Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito: Myopic Misconceptions Regarding Media Expectations & Responsibilities

Recently the topic has come up regarding the issue of impartiality among those in the media covering NASCAR. As was reported by our own Tom Bowles, who was dismissed by Sports Illustrated this week after applauding what had been universally accepted as a fantastic finish to a Daytona 500 and shaking the hand of an improbable winner of the biggest single race in the world. My immediate reaction upon hearing the news was to re-read the article of his account a few times to see if I had missed something. Apparently in this new age of civility and love, being anything other than numb is a liability.

After digesting and reflecting upon these events and the ultimate outcome, I had come to my own carefully crafted conclusion: Horses***.

You may say that I am biased for thinking (and stating that) however, there seems to be a different set of standards applied to who can and can’t be a normal human being while describing the action from a stock-car race.

A few examples come readily to mind. Does Darrell Waltrip not cheer on certain drivers in the closing laps of a race? Did he not explain, “Oh no, Junior! Noooo!!!” when he crashed out of the Daytona 500 this year? Nobody seemed to take issue with celebrating Jeff Gordon’s return to victory lane in Phoenix Sunday – I certainly hope no pink slips were raining down with the confetti there either.

Whenever Dale Earnhardt would be advancing from say, 16th or 17th position during his off years in the late 1990s, I seem to remember chuckling and remarking of how great it was by just about every announcer or network covering the action. The late great Benny Parsons was objective, yet complimentary when he was calling the action on ESPN, NBC and TNT – and it never seemed to raise an issue.

And then sometimes, you happen to see it first hand.

I remember vividly my first experience in the media center following Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s win at Michigan International Speedway in 2008. I was seated by the door where the drivers entered as he walked in following the post-race interviews with the television and radio networks. As he entered the Deadline Room, being my normal smart-assed self, I thought I’d break the silence with a muffled distant, “yaaayyyyy…” and a couple of claps (a reference from an episode of The Simpsons), to which the room erupted with EVERYBODY responding with applause.

Everybody.

It was a popular win with the media and fans alike simply because it had been a couple of seasons since his last victory, there was a lot of uproar during the weekend, as that happened to be the start of the rumblings of then-crew chief Tony Eury Jr. needing to be replaced atop the pit box.

It was also Father’s Day weekend. Many in the room had covered the sport for some time and knew Earnhardt Sr. and had known Earnhardt Jr. since he was a short blond kid with a mullet.

After all of the questions from the media and from up in the press box, the cameras and microphones were turned off, and most of the reporters in the room went up to him, offering congratulations on the victory, including shaking his hand. There were also a couple who actually hugged him.

Hugged him.

I mention this mainly due to some of the responses I have seen to the topic both on Frontstretch.com as well as some other columns that have appeared in the last day or so with regards to this topic. They run the gamut from being absolutely insulting, to ignorant and uninformed. What really goes on when the cameras go dark and mics go silent stands in stark contrast to what some would have you believe is a black and white world, devoid of emotion, connection, or relationship between members of the media and the competitors of the sport.

Remember, this isn’t the NFL or MLB where teams are scattered all over the country. 90% of everything happens within about 30 miles around Charlotte, N.C.

My biggest gripe is with those who insinuate that you cannot have any contact or communication with anyone, other than asking them a pointed question, or applaud a finish that was simply entertaining. Do you honestly think that after hanging around the same people for 36 weeks a year that somebody might not actually, you know, get to know or have some sort or interaction with them? For many reporters taking a hardline stance on this, it is laughable at best – if not completely disingenuous.

I got to race Kyle Busch on a go-kart last year and shook his hand after getting passed by him with two laps left in the race; does that make me a shill for Shrub? If you read some of my recent articles, I think you’ll find them unbiased, if not a bit critical.

It would be my hope that one day every fan could get a chance to get on the other side of the fence for a weekend and see what really happens in the garage area, the media center and the workings of reporting of a sport whose greatest selling point was the interaction and accessibility of the competitors, fans and media, as well as the genuine sincerity of the drivers who Ken Squier described as “ordinary men doing extraordinary things.”

In short, it’s time to dial down the rhetoric of some of the holier than thou “journalists” who would have you believe that they are the equivalent of Lady Justice (regardless of what they do down by the docks on off-weekends), as well as comments made by those who are blind to interaction and relationships between those in the media who are with the same 43 people virtually every week, 10 months a year.

Let’s stop with the self-aggrandizing pursuit of Pulitzers and get to the crux of the issue here: It’s called racing; it’s called being human.

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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