Who would have thought that the second biggest story of the young NASCAR season would come not [media-credit name=”David Yeazell” align=”alignright” width=”281″][/media-credit]from the race track but from the media center and it all started with a clap.
At the end of the Daytona 500, the world, fans and media alike watched a Cinderella story unfold. A 20 year old, won the Daytona 500, in his first attempt, just one day after his 20th birthday, while driving for the legendary Woods Brothers in a historical replica of the car driven by David Pearson in 1976, carrying the Hall of Fame induction proclamation for Pearson on it’s quarter panel. It was the teams first victory since 2001. The unlikely and miraculous occurrence was heralded world wide. It was front page news. It was on everyone’s lips, and on every single talk show, race oriented or not, for the entire week leading up to the next race on the schedule.
The old school fans cried tears of joy for the Wood Brothers and this young man (Trevor Bayne) who said, “I knew they were going to gang up on me on the restart. I just asked God to please let us finish. I never thought I would win the Daytona 500.” The teleconference on Tuesday heard questions from media outlets not usually heard from. The Christian Voice and Christian outlets were in the cue with questions for the youngest winner ever of the Daytona 500 (beating a record his own hero, Jeff Gordon held).
Seemingly, a new door had been opened for NASCAR; it had a new arena of fans. But what loomed ahead was in stark contrast to the joy and happiness that the world had seen. And it would garner the name Clap gate.
At the end of the Daytona 500, several people in the Media Center clapped or cheered for the incredible Cinderella story that they had just watched occur. It was reported that the clapping lasted for about 5 seconds. The fall out from that show of appreciation and emotion violated the sanctity of the Media Center. Many long time members of the media corps claimed it made it hard to return to work and was distracting. Others called it a blatant show of favoritism and lack of unbiased reporting. It was an unprofessional showing of emotion after all. The complaints would lead to the termination of SI.com’s leading NASCAR reporter Tom Bowles, even though he was not alone in the act.
Bowles attempted to explain his point of view in his regular blog on Frontstretch.com said, “Fact: I clapped, and then shook Trevor Bayne’s hand on the way out along with many assembled media in attendance. Analysis: I still wrote a well-reasoned, well-thought out post-race column on a variety of topics that would have happened if Bayne or Kyle Busch had won.”
Bowles explanation was met with quick and sure response from a noted radio personality in his blog. But it wasn’t his opinion on the situation that caused the stir as many have suggested. Instead it was the assault on NASCAR’s new generation of media. The electronic one, the citizen’s journalists media corps as NASCAR has named it.
NASCAR itself started the citizen’s journalists media corps in 2008. It was a chance to give common people the arena to voice their opinions and explain and support them reasonably. They found, to their surprise that many of their fans were talented writers and very, very knowledgeable of the sport and it’s workings. The citizen’s journalists media corps grew rapidly and as in all new things the cream rose to the top.
As the economy and the electronic age replaced paper and ink publications, with the instant gratification, sources of .com sites that dealt strictly with racing, the need for the reporters that had covered the sport for those publications dropped. There were degreed journalists that were out of work. While there were Citizen’s media writers that were actively covering the sport where they had once been. The rivalry and bitterness was unavoidable. And the “schooled media” began to look down on the new comers.
This, claims Dave “Godfather” Moody, is the basis for the issue. “Honestly, some of what passes for internet journalism is easy to look down upon. The online NASCAR media is an eclectic group that varies wildly in training, experience and (quite honestly) talent. There are many formally trained, extremely talented writers pounding keyboards for internet websites these days; breaking news, covering the sport and turning out insightful, timely commentary. There is also an overabundance of hacks who think a laptop and an attitude are all its takes to be a NASCAR journalist. Their blogs overflow with inaccuracy, typographical error, caveman grammar and misspelling, and do little to endear their ilk to the more established Media Center veterans.” Although, the Godfather’s statement holds much truth and merit, it also shows the breakdown in the professional preceptorship that exists within every organization.
It’s a violation of unwritten rules of the media center and garage was the claim that brought “Clap Gate” to a head. What are the unwritten rules you ask? Good question. I asked and other than to present an unbiased view and presentation of the facts; no one could really give me an answer.
There is a published list of conduct at the NASCAR Media site. Common sense things really, don’t ask for an autograph; don’t ask to have your picture taken with your favorite driver, use common respect when dealing with drivers and crew members. Things along those lines, common sense, it comes down to maintain a professional demeanor and attitude at all times. And all of that makes good sense to me. I get that. But I have this nagging insecurity that wasn’t there before. What are the unwritten unspoken age old rules? Who can I ask to tell me what they are? To who and when do they apply? I am citizen’s media so believe me if there is a rule I know it applies to me. But how can I keep from breaking it if I don’t know what it is?
