Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Godot International Motorsports

As anyone who knows me reasonably well can attest, I am an ardent supporter of women in sports. I think women tend to bring an attitude towards competitive athletics that's often missing from the men's version - that is, they actually seem to enjoy it much of the time. Or at least they don't spend as much time fighting with their teammates.

I'm interested in the pioneering aspect of it, too - women competing in sports that they've traditionally been pushed away from. I mean, why is it okay for women to shoot a basketball, but throwing a baseball overhand is out of the question?

So I was enthusiastic about the opportunity to profile Erin Crocker, a race car driver trying to do for NASCAR what Danica Patrick did for Indy Car racing - attract some interest from people over and above the usual race fans. And I'd love to tell you how she rose to such a high level in the male-dominated sport, while also getting an engineering degree, and playing other sports at a high level.

I'd love to, but I can't. She wouldn't talk to me. Or, rather, her people wouldn't make her available.

In 15 years of reporting, I can think of four key interviews that got nixed. Danny Glover, Bill Clinton, (then-)San Francisco Giants Manager Dusty Baker, and Erin Crocker.

Danny Glover's plane got delayed and he barely made it to his event. President Clinton may have had some other things going on. Dusty Baker was being a schmuck. And Erin Crocker was... well, I don't really know.

But on the other hand, Danny Glover is a world-renowned actor, Bill Clinton was the leader of the proverbial Last Remaining Superpower, Dusty Baker was being a schmuck, and Erin Crocker was about to drive in two minor-league auto races in Milwaukee over the weekend.

And yet her "publicist", one Toni McCray, ran interference for her as though she was hiding Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie from the paparazzi in Namibia. She wouldn't return my phone calls. For three weeks. She wouldn't return phone calls from the NASCAR communications staff. Even her sponsors were having trouble reaching her. (And something tells me that even if you don't want to talk to a few hundred thousand public radio listeners, you might want to talk to the people who slap the word "Cheerios" on your car.)

But why wouldn't you want to reach public radio listeners? If one of the side goals of having a competitive woman racecar driver (aside from, say, winning) is to get more people to watch, it seems like it'd make sense to reach out to the audience that isn't yet watching.

But I really don't know what the Crocker team's motivation was. In my one actual contact with McCray - at the time I was actually supposed to be interviewing Crocker - she said only that Crocker wasn't up to doing an interview "because the day wasn't going so well".

Like I said, I'm a strong supporter of women in sports. But it's hard to imagine Tiger Woods getting away with an excuse like that.

So I spent 18 hours at the Milwaukee Mile over two days, watching cars circle a track, gradually going deaf, leaving periodic messages on Toni McCray's voice mail, getting sunburned. And Erin Crocker never showed.

She finished 25th in the Craftsman Truck Series race on Friday, and 29th in the Busch Series race on Saturday. Which gives me some consolation, knowing that at that rate, it won't be long before reporters stop returning her "publicist's" phone calls.

1 comment:

Matthew Algeo said...

Wow. Ever since Ricky Craven lost his ride, I've had nobody to root for in Nascar--but now I have somebody to root *against*. Hope you crash Erin Crocker!