Tuesday, April 18, 2006

It's time to punch in on the NASCAR media's night shift

At some point last year, I think it was in early August, a couple of us who cover NASCAR for a living were sitting around grumbling - as we're wont to do - about a difficult upcoming stretch for us.
We had the Bristol night race followed by a race that ended under the lights at California leading into the September night at Richmond.
Fans love night races, but reporters hate them. Forget about time zones, the only clock that matters is the one clicking at your newspaper's office. And when it gets to the witching hour called "deadline," that clock waits for no man or event.
Before this Algonquin roundtable of the motorsports media adjourned, we reckoned that it'd do us the most possible good if we all just set our personal watches and our body clocks to Pacific time for the duration of that stretch. We reasoned that since an 8 p.m. start at Bristol and Richmond and a 5 p.m. start in California were all exactly the same in terms of East Coast time, we'd all get a lot more sleep and have a better chance of knowing whether to order pancakes or a patty melt when we stumbled into a Denny's because it was the only place we could be reasonably sure would be open at whatever point we had the time to get something other than race track lasagna to eat.
I bring this up again after it hit me the other day that between now and the end of May there's only one true daytime Nextel Cup racing event scheduled. Aside from the Aaron's 499 at Talladega on April 30, we'll all be working the night shift for the next six weeks. Saturday's race starts around 5:25 p.m. local time in Phoenix, which is 8:30 in "the real world" as those of us with Eastern deadlines call it.
After a Sunday afternoon race at Talladega, you've got Richmond, then Darlington and then two weeks of prime-time activities at Charlotte, which when you work for the Charlotte Observer is otherwise known as "hell weeks."
I laugh when people during Charlotte weeks say, "Well, you do get to sleep in your own bed."
Sure, but that's all I do at home on those weekends. I leave the house mid-morning and get home, at the earliest, at midnight. If I see my wife and family, it's because I've woke them up or they're sick and can't sleep.
I'm skipping this week's race in Phoenix, but not because I don't want to do a night race.
My wife, Katy, is having a knee operation and I sort of felt like it'd be bad form to be 2,500 miles away when she couldn't walk.
After Talladega though, I think I might try the Pacific time thing for the May stretch. If I can just get everybody else to back their clocks up three hours, too, I'll be set.
Surely the neighbors would be willing to delay yard work until noon or so. And it'd probably be easy to get the banks to stay open until around 8 p.m. for me over those weeks. If I could just get that dang clock at the Observer's office set back three hours, I'd be golden.

15 comments:

Monkeesfan said...

"Fans love night races." I'm a little puzzled about that because I've never found night rtaces to be that special. Being a frequent attendee at Stafford Speedway for tbheir weekly Friday night events I enjoy it, but I've always preferred daylight races, because night races are oppressively claustrophobic. And at the Winston Cup level night takes away some of the atmosphere that makes the race special - you look at an old Bristol night race tape and there's almost nothing with which you can tell what year it is, but you look at an daylight race almost anywhere and you can tell how much things have changed over the years.

Anonymous said...

Are you seriously using this column to complain? This is the most ridiculous thing I have seen and will not be reading anything you write again.
I am sorry you have it so rough!

Anonymous said...

What a ridiculous rant. Are we supposed to feel sorry for you? You've got the easiest job on the planet. Anybody could write about racing. Poor thing, you have to leave the house mid-morning? I would hate to read your comments if you worked a real job.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous 1) are you seriously using this column to complain about him using this column to complain?

To anonymous 2)apparantly you have a pretty easy job to or you would not have time to read this and then complain about it.

Jo said...

I think we all forget that when there's a night race and we turn off the TV at 11:30 PM that there are still hundreds of people--track workers, police, media, transportation folks--who still have two or three more hours of work to do. And since your day starts as early as it does if there's a day race, it just makes the week longer--especially with the travel. I can understand that it gets tedious--even though at the same time, I think I'd love to have your job for a year or so! And this is your blog, so if you want to grouse, go right ahead.

