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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Some Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Let me preface this piece by asserting a few facts: I am 19 years old. I go to one of the top communication schools in the United States with the end goal of becoming a professional motorsports journalist. My location may be somewhat far away from the IndyCar hub of Indianapolis, but I follow the sport religiously and have for years, and I feel like I'm pretty knowledgeable, both about the sport and my craft.

Of course, all the schooling in the world can't prepare you for situations in which things start to go wrong.

On Tuesday, I posted an opinion piece entitled "The Plight of the American Open-Wheel Racer," which was intended to be about Ryan Hunter-Reay's inability to secure a full-time IZOD IndyCar Series ride despite having done all the right things. In that column, I mentioned the possibility of him taking over the No. 24 car for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, as lead driver Mike Conway is injured.

Those of you who read the original piece can probably figure out the mistake I made - I chalked up the wreck to "Conway being Conway." What I had meant to say was that Mike Conway is one of the more aggressive drivers in the sport, and one of the most willing to make daring on-track maneuvers, something that most will probably concede. And although I did not phrase it in a convincing way, I enjoy aggressive drivers like Conway who make the races more entertaining. "So-and-so being so-and-so" is a remark familiar to most in my area, as Boston baseball fans had to put up with the antics of Manny Ramirez for almost a decade.

Unfortunately, I meant what I meant, and I said what I said, and they turned out to be two different things. In this situation, the remark was factually inaccurate - Hunter-Reay was running out of gas, and although Conway looked to be creating a new lane at the bottom of the track if one looks at the instant replay without the context, it was not in all actuality the case.

Now, this mistake might have gone unnoticed on my part if not for an interesting email that I received as I was walking out of my house on Wednesday. It appears that, for all of the times that I wonder whether or not anybody reads what I write at all, somebody did... and the reader just so happened to be Mike Conway's manager, Mark Blundell.

1990s Formula 1 and CART fans alike probably remember Blundell as a talented driver in both disciplines. He scored three podium finishes and 32 points in his brief F1 career, scoring a point in every season in which he competed. In a five-year CART career, he won three races, all in 1997, and won Autosport Magazine's British Driver of the Year award that year. More recently, he has been involved in driver management, with Conway and Formula 1 test driver/DTM racer Gary Paffett his top two clients.

On a more personal note, Blundell was almost always my driver of choice in CART Fury, Midway's attempt to combine the excitement of CART racing and the physical impossibility of the NFL Blitz videogames into one. I would compare receiving his email to first meeting somebody you looked up to as a child by spilling a boiling pot of spaghetti sauce onto their new white suit. In other words, it's not quite the best way to introduce yourself.

Clearly I didn't pick the right time to bring up Conway's aggressive driving tendencies anyway, in effect kicking a man while he's down. Believe me, I do feel bad. It clearly was not the time to form an opinion, much less voice it, and unlike big names like Robin Miller, who get to interact with the big names on a weekly basis, I'm a kid who's just trying to get his foot in the door without pissing too many people off.

This time, things didn't exactly go to plan. You live and you learn.

But the most embarrassing part about this whole mess for me is that I clearly have no idea how many people read what I have to say, or who my readers are. My IndyCar stuff primarily comes from OpenWheelAmerica.com, but I also post my writing to BleacherReport.com, OnPitRow.com, PitRoadScene.com, and my own personal blog. It gets hard to keep track of where everything is going, who hears things where, and so on.

So from here, I regroup - I make my apologies, I lick my wounds, I move on. We all make mistakes. And in the end, things could have been a whole lot worse all the way around. Next time, I'll try to say what I mean.

1 comment:

  1. Mike Conway's drive at Sonoma last year was a brilliant example of a racer driving like a hero. Mike has been one of my favorites ever since, and I wish him well as he makes a full recovery and speedy return to his seat at D&R.

    Being wrong is an inevitable consequence of speaking out: it happens to us all, and making honest corrections to honest mistakes is all we can do. Good on you, Christopher.

    As for the comment you received from Mr. Blundell: everything I write is done with the notion that an IRL official, team principal, driver, or engineer might be among the readers. Input from experts is the only way for me to proof a concept, or modify it, or reject it as a mistake...and apologize accordingly. Can't learn much any other way.

    When voices are raised in objection, we find out who is paying attention. When an article draws no respones...it has been ignored, or dismissed as trivial? Or the issues raised offer no points that can be debated with any validity?

    Mr. Blundell, or any other member of the IRL inner circle, have always been invited to comment on my articles. The one linked below speaks to the circumstances of Mike's incident, and how regulation changes could best be enacted to avoid such incidents in the future. It would be of great interest to know the reader's response to this and other initiatives.