Stick With What You Know

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It’s not often that I come to NASCAR’s defense. In fact, I’m not sure I have ever come to their aid– not that the France family really needs a lowly blogger in Nashville taking their side on issues. But as uncomfortable as I feel jumping to their defense on anything, I have to take their side on this latest issue.

Earlier this week, Washington columnist and radio personality Tony Kornheiser told his audience on ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption, that NASCAR ensured that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won the pole for Sunday’s Daytona 500 to create a great storyline since it is the tenth anniversary of his famous father’s death.

Kornheiser went on to say that (paraphrasing) a longtime NASCAR reporter told him it was 60% certain that NASCAR looked the other way during post-qualifying inspection and that there was a lot of winking going on over this one. The reporter was Washington Post reporter Liz Clarke, who actually has some credibility on the NASCAR circuit.

Kornheiser has no such credibility in racing. He really knows nothing about it, yet thinks he knows enough to cast doubt among his listeners about the legitimacy of the sport.

I don’t claim to know near as much about NASCAR as IndyCar, but I still feel like I can hold my own in most NASCAR conversations. I’ve compared NASCAR to WWE before and have heavily criticized them for their contrived and gimmicky rules. I don’t, however, subscribe to the theory that they follow a script before the drivers buckle into their cars.

Robin Miller has often joked about NASCAR drivers getting “the call”. Whether or not he’s totally serious, I’m not really sure. But Robin Miller has enough skins on the wall in his long career of covering auto racing, to be able to make a statement like that. Tony Kornheiser does not.

I consider Tony Kornheiser to be a comedian, mostly. His former radio show on ESPN was hilarious, but it had little to do with his knowledge of sports. He would generally opine on pop culture or issues of the day. When he did talk about sports, I found him to be entertaining, even if he was on the opposite side of an issue than I was (which was often the case). His current show on Washington’s ESPN affiliate, carried on satellite, follows the same format.

When he was tabbed for Monday Night Football in 2006, I found his presence on the telecast to be awkward and annoying. In fact, I consider him to be the second-most annoying person to ever appear on MNF – just behind Dennis Miller. Keep in mind, this was a show that featured Howard Cosell for fourteen seasons.

To me, Kornheiser hit a new low when Monday Night Football came to Nashville in 2008 to cover the Colts-Titans match-up. Although the Titans were 7-0 after the game en route to a 13-3 season, Kornheiser spent most of the evening making the tired old jokes about Tennessee hillbillies, overalls, rednecks and country music – sort of the way that FOX trots out the same worn-out gambling jokes every time they visit Las Vegas.

Kornheiser wondered out loud how a prestigious school like Vanderbilt ended up in the deep-south. These were lazy jokes. They were the jokes of someone who knew nothing about where he was or what he was talking about; and instead relied on his stereotypical lack of knowledge. We don’t mind poking fun at ourselves, but when the barbs come from a northeastern elitist – it doesn’t set too well down here.

Kornheiser was practicing lazy-man humor again this week by laughing at racing in general, and NASCAR in particular. When a popular (notice I didn’t say well-respected) member of the media sounds off on a subject and pokes fun at a sport that is special to a lot of people; he should at least know what he is talking about.

Tony Kornheiser has a lot of fans, viewers and listeners. He has the ability to influence a lot of people. When he takes swipes at a sport like he did earlier this week, he needs to get his facts straight. Saying that this was somehow staged, makes him sound ignorant.

Does Mr. Kornheiser know who sat on the pole for last year’s Daytona 500? In case he doesn’t, it was Dale Earnhardt, Jr. But the fact that it was the ninth anniversary of his fathers death didn’t raise any eyebrows. It shouldn’t raise eyebrows ever, considering that Dale, Jr. drives for the best team in the business. The fact that Junior has underperformed during his time with Hendrick Motorsports is about the only thing that should raise eyebrows.

It’s arrogant journalists like Tony Kornheiser that give all forms of racing a bad name. People like Kornheiser don’t get auto racing, so all they know to do is make fun of it. I don’t get the NBA, but I don’t make a point to bash their fans every chance I get. I simply ignore it. Apparently, Mr. Kornheiser thinks that being a sports journalist gives him free-reign to comment on all sports, whether or not he knows anything about them at all. I’m just glad that ESPN doesn’t pair him up with Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear at the Indianapolis 500, otherwise he would use that as a five hour platform to ridicule IndyCar fans.

