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It's been three years since NASCAR's Brian France addressed the nation's newspaper bosses, and.....

  Michael Waltrip, at LeMans: turn left at the big cow.... (Photo: Michael Waltrip Racing)

   By Mike Mulhern


   BROOKLYN, Mich.
   Running 180 mph down a two-lane country road was quite a thrill for Michael Waltrip the other day.
   No, he wasn't on that secret matrix of Michigan backroads -- that mixture of dirt, gravel and asphalt, with the occasional cow pond to dodge -- to this heart-of-the-cornfields track that insiders use to avoid the heavy traffic on infamous U.S. 12 over from Detroit.

   He did it legally, he cracked. Because he was in France racing at LeMans.
   "It was different," the two-time Daytona 500 winner, now a NASCAR part-timer, was saying. "When I was trying to get my marks lined up to make the corners, this other driver told me 'It's easy: just keeping going past this guy's driveway, and past this little country store, and when you get to the billboard with the big cow on it, turn left.'"
   Mikie's Great Adventure. Dubai, LeMans….what next?
   And LeMans ( http://bit.ly/kyEc7M  ) was probably a lot more exciting than watching the grass growing last week at Pocono, where NASCAR was playing out yet another gas mileage game.
   To be blunt, it's been a pretty weak run for NASCAR lately, all these gas mileage races, at Charlotte, Chicago, Kansas City, Pocono….
   And another one is expected here Sunday.
   Hey, this sport wasn't built on moonshiners hoping to get a little better gas mileage than the highway patrol.
   This sport is supposed to be about lead-foots, not feather-foots.
   But here's the setting for Sunday's Michigan 400, from Dodge engineer Howard Comstock:
   "Michigan is a big track, with lots of room for drivers. Consequently we see fewer cautions here than at most places. 
    "Given the way the early part of the season has gone, it's very possible we'll see even fewer cautions than we normally see here. 
    "So fuel economy and tire strategy are both going to be big. 
     "Along with fuel economy, we have to remember tire economy -- If you have to stretch laps to work out a fuel strategy, you have to make sure your tires last for that longer run. 
     "Team that try to stretch their fuel strategy will keep a keen eye on tire wear, being mindful of tire falloff…how fast your lap times fall off with worn tires."


    Brian France:The newspaper world may be dying, but NASCAR marches on. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Well, yes, that's the technical side of things.
   But, golly gee, isn't this supposed to be entertainment?
   So, some idle musings on all this, on a lazy Saturday afternoon up here in the Irish Hills just west of the Motor City….

   …and reflecting a bit on how the NASCAR world has changed since the summer of 2008 when NASCAR boss Brian France spoke to the nation's sports editors about the synergies between this sport and newspapers and race fans around the country (his words are at the bottom of this article)…
   ...and how things have changed – particularly the too vivid loss over the past three years of that long-standing 'grassroots' base of daily newspapers across the country which used to cover NASCAR on a fairly regular basis for so many years.
    Consider http://bit.ly/kVqaXX -- a new documentary on the big picture, just coming out.
   For France, who has struggled at times to find the right persona as this sport's point-man, following the endearing loquaciousness of his father and grandfather, that 2008 keynote speech was remarkable.
   Now as a long-time member, for more than 30 years, of the Fourth Estate, this is not just idle musing perhaps. It has been painful history to watch unfold:  First, Texas' star NASCAR writers Terry Blount and Jon Sturbin, veterans in Dallas and Fort Worth, got axed.
   And it quickly became a tsunami.
   Kansas City lost Jim Pedley. The New York Times does little any more. The Los Angeles Times' Jim Peltz, successor to legendary Shav Glick, rarely gets to cover NASCAR any more. Even the Detroit papers don't do much with NASCAR.
   And down in the heart of Southern stock car country, most major papers have abandoned NASCAR, except for AP coverage (fortunately AP's Jenna Fryer does get fired up, though why AP doesn't run her full-time coast-to-coast is still a mystery).
   Atlanta's Rick Minter…Daytona's Godwin Kelly and Ken Willis (one of the best columnists for this sport)….Nashville's Larry Woody….all but vanished.
   Today, at NASCAR tracks around the country, local papers, if they bother sending anyone at all, send what looks too much like a ragtag bunch of neophytes to write a few generic, typically less than thrilling or satisfying, stories. And the next week they're on to something else.
   What has been lost is not just sharply pointed point-of-race coverage during NASCAR week but, more damagingly, the loss of solid year-round coverage of the sport.
    Newspapers in general have simply abdicated their traditional NASCAR coverage. Even USAToday seems to be cutting way back on its NASCAR stuff.
    Of course that's not all newspapers have given up on….


