WFO Radio Show Archives

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Walking Away From Popularity

There has been a lot of talk about the popularity of NASCAR and possible reasons for its recent drop. During Saturday’s Nationwide race we got to see a prime example of what I believe is one contributing factor to the sport’s diminished popularity.

With two laps to go, Kyle Busch led the race with teammate Joey Logano running second. Kyle had led the most laps during the race with the two drivers dominating the day and the race coming down to this final restart. On the restart, Logano got into the rear end of his teammate and sent Kyle up the track, Logano was passed by Brad Keselowski who went on to victory. Replays following the race left question whether or not Logano hit Busch or Busch had a flat right front tire. Here’s where Kyle, NASCAR and it's coverage failed in their responsibility to tell the story for the viewer.

Joey Logano was interviewed after the race, nearly in tears (He is just a kid so I’m giving him a break, but there was no need for tears). Logano took responsibility for hitting Kyle Busch. He apologized and said he didn’t know what happened to Kyle, but Kyle didn’t get a good restart. Why didn’t Kyle get a good restart? That is now the key question. Every viewer, every old school fan, every new fan who was watching a race for the first time was wondering what Kyle Busch would have to say? This was the kind of moment that makes sport, racing in particular, exciting. We were all on the edge of our seats. Was it a flat tire or did Logano screw up and knock his teammate out of the way? Were Logano’s tears justified or was the young 19 year old crying over nothing? Was Kyle going to blast the kid or clear him of wrong doing, or neither? So many questions were about to be answered, thus completing a dramatic broadcast of NASCAR on ESPN. One person had the answers to all these questions, Kyle Busch. Here we go!

Here’s is where the wheels came off. Kyle Busch was not interested in talking and he walked away. This is an issue that has valid points to be made on each side of the argument. Sure, Kyle was disappointed, he just lost. But what Kyle has to realize is that racing is a show and at that moment he was the key to the biggest story in the show. He has to take the time to tell someone his side of the story. Just walking away might make him feel better at that moment, but what about every viewer who was watching? Kyle should know he has a responsibility to complete the story of the race. Someone has got to tell him that. Remember, millions of fans and potential new fans are watching on the edge of their seats. He is the exciting conclusion and he is walking away. There he goes and with him the biggest, best story of the race. As he walks away, the play by play team on ESPN has a discussion about Kyle. Former Cup Champion Dale Jarrett added that Kyle was doing the right thing by not talking because he might say something he might regret.

That is a prime example of why this sport is regressing right now. Dale Jarrett thinks its better for Kyle to leave an entire fan base hanging on the most important moment of the race, than Kyle risk possibly saying something he might regret. So, not only are we making these drivers, Dale Jarrett included, heros by watching them but now we cannot even expect to get their story after they race. I’m not buying that. Jarrett was taking the easy; protect the driver’s image approach. That approach is killing the sport. It is Kyle’s responsibility to be able to communicate his position without embarrassing himself. If he can’t, it becomes a great story for the sport and will end up on Sports Center, always a good thing. If he can, then we all get to know what happened in the race, either way, he can’t just walk away.

If NASCAR wants to turn their slide in popularity around they need to realize they, the drivers and their broadcast partners are in the entertainment business. In this case, they completely blew the end of the story. In what other sport can the key player just walk away without comment? OK, other than Basketball? It’s a problem that is directly connected to the sport’s popularity and should be addressed by the NASCAR officials, drivers, fans and media. If drivers and television partners are allowed to just blow off the story and with it, the fans, the sport will be doomed to slide off the radar. If you can’t expect to find out why things happened, why bother watching?

Friday, May 29, 2009

For The Best

The highly publicized split between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his crew chief cousin Tony Eury Jr. has left many NASCAR fans with hard feelings. Some blame Tony Eury Jr. for Dale’s lack of success while others blame Dale Jr.’s driving for Tony Eury’s perceived failure. As in most cases, both groups are right and wrong. The blame game is pointless. The bottom line: it just didn’t work.

