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Memo: Believability Has Been Put On The Line

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, July 30 2010

Have outspoken drivers like Ryan Newman now become previously outspoken drivers? (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

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

Friday morning at Pocono Raceway and Iowa Speedway, NASCAR’s top drivers are/have been, one by one, participating in what have come to be known as “hauler chats”. They will stand or sit in front of cameras and microphones and notepads and voice recorders and for about 20 minutes, answer questions. Mostly about racing.

It is a weekly thing in NASCAR. Has been for years.

But today, when I hear them or read a transcript from them, I will wonder: Did Driver X really mean that or was he reading from a script?

Are those his true feelings about widgets, or is he giving a safe answer which will not result in a visit from a representative of the NASCAR censorship bureau? Is he telling it like it is or is he saving himself $50,000?

Such is the net effect of the news that broke this week that two drivers were issued very big fines – and very secret fines – for saying things which NASCAR deemed harmful to its “brand”.

The subject has been debated with zest this week.

If something, anything, can be judged by a couple hundred comments on websites or entries in social media outlsets, fans seem to by split on the issue with many, many siding with NASCAR and its assertions that censoring drivers is necessary to protect the sport and, ultimately, those fans themselves from, well, something.

The media – real media and by that I don’t mean former drivers or crew chiefs who now work for TV or radio or websites and never have really understood journalism’s traditional role of being separate and independent from whatever/whoever it is they cover – has pretty much lined up against.

And drivers? Several have come out and said they absolutely support secret fines and NASCAR’s right to muzzle them.

But now, can you believe them?

When Tony Stewart said at an appearance at Syracuse University  this week that he supported NASCAR’s decision to allow words deemed harmful to the brand to not escape the garages, was he saying what he thinks or was he avoiding the hammer?

See, that’s the point.

Memo to self: (Censored)

Gateway shut: Word surfaced this week that Gateway International Raceway will not seek nor accept NASCAR races at its facility next year.

The Nationwide and Camping World Trucks races at the place have just not attracted large enough crowds to make them economically feasible for owners.

Gateway has always represented a bit of an enigma to me. The place has always been kind of shabby. Open-air garages, odd grandstand positioning and just a feeling of small-timishness, which is odd because it is only a couple of miles away from bustling downtown St. Louis.

Parking was long a problem at Gateway. And I have to admit, when the lights went out and forced postponement of the Nationwide race two weeks ago, my first thought was: typical Gateway.

Fans never really took to the place. Never mind it was close to the homes of the Wallace brothers, Carl Edwards, Ken Schrader, Mike Mittler. St. Louis just never threw its arms around the place.

During my yearly visits there, I would sit down with whoever happened to be the president or GM of the place at the time and just talk. Without exception in the early days, that person would make his case for a Sprint Cup date.

That kind of tailed off in recent years.

I remember running into one of those track officials on his first trip to the racing palace of Kansas Speedway. He kind of came over and said something like, “Geez, now I know what NASCAR wants to see in its facilities and why we never got a date.”

But still, news that Gateway is, for the time being, history, is extremely sad. The place has produced some great personal and professional memories – first place I met Juan Pablo Montoya (he was testing a CART car), first time I met Dale Earnhardt Jr., first time I saw Kevin Harvick win a NASCAR race. Back in the CART days, that series would fly reporters from Indy to Gateway on Memorial Day weekend on a private plane to get coverage.

Stuff like that.

And while it was easy to find things wrong with the facility as a whole, the racing surface of itself was wonderful. Different. Tricky.

It was a test for drivers, much like Darlington is. It was a total concentration track which tended to reward the most talented drivers.

I have not gotten over to the place from my Kansas City home in recent years. Bad timing issues, mainly. Now I regret it.

Damn right I’m going to miss Gateway.

Memo to self: First Milwaukee, now Gateway. It does not pay, apparently, to be one of my favorite tracks these days.

Lives of The Cat: Seen the pictures and video of Jack Roush’s most recent airplane crash? Ugly. Fact is, this thing could have been tragic. It is a wonder that his jet didn’t burst into flames.

That’s two potentially lethal crashes The Cat in the Hat has survived. He may have seven more to go before the big one, but let’s not test that one, OK Jack?

Despite a couple of interesting “discussions” with Roush in the past, I think the world of the guy. Being a fan of engineering and the technical aspects of the sport, I actually listen when he launches into stream-of-consciousness tech raps.

Racing needs Roush for a lot of reasons. Racing reasons and for dissenting-voice reasons. Keep ‘em on the runway, Mr. Roush.

Memo to self: Never pick a fight with gravity.

(Note to readers: This is just a brief explanation on comments submitted to RacinToday.com. Sometimes it takes a while for them to show up and here is why – Because we want to keep the site reader friendly, we do not require membership or signing up or logging in. But, in order to keep spam and pirate ads out of the comment sections, we must publish them manually. That is, hit the button on each one. Because there is only one editor for the site, there is not always somebody to immediately hit the button when a comment comes in. This causes delays when the editor, me, is sleeping or eating or on the road. Sorry about all of this but we are small organization that knows more about journalism than electronic publishing. Thanks for reading and, hopefully, understanding. – Jim Pedley)

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, July 30 2010


  • Sal says:

    So, Nascar fined Hamlin in great part for his comments about throwing cautions to bunch up cars at the end of a race to ‘make it more exciting for the fans’. As I recall, within a few hours of his comments, Michael Waltrip came out publicly and pretty much admitted that Nascar was justified in throwing those cautions to ‘spice things up’. Isn’t that basically what Denny said, only pretty much admitting that not all cautions are ‘legit’? what’s the difference? Was Michael fined for violating 12-4-A? Good grief. Nascar uses that excuse so often I even know the right number for ‘…actions detrimental…’.

  • Richard in N.C. says:

    Having been a NASCAR fan since the 1960’s, having watched the media in general and NASCAR in particular grow increasingly negative in the last 15 years as TV exposure increased, and having been identified in print by your compatriot Lenox Rawlings as “ignorant and gullible,” I have more faith in drivers’ speaking honestly than in the media’s speaking or writing impartially. It is clear to me that a large part of the media writes first to attract attention and secondarily to be factual and objective.