  NASCAR on TV: Are the sport's television stars really journalists or just entertainment cheerleaders? Does it matter? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Into this vacuum has come an army of internet journalists, which NASCAR executives are still trying to get a handle on. And NASCAR has certainly opened the door.
   Still, the internet, remember, for all its freedom, remains much the Wild, Wild West, without much leadership.
   And the only web operators with any decent sponsorship, of course, are the big ones, Fox, ESPN and Turner's NASCAR.com, all TV-backed, with all the political baggage that entails, about what they can say and not say.
   Suffice it to say that good ol' journalistic skepticism isn't a top-line issue. And pom-poms seem to come with the job….
    Local newspapers have degenerated to providing generally pitiful coverage, if much at all.
   The loss of knowledgeable NASCAR journalists covering this sport has been quite odd, and quite damaging…though in line with what newspaper bosses seem to think their new bottom-line-budget limits require.
   Their loss is our loss too, this sport's loss.
   Can TV cheerleaders carry this sport? Good question. Boogity-boogity-doo.
   But that's an issue for newspaper bosses themselves to struggle with, if they're even paying attention anymore.
   This sport has to move on.
   And the solution: saturation bombing, in just about every aspect of American life that this sport's marketing whizzes can attack.
   Newspapers may be ignoring this sport, but NASCAR is doing an end-run.
   Hollywood, yes, of course.  ( Cars 2 opens next week….)
   And now it's as much TV as flicks like Talladega Nights.

  Now that's a game face: Carl Edwards, fresh off a sizzling TV performance with Regis and Kelly, faces up for Sunday's Michigan 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   NASCAR's finest are all doing their part to promote things, from Hollywood movies to TV shows to golf tournaments to meet-and-greets all around the country. And some of these guys are flat amazing at all that, like Michael Waltrip, the inimitable Jeff Gordon and now Carl Edwards…..

   Edwards, who turns 32 in August, on Gordon – soon to be 40 -- making 'the 84-Win Club' with last weekend's victory at Pocono:
  "I remember walking to the grocery store with my mom as a little kid, walking beside the grocery cart. I don't remember how old I was, but I don't think I was 16 because I don't think I would have been at the grocery store with my mom if I had my own car.
    "I was reading a racing magazine that had Jeff Gordon on the cover, and I was thinking 'Man, that is cool.'
    "It was one of those 'hero' shots of him and his car and his mullet and his mustache. I thought that guy was living the dream.
    "Now I get to race with him every week…and sometimes beat him, which is really nice.
    "He is a professional and has done a lot for the sport. He single-handedly changed the face of the sport, and introduced it to a lot of people that maybe otherwise wouldn't be fans or sponsors or partners.
    "I have a bunch of respect for Jeff. For him to continue to be successful after all he has done and still have that drive is inspirational to all of us."
   Of course as smooth as Edwards was on Regis and Kelly last week, Gordon may have to step up his own game on that front. Was he really in an Armani suit for Jimmy Fallon?

