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Woody: Keep Eye On The Tiger

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 17 2010
You have got to give Danica Patrick an "A" for ability to attract a crowd. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Being a celebrity can be a hoot. It can also be a non hoot. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

“They were accessible, likable, knowable, conversant, as gracious in loss as they were in victory, and above all, amazingly helpful to those of us in the print lodge who covered them … they endured demands on their time, but they handled it courteously, often with ease and enjoyment.”

A lot of racing old-timers reading those words might think they were written about early-era NASCAR drivers and their relationship with the media.

But they aren’t about race drivers. They were pinned by sports-writing legend Dan Jenkins in a “Golf Digest” essay about Tiger Woods.

Jenkins considers Woods a jerk despite his talent, and in terms of good will can’t compare to such golden greats at Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

“They were never what Tiger allowed himself to become from the start,” Jenkins writes: “Spoiled, pampered, hidden, guarded, orchestrated and entitled.

He could just as easily been describing some of today’s young NASCAR hotshots.

Jenkins, the most read and recognized golf writer in history, tells about the time he tired to get an interview with Tiger – through his agent, of course. Jenkins was turned down after being informed by Tiger’s agent that “We have nothing to gain.”

Most members of the print media have been down that path.

I once requested an interview with a hot young driver at a track during a break between practice and qualifying. I was told by the driver’s PR person that he was too busy.

A few minters later I strolled by the hauler and there was the driver, laughing and joking his way through a TV interview.

That’s happened again and again, to me and to other writers. Drivers snub the print press, then fawn and gush when the TV cameras start to roll.

I recall an exchange with Tony Stewart one hot night at Bristol, several years ago, when I asked a question he didn’t like. “You must be a local,” Tony snapped.

Tony, in his defense, is too young to remember when all racing media was “local.” No national outlets followed the circuit in the early days.

Back the most of NASCAR’s coverage came from the print media. TV ignored the sport. The only time NASCAR got a mention on television was when there was a fatality.

The print media covered NASCAR, publicized NASCAR, and that exposure is what drew the fans. The big crowds attracted the sponsors that today are the life’s blood of racing.

Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Buddy Baker, Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip were NASCAR’s Hogan, Palmer and Nicklaus. They enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the media, particularly the print media. We liked them and they seemed to like us.

I was never turned down by any of the old drivers when I asked for a few minutes of their time. And I never had to schedule an appointment through an agent.

Nowadays if a writer wants to interview some kid who couldn’t carry Richard Petty’s cowboy hat he has to jump through hoops.

Jenkins writes that Tiger’s haughtiness and hubris contributed to his downfall. He pronounces sport’s most famous athlete “graveyard dead.”

I agree. Some young NASCAR hotshots should heed Tiger’s demise.

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

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 17 2010
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • Joe says:

    Larry Woody, as always, is 100 percent spot-on about NASCAR drivers and their relationships with the print media. In today’s world, you have to wonder whether “Have at it boys” applies more to events on the track or in the press room. Most NASCAR drivers don’t even know the members of the press corps, other than the TV folks. The mean spirit, for the most part, starts on the drivers side. I wonder what the ratings would look like if the drivers and their handlers would show a little respect for media types who don’t carry cameras.

  • Richard in N.C. says:

    And of course none of this has anything to do with the mean-spiritednesss that has developed in the media in the last 20 years? I have been a racing fan long enough to have watched how the print media, especially newspapers, has become increasingly negative and mean-spirited as more and more races were televised. But what do I know, I’m only a NASCAR fan and the notorious Lenox Rawlings has written and stated publicly that NASCAR fans are “ignorant and gullible.”