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The Racing Press: A Unique Interpretation of Journalism

An Independent Opinion & Commentary by Lance Freespeed
 April 25, 2005


Racing reporters march to a different tune

Having dipped my own toes into the murky waters of the racing press of late, I have noticed a very unique quality to this sport and its relationship with the press that seems to diverge from that of other sports, and from the purpose and spirit of journalism itself.

Letís talk first about the recent NASCAR Nation show that happened to touch on a topic that NASCAR didnít really like. It seems that the wrath of the NASCAR main office was not far behind. This is not the first time that NASCARís control of the media has become evident. Does anyone wish to wager with me on the odds that the show finds itself with a reduced schedule, or the reporter becomes a bit more scarce in the NASCAR world?

A few years back I recall a certain Florida newspaper that published some things that were not exactly derogatory, but not entirely positive either, and they found themselves locked out of NASCAR events, unable to obtain press passes. As I understand it, there was threat to lock out all of the papers that also belonged to the parent company of that newspaper.

So basically, like grandma said, if you canít say anything nice, donít say anything at all. Of course, this might be fine and cordial on a social level, but is it really what journalism is supposed to be about? It certainly seems that the press has little mercy when it comes to other sports. All kinds of issues and controversy erupt in the press for all sorts of incidents. If there were ever an issue over a bad home plate umpire in the World Series, or a NCAA Basketball finals official, the press would pick their way in there and get the story. However, in this sport (not just NASCAR), it seems that the press is simply a voice for the sanctioning bodiesí front office.

If a reporter should say anything short of positive, they risk being cut down, and even refused access to the sport altogether. Reporters that have said things about the sport have even been publicly fired as result. Of course this was never stated directly.

Robin Miller seems to be the only one I can think of that can speak his mind, yet still manage to navigate the sports venues and such.

Letís even take a look at Dave Despainís show. I am sure there is an official reason that cites a business decision for cutting back Wind Tunnelís schedule. However, from my seat it looks like NASCAR wants their ďofficialĒ propaganda channel to concentrate on NASCAR. Since Wind Tunnel was too risky in that it allowed live callers to voice their opinions, and their support for competing series, it was (in my opinion) stifled and had its schedule cut back. Dave Despain also seemed to be inclined to tell it like it is, as he and Robin Miller seem to be twins separated at birth. However, Despain seems to be more susceptible to the front-office power players, due to the nature of his broadcast product.

Letís take bit of a detour here as well and talk about the IRL. For a series that has essentially failed or fallen short of their own stated goals and intentions in almost every respect, they seem to get very little (if any) negative coverage in the mainstream press. The same goes for most of the motorsports press.

Although the event in St. Pete was a decent event, it was still below the standard that Champ Car set with their inaugural event in St. Pete for which press was largely divided in opinion and support. However from the press reports, a newbie to the sport would think that the IRL had invented street racing. Personally, I saw no mention of the typical massive ticket giveaways and dismal TV ratings anywhere, like I did when Champ Car was in town.

Champ Car goes to Long Beach, and one could even find uncomplimentary stories in the very paper that is supposed to be an ally of the event. Any hiccup in the Champ Car world seems to set off a chain of reports of its inevitable collapse and demise. Now, this I donít really have a huge problem with, because that at least resembles real journalism. It might be a reporter that doesnít have a clue, but it is still journalism. Good journalism will always breed discussion and debate, as a healthy product of its existence.

I wonder what would happen if a Charlotte Observer reporter wrote an in-depth investigative series questioning the integrity of the NASCAR technical inspection process, and the amazing coincidence of ďconvenient winsĒ by golden-boy drivers and those whose sponsors also happen to be race or track sponsors.

It makes me wonder if these All-American forms of motorsports have an idea of what America is all about. They are run by virtual dictatorships (though benevolent ones I suppose). They do not seem to truly adopt or display evidence of the principles of equality, equal opportunity or discrimination. They control the press with an iron fist.

If the White House kicked out every reporter that didnít say great things about the President or our government, what do you think our press would look like then? How do you think this would affect our nation as a whole?

Look at any totalitarian government or dictatorship, and you will find a press that is only allowed to publish that which promotes and glorifies the government. I find this bears an amazing resemblance to our sport, and it is truly disturbing.

The result of this is control of what the public knows about our sport. It is also, in my opinion a large part of the reason that a form of the sport that is clearly inferior from the standpoints of driving skill and technology to become the mainstream perceived standard of excellence in the United States.

The NBA, MLB, NFL, and NCAA all thrive with an open press. Why should our sport be any different?

How does it change? Well, that is a question to which a good answer is beyond elusive.

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