Monday, January 07, 2008

Think for yourself and try not to read between my lines

Who said everything was great? Not me

Goodness knows I love it when people call me “fat boy,” or make jokes about me “ruffling feathers behind the KFC.”

Every time I see that, I know that person has nothing when it comes to the actual issue at hand. It’s like politics. When all else fails, go personal.

Yes, I read the comments people leave on the blogs I write. Good and bad. And in reading the comments under the long one I wrote Monday about the six biggest myths held dear by some of NASCAR’s fans, I couldn’t help but laugh.

That blog was a little over 4,000 words. In all honesty, I was hoping they’d run one of them each day for a week or so. That way, it wouldn’t be so much to read in one sitting. I know you guys have better things to do than to read 4,000 words of my opinions in one sitting. I am not quite that arrogant.

But there they all are, in one long blog. I am happy people read as much as they did.

My point, pretty much any time I write a column or blog expressing my opinion, is to at least try to make people think about their own opinions and challenge them. It’s certainly not that I think people are “dumb” for having any opinion they might have.

Actually, the truth is I am counting on people to use the intelligence I think they have to do their own thinking and not let others to it for them.

I don’t care, ultimately, if you agree with me or not.

I really don’t. I do care, though, if you’re forming your opinions on suppositions and lies that have come to be accepted as “truth” because somebody has hollered them so loud and so long enough that people have started to believe them.

Monday morning I got an e-mail from somebody about Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. It was one of those things that somebody had told him to “pass along” so everyone could know the “truth,” and I was urged to do the same.

Pretty much every word in it, of course, was pure lies. The e-mail even said “all of this has been proved to be true, you can check it out here” with a link to

Well, I clicked on the link and it took me to the home page. I typed Obama’s name into the search function and the first thing that came up was something that denied virtually every line of the e-mail that had referred me to the site!

So I replied to the sender and said, “Please stop this. I don’t care who you support or despise, but it’s not right to pass along lies.”

The replay I got back was this: “I was just sending what was sent to me.” That’s what passes for analysis and examination these days, and I think that stinks.

Every one of those myths I tried to challenge are based on suppositions and assumptions that just don’t hold up when you really look at them. That’s what I tried to point out in each of them.

I never, ever said I had all of the right answers. All I tried to do was ask some meaningful, pertinent questions and challenge people to think about what they believe.

I also never said in any way that all is right with the NASCAR world.

Neither did I say that NASCAR shouldn’t worry that many of its fans who part of its core base are disgruntled, which is why many of those fans are prone to fall for such half-baked truths as the six myths to start with.

Basically, what I am saying is that the things NASCAR should be focusing on are some of the real problems that can and should be fixed – or at least worked on.

Things like: No. 6: Declining television ratings. The big problem NASCAR has there is that it’s responsible for making ratings the ultimate gauge of success and failure that it has come to be.

When the ratings news was good for NASCAR as it moved into the network television era, it’s all the networks and NASCAR wanted to talk about.

NASCAR officials will tell you that they never sent out a press release from the NASCAR public relations office trumpeting good television ratings, and technically there’s truth in that. The TV partners sent those releases out, most likely at NASCAR’s urging.

All NASCAR did was point to them every time somebody started talking about how great things were going for the sport. And you bet your sweet bippy they pointed them out to advertisers wanting to buy time on television broadcasts, too.

Now that the ratings have turned downward, NASCAR is telling you how poorly ratings actually measure the viewing audience.

Well, they can’t have it both ways.

The idea behind moving starting times all around was to push the ends of races back toward the start of prime time on Sundays, which is when the television audience is typically bigger than it is all week. It also, in theory, meant later starts in more western time zones with the idea that would increase viewership, too.

Well, it flat hasn’t worked. That might not be the cause for the decline, but it certainly hasn’t been the solution.

I think fans who clamor for regular start times – 1 p.m. Eastern for Sunday races not held in the Western U.S., for example – are right. And I think NASCAR needs to at least try that for a year or two to see if it helps.

