Tuesday, May 6, 2008

E:60 Takes An Unfocused Poke At NASCAR (Updated)

Update: Information given to The Daly Planet has revealed significant on-camera interviews were witheld by reporter Michael Smith and his producers. This new column details the issues now coming to light about this story and the credibility of those who produced it. (Updated 9PM Eastern Time 5/7/08)

ESPN's version of 60 Minutes is a interesting sports magazine show called E:60. It has a dynamic opening and then video of a conference room with the trendy reporters all present. It also has the obligatory cool video effects. What it rarely has is focus.

Comprised of a talented group of reporters and producers, it is a show in search of an identity on a network where almost every other program has a singular purpose. The ESPN description of E:60 is loaded with buzzwords like unique content and multimedia platforms.

What it all comes down to is a TV show that is chopped-up and posted online all over the place. For that reason, one feature is never connected to another. For sports fans, therein lies the problem. It doesn't feel like an ESPN show.

Since it began, there have been reports about the Mixed Martial Arts, people who vault off things for fun and an embarrassing interview of baseball player Miguel Tejada. There was the guy trying to do a back flip in a wheelchair and a rehash of Mike Tyson's never ending personal problems.

In this most recent episode, the show dipped its toe into the quasi-NASCAR water with a feature on a driver development school called the Full Throttle Academy. It was reporter Michael Smith who spoke with a family that had uprooted itself from Ohio to the Mooresville, NC area after being recruited by a Full Throttle executive.

Smith profiled the family's thirteen year old son who clearly had dreams of a future NASCAR career. The key word in the entire story was NASCAR. The school's staff used that word a lot. In return for an outlandish amount of money, the youngster was able to get some basic media coaching, turn some laps at a local Carolina short track and get some "expert advice" from the school's executive named Tom Baker.

Mr. Baker is featured on a website called Mindstar Academy where he is the President of that company and said to be focused on building brighter futures. His resume describes him as a Life Coach and Mentor.

Current Dario Franchitti NASCAR spotter Mike Calinoff is listed as the Vice President of Mindstar Academy.

Interestingly, it is the same Mr. Calinoff who is the President of Full Throttle Academy. This time, Mr. Baker is the Vice President. Calinoff is also listed as a coach for the young development drivers. Other than spotting, his resume features stand-up comedy and motivational speaking.

Calinoff does have one thing to offer, and that is the word "NASCAR." To a naive family from Ohio, NASCAR may have been the only word they ever heard him say.

Smith never presented anything to suggest that Full Throttle was shady until NASCAR veteran reporter and current ESPN play-by-play announcer Dr. Jerry Punch appeared on-camera. Punch suggested that this type of school really did not serve a purpose other than taking money from those naive enough to believe that this group somehow had a special pipeline to NASCAR.

Full Throttle Academy actually features the official NASCAR logo on all of its website pages. To many, it may appear that this "school" is officially sanctioned by NASCAR. To those in the marketing business who understand how closely NASCAR guards the use of its logo, this connection is curious. If Full Throttle was paying NASCAR a hefty fee to use the logo, it was never disclosed by Smith.

It was pointed out that in three years of operation, there was currently no driver racing at any level in NASCAR who had come through the Full Throttle program. What was never discussed or asked was how profitable the Academy had been in that same period. It is this type of credibility gap that E:60 suffers on a regular basis. It often feels like storylines are left incomplete and loose ends are not tied-up.

The feature ended with no conclusions. There were no other ESPN NASCAR personalities involved and Calinoff was never on-camera for an interview. Hearing from Calinoff rather then Mr. Baker the "Life Coach" was the key to unlocking this entire issue and getting to the truth of the matter. Why or how ESPN let Calinoff off-the-hook was never explained.

Smith had a lot of resources and knowledge only a phone call away. Between the NASCAR Now journalists and the ESPN analysts, Smith could have left viewers with enough information to decide if Calinoff and company were simply scam artists or well-meaning entrepreneurs.

