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Keeping it Off The Wall

Like a red-headed stepchild
 by Ed Donath 
July 25, 2000


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Bobby Rahal: The Graceful Champion

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ATHENS, NY - After subbing last week for your regular race reporter Mark Cipolloni at Toronto - where the race intelligence was certainly instant and virtually unlimited - I spent a much more "in the dark" Sunday afternoon this week right here in my own living room. Attempting to keep up with the events at the Michigan 500 via network TV, as most of you know first-hand, is quite a difficult assignment.

For "starters" (perhaps this is not the best choice of words under the circumstances), it would be 27 minutes into the scheduled ABC-TV telecast before the Mickey Mouse Network finally switched over to CART from its golf coverage and post-golf interviews at the British Open. Paul Page got us up to speed immediately by letting us know that all we had missed of the race to that point was the time-certain start - "a five-wide deal" according to Page's description - and a mere 32 unofficial lead changes that had occurred during the race's incident-free first 17 laps. However, as the cameras followed the racing action, no announcer was needed to inform us that the grandstands were sickeningly barren. 

Knowing (or even just finding out) that ABC would be running its golf program past the scheduled start of the Champ Car race, the powers-that-be in CART (perhaps Mr. Rahal, himself) should have delayed the green flag to accommodate what had to be a few more fans watching at home than the handful of stalwarts who had made the scene at Michigan Speedway. It appeared that the grandstands were no more than 30% full (it is because I am an optimist that I did not say 70% empty).

Anyway, after this inauspicious beginning for TV-watching fans it seemed as though ABC's coverage would finally carry us through the rest of the event, having only the minor (but expected) nuisance that results from a plethora of commercials, program notes and network promos. That WAS the case - for about another 34 minutes - until the Golf Channel (I mean ABC) broke away to cover the winner's trophy presentation at the British Open.

Later, about 105 laps into the Michigan 500, the network again broke away for Wide World of Sports coverage of the Tour de France. That five-minute spot did not even include the exciting finish (?) to the grueling chain of bicycle races through the French countryside. It was nothing like the exciting1998 network break-away's that showed Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in situations wherein they might have actually made baseball history while we were forced to watch. 

No, this was merely the podium ceremony for the American winner of the event. I'm sure that most Champ Car fans had been closely following the Tour on a day-to-day basis and were on the edge of their seats wondering if Mr. Armstrong would actually get to hear the "Star Spangled Banner" played through the PA system of the Eiffel Tower.

Our race - as all of you are obviously aware by now - was as good a televised event as anyone could ever hope to see. Even viewers who never watch auto racing would have been engaged by the constant lead changes, close side-by-side dicing, wonderful pitstop and fuel strategies and (thankfully very few and serious injury-free) the spectacular incidents that played out during the course of the race. 

Of course, no race report is complete without results. This week I have no points-lead, or any other changes in the pecking order to report. NFL Football, Professional Golf and Major League Baseball still make up TV's top three. Lagging far behind and rounding-out the top-ten: NASCAR racing, NBA Basketball, College hoops, Stanley Cup Hockey, World Cup Soccer, pre-Olympic track and field events. The Tour de France and Ironman are still tied for tenth. 

So where does our beloved speed sport fit in? Unfortunately, since CART contracts for its TV time and pays its own way for each telecast, it does not qualify for ranking - at least not by the ABC networks.

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