Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Danica And Diversity Are TV Topics Once Again

This is the link to a Daly Planet column written in December of 2007 addressing the single biggest issue in NASCAR. Before the COT, before drug testing and before bad tires from Goodyear, there was simply "diversity."

Regardless of the circumstances, Danica Patrick has thrown a rock into the pool that will result in a wave of questions surrounding diversity for the drivers at Talladega. Could she win in NASCAR? Would she fit in the new Childress car? Why are there no female drivers in the Cup Series?

How the TV networks will approach this issue as Talladega looms will be interesting. SPEED and ESPN2 have both broached the subject of Danica, including Allen Bestwick raising the issue on Monday's NASCAR Now.

Dave Despain had a nice interview with Danica on Wind Tunnel, who appeared to be as surprised as anyone that she had walked away with the victory. Fuel mileage races are common to both NASCAR and the IRL, but somehow in the IRL the drama is less intense. The extensive electronics, the fuel gauges and the engineers tell a very different story on TV than Chad Knaus simply telling Jimmie Johnson they are going to "go for it."

These days, as NASCAR looks around at the IRL and the NHRA, they find themselves surrounded by a very different breed of star. Ashley Force, Angelle Sampey and Melanie Troxel headline the NHRA series. Troxel has been over 330mph. Minority stars like Antron Brown and JR Todd mix seamlessly into the sport and attract a big fan base.

The IRL now boasts drivers from all over the world, and the Danica Patrick vs. "the boys" rivalry is a dream for newspapers and Internet sites. As David Poole said, this is a time for NASCAR to take a look in the rearview mirror. That "other series" is making some noise and about to head to Indy.

With a full weekend of TV programming being offered by SPEED, ESPN2 and Fox it should be interesting to see what programs bring-up this subject, and how they choose to handle this story and the broader topic. Certainly, RaceDay and Tradin' Paint on SPEED are two programs that come to mind where the issue might be raised. Also, the Hollywood Hotel portion of the Fox telecast during the pre-race. It might be interesting to let DW weigh-in on the subject.

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Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Don't think NASCAR needs to worry about fan-base or TV ratings from open wheel but more important are the sponsors. Roush-Fenway is looking at getting 22-24 million from Office Depot or UPS for the 99 car. If one or more sponorsor new companys decide to try the "new open-wheel" it could really but a hurt on some teams in NASCAR hunting for sponsorship.

Anonymous said...

Well, since this relates more directly to what I already posted on the NASCAR Now topic, I'll repost.
This was a really good version of the Monday Night roundtable. The only thing I disagreed with was Poole and Chengelis saying that NASCAR doesn't need a female (or minority) driver in the ranks to stay successful (they weren't opposed to it, they just said it wasn't needed). My husband laughed and said it was that kind of static thinking ("we're doing fine") that's currently sinking the Pettys, Woods, and Yates teams. They didn't think ahead.

David Poole has a good column today following up his thoughts on the IRL and Danica related to NASCAR. I know NASCAR has gone back to its core fan which was an excellent idea, but they need to keep an eye on the casual fan a little bit now. I don't know that casual fans care two figs about Graham Rahal - who keeps being mentioned as a key to the IRL resurgence - but I do know (because I read People magazine and visit their website) that they do care about Danica and Helio.

People's website contacted Helio personally for a comment about Danica's win; Good Morning America yesterday asked Danica about Helio ("Is he really as nice as he seems?" Danica said yes.) The only NASCAR driver I remember seeing on People's website in the past year or so is news about Jeff Gordon's wife having a baby. (I think they were hoping Kasey Kahne would be a big hit with casual fans, but that hasn't happened.) But Danica's win was a top story on their website and Helio is always on there since he won Dancing With the Stars.

If the two of them both do well this season (which isn't out of the question seeing that Castroneves is the current points leader), it would be a "friendly rivalry" that might capture casual fan's imagination more than a rivalry among any of the NASCAR drivers would. Because other than the Dale Jr/Kyle Busch rivalry that's being generated by Jr fans, I don't see any NASCAR rivalries right now. And I'm not sure Busch is famous enough yet to capture a casual fan's attention. So I'm glad NASCAR Now called attention to the IRL situation -sponsorships and fan/media interest - because I think it bears watching.

