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2011 Editors Picks - Who's Wagging The Dog Here?

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Commentary By Rick Carlton Originally published May 2011

After watching back-to-back weekend coverage of Indy on Versus, I have concluded that either the diminutive "three guys and a dog" cable network is trying to create something akin to a tabloid social network experience, or simply attempting to illustrate just how bad electronic motorsports coverage in the 21st Century can be.

Granted, Speed Channel set the banality bar pretty high after Fox Sports bought the original niche cable network, then doubled-down by buying into NASCAR's PRAVDA-like marketing vision in the late 90s. With 24/7 motorsports coverage suddenly available (and with the network facing enormous revenue requirements to support the NASCAR TV contract), the impact immediately lead to a dearth of professional journalists able to discern the difference between the valence on the front of a racecar, as opposed to the valence used to enclose draperies in the family living room.

This in turn, lead to a general dumbing down of the coverage, caused by dumb questions, offered by dumb reporters, who were apparently taught to operate on the assumption that its audience was equally dumb. Between 1997 and today, it has just gotten worse regardless of the sports network. But I have to say that Versus' Gasoline Alley cadre of knowledge-challenged morons clearly took the cake last weekend.

Consider a question posed to John Andretti, while Danica Patrick was still in Bump Day purgatory yesterday. In effect the reporter asked Andretti if he would "give up his seat" in favor of Go Daddy's favorite bikini model, should she not make the field. Really? What level of ignorance is that?

First, the reporter apparently didn't know that even though Little John was bound to the Andretti Autosport brand for this year's Indy run, the deal money was based on a collaborative effort put together between Petty Racing, Window World, and John himself. So, even if Michael Andretti wanted to ask his cousin to step out to save Panica's thong-clad rear-end (and all that Go Daddy money), he didn't have the right to do so - because it simply wasn't his seat to manage.

Second, what in the world would cause a reporter to ask such a dopey question? I am sorry that Patrick couldn't drag her downforce laden butt around the speedway fastest enough to make the grid on Saturday, but to imply that she was in some way more important to the proceedings than Andretti is as ludicrous, as it is offensive. John put his own team together, qualified on his own, took his own chances, put up a respectable time on the first day, and earned the spot. As usual, he handled the incident adroitly, and with grace and goodwill. But the point is that he shouldn't have had to.

Has electronic motorsports coverage simply become biased toward market messaging to the detriment of sport itself, and are today's reporters nothing more than sales reps tasked with selling brand as opposed to knowing something about what they are talking about? Maybe. All I know for sure, is that wherever Jim McKay resides in the universe these days, he's got to be weeping.

Rick Carlton has been covering professional automotive/motorsports news for 30 years in a range of print and online publications including; SCCA Magazine, On-Track Magazine, The Global Racing Network, AllRace Magazine, Automobile Magazine, Teknikan Maalma, F1 Maalma, RaceTech, Forrest Bond's RaceFax, Hill Country Wheels and Wings, The Highland Lakes Business Journal, The Austin Business Journal, and The Auto Channel.