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NASCAR Mailbox: Mainstream Media Should Probably Stay Away From Racing
Credit: CIA Editorial Photography

NASCAR Mailbox: Mainstream Media Should Probably Stay Away From Racing

I’m going to preface this piece by saying that I know this rant is one that many others have already had, myself included, but I believe it absolutely bears repeating.

People in racing—whether those who work in the industry or are simply motorsports fans—constantly complain that the mainstream media doesn’t give enough credibility to racing and NASCAR in particular. Even mainstream sports shows seem to struggle to maintain a working knowledge of NASCAR, and listening to anyone outside of the sport try and hold a conversation about it is just painful.

So when a national story, like the one involving Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward, Jr., makes its way not only around sports media, but around mainstream news networks and shows that almost never even acknowledge racing, it becomes downright unbearable. I routinely hear people complaining about the sensationalizing of news media and how every story becomes a bigger deal than it should be. I’ve always been annoyed by it but never became downright angry.

However, watching and reading reports and commentary from people who probably have never given racing the time of day has made it more and more difficult to suppress my rage. Who is anyone to talk about how the “culture” of racing is at fault here? How does bringing up Stewart’s history of run-ins with competitors somehow translate to him being a murderer? Why is this being treated as some sort of salacious tabloid story as if Stewart himself went on some sort of malevolent killing spree, a grenade just waiting to go off?

I think we all know the reason why. Clicks, hits, advertising dollars, money. The chance to spur on conversation in a 24 hour news networks even though most, if not all, of the people discussing Stewart’s “history” or the “culture” in racing probably never paid attention to either before. It’s rage-inducing because people like me, and I’m sure most of our readers, know that this is all so far removed from reality that it would be laughable if not for the grave circumstances.

Watching it all unfold makes me wonder two things. First of all, is all news like this? Is every news story we read and watch run through a grinder of overly analytical commentary that by the time it hits the airwaves the story is far removed from its original meaning? How seriously can we take the things we consume if every single story is beaten over the head by emotionally convenient headlines rather than logical and well thought out articles?

Secondly, perhaps racing is best left out of the mainstream media. It’s bad enough to watch late night TV show hosts interview Jimmie Johnson after he’s just won the championship and ask him for the 10,000th time how drivers use the bathroom during a race. It’s even worse when you watch talking heads analyze the death of a racecar driver and try to make it out to be the crime of the century for the sake of ratings.

Honestly, it makes me glad to be writing this piece in the company of people who understand racing. Some of you might drive me crazy sometimes, and we disagree on a lot of things. But at least we know and understand racing and can have a reasonably intelligent conversation about it, knowing full well the other person’s intentions are good and driven by a passion for motorsports. At this point in time, maybe it’s best to unplug and avoid anything related to mainstream news coverage, because I might just blow a gasket before Michigan.

Now onto the mailbox:

“Summer, I was appalled at the small fan turnout at this years Brickyard 400. The on track competition of NASCAR sucks and NASCAR is way off base in trying to rectify things. Every year they make changes to make the cars handle better. If anything they should be making the cars handle worse and let the drivers skill show through. TIRES! Goodyear has the biggest control over competition and that could be remedied by narrower and harder compound tires. After all Barney Oldfield went 100 mph on bicycle tires. Racing was so much better 25 years ago and NASCAR needs to reduce the speeds and stop making the cars easier to drive to bring back the competition. They are on a downward spiral and on the net they are referred to as “NAPCAR”. Harley

I think it’s really unfair to call a crowd at the Brickyard 400 “small” considering how huge that racetrack is. A sellout crowd at a place like Iowa or Martinsville would still look abysmal at a track like Indianapolis, so it’s a really subjective determination to make that no one was at the Brickyard.

Of course I understand that the track used to be a near sellout almost anytime IndyCar or NASCAR were there, but I’m under no illusion that attendance is anything like it used to be. I don’t think the racing is solely to blame, though. There are many factors at play (the tire debacle several years ago, the economy, and, yes, the racing could play a role).

However, I don’t think that making the cars handle worse is the answer. NASCAR’s rules changes have created parity in the field and there are several teams on any given weekend that could potentially win the race. Even though there are sometimes snoozers, the sport is statistically more competitive now than it ever has been. A three-second win might seem boring at the time but that’s incredibly close compared to a time when laps were a perfectly normal margin of victory.

The competition, I believe, is subjective too. What is considered “boring” is still way ahead of where competition in the sport used to be. I think we’ve just come to expect more and, whether we like it or not, all of us are part of the ADD generation. Otherwise, we wouldn’t care that the race wasn’t exciting from start to finish. We’d just sit back and enjoy it. But now, we demand excitement every lap of every race or the sport is going to hell in a hand-basket.

