Feeling good about the U.S. GP? Then don’t read this

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Consider the following a public service.

There are two intended audiences, which should — should — cover just about everyone reading.

Audience No. 1: North American motorsport fans.

Audience No. 2: Non-North American motorsport fans.

My words for both regard this blog post at ESPN, by a guy, Ryan McGee, who I think we can agree knows a lot about sports with engines, who has seen a lot of the business develop or try to develop in America and who might — might — have a bias against Formula 1 nudging into NASCAR territory. (That last bit, I don’t know. It’s a could be, I guess.)

In short, he doesn’t paint a very rosy picture of the Austin grand prix’s prospects. But before we despair, my public service cautions. First, to non-North American race fans:

The fact that ESPN is paying even a blog’s worth of attention to the Austin race is a bit of a big deal. Formula 1 is fairly low on our major sports channel’s radar screen. I can’t easily remember the last time I saw coverage on its signature Sportscenter show. Yes, F1 races get some coverage online as part of ESPN’s “racing” section, but it gets lumped in with everything non-NASCAR.

ESPN has a strangely symbiotic relationship with the sports it covers. It televises sports so it has a vested interest in promoting those sports, too. It isn’t as editorial clean and free as a newspaper or even a Sports Illustrated would be.

And I won’t even go into “The Decision.”

So for ESPN to be paying attention is good. It is a big part of what F1 and the Austin promoters need. I honestly think they are at the point where any — any — news is good news. Bringing Max Mosley to Austin and ensuring he gets caught with a Texas-sized stripper might be the best thing the promoters could do.

So the tone you will read — keep in context. Formula 1 is still that “European” sport that could be made fun of so easily in Talledega Nights. And with F1 coverage tied to Fox Sports — an ESPN competitor — then you really have to just keep in mind the other factors going into ESPN coverage.

Now, you North American fans, who with several of us at F1B have to suffer as fans of a relatively obscure sport. (Maybe this doesn’t apply to you Canadians, as I think about it. Lucky such-and-suches.)

A lot of the above should be familiar, but maybe it’s a healthy reminder — especially of the Fox vs. ESPN dynamic. I don’t want to put too much credence in that, but I don’t want to discount it, either.

For us, probably the best thing that could happen would be for Fox to see this as an opportunity to claim a sport that it has the rights too. And then promote the heck out of it across its many media platforms.

Fox and Friends in the morning? They should have Michael Schumacher on. The Simpsons should do an F1-themed show. Rupert Murdock’s many news papers — say, doesn’t he own the Wall St. Journal — should be covering this sport.

Synergy, people, synergy!

All that aside, though, you North American — especially U.S. — fans probably have painful memories of a few of the items the ESPN blog covers. It’s a good reminder that we need to keep some caution mixed with our optimism.

And I can tell you with 212% confidence that if we don’t all pull for the race — not uncritically, because smart criticism can help make the final race better — it may end up in the “file folder” McGee has sitting there in his office.

Public service complete. Here are a few excerpts:

Why am I so jaded? Why am I not excited about the prospect of a custom Hermann Tilke-designed, state-of-the-art course being built in the U.S.? Why am I, the writer who went to Montreal last month and almost drooled onto Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari, not salivating about this new track?

Because here in my office where I currently type I literally have a file packed with nearly two decades of news releases, all promising new racetracks, racing series and teams … none of which ever actually existed or at best tripped over their own shoes coming out of the starting gate. On Monday, when the Austin news conference was announced, I realized that I am not alone in my eyebrow-raising. Within minutes my Twitter account was crackling with correspondence from colleagues throughout the motorsports media centers. We collectively shuddered as we recounted the long list of phantom launches we’ve had to endure.

[snip]

But our list of whiffs isn’t limited merely to racetracks. The roster of race teams, series and sponsors that barely, if ever, made it past the news release is even longer. (Speedblock and Big Daddy’s BBQ Sauce, where you at?)

I have shaken hands with billionaires, movie stars and sports heroes, all announcing that they were ready to become team owners. Some did get started, only to vanish just as quickly. Others never made it as far as purchasing a tool box. Alex Meshkin, Bobby Ginn, Tim Brown, the Wayans brothers, Jackie Joyner Kersee, Terrence Mathis, I’m looking at you.

[snip]

So perhaps now you can understand my cynicism when a group of Texans I’ve never heard of announce that they are building a world-class racetrack in the middle of nowhere, backed by a billionaire, with plans to host a decade of racing by the world’s richest, most prestigious motorsports series.

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