Four-letter word

Posted by Iannucci | 7/25/2008 | 11 comments »
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If I had a dollar for every time someone has ranted against ESPN or one of their employees in the glorious comments section here at My Name Is IRL I’d probably have enough to pay for my annual trip to Indy. The World Wide Leader has steadfastly stood by and paid the series to televise their races, but at the same time they have infuriatingly pre-empted races, abruptly ended broadcasts, and even subjected us to the horror that is Todd Harris.

You don’t need me to tell you this because the league’s bipolar relationship with the network swings wildly from the Danica Patrick love-ins on the race broadcasts to the occasionally abusive coverage at As a consequence there has been a growing movement from fans asking that the IRL consider a different broadcast partner for next year, a proposal that despite the flawed relationship I’m not going to echo. I mean, I’ve seen what happened to the National Hockey League, and I don’t want to go looking for races on Versus.

Which brings us to, well, let’s first set the WABAC machine to 1999, after an errant tire from a crash at IRL race in Charlotte left three fans dead.

When the most influential sporting publication in America, the weekly Sports Illustrated ran a story and graphic photographs of a fatal accident of an IRL race on May 1 in Charlotte, the president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway banned the writer, Ed Hinton, from covering the 500.

His story, headlined "Fatal Attractions", was accompanied by a gory, colour photo from Associated Press showing one victim with a leg protruding from under a sheet lying on blood-covered grandstand steps. In the picture was another sheet-covered body. Since this was the magazine's auto racing section, there was a linked full-page advertisement facing the story. Unfortunately, the ad, for Valvoline oil, showed a group of young men hovering over an engine under an open bonnet, with the words, "You're born. You die. In between you work on cars. We should all be so lucky."

Both Valvoline and Sports Illustrated apologised for the ad's placement. "But they never apologised to the family or their readership," said Indy Speedway spokesman Fred Nation. He added an SI apology "would be a good place to get back in the track's good graces". An SI editor, Jose Assad, responded: "By no means are we going to allow them to dictate how we cover events." Hinton, a respected journalist, of course had nothing to do with the photo or headline, but he took complete responsibility for the text.

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Ahem. Long story short, Hinton, who was Senior Writer at SI, eventually got his credential back after other writers threatened to not cover the race, and everyone went back about their business. Since then Hinton has worked all over the place, including SPEED where his bio brazenly states “He also wrote that IRL and CART should stop racing on high-speed oval tracks” as well as asks the open-ended question “Does Hinton deserve some credit for wheel tethers and taller and more sturdy catch fencing?”

Yes, even bios have become editorials. But I digress.

Fast forward to earlier this month, when gleefully announced the hiring of yet another racing journalist who isn’t on Tony George’s Christmas Card list. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because after years of browbeating us with their tales of woe about how Tony George has torn asunder the heart of open-wheel racing, it appears this whole unification has finally turned the hearts of these scribes away from vitriol and back towards covering racing.

So we’re all singing “Kumbaya” now, right? Wrong.

Evidently there are no worthwhile stories going on in stock car racing, because in his very first article for Hinton has decided the best way to cover the annual N-Word race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is by writing disparagingly of Mr George and his racing series.

What was Tony George thinking, allowing stock cars onto his family's storied racetrack? What would his grandfather, the late beloved Anton Hulman, have thought?

This was Anton Hulman George at 32, in just the second year of his reign over Indy. Upon his ascension to the throne in 1990 at age 30, he'd told Indy's inner circle, according to insiders of the time, "For 80 years this place has run on tradition. From today forward it will run as a business."
I know purists were upset at the time, but is there still anyone out there that recoils in horror at the though of The Brickyard 400? I mean, the cars are slower, the race is shorter, the event is only a week and the crowds are smaller, so for many, many reasons it’s inherently inferior as an event to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, right? Wrong again, according to Hinton.

But the success of this marriage has aided and abetted the devastation of the lovely old American institution called the Indianapolis 500. Emboldened by the enormous revenues from his NASCAR race, George could afford to found the Indy Racing League and go to war with CART, to return control of Indy car racing to Indy.

A few years ago, as CART teams began defecting to the IRL, George indicated to me that he'd poured about $250 million of the Hulman-George family fortune into subsidizing the IRL, and that without question, the huge profits of bringing NASCAR to Indy had enabled him to fight.

Then just this spring, after George had won his war and surveyed the barren outcome, IndyCar racing was reunified. No telling when, if ever, the 500's original prestige might be restored.

So the advent of NASCAR to Indy was surely the event that shook the roots of American motor racing. And now, 15 years on, "it is what it is" in NASCAR jargon: Enormous, by popular demand.
Stock car racing at Indy is what “shook the roots of American motor racing”? “Barren outcome”? “Devastation of the lovely old American institution”? You’ve GOT to be kidding me.

The point here isn’t so much that this piece (of whatever) is insanely inaccurate, but that it is being published by the IRL’s broadcast partner. I’m not saying that ESPN reporters shouldn’t be critical (feel free to write about the overuse of the yellow flag and the under use of the black one) but when a featured writer dedicates his first article to talking down the product you’ve got to ask “what’s up”?

Now, I’m not suggestion censorship or firing Hinton or whatever because as I’ve said before I’m not a torch-and-pitchfork kind of guy. I’m not saying they should do something counterproductive like revoke his press credential again. I’m not even suggesting you my dear and cherished fellow fan should send nasty emails to Hinton’s Inbox as

I’m just saying that when a more vociferous guy like Defender of the IRL says that ESPN is trying to “kill the (IRL) brand” that the evidence here serves to support this theory.