And don’t everyone jump on my case. I’m not saying that the “olden days” of NASCAR were always boring or sucked completely. I’ve seen the highlights and know the history, and if that’s your cup of tea, drink it. But in terms of the level of competition and how close everything is, the sport is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was. But with that has come our own whetted appetites and I feel like it would help to keep that in check.

With that in mind, though, I’m always open to suggestions and I’ve heard drivers, crew chiefs, and fans alike all say that Goodyear providing a tire that wears a little more over the course of a fuel run would be helpful in increasing the competition. Wouldn’t you know that whenever Goodyear brings a softer tire it tends to put on a better show. I know it’s not a simple thing to ask and that they don’t want to bring a tire that will cause constant blowouts, but finding some sort of balance would create for more interesting races. Even if the on-track action isn’t great (and sometimes it won’t be), watching a strategy race play out is certainly fun to watch.

I personally have enjoyed the racing this year, but am always interested to hear suggestions as to how it could be better. But maybe try to sit back and enjoy the race a little rather than expecting it to be exciting all the time. It’s never been like that before. Why should it be now?

“I know this will not go very far  BUT WHY DO THE DRIVERS ALWAYS LOOK GRUBBY WITH FACE FUZZ” pepi35

I can always tell when the race was exciting. People find other things to complain about.

I don’t know…. does it matter? I don’t know that I would describe the drivers as “grubby” but I’m going to say that their seeming lack of personal hygiene is because many of these drivers are good ol’ boys and not caught up in their appearance. They’re not vain Hollywood stars. They are racecar drivers who think, live, and breathe racing and that’s usually what they spend their time focusing on.

I’m not sure if you are referencing certain drivers all the time or just after a race, but the drivers almost always look cleaner when they are making an appearance at a media or fan event. It’s after they get out of their racecars or spend a long day at the track that they might look a little more disheveled, but isn’t that to be expected? It’s not like what they do is easy. At the very least, it’s tiring. Honestly, I don’t want to imagine a garage filled with drivers who are constantly looking in the mirror making sure that they still look their best. Even Danica Patrick doesn’t do that.

I’m still confused as to why it matters, though. Is facial hair somehow offensive? Does it make the sport look bad? Do you really want a sport full of drivers who thrive off of personal appearance?

In fact, it isn’t even something I’ve noticed and I really don’t think it’s that big of a deal. Honestly, they probably have “face fuzz” because they didn’t shave well enough or something. And you can’t see it when they have their helmets on anyway, which is when it really counts.

“I know Tony hasn’t decided if he will race this weekend or not, and I know this is not important right now but I’m still curious if he will miss the Chase if he doesn’t race this weekend. Are the new rules the same as the old?” Nico

Technically, all Stewart has to do this weekend to remain Chase eligible is to attempt to qualify. I don’t know whether he will or not and don’t think it’s my place to speculate, but he can attempt to qualify, decide not to race, and still be eligible for the Chase. Where it might be a problem for Stewart is that if he misses too many races, he runs the risk of falling outside of the top 30 in points, a requirement for Chase eligibility.

Stewart’s chances of making the Chase were already slim, but now they are basically non-existent. You’re right, that’s not what’s necessarily important or on Stewart’s mind at this point. But if he decides to skip the weekend entirely, he won’t be a part of this year’s Chase.

Even if he does decide to return to the track this weekend, though, it’s unlikely his heart will be in it. I can’t imagine the Chase holding the same meaning to him now. I know it probably seems insensitive at the moment to talk about it, but I know Stewart still has fans that want to see him competing and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

About Summer Bedgood

Summer Bedgood
Promoted to editor in 2013, Summer is one of Frontstretch’s fast-rising young talents. While contributing to social media efforts, she anchors the site’s breaking news coverage while writing NASCAR Mailbox, a fan question & answer column (Wednesdays). A Kansas native, Summer goes to school full-time while also contributing to other racing outlets such as Popular Speed.

10 comments

  1. Summer, I am not sure which is worse: The mainstream media pretending to understand motor racing or the motorsports media pretending to understand the legal system. This incident brings both sides into play. I am as annoyed at motorsports “experts” not understanding the difference between criminal and legal liability as I am with CNN-types making judgments based on a video they lack the background to interpret. The fact is that auto racing made Stewart a multi-millionaire and a star and now all his bad-boy behavior IS going to be brought up whether it is relevant to this incident or not and whether you like it or not. This is more than sensationalized drivel. It is a major news story when an eminent sports figure is involved in the death of a competitor. If you aspire to be a journalist, you had better learn to accept that.