No. 5: Doubts about officiating. I don’t believe NASCAR races are fixed. I don’t believe they can be, and if they had been somebody would have squawked about it by now. But you didn’t see that as one of my “myths,” did you?

There’s a reason. I don’t think the people making the competition calls can’t be called on having a conflict of interest. A lot of the guys in the control tower on race day also have a lot to do with doing the business of NASCAR. It’s impossible to separate the two completely, and improper not to try as hard as you can to do precisely that.

The finish of the 2007 Daytona 500 is the perfect example. If NASCAR had thrown a caution flag on the final lap when it SHOULD have (and when it WOULD have on any other lap but the final lap), there wouldn’t have been a side-by-side finish between Kevin Harvick and Mark Martin.

There would, instead, have been a huge controversy over however NASCAR called a winner based on scoring loops and video tapes. It would have been a huge mess. That still doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do, though. It would have.

From a business standpoint, letting the leaders race to the line provided a heart-stopping finish that was memorable for the fans. But if the people making that call had no stake in the sport’s business, and were just calling balls and strikes, in-bounds or out-of-bounds or anything black and white like that, they would have thrown a yellow and dealt with the consequences.

Do that enough times, consistently, and eventually fans will have to say, “Well, they call it the same way every time, you have to give them that.”

Make the calls based on the rules. Not on who sells the most T-shirts, or what’s going to make the better clip for ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”

No. 4: The old “wink and nod” toward cheating. There’s no use for me to plow this ground again. If you’ve ever read a word I’ve written on this topic or heard a word I’ve said on the radio, you know where I stand.

You cheat? Buh-bye.

If you bring a car to my inspection line that has an obvious effort to circumvent my rulebook on it, pack it up and get it out of here. And you go home with it, because you’re not racing.

We’ve got guys we’re sending home with legal race cars, and you want to bring your tricked-up junk into my show in their place? You have to be kidding me.

And please don’t start with me about how I am strangling “innovation.” What I am doing is making sure people play fair. Some people believe that every advancement in the chassis, the engines and the bodies on cars made in the past 30 years came from somebody “pushing the envelope.”

The really smart people are the ones who make their cars better and faster and DON’T run wind up fined and or suspended.

Send a team home for a race, deny their fans the right to see them compete and tell them why.

Watch how fast cheating dries up. I promise you that it would happen.

Heck, you don’t really even have to send the team and the car and the driver all home. Just change the rule that now makes the crew chief the responsible party for his team’s actions.

Make it the driver.

Put his butt on the line and see how many times and owner and/or a sponsor will put up with any crew chief’s shenanigans.

No. 3: It’s the economics, stupid. Should NASCAR be worried that people are being priced out of being fans? You’re danged skippy. Tickets cost too much. Hotel rooms cost too much. It costs way too much to camp at the track.

Some of those costs NASCAR or the race tracks don’t have the slightest bit of control over.

Maybe there are some people who think that Brian France has a hand in the price of a gallon of unleaded fuel or how much it costs to buy a case of beer, but I don’t.

None of that is the problem, though. They’re all symptoms of the problem.

Here’s what happens in racing, or pretty much any business, for that matter. Every so often, the business reinvents itself. Some fundamentals remain, but the model shifts and the people who figure out where that shift is going to land get there first and get in position to reap the success that comes with that format.

It’s much easier to do that when things are going well. It’s one big reason why the rich get richer. If you have things going your way, the day-to-day business stuff sort of takes care of itself and you can spend a little more time and money looking down the road.

Conversely, if you’re running around putting out fires trying to get the doors opened each day, there’s not a lot left for what the experts call “strategic thinking.”

NASCAR’s kind of in the middle of that spectrum right now, I think. Five years ago, it had its ducks pretty much in a row on the day-to-day front, but the luxury of long-term thinking got blunted by the looming change of the guard from Bill France Jr., whose health was beginning to falter, to his son, Brian.

If you want to think Brian France is the village idiot, you knock yourself out. I know better.