   Still, this sport has to produce out on the track itself.
   Talk the talk, yes. But walk the walk.
   And the heck with all this gas mileage stuff…

   Back when hockey was a hot minor league sport in North Carolina one particular coach would keep track of the individual hits each of his players made in a game, and the man with the most checks that night got a $10 bonus.
   Not saying that NASCAR officials should be keeping track of donuts and handing out bonus points, but if word out of Indianapolis is correct, that ticket sales for the upcoming Brickyard 400 are off a whopping 40 percent, and if last year's NASCAR Indy crowd didn't fill the 280,000 or so seats….
   Well, you get the picture….
   Now one can argue about Mikie's driving talents, his foibles, and his sometimes-role as house-man for the sport's bosses. But you can't deny that Michael Waltrip is a character. A good ol' genuine NASCAR character…of which this sport seems have so few of these days, with the pandemic of political correctness raging, and with that threat of secret NASCAR-Daytona fines for anyone daring to make a stand on issue….


   Trevor's back! One of NASCAR's newest stars, back on the grid for Sunday's 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Which brings us, in a round about way, to this Charlotte Hall of Fame.
   Yes, it's spiffy, it's got some amazing stuff, and it's got a nice downtown location. And it really should be a major part of the game plan for this sport's resurgence.
    But this sport has been around since 1949 or so, and it's been making legends, and heroes and villains, ever since. So how many 'Hall-of-Famers' are in this new Hall of Fame? Just 10? With another five to be inducted next January?
   Gimme a break.
   Five a year?
   The easiest thing for NASCAR to do would be to immediately induct the Top 50 drivers of all time. Remember that marketing promotion from 1998? (And who did vote on those 50 anyway?)
   NASCAR is pushing the new Charlotte museum for all it can.
   But there are just a few issues….
   And bet you won't hear this side of it from all those NASCAR lapdogs: http://bit.ly/a9zfNf 
   Down in Charlotte last week for the latest PR stuff on the Hall, there was a lot more style than substance. At least next year ol' Cale and Jaws and some more will be in this new Hall.
   But at the rate of five-a-year, it will take another 15 years or so to get this Charlotte place filled with the legends already inducted in the Darlington Hall of Fame (which would seem to have much more credibility right now).
   For those who know how wild and wooly this sport used to be, the glitz and glamor of the shows they put on in Charlotte can seem oddly out of kilter.
   How about the real stories behind the sport, instead of gloss and fluff? "Aw, I didn't think it was appropriate for that audience," one stock car racing legend was saying, almost apologetically after Tuesday night's shindig.
   NASCAR is a rough-and-tumble sport, or at least it should be.
   Talking with Richard Petty and crew chief Dale Inman about Richard Childress' Kansas City headlock on Kyle Busch, well, Petty and Inman just laughed, and maybe grimaced. After all when they were in their prime, a man better know how to dodge a jackhandle and how to swing a fire extinguisher in self-defense. And more….
   Now, returning to Mikie's Francophile motif:  Woody Allen's new film Midnight in Paris may be light and fluffy, but the point Allen wants to make is that, as glamorous as the past might seem to us today, we still have to live in the present and make the most of it.
   Yes, Paris Lost -- the 1920s of Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Dali, Picasso, and old Tom Elliott – may be rich in imagery…just like NASCAR's own good ol' days.
   But that was then and this is now…

