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Pedley: Pardon Tony Stewart’s Indignation

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, November 18 2011

Tony Stewart goes face to face with the media during Thursday's events in South Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Tony Stewart and the press corps which covers auto racing have always had a mutual enmity for each other. Encounters between Stewart and reporters can get quite tacky, but that’s going to happen when two entities who are, basically, defined by self righteousness come face to face 38 weekends a year.

On Thursday, however, Stewart used his powers for good. And every racing fan should give him a big old “atta boy” for doing it.

It occurred late in the afternoon. Stewart and Carl Edwards – the two remaining contenders for the Sprint Cup championship – were invited to appear on “Pardon the Interruption”, a daily yellfest on ESPN in which two hosts spend a half hour dropping names and attacking reputations of people who have no way of directly rebutting their accusers.

That is, it’s a great show. One of my favorites.

About the only problem with the show is that it only drops the names of,  and attacks the reputations of, stick-and-ballers.

Understandably, the producers and hosts focus the hot sports and that’s cool. But they also give big play to sports that are so cold they need application of a heart needle just to get them to drink their bed-time broth. Sports like boxing, tennis and golf.

That is, sports that draw nowhere near the interest of auto racing.

On Thursday, “PTI” and its hosts strayed out of their comfort zone and had Stewart and Edwards on the show – albeit remotely from Miami Beach, which is near the site of this weekend’s season-ending,

Tony Stewart whacked some knuckles on Thursday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

championship-deciding Ford 400.

After the perfunctory welcome-to-the-show crap, the hosts asked an auto racing question.

Stewart got around to answering the question but not until he had whacked the knuckles of the studio-bound hosts for ignoring his sport.

“PTI”, in front of its big, national, semi-primetime audience got Tony-ed. The hosts, newspaper columnists Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, er’d and um’d and moved on.

It was beautiful. For race fans. Me? I cringed a bit. Been in the hosts’ shoes and can tell ya: It gets pretty uncomfortable in there.

The thing is, the times I have been Tony-ed, I’ve deserved it by being ill-prepared.

Just like the “PTI” hosts.

They admitted they had been to, like, one NASCAR race between them.

Some fans cannot understand it; can’t understand how solid professional journalists – which Kornheiser and Wilbon are – can continue to pick up big paychecks even though they virtually ignore a sport which is regularly followed by tens of millions of fans.

Me? I do understand it. I’ve seen the sausage being made. American newspapers – the womb in which these two hosts were incubated – and their decision makers have never understood racing. Worse, never made an attempt to understand it. Worse still, bought into unseemly stereotypes about racing, its fans and competitors its competitors and as a result, smirked all of the above.

A great thing about comfort zones is that they are hemmed by elastic – they can expand with just a little bit of effort.  Really. Try it guys.

Stewart may not know all the details of media comfort zones, but he knows the effect. And on Thursday, he reacted.

Atta boy, Smoke. (Note to “PIT” hosts: That’s Stewart’s nickname.)

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, November 18 2011
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