Or at least, a rather large boa constrictor. From his event at the Oakland Zoo this past Thursday:
The two hot topics from last Saturday’s Nationwide race at Bristol, neither of which have anything to do with Bristol Palin (by the way, did you catch the kick-ass speech her Mom gave in India this past weekend?), dealt with two drivers who finished thirty-third and not at all since she didn’t drive that day. What, you thought Kyle Busch winning the race was news? That ranks right up there with Lindsey Lohan seen partying in shock and awe value. But I digress.
First, the driver who finished thirty-two places behind first. That would be Danica Patrick, who before Ryan Truex demonstrated how his older brother hasn’t been sharing much of his NAPA know-how was having a day much like every other driver has during their first visit to Thunder Valley. Namely, rough and tumble in the concrete jungle. Given that short tracks are admittedly the weakest item on Patrick’s résumé, that she couldn’t hang on the lead lap is hardly an indictment bringing the charge of lacking driving ability. Speaking of same, isn’t it odd how the same pundits who last year were calling Patrick an over-hyped, uncommitted hack are now singing her praises? Either she dramatically improved during the off-season, or there’s some serious sucking up going on in order to curry favor with the ESPNs and Sports Illustrateds of this world.
Now, the curious case of Ms. Cobb. It’s a he said/she said scenario, with her stating she was told to be a start and park ten minutes before the race started and chose to do the honorable things by not starting at all, while the team owner insists he told everyone including her the day before. My inclination, given how she’s pretty much put her life on hold in order to pursue a racing career, is to believe her side of the story.
Cobb could easily carve out a nice little niche for herself in the racing world via cheesecake alone. Instead, she’s grinding it out minus the bump and grind, throwing herself wholeheartedly into eking out a place in NASCAR based on how she drives. Is she the greatest driver there is? No. But her desire and determination to improve is unquestionable. Cobb is no ones Twinkie, and when she says no to a race day consisting of waving to the crowd during driver introductions and then waving bye-bye to the track as the green flag waves it’s because she came to race. Period.
No matter how anyone or anything tries, it takes much more than what happened at Bristol over the weekend to break these girls. Women, to be precise.
I rather doubt Kyle Busch has the foggiest idea who Warren Zevon was, unless somewhere along the line he’s heard “Werewolves of London” on an oldies station. Actually, not many people these days know who Warren Zevon was. A brief introduction is in order.
Zevon came to public attention in 1978 with the release of his second album Excitable Boy. It was a quirky outing, musically rooted in the southern California “Mellow Mafia” vibe personified by the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Browne albeit with a strong piano-based rock’n'roll vibe. Lyrically, however, the album was anything but a peaceful easy feeling. Zevon was in love with bizarre imagery and ofttimes jarring wordplay, lacing such throughout his songs whether they were rockers or ballads. It was an approach that won him a fanatically loyal cult following, yet to the public at large despite his unquestioned gift for gorgeous melodies he was decidedly hit and miss when it came to having hits. Mostly, miss.
In a moment of bitter irony, the man who early in his career penned a tune titled “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” enjoyed his greatest commercial success when in 2002, suffering from mesothelioma which would claim his life the following year, he recorded his final album The Wind on which the closing track was “Keep Me In Your Heart.” It’s a plaintive tune, stripped of all the oddities which had kept him from general public acceptance throughout his career, in which Zevon makes his quiet case to be remembered. At the end, he had finally learned how to do something that has escaped him throughout his career: get out of his own way.
Zevon came to mind while watching Kyle Busch win the Jeff Byrd 500 Presented by Food City today at Bristol Motor Speedway. The race was an excellent outing, featuring numerous lead battles and very few stretches when there wasn’t racing action all over the track. In the end, Busch held off Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson for the victory, his second of the weekend and fifth straight (Busch won the truck, Nationwide and Cup race on the same weekend at Bristol last August) on the notoriously difficult short track.
For his efforts, Busch was greeted with a resounding Bronx cheer, Tennessee style.
It’s not that Busch is a hack behind the wheel. He is a superb driver, already laying solid claim to being one of the best ever in NASCAR. We know this. He knows this. We are reminded on an average of every 13.7 seconds by the motorsports media of this. And yet Busch is far, far more reviled than revered. It’s not even the we’re-sick-of-you-winning-all-the-time vibe that permeates the dislike among many in NASCAR Nation for Jimmie Johnson and, albeit to a lesser extent now that he’s no longer the dominant force he once was, Jeff Gordon. NASCAR fans hate Kyle Busch with a passion.