Anonymous said...

I'll also add: While the IRL has indeed suffered from lack of American stars in the past (and having American female Danica helps tremendously), Helio Castroneves no longer seems to be encountering the "He's not American! He's Hispanic and Brazilian!" resistance from the mainstream fans. He seems to have transcended that because of his TV presence, (fans obviously didn't care what ethnicity he was or about his accent once they got to "know" him, since he won a public call-in vote to win Dancing With The Stars, over a bunch of Americans more famous than him).

So NASCAR sponsors (and IRL sponsors, who never gave Sarah Fisher funding for a good ride) need to realize there are there other female and minority drivers who can also transcend the sport - if they are talented - along with the Jeff Gordon and Dale Jrs of the world. They just need to be placed properly before the American public. Doesn't mean they have to go on reality shows, but they need to be publicized properly if they win. Helio's already won two Indy 500s but did he get any publicity out of it? No. This year with his new fame he'll get more publicity for simply being entered in the race than he did in the past for winning it. There's something wrong with that.

Anonymous said...

If ESPN Nascar shows talk about getting female drivers in Cup, they better make sure that Ray Evernham is not one of the people on the discussion panel. There is no way that any viewer would not be thinking of the Crocker mess.

Brrrn Rubber said...

JD: I don't think NASCAR TV will talk about diversity much at all this weekend, except Trading Paint. How long did any of the networks talk about Aaron Fike or drug testing? One day, maybe two days on ESPN. TV has forgotten all about that now. They'll forget about diversity by next week- they;ll be focused on the "big one" at Talladega!

In my view it's a little presumptuous of many people to assume Danica Patrick will jump to NASCAR next year, but Danica going to NASCAR will be the 'diversity' topic if it's discussed on TV. She was on NASCAR NOW not long ago asking What would I get out of going to NASCAR? and caught the panel unprepared because they didn't know how to answer her. I think they expected her to say she was considering it. I don't get the feeling she's all that interested in NASCAR, and with the resurgence of IndyCar and her win, she may end up with money than anybody in that league, if you count endorsements. Like she asked, why should she leave?

Ritchie said...

I know that this is unpopular to say, but the coverage of Danica's win has been anything but objective. Yes, it was a big deal that a woman won an Indy series race, and yes she is a good driver, but she is not a great driver. She may not even fall into the category of very good driver. No matter what TV personalities say, the fact is that she won because she was riding in the car that had the most fuel. At Indy a few years ago when she was leading the 500, she was riding in the car with the most fuel left. All of her accomplishments so far are a result of having more gas than everyone else. The thing that no one is commenting on is that an Indy car is so efficient, that they only get better gas milage when they go SLOWER. That doesn't say much for her talent.

I could go on about the times that she crashed under caution last year, but I think I have made my point. TV is a great medium most of the time, but sometimes the medium gets caught up in the hype.

Newracefan said...

I guess I am pinning my hopes on Chrissy Wallace. I agree Nascar needs a women in the sport but she needs to come up the right way. Granted Chrissy has an "in" being a Wallace but she is paying her dues. Hopefully the Wallace family will learn from the Steven Wallace experience and not rush things.

Anonymous said...

"No matter what TV personalities say, the fact is that she won because she was riding in the car that had the most fuel."

Jimmie Johnson won on fuel strategy last week at Phoenix...I don't see anybody complaining about his win, other than saying it's too bad Mark Martin didn't follow the same strategy... Aren't they talented and great drivers?... Either one would have had a fuel victory at Phoenix... it wasn't a skill contest at the end.

Daly Planet Editor said...

brrrn rubber,

I thought that was one of the classic moments of 2008 for the "roundtable."


Richard in N.C. said...

Racing is racing and I believe Danica deserves all the credit and recognition she is getting for winning in Japan. I think the fact she was in a position to take advantage of fuel strategy proves she is talented, as Robin Miller has been saying for some time.

