Today’s Media Coverage Could Be Much Worse
(I’m taking time out from my series of ways to revitalize NASCAR to present this, which I hope you’ll find a little fun.)
A lot of analysis of “what’s wrong with NASCAR” points to media overexposure, making the case that the saturation point has been reached and passed, and fans decline to attend or watch races because of sensory overload. Maybe. On the other hand, some of us remember when the local newspaper was a lost cause, and NASCAR on TV meant putting up with wrist-wrestling or log-rolling on Wide World of Sports to see maybe 20-30 minutes of speed.
In Richmond in those days, if you wanted more, you could pay a local civic club to watch the Southern 500 highlight film two or three months after the race. As I’ve mentioned before, the article that sparked my initial interest in stock car racing was filler in a baseball season preview magazine.
What’s the right amount of coverage? That’s a subjective question, but I know I’d rather have too much than not enough. I’d also like to have it reasonably intelligently presented; accurate wouldn’t hurt, either.
In the Internet Age, any idiot can “publish” an article about racing – you’re reading evidence of that, I guess. But at least you, the reader/viewer have choices, and that’s better than in the days when coverage was slim or none, and “Slim” wasn’t necessarily a knowledgeable writer.
Case in point: While cleaning up in the basement, I came across the book, “Great Moments in Auto Racing,” by Irwin Stambler, published by Four Winds Press (a division of Scholastic Magazines) in 1968. There are ten chapters/moments, covering Formula One, Indy, big-time road racing, and (yes) NASCAR, which gets two articles and the better part of a third.
Not bad for ’68, unless you take time to actually read the articles. Actually, author Stambler doesn’t do too badly, although he says the Daytona beach-road course is one mile in length, and he slips in this gem when describing a Fred Lorenzen pit stop at Darlington:
“Six men swarm over the car while a seventh hangs from the rail by his feet to help. The axles are jacked up and new tires rapidly installed, fuel gurgles down into the tank, and other parts of the vehicle are serviced. But some of the parts have been wedged into place by the pressure of the race and are hard to get off… The pit stop has taken 32 seconds…”
Yeah, and a dog ate the crew chief’s homework, too.
This is NOT a photo from “Great Moments in Auto Racing,” but it does show Junior Johnson (#27) and Curtis Turner dueling on the way to Junior’s victory in the 1960 Daytona 500.
What got me was the assembly of the articles at the publisher, where there seemed not to have been enough photos (and Getty Images wasn’t around to help). As a result, the Daytona “moment,” which is about Junior Johnson “discovering” drafting at the 1960 500, features a photo of Paul Goldsmith’s ’65 Plymouth making a pit stop (surely he would have won with a car five years newer than the others), and another of two mid-‘50s stockers identified by their numbers as having been in the 1960 field. I suspect the latter photo might have come from the Saturday modified-sportsman race, because one of the drivers is identified on the car as former Bowman Gray standout Carl Burris (immortalized for driving his modifieds wearing bedroom slippers) and not Dave Hirshfield, who ran the same number on Sunday.
(Ironically, this was about the same time that the awful stock car movie “Red Line 7000” came out, and it featured a scene where Goldsmith came down the straightaway in that same ’65 Plymouth and then wrecked a ’66 or ’67 model in the turn – try to pull that stunt with today’s laser inspections.)
Oh, and just to make sure you know the editors were familiar with the drivers, there’s a photo of the dual between “Curt” Turner and “Dick” Petty.
Even worse was the Darlington article, which was about the ’65 Southern 500, not one that would make too many folks’ “greatest moments” list to begin with. The photo of the cars taking the green flag is from 1966. This was the race best remembered for the Cale Yarborough-Sam McQuagg accident that sent Yarborough’s Banjo Matthews Ford over the guard rail, and the book dutifully devotes photo space to that incident. Unfortunately, the photo used is of Eddie Pagan tearing out the guard rail in 1958.
Here’s the Cale Yarborough-Sam McQuagg wreck that immortalized the 1965 Southern 500.
Here’s the 1958 Eddie Pagan crash at Darlington. The editors of “Great Moments in Auto Racing” published the photo at right as the Yarborough-McQuagg accident seven years later. Oops.
Well, at least they both took place at Darlington.
That’s enough picking on the poor folks who did this book (which is available used at ABEBooks starting at $1.73 plus S&H, if you’re interested). They weren’t race fans and probably didn’t go home talking about the great book they worked on that day. My point is that race fans in the ‘60s and earlier didn’t have the limitless supply of print/audio/video/web material we have today, and even if ours is sometimes of dubious value, “dubious” might have been your only choice back then. Right, Curt & Dick?
AN ABSOLUTELY UNRELATED ADDENDUM:
Just in case you might occasionally be tempted to succumb to thinking that we’re currently at the pinnacle of knowledge about everything, please note that the folks involved in the paragraph below (including “Dr. Jamison,” who seems to have been the local physician) thought the same thing 100 years ago when this appeared in a local newspaper near me:
“Use of Cigarettes Have Increased – Consumption of cigarettes in 1916 reads (probably a typo; think “reached”) the highest mark ever recorded. The tremendous increase – more than 40% over 1915, is attributed to three main causes: 1) increased prosperity in the country; 2) recognition of the positive health effects of cigarette smoking, and, 3) the growth of cigarette habit among women. Dr. Jamison says there’s no better way to cure the common cold than two or three packs of cigarettes.”
The paper’s editor wasn’t crazy about automobiles, either.