Simply put, Busch has never been able to get out of his own way. Far more often than not he has been graceless and classless in both victory and defeat. Busch can pile up wins like no one else in the NASCAR equivalent of a regular season, yet routinely self-destructs by taking foolish chances when the pressure is on. His greatest challenger isn’t Johnson or Edwards or anyone else presently driving. It’s his own shortcomings. And he has never defeated these. Not once.
Drivers can transform their image by transforming themselves over time. Darrell Waltrip was once the driver everyone loved to hate. By the end of his career he was a huge fan favorite. In theory Busch can do the same. However, no amount of media love can accomplish this for him. Were this the case, given how often his praises have been sung he’d be beloved right now. He’s not. The choice as to whether this remains the case is his.
Busch’s legacy is being laid down in every race. If he’s comfortable with being the brat in Victory Lane, so it shall be, and no amount of being told otherwise will change the NASCAR fan base’s mind. For now, he is very much NASCAR’s Warren Zevon, a genius more than willing to sacrifice public acceptance for the sake of doing things his way and his way alone.
Which leaves him very much alone.
(Cross-posted in modified form at Examiner.com)
Brad Keselowski has had to do a fair bit of explaining and backtracking following a couple of comments on Twitter yesterday about Danica Patrick following his third-place finish in the Sam’s Town 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a race in which Patrick finished fourth.
Keselowski, understandably frustrated after a day which saw him playing a fuel mileage gamble into a lead entering the final lap only to have a cut tire relegate him to a third-place finish behind winner Mark Martin, was miffed by what he saw as disrespect when he was not interviewed on TV following the race. Meanwhile, Patrick was surrounded by media after recording the highest finish by a woman in any of NASCAR’s major series in its sixty-three year history.
Keselowski, who won the Nationwide championship last year, started by saying:
Before broadcast ends I’ll go ahead and say tv skipped me for Danica. Imagine that…
Shortly thereafter, Keselowski attempted to make light of the situation by tweeting:
Keselowski followed this with an exchange on Twitter with Allen Bestwick of ESPN. Bestwick asserted that the reason Keselowski wasn’t interviewed on ABC’s post-race show was because the crew sent to interview him was unable to locate him. Keselowski asserted he was at his car for a few minutes following the race’s conclusion, subsequently walking past an ESPN crew on his way to the track’s media center to talk with assorted print media members and then left the media center while the television broadcast was still on air.
Keselowski next “went there” with this tweet:
that’s for u the fan to decide… exactly y tv must treat us the same “@SpTfN: You don’t think she’s a bigger story than your flat today?
I concede, Def. A gr8 story But not the call out about being unavailable @JowersRN: I think Danica deserved the camera time over you today.
Interspersed with these tweets were retweets by NASCAR writers such as Tom Jensen, editor-in-chief at SPEEDtv.com, supporting Keselowski’s opinion.
The subject of whether Danica Patrick receives more publicity than is warranted has been a hot-button issue since she first came to prominence in IndyCar, intensifying since she added NASCAR participation to her racing resumé last year. A fact often lost in the furor over whether it’s how she handles the curves on a race track or displays her curves in assorted magazines that brings her the most attention is how Patrick is indeed a talented driver. Her greatly improved results this year in Nationwide, including her fourth-place finish yesterday in a race where even without a successful fuel mileage gamble she would have placed solidly in the top ten, provide ample testimony to this fact.
Keselowski is justified in feeling slighted by not making a post-race appearance on television yesterday. However, he would be well advised to keep his disappointment strictly a matter between himself and the broadcast networks, leaving Danica Patrick well out of it.
(Cross-posted at Examiner.com.)
This weekend, while the truckers take a nap the claims jumpers and Cupsters will be at Las Vegas, thus explaining why pit crews will be wearing oversized helmets. Got to keep those ice bags and vitamin B12 pills somewhere.
Vegas started out in life as yet another mile and a half flat cookie cutter. This led to races with less action than a keno game at the Wanda LaLustee Retirement Home for Overaged Showgirls, so track owner Bruton Smith spent a few bucks and put in some banking which has improved the action somewhat. The racing action, that is. All other action is usually kept out of the papers, unless it involves applause in the press box.