But it is absolutely true that he brought with him to the leadership position of stock-car racing a completely different mindset from the one his father and his grandfather had. The old way of thinking was pretty engrained at NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach, so deeply that the shift Brian brought with him has met with some resistance.

If and when NASCAR gets to where Brian France wants to take it from a business standpoint, will he have led it to the right place ahead of the curve in the way that leads to true success? If so, all of the other economic concerns that we get so worked up about from day to day will work themselves out nicely.

Or will it be miles off the track with little immediate hope of getting back to where it was, let alone where it needs to be? For now, frankly, that remains an open question. That’s the really significant, and scary, fact for this sport.

No. 2: The Tiger Woods Syndrome If you want to be upset by something Brian France has said recently, here’s what it ought to be.

In response to a question about millions of dollars' worth of losses in 2007 by Motorsports Authentics. In a nutshell, he said NASCAR’s merchandising business has gone hat over tea kettle because Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a bad year on the track.

What? Look, without over-explaining things here let me just ask you one question. If I told you that only one driver sold significantly more product last year than he did the year before, who do you think that would be?

Earnhardt Jr., of course.

How, then, is he personally responsible for a sea of red ink washing across the “trinkets and trash” end of the NASCAR business?

Racing needs stars that the fans embrace. The key letter in that sentence is the “s” on the end of the word star. When Tiger Woods exploded onto the scene in golf, he gave the PGA Tour an almost immeasurable boost. But right now, that pendulum has swung a bit too far. What professional golf thirsts for right now are players – even one player – who can capture that sport’s imagination to anything close to the same degree Woods does.

If your city has a PGA Tour event right now, it’s either a Tiger Woods event or it’s not a Tiger Woods event. That’s two different classes of tournaments, and you don’t want to be in the second class.

The idea that Earnhardt Jr. – or any other single competitor – has to be a success for NASCAR to succeed is a walk on very thin ice, if you ask me.

No. 1: Too much of the same. One of my myths in Monday’s blog was about how there is no lack of personalities in the sport. There are plenty of interesting people and interesting stories if some fans would stop waiting to yell “FIGHT! FIGHT!” like they’re on the kindergarten playground long enough to read them or listen to them.

In one way, complaints that NASCAR drivers are too “vanilla” are right on the money – if you equate vanilla with white.

NASCAR needs diversity. If that statement bothers you, I am sorry. Doesn’t change the fact that it’s true.

If you honestly believe white men are the only type of person on this planet who have the skill, ability and desire to win a NASCAR race, I just have to feel sorry for you. That simply doesn’t make any sense at all.

Nobody is asking for women and minority drivers to be given a single thing other than a fair opportunity to compete. But because the deck has been stacked against them for so long, it’s going to take a lot of hard work to not only open doors but to build bridges on the road from where they are to where they need to be in the sport.

The current influx of drivers from different types of racing from different parts of the world is a great step in the right direction. It’s a path the sport needs to work every to keep blazing.


Anonymous said...

Good thoughts, David. You shouldn't be shocked that people will read a long story from you because you are one of the best writers in the biz no matter if we agree with you or not.

I do disagree with you about NASCAR not promoting itself with ratings. The officials of the sport claim they are the #2 rated sport in America quite often, including Brian France. They don't wait for TV to say it for them. I recall reading a column from a Southern California sportwriter mentioning NASCAR ratings. It was not a negative article, it interviewed some sports marketing experts asking if the ratings drop was a fluke or the beginning of a trend. It was a smaller newspaper, not a big one, but couple weeks later there was a letter to the editor from someone at NASCAR with a big title, claiming mostly everything in the article was wrong and citing a windbag full of NASCAR puffery.