Let me give you a couple of examples, in 1998 after 20 years of trying Dale Earnhardt won the Daytona 500. Every single member of every single team lined up on pit road to shake his hand in congratulations. The press box cheered. It was headline news. No one lost their job. In 2001 on the last lap of the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt lost his life. Life Magazine published photos to illustrate the devastation on the sport including one of the press box and there were few dry faces in the picture. No one lost their job.
Television media have been expressing their emotions from day one. In 1979, Ken Squire’s excitement over the fight between the Allison’s and Cale Yarborough could be heard and still can be to the world. When Dale Jarrett won the Daytona 500 his excited and proud father, Ned Jarrett cheered him across the line. It was understandable and made the sport real. Darrell Waltrip cheered his brother across the line to win his first race, the ill fated 2001 Daytona 500 and again as he repeated in the truck series race on the anniversary of that horrible day 10 years later. It was understandable it was family. It’s what we do it’s who we are.
Every day we read “professionally prepared” pieces that show favoritism to drivers, teams, and makes. We read slaps and snipes at drivers on Twitter from journalists sitting in the media box. But the unwritten rules don’t seem to apply.
It would appear that the unwritten rules only apply when you are not a member of what the National Motorsports Press Association calls, “electronic journalist (i.e., television or radio on-air reporters or producers)” or if you are not a member of the old guard media corp.
Now I will grant you there were obviously, under currents that lead to Clap Gate. But to blame all internet journalists for a situation that in previous incidents was considered understandable and reasonable is simply biased. It is a violation of the very rule that supposedly was the catalyst of the situation in the first place, that Bowles showed bias and favoritism towards Trevor Bayne’s victory.
It is important to note here, that NASCAR itself did not weigh in on Clap Gate. They had a winner and they knew it when it elicited the response that it did from younger and less experienced members in the media center. That excitement would be passed on to readers, watchers and listeners. And in truth that is what we do isn’t it? Tell the story so that our readers can feel it? Express the emotions of the day and the situation in a way that takes our audience to a place they didn’t have the opportunity to be. If we can not paint the picture of the day and the victory and all the things that it brings, are we really doing our jobs?
Racing is a sport of passion. It always has been. Without passion there is no competitive fire. There is no unyielding drive. Without passion there is no need for speed. It becomes a calculating exercise in high speed chess. It’s why we hate fuel mileage races. It’s why fans continue to scream for action and expression from the drivers. It’s why those that view 5 time series Champion Jimmie Johnson as vanilla don’t like him. They can’t see, hear or feel his passion. It is the reason for “Have At It Boys”.
If there is no passion in our reporting and our communication of the sport, then we have issued nothing more than a boring diatribe that is taking up bytes of computer space or killing trees unnecessarily. Perhaps if we take a really long and honest look at ourselves and the rules we have created and never written down, the standards by which we judge our work and others, we might find that it is that monotonous diatribe attitude that has contributed to the loss of interest in the sport. I find it a lot easier to accept the passion of someone who dislikes a particular driver or team than I do the run on of a passionless recounting of events.
I was advised against writing this piece. It could ruin your future as a writer. You are being read now and accepted. I thought about it. And I asked myself this question if you run or avoid the heat of something you feel strongly needs to be addressed, when will you stop running? Would your heroes and the old school heroes of the sport have addressed their concerns or have walked away for fear of its impact on their futures?
I can say with definite confidence that Rusty Wallace was never intimidated by the Intimidator let alone anything else that crossed his path. I can’t see Dale Earnhardt walking away from a slap in the face or a wrongful accusation. And my father never called any man sir or walked away from a fight. You have to at some point in your life and your career stand up for what you believe to be right. And I believe that unwritten rules and double standards are wrong in every single case. Level the playing field here. Put the rules on the wall so to speak. If I have to abide by them then I should be able to expect everyone to. If my writing is judged by published typographical errors and misspelled words. So should yours be.
I am not a professional journalist. But I do have the guts to pursue that dream. To work hard to earn my stripes and to take my knocks and lessons as they come to me. If I am wrong I will admit it. If I believe I am right, I will stand on it. If you can prove me wrong I will post it publicly.
I love racing. I love the passion. I respect the other members of the media corp. and I have great respect for my editors and fellow writers here. But the most effective state polices itself, and it can’t do so by eating its young or with rules that are a secret.