NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? Dale Jr.’s Memorabilia Was Gone? & That’s Not All That’s Missing…

Editor’s Note: In this new website column for 2008, Frontstretch Managing Editor Tom Bowles points out a few short, pointed observations about the Nextel Cup Series each week that you might not have noticed or seen. Once a Frontstretch newsletter staple, look for Did You Notice? every Wednesday starting next week.

Did You Notice? All the hubbub surrounding Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s “missing memorabilia” at DEI? Of course you did, because that’s all everyone keeps talking about these last few days – during an offseason where news has been so slow people are resorting to manufacturing some.

Now, I’ll preface this rant by saying I wasn’t there… unlike most of my media comrades, I actually get to take most of January off, bypassing a lot of the testing and preseason hype that’s constantly thrown at us to keep NASCAR on the radar screen. But based on what I’ve heard, the story goes like this – more than 250 people came to DEI for a luncheon where the team was going to speak about the upcoming 2008 season. Now, anyone that’s been in some of these race shops knows there’s not necessarily the type of room to have a dainty media luncheon for that large a group; so, what the organization did was clean out a section so everyone would be able to sit comfortably. It was an area that happened to house some of Earnhardt Jr.’s old cars and memorabilia; and after it was cleaned out, there was plenty of room for everyone to file in. That’s the irony – the team was actually doing the media a favor, but in hindsight, they should have dumped the luncheon and left out a cheese plate to go with the whine that followed.

That’s because when some of my esteemed colleagues came in, they didn’t see as much Junior stuff as they would have liked; and that’s a problem, because when you deal with these “Preseason 2008 Hype Tour” type of things you get a couple of media people who, well, don’t cover the sport full-time and couldn’t tell Kevin Lepage from Kevin Spacey. But they do know the name Earnhardt, and they did know Dale Jr. used to drive for his dad and doesn’t anymore; and that’s the easy story they need to go with when no good alternative comes along, the one that’s generic and attracts all sorts of rabid Junior fans. So, when they didn’t see any memorabilia, too many silly people see a quick and easy story, make a little something out of nothing and – voila! – all of a sudden DEI is trying to hide the memory of the man that helped put them on the map.

Frankly, I can’t believe we’re talking about this “controversy” right now because the whole thing is ridiculous. But here’s the way I look at it; while DEI and Earnhardt Jr. were linked together in the past, the bottom line is that they’re not linked together now. So, as far as I’m concerned the team’s not even under an obligation to show any memorabilia in the first place. It’s just like when you leave a job, do you honestly expect the company to put your desk in a Hall of Fame? Sure, you’ve got friends there; you may have even accomplished quite a bit at the company, and no one will forget who you are and what you did. But life goes on, business keeps going, and both you and the company will survive without each other. Eventually, they’re going to get someone else to fill that desk… because more history can’t be made if everyone else is spending all their time celebrating yours.

That’s exactly what’s going to be happening this season for both Junior and DEI – both entities will be making new history independent of one another. And as it is, the memorabilia should be a non-issue; several sources have said Max Siegel of DEI is telling the truth, that the memorabilia is there and proudly displayed – it just was moved around for the media luncheon. Earnhardt and Siegel have since made public statements to try and put the whole matter to bed.

But what this showcased, besides trivial news turning stomachs everywhere, is that there’s an underlying unwillingness for a lot of people to face some facts no one would have believed 12 months ago. Well, I’m sorry to break the news again, but DEI is still here without Junior – might even thrive without Junior – and everyone needs to come to terms with that. Junior’s about to go win some races with Hendrick; why can’t DEI start concentrating on doing the same without being unfairly criticized for not building a bronze statue of a driver who’s no longer there? It’s over, people… the decision was made, and if both parties have moved on, why can’t you?

One other thing, while I’m on this subject – no disrespect to Dale Jr. (a man whose career is about to be back on track), but you know what the three biggest pieces of hardware DEI owned for a long time? They’re a Watkins Glen trophy from Steve Park in 2000, and not one, but two, Daytona 500 trophies Michael Waltrip won in 2001 and 2003. Those were the biggest wins to DEI’s credit before Junior’s career really took off in 2003 and ’04… another note that, contrary to popular belief, this company didn’t always revolve around the Budweiser No. 8. It just ended up that way; and perhaps this is another sign that maybe the two entities are in better shape apart.

P.S. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out a link to David Poole’s thoughts on this subject… not only because I agree with some of what he says, but the fan responses below are easily worth the trip there.

Did You Notice? Along these same lines that we just can’t get away from trivial NASCAR news lately? You know, this plays into a larger issue with sports nowadays – it’s a 24/7 business. There’s the regular season, the “playoffs,” and then the offseason time where you spend it hyping up the following regular season to come.

But here’s a novel concept – whatever happened to just not reporting about a sport for a little while? What about not forcing news and giving fans a little time off to, well, miss the roar of the engines and want the regular season to come back around? I’ll tell you one thing… if I had to run down to all these preseason tests and tours in January instead of fly to Daytona February 6th and start anew, I’d be a little burned out before the year even began. After a little time away, I can’t wait for the season to start… and wasn’t it just a couple of years ago where everyone else got to enjoy that lull, too?

I guess that’ll never happen again, as we’re in the Information Age; but there is such a thing as too much information. If there’s no news, it’s OK NASCAR’s not on the front page for a month or so… people aren’t going to forget about it, I promise. I wish in the midsts of getting to the point where we have three official “preseason tests” in January to go along with a weeklong “Media Tour,” people would remember that. Trust me, leave fans wanting more… not less. They’ve got a 38-week season as plenty to get excited about.

Did You Notice? All the sponsorship announcements that accompanied the grand media tour? No, I didn’t either. But in the meantime, Gillett Evernham Motorsports’ Elliott Sadlerthe Elliott Sadler who scored a total of one top-10 finish following the Daytona 500 last year – has not one, not two, but three companies vying for primary sponsorship. Best Buy, McDonald’s and Stanley Tools could all sponsor a full NASCAR team themselves in a lower-cost environment; instead, they’re sharing space on one car while a half-dozen full-time teams head into the season financially strapped.

So while I’m patting some GEM marketer on the back for some solid work, this three-pronged deal doesn’t make sense – especially when it sounds like third GEM driver Patrick Carpentier isn’t even sponsored for all 36 races. On a side note, I wonder if the sport could have a budget problem? Hold on… I couldn’t hear what you said, my ears were blown out by the $2 million wind tunnel test going on behind me.

Did You Notice? Bill Davis Racing looked to be up to sale to the highest bidder back in October; namely, to Canadian investor – ahem, Jacques Villeneuve business manager Craig Pollock. Fast forward to January… coincidentally, this deal never goes through and all the rumors die down, all but confirming Pollock was the one trying to buy the team. Coincidentally, Villeneuve’s No. 27 still doesn’t have any sponsorship and may be forced to a limited schedule after the first five races, depending on where the team winds up in owner points. And coincidentally, Villeneuve and Pollock now have an “amicable” parting of the ways after 15 years together.

Sorry, I just don’t buy the word “amicable” – too many coincidences. There’s obviously a story here… the only question is whether anyone will ever give us enough information to find the answer.

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