I couldn't believe how sensitive NASCAR is to criticism, that they would waste time sending a letter to the editor of a paper. It made me picture someone at headquarters with a pile of papers desperately clipping all the "bad' articles out to reply. NASCAR wastes a lot of time on unimportant things.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Mr. Poole someone seems to have ruffled your feathers. Just a touch. However, what you offered us was a point that we read everywhere but from a different angel. An angel that maybe some of us had not looked at. Myself being one on a couple of your issues. Thanks for sharing your insight. I for one am a fan that believes there is always more than one side to any story. Theirs, your and then what really happened. I always try to apply this along with some research of my own to form my opinions. This helps me to not be so narrow minded. Have a great week. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Mr. Poole, I read every word you write so by all means indulge yourself.

In response to someone saying you ruffled feathers I wrote the KFC line (which I thought was pretty funny) and it was said in the spirit that I know you can take a joke having been in several press conferences. But you still don't acknowledge that the press is guilty of perpetuating those "Myths" you debunk.

NASCAR is a Monster eating its own tail. There is plenty to argue about when it comes to racing but I have been a skeptic of their Marketing practices for decades. I have been a licensor of all professional sports throughout my career in consumer products and NASCAR genuinely doesn't "get it."

The single most important thing any sport should do is bring in young fans and NASCAR gives little (if any) attention to this goal. In regard to Jr. affecting sales, there is solid evidence that when there is a superstar in any professional sport it heightens awareness and therefore ratings. Wayne Gretsky, Mark McGuire, Michael Jordon and Tiger Woods should have all gotten bonuses from their governing bodies. However NASCAR is 100% in control of everything and still they botch it up.

The plum of collectibles in NASCAR is diecast: NASCAR owns exclusive rights to the graphics, most of the tracks, the cars, the manufacturing and the distribution of diecast with NO competition and they still can't make money? Please.

I love when I hear that NASCAR is going after the NFL and they hire ex-NFL people to get it done. Wrong-headed thinking. Trust me when I say the only thing NFL executives are good at is the NFL and the goal is NOT to be like the NFL, the goal is to be #1. A subtle difference but when you understand that statement you "get" what NASCAR is doing wrong.

I also cringe at the 8 hours of coverage leading up to the race and we get nothing after it is over. Those are the stories I care about, not how some driver’s wife is baking cookies. I want to know about the struggles each team overcomes on the track. Maybe if the media talked about all the drivers they wouldn't be so dependant on 8 drivers accounting for 99.9% of the sales.

Anonymous said...

jr early for testing?he was too busy to test the #8 car. driver or celebrity??teresa was right!!!!!

Monkeesfan said...

David, you mention the 2007 Daytona finish - this illustrates some of NASCAR's real problems but not necessarily the way you portray them. That was a case where NASCAR did the right thing in not throwing the yellow before the leaders took the flag because - 1, throwing the yellow sooner was not going to prevent any wreckage, and - 2, the running or finishing order is supposed to be set at the start-finish line, NOT at a scoring loop well away from the stripe. It is a case of a bad rules package causing absurd controversy. By no objective stretch could throwing the flag and stopping the race to the stripe be considered the right thing to do.

On doubts about officiating and also on handling of cheating - NASCAR can dispel those doubts by hammering the biggest names and biggest teams with the biggest penalties - thousand-point fines, disqualifications, etc. that hit the Hendrick and Penske and whatever other big-name teams get caught. Fans don't trust NASCAR because it always seems to go out of its way to avoid genuinely punishing the big teams - the old "it's who you know" syndrome.

As far as TV ratings and attendence go - NASCAR needs 1 PM start times; no more catering to the irrelevent West Coast market. It also needs much better racing, along the lines of what Talladega usually sees - get that and the ratings and attendence will start back up again.

And you're wrong about the influx of F1 rejects into NASCAR - they helped ruin Indycar racing and they're not contributing anything to NASCAR. Get racers like Ted Christopher or Brad Leighton instead of Jerk Villeneuve or Mr. Ashley Judd. "Diversity" is a euphemism for quotas; it is not a credible or worthwhile policy.

Anonymous said...

