Saturday, August 9, 2008
TV Build-Up For Sunday Not About That Race
Several months ago, the focus of the NASCAR media was drawn to events away from the track. Text and video content from the Internet mixed with reporting on ESPN's NASCAR Now and other TV shows to give fans the first glimpse into the Mauricia Grant lawsuit.
Now, this (click here) long and diverse article from new ESPN.com writer Ed Hinton sets a very firm foundation for that focus to return to Ms. Grant.
Friday afternoon, NASCAR itself finally came out publicly with a reaction to the Grant lawsuit. NASCAR's legal response is (click here) contained in this ESPN.com story. Apparently, the time had come for NASCAR to begin this potentially long and costly legal fight.
All of this media attention will come to a head on Sunday at 9:30AM ET when Bob Ley will host a special ESPN edition of Outside The Lines. Ley and his team of journalists will focus on what ESPN is calling "the work culture inside the NASCAR community."
This is not a program from The NASCAR Media Group or the people who produce the races on TV. It is, however, a program from NASCAR's largest TV partner. That already has some fans speaking out about its potential objectivity.
OTL is an ESPN news franchise. Ley has over twenty-five years at the network and is the only original ESPN anchor still appearing on a regular ESPN TV series. His Lead Reporter is an ESPN veteran named Kelly Naqi. She has been involved in a number of controversial interviews for OTL on a variety of subjects. Sunday, she tackles NASCAR.
In the most recent (click here) promo page on ESPN.com for OTL, there is a statement that may well get the attention of NASCAR very quickly. In describing the upcoming Sunday episode, ESPN.com says the following:
"In light of Grant's allegations, Outside the Lines' Kelly Naqi spoke with other minorities and women, some of whom expressed similar experiences of racial discrimination and sexual harassment in NASCAR circles."
While the video clip linked at the bottom of the page contains only a small taste of this episode, it certainly does serve the purpose of painting a broader picture of issues in NASCAR relating to race and gender. That is exactly what NASCAR does not want to happen.
Recently, one feature on OTL about the criminal records and behavioral problems of players on the Penn State University football team changed the reputation of that university in many minds and resulted in a slew of national publicity. None of it was good.
This is a critical time for NASCAR. Only 34 Craftsman Trucks will start the Saturday night race in Nashville, TN. Many of those teams are searching for sponsorship and some are clearly funded privately. How many more races those teams can run is anyone's guess.
In the Nationwide Series last week, 11 cars that started the Montreal race ended that effort with less than 20 laps gone in the event. A total of 9 cars had parked before lap 10. One of those was Stan Barrett. He is best known for being the first man to reach the speed of sound in a ground vehicle. That feat was accomplished in 1979. Mr. Barrett is now 65 years old and wanted to drive in a NASCAR race.
While the Sprint Cup Series continues to attract a full field of 43, names like The Wood Brothers, Yates Racing and even Petty Enterprises are beginning to fade from the limelight. With tough economic times affecting the auto industry, NASCAR's highest level of national racing is facing a litmus test like none before. That test can only yield two results.
Often lost in the treatment of Grant's lawsuit on TV is that only the Nationwide Series has been the focus of these allegations. Should ESPN lose sight of this during OTL, fans will be less likely to give credibility to the TV program. On the other hand, if the resulting interviews hint at a broader problem, ESPN may be paving the way for additional legal actions from others.
Sunday morning at 9:30AM ET on ESPN may well be a moment in time that brings change to the sport. The current NASCAR minority and female professionals interviewed on OTL will have their opinions shared nationwide. That may change some current workplace relationships in a hurry.
The OTL content will also live for a long time on the ESPN.com website in both text and video form for worldwide access anytime.
How and where NASCAR chooses to respond to OTL will be of interest. It may well come on the Sunday NASCAR Now program on ESPN2 at 10AM or the Sprint Cup Series pre-race show called NASCAR Countdown at 1PM ET.
If rain comes to Watkins Glen on Sunday, infield host Allen Bestwick and his panel may have one new topic to discuss. While it may not be pleasant, one thing is now certain. It is not going away.
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