The Nationwide race has Kyle Busch entered, most likely meaning the only discussion topics during said event will be how much it’ll mean for him to win in front of his home town crowd — I’d say fans, but let’s get real — and how Danica is doing. Given how she’s demonstrated some ability in her nascent NASCAR career on the bigger tracks, a top-15 or even top-10 finish isn’t outside reality’s realm. If nothing else she’ll get in some practice for the season-ending IndyCar race later this year at the same location. (Yes, I know the cars are completely different. Work with me, will ya?)
Although faster than it used to be, due to its size Las Vegas is still very much dependent on hitting the right setup. Crew chief acumen will be critical, for without it drivers will be saying anything but amen as they struggle through the day.
Favorites? The usual suspects. Pretty much all of the major teams have a shot with any one of their decent drivers. The hope is more than one driver and team will be on it so we won’t be subjected to a few hundred victory laps by a single competitor while everyone else is content driving in circles while wondering if there’ll be time to hit the casinos once more before heading back to North Carolina.
Enjoy the weekend, everyone.
Part of my main goal for 2011, a/k/a Operation Getting My Life Back, is to some degree getting back into the Diecast Dude state of mind. While I haven’t the taste for resurrecting the pitched battles with others that marked my halcyon days, I also have no desire to turn this space into Mr. Rogers Goes To NASCAR Land. Or teenage wasteland (cue the Who). Thus, I am working toward finding the balance between pastoral and pugnacious. Along with time to write and such. Getting well would be nice, too.
Anyway, I’ve been observing from afar the brouhaha over what took place in Daytona. Not on the track, mind you. In the media center, where at the race’s conclusion the sacred seal of silence was broken by the apocalyptic acidity of applause. By some, anyway.
Ever since the sordid, or so it is said by several, incident more gallons of electronic ink have been spilled on the matter than on Trevor Bayne. Speaking of the Knoxville lad, if the hype is beginning to turn you off, don’t let it. The kid is genuinely nice, sincere, and a talented young driver with a tremendous upside. But enough racing talk; back to what really matters — pontificating pundits. (Yes, I am being sarcastic.)
There are two schools of thought as to what happened, reminding one of the old joke about there being two theories on how to argue with women, neither of which work. One side says it was a one-time, spontaneous response to a magic sports moment and therefore no big deal. The other side says, and says and says and says, that it violated the holy oath of impartiality, unacceptably debased the sports journalism brand and highlighted the scurrilous nature of those irresponsible, unprofessional, unethical, uneducated and most likely unwashed cretins from the crass lagoon that is the (ugh!) blogosphere. Oh, and get off my lawn, you meddlesome kids.
Were this a simple case of differing opinions, all would be fine, well and good. Both sides’ argument have merit. Personal example, if I may: last year at Auto Club, during the October Nationwide race I said more than a few words out loud that would have made Richard Pryor blush when James Bueschler took out Danica Patrick. Was I rooting for her? Certainly and unashamedly. Then again, I was also the only reporter in the skybox press center at the time, yet even with that I kept all other comments strictly on the audible only to self volume level. Had I had company, as was the case during the Sprint Cup race the following day, I wouldn’t have said anything. Out loud, anyway. I’m not going to stop being a fan, but subjecting journalists to distractions such as cheering and the like is unprofessional. Besides, I was there to report, not root. Not that it stopped me from rooting; rather, I rooted just as hard as ever on that weekend. Just silently.
Indulge me expanding on this.
To this not-so humble scribe, on those unfortunately rare occasions when I’ve entered the press box and/or media center I have viewed them as a workplace. I’m there to do a job, namely write accurately and fairly about the people, place and event that together make a weekend of racing. I also feel an obligation to be something of a fan advocate, a representative of and for the people who passionately love racing. They will most likely never have the opportunity to work a race as a media member. I have been given that opportunity, and I take seriously the belief that I should use the opportunity to provide insight and put a human face on the faces known to most solely through a television set. I’m not going to stop being a fan because I’m wearing press credentials that weekend.
