Saturday, September 20, 2008
Evernham Issue Getting Tougher
Monday on NASCAR Now, host Allen Bestwick led his "expert panel" through a lot of topics.
ESPN pit reporter and TV veteran Mike Massaro supplied the journalistic perspective on the issues. Current Truck Series driver Todd Bodine joined the conversation and talked about the brawl after the New Hampshire NCTS race. Bodine has driven in all three NASCAR series over his years in the sport.
While Massaro is an ESPN employee, his role on this program is clear. He was on-scene and has solid first-person information about the race weekends. Different faces rotate through the Bodine position, but it is normally a driver who can talk about handling, performance and offer a good preview of the upcoming event.
In the third chair for ESPN sat a problem that the network will have to deal with sooner or later. Ray Evernham is brilliant in many ways. His conversations and technical knowledge offer this show a unique perspective. A former champion crew chief, Evernham has a smooth delivery on-the-air and is a natural at television. Unfortunately, the Evernham story does not stop there.
It was February when the NASCAR on ESPN team walked into the Infield Media Center in Daytona to talk to the press and introduce the on-air line-up for 2008. To the surprise of many reporters, in walked Ray Evernham. It was even more surprising when he sat down alongside Dale Jarrett, Andy Petree and Dr. Jerry Punch.
ESPN's Vice President of Motorsports, Rich Feinberg, introduced Evernham as a commentator who would be filling a variety of roles. True to his word, Feinberg has used Evernham in the booth as a color analyst, in the Infield Pit Studio for the NASCAR Countdown show and on various ESPN programs from First Take to SportsCenter.
On-the-air, Evernham is easy-going and well-spoken. He has the ability to poke fun at himself and seems to be able to adapt to a wide variety of assignments. He has slipped under-the-radar at ESPN this season while offering a confirmation that he may have a future in TV if he chooses. There is, however, something else going on.
Many things have changed since February and one of them is now very tough to take. When Evernham is on ESPN, the questions and issues that he deals with involve everything about NASCAR except one topic. That topic is Gillett-Evernham Motorsports (GEM).
While Evernham might talk about his cars and his teams during the race highlights, there is a code of silence at ESPN where Evernham is concerned that is simply not fair to NASCAR fans. Like all the other owners, Evernham should be fair game and he is not.
Over the last couple of weeks there has been a nasty GEM lawsuit involving Robby Gordon, rumors of GEM buying another race team and also GEM moving to Toyota for 2009. This week, Patrick Carpentier has been told by GEM that he is out at the end of the season. Tuesday, Mike Delahanty, the Sr. Motorsports Manager at Dodge actually jumped-into a NASCAR media conference call to try and quell rumors of problems with Dodge and GEM.
Sitting next to Evernham on Monday's NASCAR Now was Bestwick. Perhaps one of the most respected media personalities in NASCAR, Bestwick broached none of these topics. At the other end of the panel was Massaro. After putting in years of interviewing drivers and owners at airports and access roads, Massaro was now in an air-conditioned studio with Evernham only feet away. Massaro said nothing.
Evernham's personal life with Erin Crocker is not part of this discussion. Evernham is now divorced, he and Crocker are still together and they are both adults. The issue ESPN has to deal with is how to handle a Sprint Cup Series owner who is actively in the national news when he is also appearing for ESPN in an on-air role.
During the off-season, Feinberg will be looking at quite a scenario with his NASCAR on ESPN announcers. Brad Daugherty just bought a Sprint Cup Series team, Rusty Wallace continues to mentor his son as a Nationwide Series owner and Evernham may be expanding to four cars with GEM.
Where ESPN is concerned, suits-and-ties and silence cannot hide reality. These NASCAR owners who double as ESPN announcers simply cannot walk down both sides of the street and expect their commentary to be received by the fans as unbiased.
Feinberg has referred to this issue as "sort of a separation of church and state." He spoke on the topic earlier this season.
"When you put on those headphones or sit in that pit studio and wire up that mic, you need to leave behind your intuitive response as an owner and let come out your intuitive response as a journalist and a broadcaster," said Feinberg. "And if there is a fuzzy area, then the recommendation is stand back.”
Where Evernham and ESPN are concerned, that "fuzzy area" is growing at a rapid pace.
After this weekend of NASCAR racing in Dover and Las Vegas, Evernham returns to Monday's NASCAR Now with Boris Said and Mike Massaro. Allen Bestwick will once again be hosting the one-hour show that airs at 5PM Eastern Time.
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Here are some Internet links to this topic:
Evernham Wandering Into Ever-Muddier Waters
GEM Sues Robby Gordon
Dodge Insists GEM Has Long-Term Contract
ESPN's Daytona Press Conference in February
Mid-Season Column On This Topic
ESPN Adds Another Sprint Cup Owner (Daugherty)