   Still, reflect for a moment on what Brian France told the nation's sports editors in late June 2008, ten years after his late father had addressed the same organization:
   "Despite my father's reputation for being a little contentious at times, he actually liked the media, especially the writers --although he sometimes did a good job hiding it. He absolutely loved sparring with the writers. He also loved to make surprise visits to the media center, when he would come in and hold court.
   "10 years . . . A lot has changed during that time. Both for NASCAR's business -- and your business.
   "Something I really want to emphasize at the outset is the fact that NASCAR owes much of its success to the media, starting with the print media. Back when NASCAR was founded by my grandfather Big Bill France in 1948, radio was the main electronic media and TV was in its infancy. Print coverage was more or less the only coverage for our sport. The days of dictation and hot type are part of NASCAR's foundation.
    "Simply: You all were there for us.
   "My grandfather understood the importance of media coverage as being crucial to the growth of our sport. My father took that understanding to a new level, helping to position NASCAR for the future.
   "These days we're trying to get a handle on that future, particularly as it relates to coverage of NASCAR by print outlets around the country. We have to get a handle on it . . . because just like in 1948, our success is linked to how well print media pays attention to what we're doing. That fundamental component of our business model has not changed.  We don't think it ever will -- no matter how the newspaper business evolves.
   "In fact, the print media had a very direct influence on how our sport got started….
   "We needed your help all those years ago. We need your help today…
    "There are some really good writers out there covering NASCAR. I urge the sports editors in this room today to continue considering NASCAR stories as contest entries.
    "…we feel like NASCAR is still under-covered, considering how popular the sport has become. We feel like NASCAR has earned an increase in coverage.
   "Our average attendance is 120,000 for NASCAR Sprint Cup races. Our TV ratings continue to trail only the NFL. Our fan base is growing not only nationally but internationally. We have drivers who are now legitimate superstars, recognizable to both race fans and sports fans in general -- Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and now, Kyle Busch, for starters.
    "We feel like our popularity distinguishes us from many other sports.
   "…we recognize how much we need you. The media, after all, is the direct connection to the fans. And believe me, we definitely understand how important our fans are to what we do.
    "Ten years ago, my father summed it up this way, to this audience: 'Our customers are your customers.'
    "And 10 years later, that still holds true.
    "…We also know that the definition of a media member is changing.  We want to understand what that change means.
    "These are challenging economic times for all businesses. At NASCAR we understand our sport can be expensive to cover, with race weekends lasting four days, requiring rental cars and hotel rooms. Budgets are tough to deal with.
    "But we urge you to think twice when it comes to making decisions that affect NASCAR beat coverage.
    "…we love the coverage the Associated Press provides. But we also feel like your readers deserve a local voice, a dedicated beat writer who can truly bring NASCAR home and make it relevant to them.
    "Please . . . Keep your NASCAR writers.
   "Back in '98, my Dad, as usual, was right: Our customers are indeed your customers."

    Words of wisdom.
    But is anybody listening?


   The Brickyard 400, 2007: the benchmark for NASCAR crowds (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

MIKE todays race at michigan

MIKE todays race at michigan is just another example of the post i made last week johnson spins instant caution no positions lost. jr slides down the wall instant caution no positions lost like i said biffle would have loved that treatment last week if nascar did'nt throw the caution for johnson i wonder were he might have finished.laps down maybe boy the points he would've lost. but like i said only hendricks cars or at least a chevy.thats who nascar looks out for.

"Hey, this sport wasn't built

"Hey, this sport wasn't built on moonshiners hoping to get a little better gas mileage than the highway patrol..."

As the late great Connor Gilbert would have said, "You make a dadburn good point, Mikey Boy."

"Jeff Gordon changed the

"Jeff Gordon changed the sport".
Before 1992, drivers were "Good ol' boys". Regular TV-watching folks at home could relate to them. They worked on their cars. They got dirty. They lived in places like Mooresville and Dawsonville. They spent hours talking to fans and signing autographs.
Today they stay in million-dollar motor homes. They take private jets & helicopters from track to track. They live in New York City (well... at least Jeff Gordon does). They Twitter.
Maybe Trevor Bayne can change it back.

You're asking us if anybody's

You're asking us if anybody's listening? Well, I for one am listening. And reading, too. However, the post's length doesn't help me much in finishing it, though. But this site is bookmarked. You're welcome.

--RI of changerules(dot)net

You're asking us if anybody's

You're asking us if anybody's listening? Well, I for one am listening. And reading, too. However, the post's length doesn't help me much in finishing it, though. But this site is bookmarked. You're welcome.

--RI of changerules(dot)net

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