Hopefully, E:60 will come back to NASCAR as the season progresses and again delve into some of the issues behind-the-scenes. NASCAR Now has turned its attention to news and interviews, with only Wendy Venturini on SPEED's RaceDay working on a regular basis to prepare features on different aspects of the sport.

It might be a smart move to have NASCAR Now follow-up on the entire driver development issue during the shows prior to the Cup race at Darlington. With several current drivers having young sons and daughters coming along in the sport, there may be some strong reactions to what Baker and Calinoff are doing. That effort might at least tie-up a couple of Smith's very loose ends.

Update: The video is on ESPN.com and this is the direct link. You can also watch the story discussion on the same page.

The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy directions. The rules for posting are on the right side of the main page, and thanks again for taking the time to stop by.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I didn't see the show, but it's a shame Smith couldn't have been more of an 'investigative' reporter. There are plenty of things in the history of at least one of these individuals (based on my knowledge) that would *beg* to be researched...other unsuccessful enterprises and mislead people that I don't think it would have been hard for Smith to find. Just sorry I'm nervous enough to have to remain 'anonymous'.

Geez said...

Some Member's of the staff of that school are interesting.

Media & Communications Trainers
Ray Dunlap - SPEED
Claire B. Lang - XM Radio
Lee Spencer - Sporting News
Wendy Venturini - SPEED

Driver Consultants
David Stremme - Rusty Wallace Inc.
Josh Wise - Michael Waltrip Racing

Sorry I missed the show.

Anonymous said...

What a scam.. $20,000 upfront per year until placement plus 10% of earnings for first 5 years after they are signed. AND they have not placed one person in 2 years.

Daly Planet Editor said...

The direct link to the video of the entire report is on the main page. Thank you for asking me to provide it.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I just watched the clip ... am I missing something or do these people know little about NASCAR?

And is there a shortage of capital at ESPN? They need a tripod and a focus puller to remedy the awful 'handheld camera' look. Geez.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 11:30AM,

When you have a moment, please drop me an email at editor@thedalyplanet.tv and I will help you with your "issue" of the NASCAR Now re-airs.

If you continue to post off-topic, your comments will continue to be deleted.


Geez said...

Thanks for the link JD. 5% of your earnings for a minimum of 5 years if you turn pro?

If they do manage to turn out the next Jeff Gordon, Jimmy Johnson etc., that's a lot of money. I doubt it will happen. As Mark Martin said when asked how to become a NASCAR driver, "you have to be better than anyone else".:)

darbar said...

Isn't it amazing what parents will go through to cash cow their children for the future. I have lovely ocean view property here in Wisconsin that I could sell these parents. Why didn't any red flags pop up for them when they read the 10% take for five years portion of the contract? They obviously didn't research this group and realize that they're going to be taken for a ride of their lives, and not in a Nascar vehicle.

This segment could have been a real career plus for Mr Smith had he taken things further. Even though ESPN is known for their sensationalizing everything, they were very conservative here. It would have made great TV if they could have exposed this organization as a scam.

SophiaZ123 said...

Dang! Surprised to see so many big names connected to this scam place. I am not sure how I feel about them anymore.

I did not see this show. It reminds me of back years ago, there were many 'modeling agencies' around for pretty kids/teens to go to to learn 'how to model'and it costs LOTS of money. My neice went to one of these and realized later, it was expensive and you could get modeling gigs on your own, but it was difficult.

However, it ended up opening many opportunities for small acting gigs for my neice..which of course, led to 'acting classes'...lather, rinse, repeat...but she is very successful today as a business woman. So it helped her confidence but that's different than driving a race car which is expensive as a kid and more so as an adult.

The modeling school, was not through the roof expensive but many such agencies are and that's what this "NASCAR SCHOOL" sounds like. I am shocked NASCAR allows their name to be connected to this outfit.

Would be interested to see some REAL investigative piece on this and how the folks from SPEED and NASCAR can be a part of this??

Daly Planet Editor said...

There is a new post up about this story and Full Throttle that you should read at the top of the site.

Please refresh your browser and offer comments on that post.