by Diecast Dude, Special To NASCAR commentary and driver pictures, 2012 NASCAR schedule, video, Bench Racing With Steve and CharlieFebruary 20, 2010 11:25 am UTC 6 Comments
It’s said, not altogether unwisely, that a major blogging no-no in terms of attracting and maintaining an audience is talking about yourself. In which case I apologize in advance to Charlie as I may be endangering this site’s readership. (I’d apologize to Steve as well, but he’s an idiot.) I’ll try to keep the personal angle to a minimum; however, it’s necessary to put the subsequent racing talk into context.
Over at my personal blog I have a saying: “The obligation to follow Christ doesn’t end where your job or political affiliation begin.” If you believe that Jesus is Who He says He is, that’s nothing you have the option of turning on and off in terms of how you conduct your professional matters. His command states you interact with people in a specific fashion? That’s what you do regardless of who, what, when, where, why or how. ‘Nuff said.
Now, take that to yesterday at Auto Club Speedway.
In a previous life, parts of which are discussed in my book, I did enough interviews and feature articles and the like in the music world to be relatively comfortable in the position I found myself today, namely covering this weekend’s races. Yes, there were a few moments of quiet disbelief I was physically where I was, such as when Jeff Gordon sat a few feet away from me while waiting for his turn in the media center. But for the most part, it was business in the same manner I’ve done business before.
The music industry — reference the earlier previous life comment — has much in common with NASCAR in terms of how things operate. The drivers are the artists; crew chiefs are record producers, crew members are the backup band, owners are record label heads, publicists are… well, publicists.
And journalists are journalists.
So what is the role of the journalist?
As the Rock used to say, know your role. You have an obligation to be accurate and truthful in your reporting. This noted, you are the eyes and ears of the fan. Your job is bringing knowledge of, and insight into, the people whose individual and collective effort creates the sport. For the fans. Always, for the fans.
How best to do this?
For me, there is only one way.
Be friendly toward and respectful of the people about whom I am writing or speaking. Remember they’re not there for me. I’m there for them. I’m there because of them. My job is to get their stories and convey them to the fans in an entertaining, informative fashion. Period.
And remember my obligation.
Take this to yesterday. There I was in the media center, filled with a minimum of three times more members of the press than had been present a few hours earlier for Dale Earnhardt Jr., all there for the purpose of listening to and questioning one of his sister’s employees at JR Motorsports. Namely, Mrs. Paul Hospenthal.
You’ve possibly heard of her by her maiden name of Danica Patrick.
Danica entered the room with a purposeful stride, looking much as she often looks when the camera is on and one suspects when it’s not: serious, intense to the point of being tightly wound. There was an additional dose of frustration in her demeanor, someone trying to maintain complete control of herself while dealing with what she would soon detail. Namely, the frustration of fighting both a car that had mustered no better than thirty-seventh fastest in the first practice session and twenty-seventh fastest in the one concluded just a few minutes earlier. Adding to this was the pressure that comes with doing something with which one was unfamiliar yet was now something needing to be done at a very high level. Namely, learning how a stock car should feel at a big flatter track like Auto Club, then communicating this to her crew chief so he could call for the appropriate adjustments. As Patrick stated more than once, it was nothing like the Indy car she was used to at such a place. To use a southern California reference, it was the auto racing equivalent of learning how to ski by starting at the top of the Matterhorn. And, like the Disneyland version of same, swiftly learning you didn’t have a whole lot of say in how the roller coaster ride operated. Patrick said she knew there would be a tremendous learning curve in her effort to become an accomplished NASCAR driver. The day had reinforced this knowledge big time.
That was the story. Simple; fairly cut and dried. There were appropriate ancillary questions to flesh out different aspects that could be asked: the difference in feel between low and high lines on the track, things like that. But really, not much else to add, or worthy of inclusion. A driver familiar with one kind of car in the process of learning another. Happens all the time. No big.
Ah, but no.
Because this is Danica Patrick.
As I sat in the press conference listening to a few racing questions, many more pop culture-ish ones, and observing Patrick doing her best to remain composed despite her evident aggravation at restating things she’s gone over a multitude of times before, I thought about professional responsibility and personal obligation. Professional responsibility was reporting the story in a straightforward manner. No opinion column disguised as a news article, no fluff ‘n puff in hopes of riding the publicity train that is Danica’s every move. Personal obligation was wishing there was a way to chat with her for a few minutes, not as driver and journalist but as two people. Toss out a few puns and jokes to lighten the mood; remind her that frustration is a mandatory part of learning any new task, especially when your visibility is as high as it gets and no-life detractors are yapping about your lack of accomplishment even as they themselves have never done anything in life. Encouragement. Kindness. Treating someone the way you yourself wish to be treated.
Certainly it can be argued Danica has, by usage of her looks to gain attention, brought at least part of this on herself. Which is where again the obligation comes into play. There is a mandated overview of people inherent in the obligation. Namely, we’re all people. We all have good points and bad. We all mess up. We’re all equally deserving of being loved and respected nonetheless. This does not change due to celebrity status.
And so, here’s wishing Danica well, hoping she’ll have cause to relax and smile soon.
An final observation.
As I was leaving the track yesterday, being a fan I went through the souvenir trailers to buy a few things — hat here, t-shirt there. At Danica’s trailer, which at times seemed to have a bigger crowd than all the other trailers combined, I noticed a man with his young daughter. Probably seven or eight. She marched Dad over to the side of the trailer, which features a photo of Danica with determined look and equally determined pose, hand on hip. The girl copied the pose exactly, right down to the look, with Dad snapping photos left and right. Like he had any choice in the matter.
It’s for her I write.
Hope I never forget that.