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Hood: Hiding In Plain Sight

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 30 2010

The media attempts to put questions to Dale Earnhardt Jr. Seldom a pleasant task. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Richmond, Va. – There was lots of pushing and shoving at Richmond International Raceway Friday morning.

And that was before the first Sprint Cup car hit the track.

Each week, NASCAR makes the top 12 drivers in the Sprint Cup standings and other drivers of note available to the assembled media.

These gatherings are typically conducted on Fridays in the infield media center adjacent to the Cup garage. A member of NASCAR’s public relations staff moderates the sessions, which normally last 15 minutes.

But while the designated drivers are required to participate in these weekly news conferences, it’s not mandated that they be held in the friendly confines of the media center.

In fact, some competitors prefer to conduct their group interview sessions behind the team hauler. Drivers pulling double duty during the weekend frequently take questions in the “bullpen” on pit road following qualifying.

Through the first nine races of the season, the top drivers appeared in the media center during the opening day of practice on a fairly regular basis.

But that wasn’t the case on Friday in Richmond.

Only five of the 12 drivers currently sitting atop NASCAR’s Sprint Cup point standings met with the press inside the media center. The others opted for the noisy outdoors.

The print media is often seen as a group of journalists who want to be spoon fed and first in the buffet line.

It was a pretty safe bet on Friday that every member of the press covering this weekend’s NASCAR activities in Richmond had the Jeff Gordon/Jimmie Johnson brouhaha on their radar.

And wouldn’t you know it, all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers (Gordon, Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin) were conveniently relegated to press conferences in the garage.

Wedged in between about 50 other members of the media, I stood about 3 feet from Johnson Friday morning behind his hauler but barely heard a word he uttered. That may have had something to do with the 43 cars about 40 yards away circling the track during Nationwide Series practice.

Now, I’m all for hustling to properly investigate and research a story.

But it was somewhat ridiculous Friday morning to witness a fellow media member standing a couple of feet away from Johnson apologize prior to asking his question because it may have been asked two minutes earlier. It was simply that loud.

That’s when I turned off my recorder and walked away.

Two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway, Kasey Kahne walked into the media center and addressed the press about his new opportunity at Hendrick Motorsports. But this came 48 hours after he and team owner Rick Hendrick answered questions about the subject on a national teleconference.

Martin, the guy Kahne is destined to replace in 2012, fielded questions earlier that day in Texas about his future while sitting in a chair behind his hauler. It was Martin’s first public comment following the announcement.

Once again, members of the media struggled to find an opening large enough to shove a microphone or recorder in the 51-year-old driver’s face.

Out of the spotlight the following weekend in Talladega, Ala., Martin showed up inside the media center to field softball questions over such riveting topics as driver salaries and next month’s Sprint All-Star race.

While in Texas two weeks ago, I asked NASCAR’s public relations folks Jim Hunter and Ramsey Poston why Martin wasn’t brought into the media center to get his reaction to the Hendrick announcement. They both said NASCAR leaves that decision to the driver and his PR representative.

If these media gatherings were at the absolute discretion of the drivers, I would tend to believe that some of them would prefer to skip them entirely.

But isn’t this traveling circus all about drumming up interest to the public through the media on Fridays and putting butts in the seats on Saturday nights and Sundays?

On weekends when drivers are in the news, NASCAR should flex some muscle and have those competitors answer questions in an orderly setting inside the media center.

Each team PR representative of a Top 12 driver would be wise to follow the policy of Tom Roberts, who schedules events for Kurt Busch.

The following appears in Roberts’ weekly e-mail update to the press:

“Kurt continues his effort in reaching out to the media rather than making them come to him at the team transporter.”

Thanks Kurt.

Never forget, you and every driver are always welcome in our house.

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 30 2010
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • Joe says:

    Jeff is right. And people in NASCAR wonder why they have empty seats and dropping TV ratings. Want to bet there’ll be some orderly interviews of Johnson and Gordon shown on TV tonight.
    People like Jeff are basically representing the fans who can’t be there to hear the talk for themselves. It’s those fans who are really the ones gettings stiffed when the drivers decide to hide out in plain sight.

  • Richard in N.C. says:

    Of course the way in which many in the media have treated drivers could not have anything to do with how eager drivers are to answer media questions?

    I have been a NASCAR fan since the 1960’s and I have watched the media ( and not just the racing media) become increasingly negative over the last 20 years – and especially the NASCAR press as the TV coverage of NASCAR increased. It appears to me that the media feels it should be able to write anything it wants – baseless or not – and not have it affect its relations with others. As Solotso told Michael Corleone in the GODFATHER about shooting his father – “Nothing personal, it was just business.”