Opinion

Is the Liberal Media Trying to Run NASCAR Off the Road?

By S.E. CuppRepublican Strategist

Is the long-suffering liberal media jealous of long-thriving NASCAR? It sure seems that way.

Over the last few months both The New York Times and Forbes have written dramatic, officious, and error-riddled obituaries for the wildly popular sport, claiming it is yet another victim of the bad economy.

Whether it's a desire to sell papers or a more partisan plot to politicize the economy, we should remember that we can't believe everything we read. NASCAR is the second-most-watched sport after football. But to hear some people tell it, we could be rubbing elbows with Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr on the bread line in no time at all.

Here's how Times' reporter Susanna Hamner described the scene outside a NASCAR race (that she didn't attend, according to NASCAR) last summer in her story:

"...the parking lot was filled with excited NASCAR fans chugging beer, roasting pigs and exchanging drivers' statistics." But then she says chairman Brian France's successful efforts to popularize and modernize the sport have alienated its "core fans."

By that, we can assume she means Dilbert, Dusty and Billy Bob over at the Piggly Wiggly.

And that's not all. Here's Jack Gage in a Forbes cover story who writes:

"Several of the biggest drivers are look-alike, cleanshaven white guys in tracksuits, and their cars, which now hew to the same technical specifications, are equally cookie-cutter."

Never mind that drivers wear fire suits, not tracksuits. He goes on to score France for his of-the-people delusions of grandeur:

"Brian France says his opposition to franchising stems from something loftier than self-interest. To him, franchising is a sure way to kill NASCAR's founding notion (a myth at this point) that any driver can show up at the track and win on any given Sunday."

Isn't the hypocrisy odious? NASCAR team owners and drivers do very well. They are multi-millionaires with helicopters and private planes. And Brian France is largely responsible for that. Shouldn't Forbes celebrate businessmen who make other people rich? Shouldn't it laud NASCAR's successful marketing and sponsorship model instead of tearing it down? And shouldn't The Times report on businesses that are succeeding in honest ways, no matter how repulsive they likely find them? After all, where are the stories on struggling opera houses and ballet companies? All over the wires but not in The Times.

NASCAR ratings are down, sponsors are fleeing, and drivers are scared, according to Forbes and The Times. This notion was anathema to me, a fairly serious fan. So I called up Andrew Giangola, NASCAR's director of business communications, and asked him to respond to some of the assertions made by Forbes and the New York Times, in an effort to show just how far some media outlets are going to create hysteria and panic, and to subtly sweep disagreeable cultural commodities under the rug for good. Whether you're a NASCAR fan or not, the omissions and revisions by Forbes and The New York Times provide startling insight into a burgeoning liberal exercise -- framing the economic downturn as the new grim reaper of American pop culture:

Forbes:

"The haves are pulling away from the have-nots. The four richest racing teams filled all 12 positions in the sport's Chase for the Cup playoff format last year. Most of the 43 drivers at this weekend's Daytona 500 will start their engines knowing they have a slim chance of cracking the top 10. Some won't even bother to complete the race."

Giangola:

"While the biggest teams are very strong the notion of a slim shot at the top 10 is incorrect. Look at the finishing order (at Daytona):

AJ Allmendinger, 3rd Elliott Sadler, 5th

David Raygan, 6th Michael Waltrip, 7th Reed Sorenson, 9th David Reutimann, 12th

The field today is deeper than ever. While one or two cars might not have sponsorship -- the field is better funded today than the so-called glory days in the 70s, when two or three cars finished on the lead lap. Today, there are about 30 cars each week that have a shot at winning. The competition today is closer than ever -- that's because the field is so well funded. Forbes totally missed that."

Forbes:

"The most criticized change at NASCAR under Brian France has been the Car of Tomorrow program, which required teams to race cars with identical specifications. The program was meant to eliminate the ability of bigger, wealthier teams to gain advantage by bankrolling separate cars suited for different tracks. Some teams owned up to 20 variations for each car they raced."

Giangola:

"The new car is creating very good competition. It's also safer and reducing costs. We've always said the new car will increase some costs in the short term but will provide to teams substantial long-term savings. Team car fleets will be reduced 30-50%. The time to build a chassis and body can be cut in half."

Forbes:

"On Nov. 9, with 34 laps to go in a late-season race at Phoenix International Raceway, ABC pre-empted its live national coverage of the event for the umpteenth airing of its cheesy reality show 'America's Funniest Home Videos'... But when NASCAR was snubbed by ABC, only a few bloggers and columnists seemed to care."

Giangola:

"Fans went crazy when ABC cut away from the end of the race."

Forbes:

"With NASCAR's growth days waning, the Frances have to face some tough choices. They can give up control and share more of the TV and licensing money by re-establishing NASCAR in the image of the wildly successful NFL. Or they can hang on to the family business, and tinker on the margins to keep racing somewhat competitive."

Giangola:

"First off, NASCAR gets only 10 percent of the TV money. The rest goes to tracks and teams. In kindergarten we'd call that pretty good sharing. To the bigger point, should NASCAR circle the wagons and choke off new ownership? Tony Stewart formed a new team and finished third in the Budweiser Shootout and second in the Gatorade Duel prior to the Daytona 500. Jeremy Mayfied formed a team one month ago...and raced his way into the Daytona 500. So the next Dale Earnhardt Sr., who drove and then formed a team, should drop that dream? The next Ray Evernham, a hard working mechanic who then became a team owner, should pack it in? -- Is this Forbes or The Nation?"

The Times:

"Nascar, which relies on corporate sponsorships more than other sports, is particularly vulnerable. In the 2008 racing season, 400 companies put up more than $1.5 billion to sponsor races, cars and drivers. About a third of that was provided by auto companies, which are now struggling with the economic downturn, if not possible bankruptcy."

Giangola:

"The Times actually assigned this important Sunday front page Business section story about the future of NASCAR to a freelance reporter who asked me during fact checking which race of the NASCAR season was the Indy 500. That's like asking the NFL, when is the World Series? But to address her point, NASCAR still averages 120,000 fans at every race. Seventeen of the 20 largest sporting events this year will be NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events. Four hundred sponsors remain in the sport. At the Daytona 500, the "Great American Race," Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne drove a Chevy, Ford, Toyota and Dodge. Nearly 200,000 fans came to NASCAR's season-opening race. It was sold out."

So what's Giangola's explanation for all this misinformation?

"Traditional media is losing customers. In a desperate struggle for survival, too many outlets are pulling out all the histrionic, doom-and-gloom stops to sell newspapers and keep viewers. 'The sky is falling' is riveting. It sells a lot better than 'the sky is stormy and will eventually clear.'"

Whether it's a desire to sell papers or a more partisan plot to politicize the economy, we should remember that we can't believe everything we read. NASCAR is the second-most-watched sport after football. But to hear some people tell it, we could be rubbing elbows with Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr on the bread line in no time at all.

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