Here’s a hint for all sports writers: stick to what you know best, and know when you are out of your realm. Bloggers are not journalists. Most of us have no illusions of being journalists. But we know enough to stick with what we know and stay away from subjects we don’t know. Mr. Kornheiser should do likewise.

George Phillips

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10 Responses to “Stick With What You Know”

  1. Nothing new. Kornheiser, like most of the personalities of ESPN, isn’t a sports journalist, he’s an entertainer. He says what’ll get a rise.

    I feel your pain on the Nashville jokes, George. Whenever Indiana or Indianapolis plays a bigger city in an important game, we get the hick and hayseed jokes, and denigrating comments towards our capitol.

  2. Since I’m not from the US I’ve got no idea who you’re talking about. But even worse news is that it seems arch-scumbag Tony George is back!

  3. H.B. Donnelly Says:

    If you listen to Kornheiser regularly, that’s just sort of how his show goes. He’s the first to admit what subjects he’s ignorant on, but he’ll still offer his opinion on what he sees. If he wants actual, in-depth, knowledgeable coverage on a sport, he’ll bring on someone who covers that sport for a living. Otherwise, he’s just a sort of typical bitter old man; someone just shoved a microphone in his face.

    I’m just glad NASCAR still has the rule that sends you to the back of the field if your car breaks. If Junior was still at the front of the field after switching to a backup car, then we can talk about contrived lineups.

  4. The American Mutt Says:

    @ HB,

    You mean like Dario switching engines last year?

  5. Well let’s see. Mark Martin was on the pole last year, not Dale Jr. Jr started 2nd. Kornheiser no longer is a columnist. He stopped writing for The Post a few years back. Lastly, TK did an interview with Jimmie Johnson and 5-time pretty much set him straight on the matter, invited him to the track, and got Tony to admit he knows nothing on the topic.

    • Oilpressure Says:

      I suppose it’s fitting that I should get roasted on my own site for not getting my facts straight, when I’m basing my post on someone not getting their facts straight.

      Like Mr. Kornheiser, I got lazy and didn’t check my facts. I had heard a radio report earlier Thursday saying that this would have been Dale Jr.’s second start from the pole, had he not crashed his car. I was very tired when typing this post late Thursday night. Not Knowing NASCAR that well, I should have checked the facts; but instead I got lazy and trusted what I had heard on the radio. My apologies.

      The biggest difference between me and Mr. K is that I’m not a journalist and I’ve never been paid a cent for doing this. So if it makes your day, go ahead and take your best shot. I deserve it. – GP

  6. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    Ok, we all know that Tony Kornheiser, “the entertainer”, doesn’t know what he is talking about, but what about Jrs. win at Daytona’s Pepsi 400 in 2001…. ???? There were plenty of conspiracy theorists putting in their two cents on that win and I am not sure I entirely disagree with them….

  7. billytheskink Says:

    The same Dale Earnhardt Jr. who’s average start at Daytona in 5th among active drivers with more than 1 start? Please.

    The guy’s always found good setups and been quick on the restrictor plate tracks.

    If he really got “the call” he’d still be starting up front on Sunday.

  8. I’ve been one of those people who agrees with Robin Miller that sometimes it seems like storylines in NASCAR are a little too good to be true, and that they may subtly influence things when they might be able to sell more tickets. My favorite example was when Ricky Craven came back from his head injury at his home track at New Hampshire, practiced in the middle to bottom half of the timesheet, and then promptly won the pole. On Sunday, he headed straight back to the back of the field, and I’m not sure he even led a lap. Every once in a while, fishy things like this happen in NASCAR, and Dale Jr.’s Daytona pole might have been another instance.

    However, the facts of the matter are: 1) Dale and Hendrick Motorsports as a whole are ALWAYS strong at Daytona, so him sitting on the pole is no shock, and 2) the guy opening his mouth about the whole thing knows basically nothing about racing. If it’d been Robin Miller, Tom Jensen, Ben Blake or anybody else reporting that something was up with Junior, that would have carried some water. It was Tony Kornheiser, though, so this means basically zero. The lesson: don’t watch PTI for anything racing related.

  9. Even though Tony K has little knowledge of the racing world, I can’t stand NASCAR and PTI is absolutely my favorite show since it began, so I’m taking PTI’s side that it was not to be taken so seriously…

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