I usually like your writings, but I have to wonder how you go from personalities to diversity. I'm not sure if you were trying to re-explain a position or add another item of opinion.
Normally, great articles, this one item just seemed to bother me. I believe forced diversity is not what should take place, but everyone should have the same shot and the best will rise to the top, as in most sports, jobs, etc.

Anonymous said...

"Diversity" is bunk.

I cannot believe that any competitive Nascar team would refuse to hire a quality driver because he was black, Asian, hispanic, or Klingon. If a guy can win regularly at lower levels somebody's going to give him a shot regardless of his melanin content or ethnic heritage.

They might, possibly, be leery of a female driver because of they way Eric Crocker ended up in Evernham's bedroom instead of his Cup car, but I still believe they'd hire a woman under the right circumstances. In fact, I believe that the first woman to be successful in Nascar (I'll define success as a solid journeyman in Cup with some wins in trucks or Busch/Nationwide cars), will soon be entering the top levels the old-fashioned way -- by being part of a racing family and by winning races at lower levels. Hello Chrissy Wallace.

"Diversity" will happen in Nascar when the pool of winning drivers in lower series has "diversity." And that will depend on the ability of "diverse" people to get their kids started early and support them as they move up.

Me, I'll support or dislike a driver based on his/personality rather than some trivial irrelevancy like melanin content or ethnic heritage.

Anonymous said...

You guys have diversity all wrong. It's not about giving spots to people based on race, sex or country of origin. It is about creating opportunity. NASCAR, wisely, wants to draw from the broadest base possible to get the best drivers possible.

The challenge is that all other major sports are played at the local level so kids grow up embracing that sport. That said, how many superstars still come from outside the United States?

Why is it you have no problem with a Dominican baseball player, a Chinese basketball player or an Australian football kicker but when you hear on "open wheeler" coming in or NASCAR creating programs that are geographically away from the places where NACSAR started, it "bothers" you?

You know, maybe that's another reason why F1 drivers have greater credibility of skills than stock car drivers. F1 drivers come from a much larger pool of people from all over the world. NASCAR is not even getting a good demographic representation from just our own country.

Monkeesfan said...

toyphd, no, we have the diversity sham pegged - it's about quotas. We have no problem with Dominican baseball players etc. because we see them earn their way up the ladder. We see them in the minors, we see them work to improve, and we see them earn their way to the majors. In hockey it's the same thing - we see Russian, Czech, German, etc. players in the minors (AHL, ECHL, etc.), we see them work hard to improve their game, and we see them earn their way to the NHL level. I go to AHL games a lot and watch NHL when I can, and see a lot of European players on the Providence Bruins etc. I see them as they earn their way up the ladder.

The difference here is that the F1 rejects are not earning their way up the ladder. They're just getting rides out of the blue.

As for F1 drivers having greater credibility of skills than stockers, that is a bald-faced fraud. The F1 guys don't race, they drive. The stockers race. F1 guys are not worth half the price of admission

Monkeesfan said...

BTW, speaking of hockey, I liked the Charlotte Checkers ad that popped up on the blog page.

Anonymous said...

Monkey, none of the players I was referring to ever spent a day in the minor leagues.

Diversity is "quotas," really? I missed that press release. Exactly hwo many female drivers must NASCAR have next year?

Do you really think that owners are bringing in unqualified, unproven F1 drivers because of fashion? I forgot you where the xenophobe who fears the "tidal wave" of 4 drivers out of 50 being from open wheel.

We are talking about only 4 drivers here, so give us the name of just one driver who has proven himself in Cup to be a better driver and less of a risk than any of these 4.

Monkeesfan said...

toyphd - most of them did, and do.

Diversity is quotas - that's how it works in every diversity program in the US. Sports, because they are a competitive avenue, are an area where diversity can't be made to work. NASCAR has had its Drive For Diversity program for several years with no evidence any of their graduates have proven good enough to land any kind of serious racing jobs.

Owners right now are bringing in F1 rejects because the technology arms race has evolved to where drivers have to be engineering conduits instead of seat-of-pants racers.

