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Road America Diary:
Day One
The Summer of Our Discontent

Elkhart Lake, Wisc., August 10 ó This was supposed to be our blowout weekend of the summer. Jeff and I have looked forward to this Champ Car and ALMS blockbuster of a weekend at Road America for months now. Weíre staying at a beautiful hotel; we spent our frequent flyer miles on an upgrade to first class, and weíre looking forward to some good times with our friends in racing. But noooo, sometimes life does not turn out as you plan. Sometimes travel plans go awry, and sometimes our freedoms that remain turn out to be as fragile as a race promoterís integrity. But, I digress.

Well, the good news is I am here at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, which in my opinion is the best and finest of all North American road courses. Our first class flight was fabulous. It didnít do us much good, of course. We never realized you had to fail an IQ test to work for the contractor who handles baggage for American Airlines at OíHare. We do now.

I could have lived without knowing this, but I am cranky to the extreme because American Airlines lost the one piece of luggage that has my shoes and makeup in it. Airlines, so the party line goes, donít actually lose baggage, they delay it. Itís called delayed baggage, not lost luggage.

Be that as it may, right now, my luggage, lost or delayed, is probably making out better than I am right now. At least its husband doesnít yell at it when it disagrees with the navigation systemís convoluted directions to the track. As far as American Airlines can tell, the TSA delayed one of our three bags at LAX. And then my frequently flying luggage allegedly flew with other similarly free spirited bags on a later flight to OíHare. Iím told I will actually have my lost luggage, oops, delayed baggage, today. Oh, yeah, right. I would bet on that if I could find Robin Millerís bookie. Or I might even bet on it if I could find Robin Miller, who normally does not miss a Champ Car race. Robin Miller is not here. But, again, I digress.

ďFreedom, oh freedom, itís just some people talkiníĒ is becoming a reality, Iím afraid. Actually, I am afraid. Iím more afraid about losing more freedoms than I am annoyed with my loose-living luggage.

It all started when the TSA wanted to ďpre-selectĒ me prior to the Portland trip earlier in the season. Numerous calls to my member of congress at least assured me there was someone in the government I could talk to about the governmentís interference in ordinary citizensí travel. I can probably even shrug off my concerns about the TSA delaying my bag. To my mind, the terrorist have won. US citizens can no longer fly and travel in general the way we used to, before 2001.

But, there is no way for me to ignore the very real concerns I have about Champ Car trying to muzzle journalists who donít toe the party line and who donít write only PR fluff. I have been worried about this for some time, but am even more concerned about this now with the reported pulling of Robin Millerís hard card.

Most of the journalists covering the series apply for and receive a ďhard cardĒ which allows them access to all Champ Car races without having to apply for a media credential at each race. More than a convenience, having a hard card with Champ Car has always separated the serious journalists from the ďI have a website but nothing elseĒ club of would-be journalists.

Of course, Champ Carís party line is now that it means no such thing, that the pulling of Millerís hard card was a necessary act but not to in any way stifle his ability to cover the Champ Car World Series. I would believe this, except for one thing. And that is, this just does not add up. Let us consider, for example, the articles that Miller wrote in the pre-season, the ones that got him and Steve Shunk fired from Champ Car.

The story goes that Shunk, who was VP of Public Relations, fed his buddy, Miller, a story that Gerald Forsythe was only going to run one car this season. First, Steve Shunkís contract was not renewed. I believe, along with others, that this move ultimately cost the series the services of news staffís Eric Mauk and Merrill Cain, who resigned in later months. Then, Miller had the guts to say what many of us were thinking but not writing very much about. He said, basically, the emperor has no clothes. There are no new sponsors, the new car has problems, and more critically, that Champ Car lacks leadership and was floundering like a ship running aground.

To a certain extent, I can understand and to a much lesser extent, support, Champ Carís decision to fire Robin Miller. He basically had a cake job to write fluff for the seriesí official website, and he still remained free to write what he wanted to write elsewhere. From that viewpoint, I can understand that Champ Car felt justified in firing Robin Miller because of what he wrote on Ė which was a piece not favorable to the series. It wasnít necessarily a smart move on their part for many reasons, one of which is Miller is well liked throughout the series, and no one wants to be seen as a bully. To a very limited extent, I support their right to employ who they wish, and Miller at least metaphorically was biting the hand that was feeding him.

At the time all of this happened we essentially said, well, at least they didnít pull his hard card. Now, his hard card has been revoked and the series has a messy public relations debacle on its hands with its ever dwindling press corps. While we were never a huge group, we have seen the number of writers who consistently decline every year. Of the known writers, there are only Robin Miller, Mike Harris, David Malsher, David Phillips, and Gordon Kirby. And, thatís it. The rest of us are pretty much ďno names.Ē Itís not that we donít write well, itís just we have many of the same problems as the series we cover Ė which is, no one knows who we are. So, in essence, Champ Car is doing the same thing it fired Miller for to begin with Ė which is, it is biting the hand thatís feeding them.

As this is written, we really know nothing about why Robin Millerís credentials were revoked. Nor is it the business of this writer as to why this happened. Unless one of the parties Ė that would be CCWS or Mr. Robin Miller Ė cares to tell us Ė it will remain a private matter as perhaps it should. The public side of this is that in nearly all the actions that Champ Car has taken this year with regard to its relationships with the press and its news staff Ė it has given the impression, rightly or wrongly, that it does not support a free press. If that is the case, itís a huge moral and philosophical issue.

At least, it is for me, as a descendant of the first martyr to freedom of the press in this country. And, even giving that impression is a problem of image. That is what has made this a debacle and a public relations issue.

I neither know nor care why Steve Shunk left Champ Car. He always treated us decently and with the respect he felt ďInternet mediaĒ were due. I was told that Eric Mauk left Champ Car due to family considerations, and I gotta tell you, I didnít believe him. Ericís leaving has been a huge loss to the series and I do care about that. Ditto Merrill Cainís departure from Atlantic, which has also created a void which as of yet is not filled. In a matter of months, the entire News and PR Department of Champ Car turned over. Replacements have been hired, itís true, but this kind of 100% turnover is exceedingly rare in most organizations, even in racing.

And, it makes one wonder why it happened at all. Rumors abound, but we are not in the rumor business. It does make us wonder if muzzling the press is in fact an objective of Champ Car. Well, if this little Ms. No Nameís credential also gets revoked, we shall have our answer. Itís not the answer I seek, itís certainly not the answer I want, but it would be a definitive answer. The waters of Champ Car media are often murky, and of course, I prefer clarity. Iím just not so sure Iím good martyr material as was my ancestor.

Hopefully, answers about this possibly missing freedom and my lost luggage will emerge as this weekend unfolds. I would love for this to be the winter rather than the summer of my discontent. Iím ready for my bratwurst, Mr. Kalkhoven.

Copyright © 2007 by Lisa Davidson and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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