  2. CBS used a quote where Tony is saying, “from now on I’m going to run over him every time I get a chance.” Just those words, no context. Tony was, of course, complaining about someone “blocking” in the race and saying that the next time someone blocked him he would “run over” THE GUY’S CAR. The misuse of that quote infuriated me.

  3. You can’t have it both ways you know. On one hand people complain that racing gets no attention from the main stream media, then that they give too much attention in a negative situation. Its an unfortunate fact of life that nobody reports the planes that land safely.
    And as to the quality of the attention, come on. Look at a weeks worth of Jayski.postings. Virtually all of the articles aren’t really about the racing itself. Instead they are about the two race sponsorship for the xyz racing team, or some driver “could” do this, etc. Not really a whole lot different is it?
    An unfortunate situation that like so many things in life can’t be changed.

  4. “First of all, is all news like this? Is every news story we read and watch run through a grinder of overly analytical commentary that by the time it hits the airwaves the story is far removed from its original meaning? How seriously can we take the things we consume if every single story is beaten over the head by emotionally convenient headlines rather than logical and well thought out articles?”

    Excellent observation. Thought provoking questions. I believe this is the norm. Truth and objectivity is no longer the goal of news organizations. Ratings and the advertising money that comes with it are what matters. Too bad the viewing public is more interested in tabloid sensationalized headlines and stories than the facts and often mundane stories that are important. Too bad that the viewing public is more interested in what Lindsay Lohan drank last night than that bill that is stalled in congress that will affect our lives for the next 20 years.

    If it takes more than 140 characters to understand and isn’t gossip worthy then it just isn’t worth knowing.

    • Yes Summer you are right, practically all news is like that. Reporters want to feel important and have never been content to seek out and report the news and just let us decide for ourselves. With Watergate our media took the next step and started trying to guide the narrative by reporting only what fit with their preconceived notions. They leave out anything that does not. At about your age I was intimately involved in a national story following the murder of an infant. For months every single news report, print and TV contained serious errors of fact and downright fabrication. The media attempted to steer the story rather than report it often stating opinion as fact. I have never taken a news story at face value since. This is not a negative as it leads me to think more about the news and draw my own conclusions.

    • Hold the presses! Kanye has something self-important to say. Who has time to bother with the truth?

  5. I agree with your article 100%. Watching CNN cover this was painful to say the least.

  6. Summer, I am not of the ADD generation needing gadgets and gizmo’s and 100 other things to keep me interested, and I am not that old, I was just raised differently and to question the next big thing that will take money out of your wallet and make you look dumber in the process. Yes, the mainstream media has been not interested in Nascar for some time, but I cannot help but blame Nascar to some degree. What has BZF created with the 15 minute attention span fan he craves? The Chase, the big marketing hype of Danica Patrick..etc! He invited the clueless into our world, the barn door is open and cannot be closed. I for one am not calling TS a murderer that is wrong and absurd. I have to say however, like him or love him seeing his insane acts and words (that Nascar seened to approve of by the way..IMO) and seeing his temper too many times to count. My first instinct was “His temper got the best of him”. My first instinct also was, he was trying to teach the young guy a “lesson” and it backfired. I am human..sorry..but those are things that jumped into my head right away..so don’t be too hard on all many of us, right or wrong. My sorrow is for the Ward family. The Nascar wagons be damned.

    • After viewing the film several times, I see no contact on what the media says was a bump between the two cars. If Ward’s car had made contact with stewart’s right rear, it would have turned Stewart in to the wall. They never made contact. also, the last photo shot showing Ward’s stance with his right was foot lower on the track and the only possibility the right rear tire which is approximatley 22″ wide ran over Ward’s right foot and or leg which grabbed him and through him in the air. If the tire had run over Ward’s body, it would have lifted Stewarts car off the ground and cause Stewart to lose control. That did not happen. As for the reported Ward was stuck under the car for one or two seconds is false. With the speed Stewarts car was going, It would have to be a ten of a second. 98 % of all rages at speedways are short tracks. But, all of the ones I’ve seen, the raging driver was at least 10 plus feet away from the intended car. Stewart is no more responsible for this out come than Ward him self. It was and is a bad outcome. No Driver ever has any intent to run over anyone at anytime. Stewart is a great person and does not deserve the vile comments that I have read in the media. His temper is no worse or better than any other driver. Wnen anyone interviews a driver right after he feels he was wronged will get some hurtful language out of his or her mouth which they later regret. and most all of them become friends again. So, I would like for everyone, including the media and bloggers to check out the known facts, before condeming some one.