The Racing Press: A Unique
Interpretation of Journalism
An Independent Opinion &
Commentary by Lance Freespeed
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
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
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