Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Glaring Omissions Taint E:60 NASCAR Story

The Tuesday night story about the Full Throttle Academy's Driver Development Program on ESPN's news magazine show called E:60 stirred-up some interesting reactions.

After TV viewers saw the final ESPN product, email poured-in asking how something so criminal in nature could be allowed to continue? The E:60 story suggested Full Throttle Academy was merely a front to separate naive parents from their money while letting their children live the fantasy of a NASCAR future.

In the program, viewers heard from Tom Baker, the Vice President of Full Throttle. Baker is not a racer and coordinates the media and PR training. It was strange that Mike Calinoff, the President of the company, was not interviewed on-camera.

Calinoff is a veteran NASCAR spotter and the creator of the program itself. Only he could provide the strategic overview E:60 needed for their story. The lack of his presence added to the feeling Full Throttle had something to hide.

The Daly Planet was surprised to learn that Mr. Calinoff was in fact interviewed on-camera by E:60 reporter Michael Smith for over an hour. Calinoff answered Smith's questions about finances, the future of the current students, and the overall Full Throttle Driver Development Program. All of this was omitted by the E:60 producers while creating the final product for TV.

Mr. Calinoff contends that the original point of E:60 interviewing himself and members of Full Throttle was as part of a story about young drivers trying to polish themselves both on and off the track so they could move up in the ranks. Clearly, the goal of his drivers was a NASCAR opportunity.

As it turns-out, ESPN cameras also interviewed NASCAR veteran David Stremme, ARCA team owner Eddie D'Hondt and other current NASCAR drivers on this specific subject. Once again, all of this footage was omitted from the final product.

The E:60 story intimated that families were moving to Mooresville, NC to enroll in a full-time academy. Video in the story showed the supposed "students" at a racetrack and in the academy classroom. In fact, there are only a handful of Full Throttle clients who live in the Mooresville area. The footage shown as the classroom was in reality a one-time seminar on chassis set-up held at a local "chassis shop."

Full Throttle Driver Development Program clients are actually spread throughout the country. The program uses different resources to coordinate the racing and public relations activities of the development drivers with the parents as the ultimate career coordinators. In essence, the Full Throttle staff is the first business managers and PR reps these youngsters have while they live at home with their families.

E:60 indicated that the youngsters are required to return a percentage of any professional earnings to Full Throttle for years after they "graduate" to NASCAR. Calinoff contends than there is an annual fee for services, but clients have the option of keeping Full Throttle as a business management group once they begin racing on a professional level. In that type of racing, business managers and agents are paid a percentage rather than a fixed fee.

Feedback from the NASCAR community and other media members supported Calinoff as a guy who is continually working hard to advance others in the NASCAR world. One check of the Calinoff website displays his current business interests. With his gregarious personality, many folks could not understand why he did not appear in the E:60 report.

The final piece of the puzzle is reporter Michael Smith, pictured on the far right above. One video on the E:60 website contains what is labeled as a pitch meeting. This is normally the time when ideas are put out in a group setting and then selected to be developed as stories.

Since Smith admittedly has no NASCAR knowledge or experience, it is curious that he speaks in specifics about Full Throttle and the issues associated with driver development. Is this a meeting that actually happened before the story was selected or the re-creation of a pitch meeting now that Smith knows all the details and the final version of the segment is already done?

There are certainly two sides to every story. The final E:60 product walks a fine line of innuendo and suggests that extravagant claims to naive parents and significant income for the executives are the keys to Full Throttle. They point to the fact that no Full Throttle Development Drivers are currently in NASCAR and the school cannot guarantee success.

Calinoff says he answered those questions and more during the unseen on-camera interview with Michael Smith in Mooresville. He indicates that none of his current Full Throttle Development Drivers are old enough to race in NASCAR yet. Finally, he is adamant about the fact that he would not sacrifice an on-going NASCAR career by misrepresenting the sport that provides his primary paycheck.

This is The Daly Planet's first experience with the division of ESPN that produces this program. The documentary experience of the executives and the sports experience of the reporters have combined to produce a very interesting result. With these latest revelations about the deliberate omission of a key interview, that result is now very much in question.

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Media/TV Notes

NASCAR Now Lead Reporter Marty Smith switches over to the print world and writes the cover story for ESPN the Magazine coming out today online and then on news stands.

Smith writes about Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his on-going transition into the world of Hendrick Racing. Junior talks about the continuing feelings that he has about the loss of his father now that Junior's life has undergone yet another change.

For those of us who regularly follow NASCAR and know Marty Smith, it was while creating this story on Earnhardt Jr. that Smith suffered the loss of his own father.

Just when NASCAR and the sports world begins once again to become a priority, life has a way of putting things right back into perspective.

On another topic, for those of you asking about Steve Byrnes closing comments on TWIN last week, the rumor is true. Next week's version will be taped at the Lowe's Motor Speedway as a "special" and will have an expanded panel.

The boys will be back in town as Kenny Schrader, Michael Waltrip, Chad Knaus and Greg Biffle will make up the panel. Host Steve Byrnes will lead the group through a review of Darlington, a preview of the All-Star race and also....take questions from the invitation-only audience. Sound familiar folks? Somewhere Eli Gold is smiling.

In response to your email, once again you heard correctly. It will be Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael McDowell on Trackside Friday night. The format of that show is to have the guest remain for the entire program, so it could be interesting.

Those of you who enjoy Wendy Venturini's Real Deal reports might want to set the DVR or the VCR for RaceDay at 5PM Eastern Time on Saturday. With Mother's Day upon us, Venturini takes a look at Bell Sadler's courageous fight with cancer. She is the mother of Cup Series driver Elliott and SPEED's own Hermie. As a family-oriented person, Venturini should bring just the right touch to a story like this one.

There will be an update on the All-Star week TV shows immediately after the Darlington race weekend concludes.

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. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by.