In the meantime, tell Katy we all wish her well and hope she has a speedy recovery. That's what's more important, anyway.

David Poole said...

I swear this wasn't really a case of grousing, at least no more than a mild case. It just hadn't hit me until a few days ago that we had such a long stretch of late races coming up. Everybody's job looks easy to people who aren't doing it and seems impossibly difficult to those who are. Jo's right about people who work around the track. But there are people who work all night every night to make their living.

Blake Johnson said...

As one that covers late night USAC races, I can relate to your problem. Enjoy your deserved time off. You are doing the right thing for your wife. Best wishers for her speedy recovery.

Blake

Monkeesfan said...

It ultimately boils down to this; night races in the long run benefit no one - not the racers, not the fans in attendence at the races, not the support personnel at and around the track (police, fire, medical, traffic control, etc.) no one. Even the TV ratings are oversold as a justification for night races.

Put the races back on daytime - 1 PM Saturday start for support races, 1 PM Sunday start for Winston Cup.

Anonymous said...

I CANT BELIEIVE THAT YOU CAN SIT THERE AND B------- ABOUT WHAT YOU DO, WRITING ABOUT RACING. YOU MADE YOUR BED IF YOU DONT LIKE WHAT YOU DO THEN DO WHAT THE REST OF DO GO FIND ANOTHER JOB, OH YOU WONT BE ABLE TO FLY TO EVERY RACE,BUT IM SURE YOU CAN FIND A REAL JOB

max said...

Poole, you have a tough job. You get free air travel, free passes, free food and a paycheck. Just a friendly reminder that you should be grateful. I'm sure that you are. I've read your columns and stories for years. Happy travels this race season and blessings on your wife's recovery.

Anonymous said...

Long live night races! I am a complete and total fan of the night races and I would hate to see them go.

We all have certain things about our jobs we don't like... Just be happy that most of the races are on Sunday afternoons and not Saturday nights. If I had my way, all the races would be on Saturdays (maybe all not at nighttime)...

David Poole said...

Max,
Free air fare? In what fantasy world is that happening? It costs the Observer about $37,500 a year -- just in travel expenses, not my salary -- for me to cover 30-32 races. And let me clear up another handful of misconceptions while we're here. I don't get "free tickets" to races. I get credentials. There's a major difference. As a reporter, I am there working the same way any driver, crew member, race official or track employee is. I think some fans believe we're sitting around all day being fed grapes and cheeses by serving wenches and being plied with fine wine. A typical race day for a NASCAR reporter is 12-14 hours. When the race ends, we start. By the time we leave, every hauler is gone in most cases. Yes, food is served at meal times in the media centers and press boxes. But teams eat meals as they work, too, and so do track workers. It's not an all-day buffet. Anybody who's truly there to work isn't drinking beer and eating fried chicken all day. It's absolutely correct to say that it's my choice to do the job. If it weren't a good job, I wouldn't do it. But there are tradeoffs, just like in any job. Deadline pressure on night races, spending 150 nights a year in hotel rooms away from home, standing in countless airport security lines or being delayed for hours by weather, writing about 40 different drivers with 40 different personalities and never knowing when one of them is mad at you for something you either did and didn't mean to do or didn't do and still got blamed for. All of that is part of the deal, and you accept it. My purpose in writing this blog entry was just to point out that it might not be the picnic all of the time some fans think it is. I wasn't asking for sympathy, just a little empathy perhaps. And there is a difference.

David Exum said...

As a part-time NASCAR reporter, I've seen first-hand what David Poole goes through and it ain't easy. You people who think his job is easy are just misinformed. Poole is by far, one of the hardest working reporters on the NASCAR beat. Sure, we in the field do enjoy some perks, but don't mess with how a man earns a living. Poole is a great talent.

Monkeesfan said...

I'll second David Exam's point - I cover NASCAR at NHIS and also cover the Modified Tour at Stafford and Thompson Speedways and it can be a tough job.

Brian said...

I wish your wife the best as she recovers from her operation.