The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... Here Come The Lawsuits, Good Samaritans And NASCAR's Public Perception by Thomas Bowles -- Tuesday February 26, 2013

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Did You Notice? … Daytona International Speedway, along with NASCAR better make some major withdrawals from the bank? Lawyers have been retained for three of the fans injured in the crash, investigating whether they’ll sue both the track and the sanctioning body for negligence. Matt Morgan, of the law firm Morgan & Morgan based out of Florida has taken the case, going national in their quest to publicize their investigation into whether the sport could have done anything to prevent their injuries.

This next wave is where NASCAR’s PR machine, retooled over the last couple of years has to be ready to tackle head-on. It’s notable, in their favor every fan I talked to Sunday at Daytona, including one who had coolant sprayed on his glasses he was so close to where the majority of debris landed had no concerns of returning to the track. The running theme, on the reasonable sample size I spoke with was “fluke accident,” “you can’t live your life in fear” and “you assume a risk when you go to the track.” Heck, some of the fans who got hurt were back the next day attending the Daytona 500 and getting the most out of their money.

But a court of law doesn’t take emotion into account; not every story is going to have this “shrug it off” ending. The next wave will be the more harrowing accounts, from fans seriously hurt and whose lives will never be the same again after the incident. What will be interesting is how close the sanctioning body will let the case get to court. In the past, they’ve settled controversial lawsuits (think: Mauricia Grant) but only after the damage had been done. For months, Grant – a former African-American official – and her accusations of sexual harassment and racism gave the impression of a sport that’s already fighting perception it’s 30 years or more behind the times.

In this case, there are serious, long-term questions the lawyers are looking at that could do the same thing. Has the history of racing at Daytona and Talladega, which has resulted in three major incidents that led to fan injuries since 1987 showcased proof the tracks themselves are too risky? Has NASCAR done enough to raise fences, change seating, improve car construction, etc. to make sure fans are safe when they get to the track? After all, you just don’t hear about people getting hurt at, say football games and stats will be brought out to make direct comparisons.

NASCAR, in response has to acknowledge responsibility every step of the way, conduct a very public response to what went on and put in motion a series of improvements to further minimize the risk. The obvious is we can never, ever come close to a car getting in the stands (in that sense, the catchfence did do its job). But the bigger, long-term implication here is they need to maintain the impression for fans it’s safe to attend their events.

Did You Notice? … Where there’s Smoke, there’s a Secret Samaritan. Feel-good story of the week: “Marty Smith is reporting”: Tony Stewart spent Sunday night visiting injured NASCAR fans in the hospital, a mere 30 hours after the Nationwide Series wreck that nearly killed them. Stewart spent time with all seven fans still hospitalized, left each one with an autographed Bass Pro Shops cap and left them all with a smile and a glimpse of his good side. For those who have covered the three-time Cup champ for years, we’re not surprised with this do-good attitude. There’s a lot of charitable efforts he’s made under the radar, perhaps more than any other driver on the circuit you’ll never hear about – and never will. (How rare is it that an athlete threatens to punch you out if you report all the good things he’s done?)

It just goes to show you that public perception and private reality are often two different things with athletes. So before you write off your favorite’s worst enemy, take a deep breath. The guy’s human, too and you know what? What you see in interviews is nothing more than a five-second glimpse of the man (or woman) that lives underneath the racer. There’s a lot more than meets the eye…

Did You Notice? … Sometimes celebrities hurt more than they help? Yes, it’s nice NASCAR is able to nab celebrities like the NFL’s Ray Lewis and rapper 50 Cent to attend the sport’s biggest race. I thought Lewis was, out of everyone the biggest win. He and Brad Keselowski have a relationship, based on their mutual respect.

But sometimes, you get more than you bargained for. 50 Cent, in particular was problematic, trying to make out with Erin Andrews in an awkward moment while starting his Daytona day by tweeting, “Damn I don’t see no black people here lol.” Um, what? NASCAR’s Drive For Diversity PR group must have collectively fainted upon hearing that, considering the rapper’s reach with 7 million-plus followers on Twitter. Yes, the sample size isn’t the world’s most politically correct group (the feed, at times resembles some sort of softcore porn gone wrong) but they’re a large cross-section of potential fans nonetheless. To be telling them that the sport is being watched by “all white people” is, in essence perpetuating the Southern, good ol’ boy stereotype the sport wants to eliminate.