That all said, when I am attending a race as media I’m working, and the areas set aside for the press are my office. In that weird and occasionally wonderful world known as the day job, I work in an office. Work is what I’m here to do, and while I do take breaks, when I’m working I hate being interrupted by the behavior, or more accurately the lack thereof, of others. This makes for many interesting moments each day, for around my office silence is golden only in that it’s as scarce as gold, or if you prefer a NASCAR illustration scarcer than Kyle Busch t-shirts at a Junior Nation rally. One swiftly learns to ignore that which distracts, or else the prospect of responding in a fashion resulting in you being the lead story on all major network news programs plus CNN doing a live feed looms large. That, to put it mildly, would be overreacting on your part regardless of how justified it may feel. Keep that “overreacting” word in mind; it’ll come into play later.
When I’m at work, no matter how much in vain it may be, my hope is there will be a professional environment. That said, far too often the definition of what is professional is far too limited. (Rather like how for many of us, our definition of God is too small.) Professionalism isn’t strictly a matter of how we conduct ourselves. It’s our interaction with others at the workplace. It’s how management treats employees both publicly and privately. And it’s how we interact with our customers and/or clients. An illustration of these points is how some feel closing the office door is full license for any subsequent behavior, including ranting and yelling. No, all it means is you’ve made it slightly more difficult for everyone else to overhear you being a clueless, classless jerk by ranting and yelling.
Traditional and new media (i.e. bloggers) have had a relationship over the past years veering from open hostility to uneasy acceptance. Generally speaking, bloggers think of themselves as peers to traditional media, with occasional forays into dismissing it as a refuge for bloviating dinosaurs. Meanwhile, traditional media thinks of bloggers as at best enthusiastic amateurs and at worst over-caffeinated self-inflated punks ignorant of proper journalistic practices, such as fairness, neutrality and decorum.
Clichés aside, there are clear differences between the two. A blogger has far more range within which to approach a given subject. They have no prohibition against weaving opinion throughout any discussion of facts. They can say what they like when they like however they like, involving themselves in the story whenever and however they like. It’s gonzo journalism without apology. The trade-off is how for the most part, blogging is limited to drawing on traditional media for source material rather than having direct access to news sources themselves. At least this has been the case.
Today, with growing acceptance by news sources of blogging and bloggers as legitimate conduits of information, we’re seeing direct invitations to bloggers to sit in the same seats as traditional media, covering events directly as they transpire. Taking this into the realm of NASCAR, bloggers — not all, but some — are being granted permission to participate in press conferences and access to areas that were previously strictly traditional media’s realm. With privilege comes responsibility; when so invited, bloggers are expected to conduct themselves professionally. No asking for autographs; no cheering; be polite and respectful to both the people being interviewed and those doing the interviewing. You’re there to write about the people and the competition, not say “look at MEEEEE!”
Fair enough. But playing the Queen of Hearts yelling “off with their heads” about members of new media when there is the slightest misstep on their part is ridiculous. The hysteria and histrionics with which what happened in Daytona has been written about is pathetic; a very poorly disguised unleashing of the fear-fueled contempt with which members of traditional media, simultaneously resentful of perceived amateurs being allowed among their ranks and terrified of how the ever-shrinking traditional media realm could well make them next in the unemployment line, see their world.
Was Tom Bowles wrong to cheer in the Daytona press box? Yes, and his hot mess of a post at Frontstretch defending his actions is thin gruel. But did his actions warrant losing his gig at Sports Illustrated, or even the volume of written tirades about how he committed what to some is the ultimate unforgivable sin? No. A simple, directly delivered “don’t do that” would have sufficed.
Finally, a quote from an earlier post:
While threats against a reporter, or anyone for that matter, over such a trivial matter as perceived bias against a favorite athlete are without excuse, the incident points out the danger all media members face when engaging with their audience via social media. A reporter’s obligation is to be neutral in the face of any story regardless of their beliefs or persuasion. It can be safely argued that regardless of actual intent, anything a reporter says or does publicly factors into the perception of that reporter’s fairness. They do not have the luxury of saying whatever they want whenever they want without it being used against them. In an era of ever-increasing open communication, comments made in jest are ofttimes best not made at all. It’s not fair, but it is reality.
In short, while it is appropriate for journalists to remind bloggers that when they are in the journalistic environment they should conduct themselves as journalists, it is equally appropriate for bloggers to remind journalists that there is no parallel for when journalists go a-bloggin’. So chill out.