At least once a week, I reference a story included in the Indianapolis (Indy) Star since no other daily publication even comes close to their coverage of the Indy Racing League. You’ve probably seen the name of their chief IRL correspondent “Curt Cavin” on this site almost as much as “Roger Penske” or “Bobby Rahal” because Cavin is no doubt the busiest reporter covering the league.
While other “motorsports journalists” are busy re-writing existing wire stories, Cavin is out finding new ones. One of the more memorable stories he reported involved the demystification of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway attendance figures. For years reporters would guess attendance at IMS anywhere from 200,000 to 500,000 since the speedway doesn’t issue actual attendance figures. “Guessing” is not reporting, so Cavin went to the facts: he counted EVERY seat, all 257,325 of them.
Cavin has not only been reporting for the Indy Star for 19 years, he’s also been authoring books on auto racing. He is definitely a busy man and now it’s time to report on him. I feel badly that I keep citing Cavin's work without knowing much about him, so please give a warm “My Name Is IRL” welcome to Curt Cavin and the 5 Quick Questions.
1. Some of your predecessors at the Indianapolis Star have gone on to other forms of media, and you already have TV experience. Should we expect to see you regularly on ESPN or SpeedTV in the future, or do you want to stay a print reporter?
Actually, only one of my predecessors went to television, and that was Robin Miller, who seems to be doing well at Speed. As you noted, I have a broadcasting career of sorts with my work at WTHR-13, the NBC affiliate in Indianapolis. I have been the station's racing analyst since 2001, and I make about 60 appearances a year, including studio work through the season. I have done a fair amount of one-offs with ESPN, serving as a regular on Cold Pizza last year. If the network offered something, I'd seriously consider it. In fact, I'd welcome it because I think ESPN needs more people who are versed in the sport beyond NASCAR.
2. If you could switch jobs for one day with IRL President Brian Barnhart, what rules would you change?
I think the racing side of the IRL is fine. If I were him I'd spend more time with public relations, sales, marketing and sponsor relations. That's the side of the league that's not hitting its marks.
3. A few years ago you wrote a story about counting all 250,000+ seats at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. How long did this tally take and did you count them all by yourself?
That story appeared in 2004, and it took about six weeks over about five months to complete. The key was the help I received from a friend who challenged me to keep digging deeper and work harder. There's no question that without them it wouldn't have been the story it became.
My friend suggested a form that would ask the same questions of each grandstand. That was crucial to discovering the nuances of each as most were built in different eras. For example, I was able to see that there are no rows of the letter I or O, which could be confused with the numbers one or zero. Plus, by the time I filled out all the forms I had a mountain of information that became a very detailed chart, which made the story reader friendly. One IRL staff member had the nerve to say I couldn't have counted all the seats, the evidence was overwhelming that I did.
I stand by my story: 257,325 seats as of May of 2004. I'll concede I might have been off 50 seats or so as there is still room for about 1,000 folding chairs low in the E Grandstand in the first turn.
4. Since most fans will never know, are the track accommodations afforded to reporters (such as the view, the food, etc.) worth noting or is there someplace else you would rather be on race day?
I watch most races from the press box or the spotter's stand atop the grandstand. The food and amenities are sufficient at most tracks. They're all pretty much the same.
But like fans, reporters have their favorite tracks. Indy is my favorite, of course, because it's the perfect mix of past and present, with so much history. Kansas Speedway is impeccable, too, and I've always loved NASCAR's night race at Bristol Motor Speedway (even though the beating and banging gets old).
Some tracks are better for different events. NASCAR is horrible at Michigan and Texas, for example, but the Indy cars at both tracks are sensational. Conversely, I'd rather watch NASCAR at Sonoma than Indy cars, and it's because the disparity in driving ability is more apparent watching a stock-car race. Guys like Gordon and Stewart can drive; most of those other guys can't. The Indy-car drivers are almost robotic because everyone has considerable road-racing experience.
Bottom line: I'm an oval-track guy. That's what growing up in Indy does to you.
5. You’ve been covering motorsports for almost 20 years at the Indy Star, you’re the main resource for information about open-wheel racing like the IRL and Formula One, and you’re a published author of several books…about NASCAR. Are there any good stories in open-wheel racing worth writing or is something else going on here?
Look, there are hundreds of great things to write about Indy-car racing, but none of it matters until the IRL and Champ Car mend their fences and create one series. Until then, it's just noise to most people outside of Indianapolis.
Well, can’t argue with that. One great thing about Cavin is if you don’t like the questions I asked him you can always participate in his IRL (and Formula One) Q&A updates on the Indy Star site. Thanks to Curt for the great responses, the superior reporting, and the accessibility his Q&A updates provide. ‘Nuff said.
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