It was notable that the Tweet was later deleted, replaced with a capital letter post about how much the rapper loved NASCAR. But Tweets can never be permanently deleted; you have to feel some minor damage was done. The weekend’s other major “flap,” James Franco saying, “Drivers and Danica – start your engines!” wasn’t great but at least the people critical about that are the same ones who have felt Danica was overhyped from Day One. You’re not going to lose any potential new customers over that.

Did You Notice? … Brad Keselowski’s trip to the NASCAR trailer? Keselowski, after a refreshing interview with Nate Ryan in USA Today was immediately brought in for a meeting with series officials. Supposedly, no fines were issued but the company line was NASCAR CEO Brian France was specifically upset with Keselowski criticizing the way he was handling relationships with teams, tracks, and sponsors.

Um, Mr. France? Have you looked at what the players have been saying about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as of late? I don’t see everyone and their mother getting suspended or fined there for mouthing off. Sometimes, criticism can be healthy for a sport and lead to much-needed investigation of change. While the sport is heading in the right direction, on several fronts ignoring the perception they’re a totalitarian dictatorship continues to be the biggest problem. In order to erase it, the sport needs to be as diplomatic and open as possible across all fronts. Every action in the opposite direction – like blocking the YouTube videos of Saturday’s crash – is going to be interpreted the wrong way even with the best of intentions. The sport does more damage when it tries to prevent the PR hit instead of just sitting back and taking it.

So the next time Mr. France is criticized, rightly or wrongly here’s to hoping the sanctioning body does what it’s needed to do for years – grow a thicker skin. Absorbing criticism and understanding where it’s coming from is far more productive than spending all your time fending it off.

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before we take off…

- The final rating of 10.2 for the 500 was the best for the race in five years. Clearly, there’s a sense of momentum maintaining even in the aftereffects of the crash and single-file competition for Daytona’s first 400 miles. The pieces are in place; now, it’s up to the Gen-6 car to start performing.

- After only one race, it’s hard to say anyone is really “in trouble” in the point standings. After all, Daytona is a totally different animal. But some junkyard counts, considering the current equipment shortage are rather alarming. Front Row Motorsports: 3-for-3 in crashing cars Sunday. Richard Childress Racing did one better: they were 4-for-4 (plus Kurt Busch, who limped home in a fifth satellite operation). Red alerts should be going off in both places for totally different reasons. FRM: sponsorship is limited and those cars aren’t easily replaceable. I’d say it’ll be awhile before Josh Wise races again in that third car, a big loss to a series trying desperately to rid itself of start-and-parks. As for RCR, I look at Kevin Harvick, with a 42nd-place finish and know the expectations will be high to repeat that Phoenix victory he had in November. Should they struggle, or experience a second DNF it’s going to be a hard sell for that team, knowing their pending divorce come November to come together one last time.

-’s RaceView apps, including Scanner Audio in particular struggled so much this weekend the company was forced to send an email apologizing to all its subscribers. The app portion of this product is going to be great – it was the No. 1 downloaded sports product on the iPhone leading up to the 500 – but my fear is that first impressions are everything here. No doubt, the sport ultimately takes responsibility (they dumped Turner after 2012 and now run the website themselves). When you start with the Super Bowl, your most-watched event you can’t still be “working” on ironing out the kinks. They need to be ironed out, period or why would people come back to buy your product?

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02/27/2013 03:56 PM

Agree, Tom, that NASCAR needs to be proactive in its response to the injured people at Daytona. It’s not enough to just do a press conference and say “we’re looking at it”. Yeah, well, look harder AND quicker. This is not the first incident of this type at RP tracks and the frequency AND intensity have increased.

Brian France needs to take a deep breath and all of his lackeys and mouthpieces need to stop being so quick to jump on anyone who doesn’t agree with them. I didn’t pay any specific attention to what Brad said in his interview, but I paid attention when NASCAR called him in to give him heck for it. Does NASCAR really think that the fans don’t have their own opinions about how the sport is doing? Not everyone has their opinions formed or swayed by what any one driver says – most of us manage to think for ourselves. Apparently NASCAR continues to think that NASCAR fans are sheep and if our favorite driver says something – such as a few years ago when they were ALL told to tell the fans “we love the COT”. Ha, no we didn’t believe that. Any more than I believe that all of them think the Chase is wonderful.

