And you wonder why local stock-car racing doesn't get more media attention...
Aside from PR man and track announcer Bill DaButler, who not only does a professional job but always does it with a smile on his face, the reception at Speedway 95 on Sunday was chilly at best.
Here's how it went down:
After the PASS Modified and North Series heats, I hitched up the press box phone line to the back of the laptop to update the blog. I was on-line for all of 5 minutes, after which I unplugged the line. I was then asked by the track's head scorer if I had been using the phone line. When I answered that, indeed, I had, I was met with a resounding, "Oh."
"I'm sorry," I said, "I hope it wasn't a problem."
"No, it's not now," I was told with a roll of the eyes.
Less than 5 minutes later, while putting some notes down on paper, the same scorer tapped me on the shoulder.
"That's one of our scorers' seats," she said, followed by nothing else, as if it needed no explanation. She just glared at me until I moved.
So, I moved my belongings and headed back out to the pit area.
As if that weren't bad enough, when the races were over, I was alone in the press box working on my story for Monday's Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. The phone lines had been removed, and there was no one around to help. No phone lines means no e-mail access for those of us jurassics with dial-up, and that means either missing deadline or not getting a story into Monday's papers altogether.
That would go over big with everyone -- me, my editors, my bosses, the race teams and the readers and fans.
There were also no local results, and the only PASS results were the ones DaButler let me jot down off his one and only copy.
Thanks to the help of a gas station attendant down the road, I sent the story from a back room at a convenience store -- a story about a regional touring series with a solid fan following at a track that hosted 2 racing events this weekend. Not exactly how you'd like to drum it up.
I bet the PASS folks would love to know that the track hosting its event nearly thwarted any efforts to get the news out about the race there.
See, I'm a roll with the punches kind of reporter. I've been covering local racing for a decade now, and I know more or less what to expect in short-track press boxes -- sometimes you'll have space to work, sometimes you won't quite have enough, but at the very least there will be a phone line. And I'm OK with that.
I know I'll be back to the race track again next weekend, and likely back to Speedway 95 before the season's over. It's my beat, and it's a beat I enjoy covering a great deal. But the fact remains that such a media-unfriendly environment like the one provided by Speedway 95 on Sunday would turn off many a reporter, particularly those who could give 2 cents about auto racing at any level.
There are people on the sports staffs at the 2 papers I work for who would never return to cover a race after an experience like mine -- some who would have left before the races were even half-over, complaining of no place to work. And it's not just our papers, it's other papers that I've worked at and dozens more. If people don't want to cover racing, it won't get covered -- that's the bottom line.
Short-track racing doesn't suffer from a lack of media coverage. It's the short tracks that suffer from a lack of understanding regarding how to deal with the local media. Get the results to the reporters, give them a place to sit and plug into an outlet and give them access to a phone line.
Do that with consistency, and you'll have your media coverage.