  1. Diecast Dude // July 25, 2008 3:25 PM  

    I have had past professional dealings with Ed Hinton. He is an condescending ass of the lowest order.

    No wonder ESPN hired him.

  2. Anonymous // July 25, 2008 4:09 PM  

    I really don;'t think we shouldall send nasty emails to him as i did as all you get is an automated response. Oh and by the way if that filthy sack of crap is reading this i would like to say that you have single-handedly destroyed any thought that the espn coverage is getting better.

  3. Carrie // July 25, 2008 4:23 PM  

    Given Hinton's ghoulish battle to try to see/be able to publish his "best friend" Dale Earnhardt's autopsy photos for the world to see, and his war of the words against Teresa Earnhardt since he lost that battle thanks to her efforts, I wouldn't put too much belief in the idea that he didn't have anything to do with those photos running in '99.

  4. Anonymous // July 25, 2008 4:35 PM  
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  5. pressdog // July 25, 2008 4:36 PM  

    Breathe through the nose, people. Simmer. I don't buy that ESPN is out to trash the IRL. Why would they pay the IRL to televise their races and then work to trash the league? Makes no sense. I think what we're dealing with here broadcasting on the cheap. Like every business, ESPN wants to turn a profit, but until the IRL ratings increase, there's no return for ESPN to plow resources (talent, promo, etc.) into the IRL. Kind of a chicken-and-egg deal, but "it is what it is" which is fast becoming one of my least-favorite expressions on the planet. Finally, I agree that calling the Brickyard 400 a sign of the apocalypse is laughable. Bottom line with Ed, a strong 99% of the world don't know him from Adam and don't read him, so don't get to super heated about it.

  6. Iannucci // July 25, 2008 4:53 PM  

    I'm not saying they as an organization are definitvely out to trash the IRL product, because ESPN does do things like have 3 pit reporters, live broadcasts on ABC, and finally this year some race promotion during other events that go beyond the minimum requirement for a broadcasting partner.

    But it boggles my mind why nearly everyone who writes about the IRL on at would rather be watching something else. No other form of motorsports gets the step-child treatment as much as the IndyCar series.

    The people reading the stories are probably fans of the series, so it shouldn't kill them to hire someone who writes from the persepective of an IndyCar fan.

    Or are there no reporters available who fit that description?

  7. Anonymous // July 25, 2008 4:58 PM  


    I nominate you. Get your resume updated. You just got promoted.

  8. Anonymous // July 25, 2008 7:55 PM  

    Hinton might want to think about stopping into Ed Carpenter's cholesterol screening clinic next time he's "covering" an IRL race.

  9. pressdog // July 26, 2008 4:06 AM isn't a not-for-profit venture like us word-butchers. The way they make money is by attracting readers and that is for sure their bottom line. If you don't like Ed's stuff, don't read it. If enough people do that, he won't be around long. Reading every word and sending hate email just gives the guy job security.

  10. Anonymous // July 26, 2008 6:46 AM  

    very good post !

  11. Anonymous // July 26, 2008 8:37 AM  

    I think what we're dealing with here broadcasting on the cheap. Like every business, ESPN wants to turn a profit, but until the IRL ratings increase, there's no return for ESPN to plow resources (talent, promo, etc.) into the IRL.


    IMO, ABC/ESPN wants the Indy 500, and doesn't know (or care) what to do with the rest of the IRL season.

    Funny thing is, if you look at the N-Word series, note that for years it bounced around with races on CBS, ABC, NBC, ESPN, TNT, TNN, etc. But EACH one of the broadcast partners did heavy promotion of the series. In 1979 CBS took the audacious step of covering the Daytona 500 live (seven years before ABC covered the Indy 500 in real time), and that's what most people point to as the moment the N-word arrived on the national conscience. In 1985, ESPN's coverage of a tall, lanky redhaired Georgian named Bill Elliot going for the Winston Million boosted NA$CAR further into the public eye.

    I guess what I'm saying is the key to N-word's success was having broadcast partners that were willing to work with the sanctioning body to grow ratings outside of its southern base. ESPN and N-word were a match made in heaven in the early 1980's: ESPN needed sports to fill its open time slots, and N-word needed someone who would cover their races live. Many people in the press have pointed to ESPN bringing the sport to TV's throughout the US weekend in and out as a key to the growth of the N-word.

    And ESPN did this WITHOUT having the "big" race of the season, the Daytona 500. (CBS 1979-2000, FOX since 2001)

    If ABC\ESPN won't give us the coverage or promotion that they gave CART in the pre-split "salad days" of the 1980's and 1990's, then why should they get the rights to the entire season? Put feelers out to NBC or CBS (both of whom have covered open wheel racing and the N-word) and see what they would be willing to do. Let ABC struggle to figure out what to show on the Sunday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend that will get a 5.0 share.

    The IRL is at a key turning point in the series. It has momentum from the "remergification", but it needs to grow on that. Its biggest auto racing rival is in slow decline. Yes the TV ratings for N-word are up, but attendance at events is down and the ratings are still lower than their heyday earlier in the decade. Some bold thinking and promotion may be required here, but are the current broadcast partners willing to give it? If they can't see the old slogan "You have to spend money to make money" applies here, then maybe it's time to tell ABC\ESPN "It's not you, it's me".