I inherited my cynicism from my mother.
Years and years ago, in the early 1950s, we were sitting in the dentist’s office and because there were no comic books, I was looking at Photoplay, which was a "movie magazine" of the times. There was a picture of Elizabeth Taylor on the cover, taken of her in a nightclub, and in front of her, on the table, slightly out of focus, was a package of Salem cigarettes.
So I said to my mother that I had never seen Elizabeth Taylor smoke in the movies and here was a package of cigarettes in a picture of her. And my mother looked at me and said, decades before I heard anybody talk about product placement:
"They pay her to let them put those cigarettes there."
I was astonished.
Really, I thought?
But the more I thought about it, the more what my mother had said made sense and I learned a valuable lesson from it, one that has stood me in good stead throughout my newspaper career: don’t believe everything you hear or see because there are people out there cooking up all sorts of gimmicks and stunts to draw attention to their products or businesses or causes and the interest generated may not accurately reflect reality because of this manipulation.
Which brings me to last weekend.
After the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Phoenix, Danny Hamlin got out of his car and, in answer to a question about the new generation six car, said: "I don’t want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our generation five cars. This is more like what the generation five was at the beginning."
Tuesday, NASCAR announced it was fining Hamlin $25,000 for comments detrimental to stock car racing. Hamlin reacted by saying he wasn’t going to pay the fine and that the powers-that-be could suspend him if they wanted to.
To my knowledge, neither party has said anything more since.
But others have. Boy, have they ever.
Usually after a car race (any car race, by the way, be it F1 or IndyCar or NASCAR), there is a lull in publicity. After the Sunday night TV shows are watched and the overnight blogs and Monday morning race reports are read, nobody (except the most rapid of fans) really cares all that much about car racing until interest naturally starts to build for the next race, which could be three or four days later. That’s the way it is with NFL football and PGA golf, too. Sports restricted to weekends pretty much endure the same pattern.
Except this time, there was no lull. There was no letup. Google "Denny Hamlin" and "NASCAR" and "fine" and count up the number of stories and columns written about this "controversy" that had its start last Sunday night and continued through to the race in Las Vegas this weekend (and that’s not considering the number of sports radio call-in shows and TV programs that tackled the "issue"). You will need a calculator to add them all up.
Now, if Denny Hamlin had said something – anything – about NASCAR or stock car racing or the new race cars that could be considered controversial or damaging, then I might understand NASCAR getting upset.
But there was nothing; absolutely nothing.
So was there something else going on here?
Something like: I heard what Denny Hamlin said and I saw NASCAR’s reaction to it and then I thought of my mother and that picture of Elizabeth Taylor with the cigarettes.
Sixty years later, they’re not only still at it, they've perfected it.
I watched Wind Tunnel on Speed Channel last night because it featured two of my favourite motorsport personalities, Robin Miller and James Hinchcliffe, and I saw – for the most part – a replay of the Speed Center news program.
For the first 15 minutes, I had to endure a repeat of all of the NASCAR stuff that had been on for an hour previously, including yet another interview with Sam Hornish Jr.
Sam might be a nice guy, but let’s be honest: he puts you to sleep.
Then, after the break, Miller "interviewed" Hinchcliffe by reading questions off a teleprompter. James kept looking down at his notes for the answers.
What a waste of two wonderful talents.
Somebody has got it in for that program and is sabotaging it by making it as boring as possible. What used to be an hour of off-the-wall fun and outrageous opinions has been cut back to 30 minutes of scripted predictability.
Such a shame.
Kasey Kahne finished second and defending Cup champion Brad Keselowski was third, just ahead of Kyle Busch. Carl Edwards finished fifth.
In only his third race for the team, Kenseth opted to take no tires when he went to the pits for fuel on Lap 225. It was this decision that eventually gave Kenseth the win. Full race report here.
In the Nationwide Series Saturday, Sam Hornish Jr. won. Kyle Busch was second, with Brian Vickers third, Trevor Bayne fourth and Elliott Saddler fifth.
Thank goodness the long winter is over. Formula One starts its season in Australia Friday, the American Le Mans Series has the 12 Hours of Sebring scheduled for Saturday and the IZOD IndyCar Series kicks off 2013 with the St. Petersburg Grand Prix in Florida a week from Sunday. Check George’s TV Listings for Race Fans at wheels.ca for times and channels.
Tony Stewart isn’t exactly setting the world on fire this Sprint Cup season. Maybe he needs a dose of sprint car racing to get him going.
Two years ago, he hadn’t won a Cup race by the time he showed up in July at the Six Nations Ohsweken Speedway to run with the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series. He won that race on the little dirt track near Brantford and it turned his NASCAR season around.
Who knows? Maybe it will happen again. It was announced last week that Stewart will return to Ohsweken this July to see if he can score a hat trick (he won the race last July, too).
As the Ohsweken release put it, "Smoke" will compete against Ohsweken’s Corr/Pal Merchandising Sprint Car teams in the "Norther Summer Nationals" on Monday, July 29. The next night, July 30, Stewart and the Outlaws will race in the "Six Nations Showdown."
Get your tickets early. You couldn’t move in that place last summer, so many people were there.
Ryan Villopoto won his second Monster Energy Supercross of 2013 Saturday night at Daytona Speedway in Florida. Villopoto, James Stewart, Chad Reed and all those guys will be at the Rogers Centre in Toronto a week from Saturday. They always put on a great show.
I like a good story, too, but I can’t get excited about A.J. Allmendinger driving two races for Roger Penske.. . . . David Ostella of Maple, who’s been in the Indy Lights Series the last couple of seasons, is going sports car racing and will be competing in the Prototype Challenge class in this weekend’s 12 Hours of Sebring. Kyle Marcelli of Barrie will be an opponent. . . . Remo Ruscitti of Vancouver has signed with Compass360 Racing (C360R) of Toronto to drive the team's No. 72 Honda Civic Si in the 2013 Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car championship. . . . I was all for this electric car formula car racing series until they said the drivers would switch cars during the "race." That’s not competition, that’s a demonstration. That’s like the movement a couple of years ago to make the point of tennis the length of the rally, rather than scoring points. Or youth soccer where nobody keeps score. What is this, anyway?