"We are talking about only four drivers here." By themselves they aren't a problem; the trend is the problem, plus those four individuals as individuals are not worth rooting for anyway - least of all Jerk Villeneuve.

Bobby Labonte. There's that name you requested. Ward Burton, there's another. Sterling Marlin, a third. Chad McCumbee, there's another. So take your "xenophobe" bashing and junk it.

Anonymous said...

Monkey, first you need to get dictionary to look up the words "quotas," "trend" and "xenophobe" because you make no sense whatsoever.

Engineers have taken over F1 but NACSAR still drives "by the seat of their pants?" Wow. Every time you repsond you show you know little about F1 and even less about NACSAR. 0h yeah, the engineers haven't taken over NASCAR at

I'm still waiting for the name of a proven driven in cup, not in a ride that deserves the seat more than the 4 open wheel guys. Washed-ups and never-was don't count. Why don't you just say DW?..LOL.

Monkeesfan said...

toyphd, don't lecture me or anyone else about dictionaries because you refuse to understand what those terms you mention really mean and don't understand what making sense really entails.

F1 was taken over by engineers decades ago and it became irrelevent as a result. Now they're taking over NASCAR and are helping make it irrelevent as well. You obviously don't read well because you distort what I actually posted.

I posted drivers mroe deserving of those rides than the F1 rejects. Jerk Villeneuve does not deserve a NASCAR ride. Ward Burton deserves that ride instead; Ted Chrstopher does, Brad Leighton does - need I continue? Why not accept this fact instead of defending the F1 rejects?

Anonymous said...

I would suggest you also look up the word "fact" in the dictionary, but it's time like this I rememember what my saintly Grandmother said;

"Don't try to teach a dog how to sing, it wastes your time and it annoys the dog."

Monkeesfan said...

toyphd, I know what the word "fact" means. Don't lecture me abouts facts, because you do not offer any.

Anonymous said...

Nice Pi$$ing contest ladies. The bottom line in your tirades is that if the open wheel guys (Montoya, Villeneuve, etc) don't perform they will be gone as quickly as any other driver. So far Montoya has shown he's got what it takes. Time will tell with the others, but I think dissing a former F1 champion as a reject is absurd.

PS You do realize that Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and a ton of other NASCAR stars came from open wheel racing.....don't you?

Anonymous said...

'I posted drivers mroe deserving of those rides than the F1 rejects. Jerk Villeneuve does not deserve a NASCAR ride. Ward Burton deserves that ride instead; Ted Chrstopher does, Brad Leighton does - need I continue? Why not accept this fact instead of defending the F1 rejects?'

Sorry Monkeesfan, again you dont understand the difference between fact and opinion. Deserve is an opinion only; there are obviously others who have the opinion that these F1 drivers deserve a ride.

As far as the F1 drivers? I say let them come. If they are not successful, they will be gone soon enough; if they are successful they will stick around. You can scream all you want that they wont be successful, but none of us will really know for sure for a couple of years.

In the mean time, enjoy rooting against them if you must, theres your new villan if you must have one.

Anonymous said...

Hi David,

Kind of off the subject but when you went to that DEI "off the record" media event in New York did anyone happen to ask Teresa if Dale Jr. was coming?

Monkeesfan said...

anonymous - we know that Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart came from open wheel racing - they came from sprint and midget ranks.

As for whether the F1 rejects are successful or not, we do need to see, but we need to keep in mind that Indycars never benefitted from them; they didn't bring in new fans, only the short track graduates did that.

Anonymous said...

In terms of ratings, NASCAR blows out the numbers way out of portion. At California(ISC ie France famiily) not to long ago, the 39,000 fans that were there sure enjoyed the great show! California doesnt need 2 race and maybe just one, Sonoma. That came from a creditable photographer about the actually number of fans on there.

Better question, will NASCAR artifically pump people into the stands via computer to make it look better for the telecast?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant California doesnt need 2 races at California Speedway, and maybe just one in the state, Sonoma.

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