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.