They certainly tried to make it work, but Rick Hendrick finally decided to pull the plug. I feel this move is for the best. While improvement was a possibility, the recent evidence pointed against it. Hendrick was not willing to sacrifice the entire season to see if the cousins could pull it together, rightfully, so. This is big time professional sport. Nobody is immune.

It’s easy to start feeling badly for the two cousins that were unable to win a championship together. That would have been a great story that we all would have loved to see, but it didn’t work out. If you think about it, though, they are still both in great shape. Now should be a time for positive thinking. Dale Jr. has an opportunity to start fresh. His new crew chief, Lance McGrew, seems to have a clear plan about what to do. Meanwhile, Tony Jr. has a solid job at Hendrick Motorsports. I can think of worse things. The family is still together, they just don’t work on the same car. On a personal level, Tony Eury now gets to help all the Hendrick teams win championships, including Dale Jr., and Dale Jr. can hopefully benefit from McGrew who is a Hendrick veteran.
The Earnhardt Nation should feel good about the future of the 88 team. When Dale Jr. moved to Hendrick he knew that Rick would do everything in his power to help him win a championship and that is exactly what he is doing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Problem With The Indy 500

The 2009 Indy 500 is drawing mixed reviews from series insiders and media types. I think this is an example of people who are making their living off the series, shooting it (and themselves) in the foot. While there could have been more passing for the lead (only six lead changes), every major racing series is faced with that same issue right now. NASCAR is reportedly considering changing their restart rules for that exact reason. This is a symptom of equal cars and is the direct result of rules that have been put in place to put everyone on equal footing. If everyone is running the same car and approximate engines then everyone is generally the same speed and passing is much more difficult. But does little passing for the lead equal a boring race? I say, “No.”

This is especially true when Indy Car’s biggest stars are involved, as they were on Sunday. Helio Castroneves faced hard time for tax evasion, a charge that he was acquitted of, putting him squarely in the national media spotlight for this year’s race. Helio responded with a sweep of the Month of May. He won everything including the pole, the pit crew competition and the race. Bore-ring! Apparently, America suddenly hates stories of redemption that involve highly popular personalities overcoming the possible depths of imprisonment, only to achieve the highest honors in their field through dominating victory, followed by a genuine emotional outburst. I guess it happens so often we’ve become jaded. The final outcome of Sunday’s race was one that any person could understand and feel connected to. Thus, it could never be considered boring.

Then, there is the Danica factor. The sports most exposed star, drives to the front and collects her best career finish, 3rd, in the biggest race on Earth. She didn’t do it through strategy or trickery, but skill. It’s obvious the “new” has worn off Danica. Now that everyone has seen her mostly naked body, all that is left is a race car driver and the results she will produce. Well, she just produced the best finish ever by a female in the Indy 500, resetting her own record of 4th in 2004! Sorry, Bore-ring! Call us when she wins. If that is the standard we are now living by, we might as well find something else to watch because only one person gets to win The Indy 500 each year. Imagine if a female athlete in any other sport finished third in that sport's most important event that had been traditionally dominated by men? What if Annika Sorenstam had finished 3rd at the Masters or U.S. Open or if Serena Williams had somehow made the Men’s semi-finals at Wimbledon? That story could not possibly be considered boring. And yet, following the greatest Indy 500 ever run by a female, some are simply not impressed.

These observation’s bring me to one conclusion, maybe it’s not the story that needs work, but those telling it. If Indy Car’s brightest stars, performing at the highest of levels in their biggest race can’t get the sports own media excited, the problem is not the sport or the number of passes for the lead, but the people covering it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Happy Memorial Day

This weekend is the ultimate for racing fans. The Grand Prix of Monaco, The Indy 500 and The Coke 600 all in one marathon day of racing. It's a dream, really. Three completely different types of racing that last from early morning until late at night. Let's be honest, it takes a real freak to watch 16 hours of racing on the tube. The GP of Monaco starts at 7:30 AM on Speed and The Coke 600 will wrap up around 11 PM. I'll be there the whole time with my thoughts on those who have made this possible.

Many have sacrificed so that we can watch racing and this weekend is Memorial to them.