public ways. Big houses, jets, vineyards, exotic vacations, toys.

It may be natural or even inevitable that people who acquire large sums of money slip into lives of fine wines and gold toilets. It is certainly permissible in a society which stresses rights and ignores obligations.

But it also may be driving a platinum wedge between drivers and fans.

Stock-car racing was birthed in dirt – literally and figuratively. It was a rural sport. It not only didn’t apologize for that, it celebrated it. NASCAR even sold itself as that; up until recently, that is. And it was a seller’s market.

No longer. Like that pair of ostrich-skin cowboy boots that now finds itself buried in the back of a walk-in closet in a Manhattan loft, stock-car racing has been cast aside by the urban in-crowd.

NASCAR knows it and is attempting to return its sport to its roots and traditional fan base.

Whether this is all sincere or not, well, that is fodder for another rant by someone else.

Whether it will all be effective or not is dependent upon drivers, teams and NASCAR leadership itself at re-establishing itself with the ticket- and gear-buying public.

Standing up on Media Day at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday and whining to people who have virtually no money to spend that they should not take a 10-percent pay cut because, while they will still make millions, they will still spend millions, will not help the cause.

Memo to self: Cancel those plans to hold that bake sale for the NFL players union.

A couple of recent forays by NASCAR drivers into the world of sports car racing have resulted in embarrassment rather than good publicity.

Bummer.

Here’s hoping that other top drivers are not deterred from driving in Grand-Am or American Le Mans events because of what happened to Jimmie Johnson at practice for the Rolex 24 (he was involved in a crash) or what happened to Carl Edwards in Canada last year (he crashed on the parade lap).

I like it when top drivers in one form of racing give another form of racing a whirl. I even love the fact that Danica is doing it.

And when it is done well – witness A.J. Allmendinger and Bobby Labonte and even Jimmie in the 24 itself – it’s a beautiful thing.

Memo to self: Warm them tires up on the way to the grocery store today.

Sports writing sure has its rewards. One of them is being able to throw stones at others. A favorite target has always been television announcers and analysts.

Not targeted here will be the crew of Lee Diffy, Calvin Fish and Dorsey Schroeder of Speed. My personal opinion is they are not just the best on that network or in road racing; they are the best period. They know their stuff and integrate it well into their broadcasts. They don’t preach and they modulate the volume.

Too bad they could not stay up for 24 straight hours and work David Hobbs in.

Memo to self: Can’t believe I said that.

Bob Tasca III, who won his first two career NHRA Funny Car events last season, will be the Newsmaker of the Week on “The Race Reporters” radio show, Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET, on www.PowerUpChannel.com.

Tasca drove his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Shelby Mustang to eighth in the 2009 Full Throttle points. His family has a long heritage in the automotive and racing industries. In fact, Tasca’s late grandfather is credited as one of the first to adopt the “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” philosophy of using motor sports as a promotional and marketing vehicle. Tasca is considered a contender for the class championship as the NHRA season opens Feb. 14 with the 50th anniversary Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 3 2010
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Mrs. Goodman says:

    I remember meeting Mark Martin on Pit Road,and he was gracious and happy to sign a hat for me. He actually thanked me for coming to a race.

    I also remember Elliott Sadler’s failure to say so much as the word “Hello” when I was introduced to him by his sponspor’s representative. He just stood there, as if he was a zombie, and refused to shake my hand.

    I’ll never forget Tony Stewart’s sneer to waving admirers.

    The “Golden Boys” had best be humble this year and hereafter, if they want fans to give a hoot about them.

    Otherwise, game over.