Pedley: Conspiracy Talk Again Shadowing Junior
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
I was kind of glad – and kind of surprised – when I turned into that late-afternoon ESPN discussion show which features two newspaper columnists who are much better at dropping names than doping
out anything NASCAR.
The crawl on the side of the screen which tells viewers what is coming up later in the show contained the word “Earnhardt”. Wow, actual racing discussion, I thought. Great.
It was not shocking, given that this weekend’s Daytona 500 is the 10-year anniversary of the death of the one driver whose name newspaper columnists outside the Southeast actually know, but seeing his name in the crawl was welcome none the less.
Then the subject turned to “Earnhardt” and, again not shockingly, things turned tawdry.
The discussion was about Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning the pole for this year’s 500 and the theme was: Did NASCAR rig qualifying so that interest and ratings would go up for this year’s race?
Man, I thought that crap was flushed. I figured the fact that Earnhardt Jr. had gone through six straight seasons in which he has won a total of three races – while using the best equipment in the garages – would send the conspiracy seekers onto their next job site.
Remember the conspiratorial times? Remember when Earnhardt Jr. was viewed as nothing but a puppet of NASCAR’s shadow government? That no aspect of Earnhardt Jr.’s life was random?
I remember sitting in press boxes and media centers during races in those days and as soon as
Earnhardt Jr. would grab a lead, somebody or somebodies in the joint would raise the specter of “fix”:
“Yep, see, there you go. He’s winning a race. Damn Frances and Helton.”
But it was usually in hushed tones. It saw the light of reportorial day mostly only in opinion pieces and radio talk shows.
You see, once upon a time, when published or printed statements had to substantiated by facts and actual evidence, real reporters’ suspicions and personal beliefs remained locked away for safe keeping. Editors insisted on that and rightly so.
Theorioes about the evil puppeteers from Daytona Beach would surface occasionally in print or on television, but for the most part, real reporters waited for evidence. We waited for some disgruntled insider (of which there had to be hundreds) or for some overlooked loophole in the Master Plan, to emerge.
None ever did in the case of Earnhardt Jr. No gun at all – smoking or otherwise – was found. No Deep Throat stepped forward. And nobody ever broke The Story.
One year on Monday of the week of the 500, when Daytona International Speedway is closed and quiet, I took a break from advance work and walked outside of the media center to stretch the old legs. I happened across a former DEI employee who had been fired. Had a nice, off-record chat about some juicy subjects. In the informal atmosphere, I asked about Earnhardt Jr. getting bigger plates or some kind of advantage from NASCAR.
Didn’t happen, the person said. Couldn’t happen. Too much to lose and too many people – media – watching.
And he was right, I think. Beginning in the 1980s, the sport’s popularity saw a consequent rise in the
number professional reporters covering the sport. A lot of good journalists were poking around the garages adn offices and theywould liked to have broken the story that Junior was getting preferential treatment from NASCAR. None ever did.
But over the years, as the media pool shrinks and what’s left of it desperately thrashes about in attempts to be first with a story, or be more outrageous in its reporting than the person sitting next to them, the rules have all changed.
Got a goofy theory? Run that baby!
So, no, I am not super surprised that mainstream media people – some of whom could not find Daytona Beach on a map of the eastern portion of Central Florida – are giving play to conspiratorial thoughts about Junior and his pole run. Just disappointed.
Earnhardt Jr. deserves better. NASCAR and racing deserve better. Especially from the mainstream, the supposed guardian of ethics. The accused deserve to be presumed innocent. Use of the the term “WWF” in relation to racing events and outcomes needs to be curtailed until guilt is established.
Just like in the mighty NFL:
I mean, how come nobody asked: Did the NFL fix it so that the Packers would get to the Super Bowl and Brett Favre and his his tabloid exploits of recent seasons would make bigger news. And then, did the NFL fix the Super Bowl so that clean-living Aaron Rodgers and the wholesome Packers would beat unseemly “Big” Ben Roethlisberger and the cheap-shot artists of the big-mouthed Pittsburgh Steelers?
I’m disappointed that conspiracy talk has returned – this year more so than others – because the way it stands right now, Dale Earnhardt Jr. can never win a Daytona 500.
Because should he cross the finish line first this year – or any year – conspiracy freaks will scream that he won only because NASCAR set it up that way.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments