Thursday, September 11, 2008
Hornaday Bomb Helps ESPN Kick-Off "The Chase"
First it was Clint Bowyer mistakenly blaming Michael Waltrip for an accident. ESPN had just explained it was actually a problem between Casey Mears and his spotter. No matter. Bowyer's insult about Waltrip and his long-time sponsor was played thousands of times on all of the ESPN TV networks, websites and even sent to cell-phone users. A friend of mine has it as a ring tone.
Last week it was Tony Stewart using his team radio to blow-off steam about just missing a win in Richmond. Despite Stewart cooling down and apologizing, ESPN made sure to play the words without the apology over-and-over again in every way possible. Everyone watching the various ESPN TV networks heard what Stewart said, but not many heard what Stewart said just minutes later.
Now, 50 year-old Ron Hornady is in the ESPN gunsights. As NASCAR heads into the first Chase weekend, it is the Craftsman Trucks that will race alongside of the Sprint Cup Series. What a coincidence that after much preparation and planning, ESPN has chosen to release the full fury of all its media power on what may be NASCAR's best-loved grandfather.
This is mid-September of 2008 and the Craftsman Truck Series on SPEED is in full swing. Hornaday is once again driving hard and continuing his legacy of being one of the "old school" racers in the sport. His relationship with Kevin Harvick has come full-circle, as anyone who watched the two embrace on the backstretch at Homestead last season can attest. That is the AP photo of the moment from Glenn Smith above.
Shaun Assael is a writer for ESPN the Magazine that has penned a book on steroids in sports. On this particular Thursday, Assael launched a multi-platform media campaign to make sure that NASCAR fans and ESPN viewers know one thing. Ron Hornaday used a steroid cream nearly three years ago.
Thursday's NASCAR Now was the perfect TV location for Assael to release all the sordid details and document Hornaday's claim of trying a steroid cream to battle the extreme weight loss that he had been experiencing in 2004 seemingly without any medical explanation.
Host Nicole Manske looked as uncomfortable as any person could possibly look on TV as she asked the scripted questions of Assael and an ESPN medical expert. Hornaday's use of this cream reportedly ended in January of 2006, but Manske never asked the medical expert if any lingering effect of this 16 months of use several years ago would remain today.
Best of all, no one spoke to what was being suggested. ESPN was trying to make a case that Hornaday somehow had a performance advantage driving a Craftsman Truck while taking a steroid cream for unexplained weight loss.
Hornaday did advise Assael that since Kevin Harvick Inc. has instituted a drug testing policy, Hornaday has taken and passed the across-the-board drug testing. No issue was every raised about any type of drugs before or after this time period.
The bottom line is, all of this smells very bad from any angle. ESPN tried to tie Harvick's recent call for drug testing to this issue. Assael never mentioned why his report came out today or why he did not have any footage from his interview with Hornaday that seemed to be the basis of this story.
In Asseal's story on ESPN.com, his performance allegations are made clear. Asseal says Hornaday was let go by Richard Childress for a younger Clint Bowyer in 2004. "At that point, Hornaday reached out to the Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center," said Asseal. "His first shipment arrived at his North Carolina home at roughly the same time he accepted an offer to drive on the truck team owned by Kevin Harvick in December of 2004."
So, Asseal's allegation is that Hornaday turned to steroids to somehow save his NASCAR career. Manske got ESPN's medical expert to say that steroid use is beneficial to drivers because of concentration and reflex issues.
Hornaday said he lost forty pounds, thought he had cancer no doctor could find and turned to the type of testosterone therapy that would bring his hormone levels back to normal. In 2006, doctors finally diagnosed Hornaday with a hyperactive thyroid and prescribed medication that he takes to this day.
So, what a way to kick-off the first Chase weekend on ABC and ESPN. This should also lead to some interesting conversation on SPEED's Craftsman Truck Series coverage. The person mentioned in the first paragraph of this column is the same person who will be providing the live commentary on the Truck race. His name is Michael Waltrip.
If ESPN wanted to stir things up in the media and get NASCAR back in the mix, they certainly accomplished that goal. The Hornaday "steroid story" is heading around the world on the Internet even as you read this.
It should be very interesting to see how seasoned veterans like Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree handle this topic. Both were absent from Thursday's NASCAR Now, as was all of ESPN's key NASCAR on-air talent.
What is your opinion of ESPN's report? Good journalism or just a driver trying to do anything to save his career and maybe even his life? Did this story change your impression of Hornaday or deepen your feelings that ESPN and NASCAR are once again having a very tough time getting along?
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. To add your TV/Media-related comment below, just click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy directions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.