Race Weekend Central

The Critic’s Annex 113- Christmas Time

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where we take an additional look at motorsports-related programming available on television. Earlier this week, I promised you a look at the V8 Supercars’ Microsoft Office 365, held on April 6-7 from Symmonds Plains Raceway in Tasmania. However, things can change from time to time.

On Tuesday night, HBO aired a piece on their sports magazine show, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. This is typically an excellent show with great production values. Many notable people in sports journalism work on the show today, or have in the past (Fun Fact: ESPN’s Shannon Spake used to be a Producer for Real Sports before joining SPEED).

For the benefit of our audience, we’ll just focus on the racing-related portion of the show. That segment was entitled, “Christmas Time,” a look at Christmas Abbott, who is currently attempting to become a full-time pit crew member with Michael Waltrip Racing. According to the credits, Maggie Burbank produced the piece, while John Franco presented the piece.

The feature starts off in Avondale, Arizona at Phoenix International Raceway. Franco talks with Abbott about her attempt to get a foothold as a tire changer in the Sprint Cup Series. In addition, we see Abbott shadowing Mark Martin’s pit crew during the Subway Fresh Fit 500k, much like a prospective teacher does during a field experience while in college.

Abbott explained to Franco that she had never even given being on a pit crew a thought until last year, when a friend pitched her the idea of hanging around a crew for a day. She decided to press her luck and fell in love with the idea of doing pit stops while at a pit challenge. She’s hooked, simple as that.

Next, we meet Ted Bullard, a former team executive who launched the idea of finding a female athlete to train for pit crew duties a couple of years ago. He believes that Abbott is the perfect woman for his endeavor, so much so that he quit his job and manages her full-time. Yes, it’s a marketing ploy.

In Abbott, you have an elite athlete that is well-known in CrossFit circles. For those of you unsure what CrossFit is, it’s basically a state of mind these days. The general idea is that it involves short workouts at a super-high intensity. Think P90X, or Insanity. The kind of stuff that Samantha Busch would be at home doing (she showed her fitness off once on an episode of Trackside Live last year). One of the signature CrossFit exercises is the “Fran,” which is 21 barbell thrusters, then 21 pull-ups, 15 thrusters, then 15 pull-ups, then nine and nine. Here’s a clip of Abbott doing it. I can’t claim to have done this before, but it is incredibly taxing. Also, before you ask, Abbott’s doing something called Kipping Pull-ups in the clip. While she does not fully pull herself up, it is more taxing on the body than a regular pull-up.

Abbott is also a past participant in the CrossFit games. That particular competition airs from time to time on ESPN 2 and features a variety of high impact physical activities, some of which honestly make me scratch my head. The idea is to keep everyone on their toes. That goes for the viewers as well. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s attractive as well.

We learned how Abbott actually got into CrossFit. Namely, because while she was in Iraq as a contractor to the U.S. Army (basically, she did laundry over there), she was shown a video called “Nasty Girls,” depicting a number of women working out. Abbott was enthralled and wanted to do it. Upon returning to the United States, Abbott dedicated her life to CrossFit. Today, she owns her own CrossFit gym in the Charlotte area and trains new CrossFit instructors. I’m not 100 percent on this next point, but I think she trained three of my friends who are instructors at CrossFit Beyond in Albany, NY. Regardless, they’ve been begging me to interview her for the last four months.

One thing is true, Abbott landed at the right Cup team. Michael Waltrip Racing has put a lot of time, practice and money into many of the ideals of fitness that Abbott teaches. Take the new pit crew training facility that MWR announced earlier this year. CrossFit will play a significant role there. In Catching Speed last year, members of Clint Bowyer’s crew were shown using CrossFit elements (in addition to a bunch of other stuff clearly designed to tie in with John Deere) to train. It is a place where her ideas will be openly accepted.

In closing, Franco and Gumbel discuss whether Abbott will eventually be on a top pit crew. They believe that she possibly could, but not right now. However, they’re so convinced that it is a marketing ploy that Bullard might be fine with that. I do warn Franco and Gumbel not to underestimate someone like Abbott. She’ll just use that as fuel to better herself.

I don’t know if she’ll end up full-time with MWR, but I’m sure someone will take a chance on her eventually after the MWR exclusivity ends at the end of the year. The piece does mention that she does go over the wall part-time for JJC Racing (Jennifer Jo Cobb’s team).

When the piece originally aired on Tuesday night, there was quite the uproar on Twitter. Why? Because Franco and Burbank failed to properly fact check. If Abbott were to get a full-time gig over the wall for a NASCAR team, she wouldn’t be the first woman to do it. That would be Nicole Addison, who worked on pit crews back around 2004-2005. Chris Showalter claims that Addison was one of the best tire changers he ever had.

There have also been all-female pit crews in the past. Shawna Robinson had one in a truck race at Texas Motor Speedway. In ARCA, Bill Venturini had an all-female pit crew for years. Here’s a clip of them in action at Atlanta in 1986. Franco referenced that there had been female crewmembers in lower levels in the past, but it’s as if they don’t matter. Not the best way to go about things. Also of note, a fired-up Brendan Gaughan got in a Twitter war with Bullard and his wife over the piece. One thing is definitely true about Gaughan. He isn’t afraid to voice his opinion.

Unfortunately, not being up on your factual information will hurt your feature. It makes you look like a bunch of idiots. HBO, you’re better than that. I also didn’t really like the whole publicity thing. Bullard is just unlikable, simple as that. There’s always money to be made with everything, but I’m pretty sure by this point that Abbott wants to be a tire changer for more reasons than just being famous. That’s a lot of work that she has to put in for it just to be for fame.

Luckily for everyone involved, Real Sports is the kind of show that will go back to previous stories and provide updates and/or make corrections. Look for an addition to this story fairly soon. Addison, who just appeared on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Wednesday night with Claire B. Lang, has apparently already been contacted by Real Sports, so we’ll have a whole new segment to look at a little later this season.

I hope you liked today’s look at Christmas Time. Next week, we’ll be back with another look at motorsports-related programming. Until then, enjoy the action this weekend from Kansas, Long Beach and Bahrain.

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