I do find it intriguing that when Danica was on N-Now and Monday on N-Now the subject of whether she could physically deal with Cup or Nationwide cars was not raised - and I don't mean that as a knock against her or her talent.

I know it will never happen because of network issues, but I think it would be fascinating to have Robin Miller on N-Now with Marty S. and David Poole.

Lisa Hogan said...

The subject of diversity has been hashed, rehashed, and double hashed. You can have a thousand people talking about it and it doesn’t matter. Diversity cannot be scripted. When a driver learns in the lower levels and develops the talent to move up and happens to fit in the category of diversity, then it will happen. Chrissy Wallace is following that route. I have high hopes for her to make it.

I don’t really care about what the IRL or NHRA does or doesn’t do. I am a NASCAR fan. I enjoy drag racing and attend regional events when possible. I do not watch IRL or NHRA on TV.

Today when I visited sites to read racing news and clicked on the NASCAR tab, the first thing I saw was a picture of Danica. I like her and am happy for her win. I do not want to see her on every NASCAR news site and program.

Anonymous said...

NASCAR might take a little more "brute strength" but I think the INDY cars subject their drivers to alot more G-loads on the body, which you need to be in top shape to deal with.

Ritchie said...

Anon 6:17PM wrote - "Jimmie Johnson won on fuel strategy last week at Phoenix"

This is true, but more credit was given to Chad Knaus than to Johnson. The point is that although she deserves some attention for a breakthrough victory, I'm not sure her talents are being kept in perspective. In the pecking order of Indy racing, she maybe the tenth best driver at best. If you take all forms of racing in the aggregate, well, she better be glad she looks good. Sorry, e-mail me if you want the statistics that back this up.

Anonymous said...

Jennifer Jo Cobb and Michelle Thereault (sp?) are both making their Craftsman Trucks debut this weekend at Kansas. Unfortunately, they are running trucks from Derrike Cope's new team. Which means if they're anything like his Busch team, it'll be the good old start-and-park. Derrike has started seven Busch races this year and hasn't finished any, he's only got past 55 laps in one of them.

It may hurt more than help the image of NASCAR women in racing if Jennifer and Michelle both drop out of the Truck race early - especially since Danica will be racing at Kansas the next day, probably with more media than normal in attendance. The media may make a head to head comparison of "NASCAR women" vs. Danica, since they'll already be at Kansas and can watch the truck race. While it's nice these two women are getting their NASCAR trucks debut (I believe Jennifer has run a few Busch races), it may be bad timing for NASCAR if they "bomb". Chrissy Wallace, who did a very respectable job in her debut - in good equipment - isn't racing this weekend.

kang said...

I must admit to watching the IRL it is racing.However it has been,and continues to be a third rate series.With the merger maybe that will change or maybe not.Nascar has nothing to fear from the IRL.Except maybe one race at the end of may.Nascar with or without "diversity" has little to worry about from other racing series.

Anonymous said...

J.D., Delete this if you will, because you tend to if folks don't agree with you. It's your site so it's your right. I can't understand why a Danica (fuel) mileage) win sparks the diversity issue in NASCAR. It appears to me it's a media driven issue. A liberal media driven issue. Instead if deleting posts that reference blatant liberal media bias, you should stand up and take a 2nd look at yourself. You're not that far from the folks at CNN, Dan Rather, and Katie Courie. Stand up and tell the truth!!!

red said...

anon 6:10 AM: not that jd needs me -- or anyone else -- to defend this blog but . . . take a deep breath and step away from the keyboard, ok? one of the reasons i visit this site is b/c of the relatively low rate of personal attacks. we seem more capable than most to debate, discuss, disagree w/o attacking and calling names. if you don't feel the discussion about diversity in nascar is relevant, just ignore it and go on. comments about liberal media bias are just crap on this site! now, if you want to discuss espn bias or fox bias or speed bias, have at it! just leave your personal agenda at the door. if jd bugs you, move to another site. if discussions about diversity, generated by the attention being given nationwide to patrick, irritate you, move on.
simply put, anon 6:10AM: you have the choice to ignore that which irritates you. perhaps you should exercise that right.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 6:10AM,

Once again you have completely missed the point. This post is to allow fans and readers to talk about the fact that Danica has become a topic in NASCAR TV programs because of her victory.