On to the Daytona and 50cent, Erin Andrews and James Franco. Wow, what an amazing way to show the sport in a bad light. Erin didn’t recognize Kevin Harvick when she nearly tripped over him — clue for her – he was the guy in the firesuit standing next to the 29 car! Franco could have simply said “drivers, start your engines” instead he had to be “cute” and play to the media and gee that worked out soo well.

RACEVIEW – I’m one of the people paying for a product that hasn’t worked. I sat waiting for the help desk response for 2 hrs on Sunday. Massively unimpressed. When I got to “chat” with someone, the response was – we’ve made it so everyone gets it for free today! Whoopee! I have no idea about the app for the smart phones. I don’t plan to use that, but I do want what I’m paying for to work on my computer when I’m sitting in my house. I pay for this product BECAUSE I cannot get the information I want from the TV. That’s why I’m willing to pay the $. It was having major issues last year after Turner knew they were out. I was unhappy to find that “under new management” was no better.

02/27/2013 03:56 PM

Brad K’s USA Today interview was SPOT ON and I urge everyone to read it NOW.

I bet I could go to most, if not all, rap concerts and be able to tweet: “Damn, ain’t no white people here!”

So what? Are we SUPPOSED to make sure there are black people in the stands? Or white people at rap concerts? How about half of all athletes in the NBA be white?

I think all fans KNOW there’s risk at going to a car race. But it’s a shame nascar continues to look the other way until someone dies.

02/27/2013 05:29 PM

Can someone explain something to me, although the answer should be obvious. Last year at Pocono, some fans were struck by lightening. One, sadly, died, while another one was hospitalized. When someone found out the hospitalized guy was a Carl Edwards fan, Carl went out of his way to visit the person in the hospital. If that had of been me hurt like that and my favorite driver came to see me, I would have been thrilled! However, there were so many comments condemning Carl for his actions, both from the media and from fans on message boards. He was called a jerk and severely chastised for infringing on the privacy of the hospitalized person. So, now, Tony Stewart goes and visits the people who were still hospitalized in Daytona on Sunday night, and he reaps heaps of praise from the media and fans alike, and he is called a good Samaritan.

What is the difference between what Carl did and what Tony did? Is Edwards really hated that much that he can do nothing good in anyone’s eyes? Please explain!

02/27/2013 07:40 PM

It seems that the criticism
of nascar and france is repeat of last year. Face it people, nothing will change until the tv idiots quit shelling out
large amounts of money to nascar. It’s becoming to look like pro wrestling, danaca pole, jj getting flag breaks plus tearing up a prob.
illegal front end it just goes on and on. Going to find something else to do on Sundays. 30 year fan

02/27/2013 09:11 PM

The pathetic part of the Na$ Raceview and Scanner/Audio fiasco, is that you can not Cancell and get your money back. You are stuck with it, the GREEDY BA$TAR$D$! I emailed them at told them no service for Phoenix, mark my account – “Do Not Renew”.

02/27/2013 11:01 PM

If a celebrity wants to come to a race let them buy a ticket. If I were Nascar or ISC I would offer to cover the Medical expenses of anyone hurt because it is the decent thing to do but I would also tell everyone involved if you sue me and lose I will counter sue you back for all incured legal costs. The ticket says on it and you can’t miss it they are not liable and you assume all risks.

Brian France Sucks
02/27/2013 11:19 PM

Brad K’s interview was the truth. The problem for Brian France was that it was not the “truth” he wished the masses to hear. Thus the come to Jesus meeting. Also makes you wonder if Brad got the short end of the last caution timing stick? The last thing the Frances want is Keselowski staying the champ and speaking more truths.

02/28/2013 10:16 AM

The suit will go no where. NASCAR will point the finger at ISC and ISC will point the finger at NA$CAR.

How come the NBA does not have a program to get more white people playing?

I use to dislike Brad. Now I like him. Most drivers today do not have any balls and I am not talking about Danica.

02/28/2013 10:42 AM

I started wondering after the race if the call Johnson, not Brad was leading at the time of the final caution was NASCAR’s payback for Keselowski’s interview


Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
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