She will no doubt be a topic this weekend, which is why this post was created. I am not a liberal, I am not in the media, and I do not have any media connections in my past.

No one on this site has been deleted because they disagree, only because they cannot contain their rude and hateful speech. Your post was right on the borderline. I am letting it remain so people can judge for themselves your true intentions.

I think it is a shame that you would not, or could not take the time to address the issue at hand. This is a good forum for airing views on racing topics that is read by lots of media folks.

I do not think one of them is Dan Rather. I did meet Katie Couric several times and thought she had a great sense of humor and a wonderful laugh.


Richard in N.C. said...

Besides JD's knowledge and insight, one of the prime reasons I check The Daly Planet almost daily is that the discussion here does not disintegrate into a food fight like some other sites do. Thank you to JD and other posters.

Dwight said...

It's interesting that the whole of this discussion has been about gender diversity. And that many to belittle even the notion that that could be important. Danica Patrick is a talented driver. I think it was telling that when Danica asked what benefit should make her tempted to jump to NASCAR, no one had an answer.

Chrissy Wallace may provide some relief on the gender front, although it isn't unreasonable to assert she is getting her chance because of who her relatives are and not because of any real increased interest in opening the sport to a broader spectrum of participants. I hope she does well.

I would like to touch on two other topics.

First is the notion that diversity is not a real issue and is simply media driven. This idea is very short sighted, because it is going to be a boardroom driven issue as well. There are lots of companies/products which might take a look and decide it wanted to reach a broader demographic which might be reflected in drag racing or reunited Indy car racing.

I was lucky enough to attend the Indianapolis 500 in 2006. The number of families with young girls in the stands surprised and impressed me. I'd never seen lots of young girls in the stands at a race before. It was also apparent that many were new race fans. It reminded me of the kind of crowd on sees on TV at WNBA games. Although I didn't attend the race itself, I was in the stands in Kansas for qualifying when Danica won her first pole, and there were a number of fans there which didn't reflect the demographic I have observed at NASCAR events or other IRL events I have attended (except the afore mentioned 500).

Potential sponsors are going to be looking at this demographic. They are also going to be looking at the relative investment required tohave an articulate driver like Danica (who needs to work on her 'you knows') or Helio Castroneves, or Graham Rahal, or the magic name of Marco Andretti perform sponsor assignments which cup drivers also do.

The other issue raised in your blog and overlooked by the comments is the issue of ethnic/racial diversity. Juan Pablo Montoya and Aric Almirola are a beginning, but where is the Lewis Hamilton, James Stewart, Antron Brown, or even Adrian Fernandez?

It always seemed to me that Bill Lester was involved in wrecks in the early laps of truck races way too often. I never tried to do a statistical analysis, and I never knew how to know to what extent talent was the cause. But I continue to be suspicious.

The other thing which I could never measure is the extent to which the confederate flags which offend me when flying at racing venues would intimidate those who were minorities who were thinking about whether to bring their children to the track.

Anonymous said...

Everyone makes such a big deal about Danica, i cannot stand her, not because she is a woman, but a woman that uses sexually to get what she wants. As her being able to drive nascar and win, i doubt it. Indy cars are one thing. really knowing how a car works then making suggestions on how to correct it is another. Plus once again did not her weight help her win that race. she was in eightth place before everyone had to go in to pit. wonder if her partner really ran out of gas on the last lap.

Anonymous said...

Dario won last year's IRL championship on the last corner of the last race of the season, because Scott Dixion ran out of gas there and Dario (on the same fuel strategy) didn't. No more crap about fuel mileage wins not really counting.

Further, this year the IRL mandated a minimum weight for car and driver. Danica's car had ballast added to it.

I am a fan of hers, but if she proves anything to me, it is that diversity in the series must come from actual talent earning their way in. Yes, getting past any prejudice will be part of that process. Diversity cannot come from an arbitrary series mandate to do so and maintain respectability about a circus side-show.