Saturday, May 29, 2010

Coke 600, NBA, NHL...

Getting ready to roll to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Nationwide Series race, but wanted to knock out a couple of thoughts.

  • Plenty of story lines this weekend at the track, but none more compelling than the Joe Gibbs Racing tandem of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. The teammates took center stage last Saturday in the All Star Race, when Kyle appeared to have a run on Hamlin's outside, only to have Hamlin shut the door. Busch ran into the fence, and was, well, upset with his teammate. 5 days later, cooler heads had not fully prevailed. My take on it: Both drivers were right in their thinking. Hamlin was the race leader. It's his job to try to win the race. Busch was coming on strong, and was trying to win the race. There is nothing wrong with drivers wanting the checkered flag. The $1 million dollar payout was a part of the hard feelings, but in the end, I would prefer to see teammates sniping at each other as they go after victories. There will come a time when these guys are no longer driving competitively. They may look back and laugh, or still harbor ill will. Personally, their feud is good for NASCAR, because it's got people talking.
  • Farewell to the Orlando Magic. For a team that looked unbeatable in the first 2 rounds, they looked more than mortal against Boston. Bobcats fans I spoke with before the playoffs began said they would have preferred facing the Celtics in the opening round. I submit to you, the outcome likely wouldn't have been different. That's no slap on the Bobcats. I felt Boston was a bad matchup for Charlotte, and many other teams. Orlando's run to repeat as Eastern Conference champs came to a halt against a team that showed more heart, and desire than the Magic. Will Boston beat Los Angeles or Phoenix? I won't say they will, but I certainly won't count them out.
  • Stanley Cup Finals get underway Saturday night, Chicago facing Philadelphia. If you know anything about me, you know I am a die-hard Blackhawks fan. Have been all my life. Needless to say, I am thrilled the Blackhawks are in the Finals. On paper, they look to have the better team. Personally, I'm not buying Philly being a pushover like some might suggest. The Flyers are a wonderful team, that is as close to healthy as they have been all post-season. Chicago poses a challenge for the Flyers, one that I don't think the Flyers will be able to handle. Suffice to say, the on-air battle between me, and my counterpart Jim Connors (Philly native), should be entertaining. Unofficially, we have a wager that the if Chicago wins the series, Jim has to wear Blackhawks gear on a show, and vice versa. I already have a Flyers jersey (part of a collection of NHL sweaters), so I will pay up if I have to. The fan in me says I won't have to.

Mike Solarte

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Great weekend, but first...

Tremendous weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway (I still have to correct myself when I begin to type "Low..."), but before I talk racing and other stuff, I gotta unload this.

Carolina Panthers. What are you thinking?

Summer School, also known as Organized Team Activities (OTA's for short), began on Monday, but unless you follow me on Twitter (or any other Panthers reporters), you won't know what's going on. You see, the Panthers are only opening OTA workouts to the media on Tuesday and Thursday. And even then, I suspect the same rules (for TV) will be in place. We can only shoot a very limited portion of the workout, at the beginning of practice. It
s called "stretching."

This is a mistake, in my opinion. The media is the bridge from the team to the fans. Panther fans want to know what's going on with their team, especially after this past off-season. The team jettisoned so much of their roster (nevermind guys that left via free agency), that there is very little experience remaining. It's a young team that is heading into 2010. Fans want to know what's going on.

Also, I don't truly get what the hang up is with TV cameras shooting practice. It's football. It's not government secrets. TV stations aren't selling copies of practice video on the black market, or to other NFL teams. I'd love to hear why this is such a hang up. I just don't see it.

While on the topic of the NFL, ESPN's John Clayton reporting that the 2014 Super Bowl looks like it is heading to New York. Some reward for the teams that make it there. No warm destination city to play for the title in. No warm game conditions. Let's not forget the game is in late January/early February. The Super Bowl has always been played in either a warm city, or domed stadium. 2014 would be outdoors in cold (snowy?) New York. I don't like it.

OK, enough rambling about that.

NASCAR took center stage over the weekend, with the All Star Race and Hall of Fame Inductions. The race itself was a snoozer until the final 10 laps. Got interesting when teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch had their little get together. Hamlin shut the door on the outside racing lane, causing Busch to hit the fence. Busch would later wreck out of the event, and use some rather colorful language about his teammate over his radio. It's something we'll have to watch, but in my estimation, it's a non-story.

What you have are two drivers, very talented, and very competitive. Hamlin asked the question via his Twitter feed after the race, "would Kyle pull over and let me pass if the roles were reversed?" That answer, plainly, is no. No way. Heck no. Once the calm sets in, Kyle will see Denny did what ANY driver would do, teammate or not. I love the fire in Kyle, though. The guy hates losing. All drivers are like that, but Kyle shows it. That rocks.

Lost in all the post-race JGR drama, was the fact that Kurt Busch won the darn thing, and the $1 million dollar payday. He was solid all night, but would he have been the one at the front if Jimmie Johnson hadn't spun out? Maybe. The class cars of the field were the 2 (Kurt Busch), 11 (Hamlin), 18 (Kyle Busch), and the 48 (Johnson). Martin Truex, Jr. was the leader of the 2nd tier of cars, and he finished 2nd. Shame that the 11, 18 and 48 had troubles late.

Hall of Fame Inductions were impressive, but had moments of "huh?" sprinkled in. As I mentioned in this little corner of the web, the initial HOF class was a winner, even if Bill France, Jr. got in earlier than I would have put him in (I would have chosen David Pearson, but that's me). Bill France, Sr,., Junior Johnson, Richard Petty, and Dale Earnhardt rounded out the 5 inductees. Solid.

A nice ceremony for all in attendance, but, some observations:
  • Classy move by Jim France, donating Bill Sr's HOF ring to the Hall. That piece of history will be on display for all time--the first HOF ring ever issued. Nice moment.
  • Weird sight-Dale Earnhardt, Jr. standing next to Teresa Earnhardt for the post-induction speech photo with The Intimidator's HOF spire. Also check the sports page in the Charlotte Observer. Teresa is speaking at the podium, Dale Jr. is in the background, arms crossed.
  • Junior Johnson's acceptance speech was funny, but a little rambly at times. Having never really covered him as a driver or owner, I'm simply chalking that up to Junior being Junior. His "breakfast plate" story was a classic, one which I have been using for some time now. Guess I know the origin.
  • Kyle Petty's presentation of The King was very cool. Kyle saying he was wearing one of his father's Daytona 500 Rolex watches, and he was on his way to wearing the HOF ring.
  • And then there was Dale Jr., talking about racing his father in Japan, the day he finally met "The Intimidator." Said he was running away from him, "like I got an "F" on my report card."

All of the moments were special. For every single new member of the Hall, Sunday was a unique experience. Even for those in the crowd, it was touching. I was happy to be a part of that day, even as an observer, and someone to document the occasion. Hard to debate the first class of inductees, but going forward, there will be (and should be) some passionate discussions regarding who is going in. The NHOF should keep this in mind: It's a Hall of Fame for the "greats," not the "very goods." The first 5 were greats. Keep it that way.

One other item, ESPN's Rick Bucher saying that Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski is a logical choice to replace the fired-as-of-Monday Mike Brown in Cleveland. Why is it that whenever an NBA job opens up, Coach K is the first guy people think of? K hasn't left Durham in 30 years. He's going to jump to the NBA because LeBron might want him? Flaws in this: 1) LeBron might not be there next season. 2) K is coming off of a National Championship at Duke. 3) He was reportedly in the mix to coach the LA Lakers, with Kobe Bryant, which he refused. So again, I ask, why would he go to the NBA now?

Have a great week--we're back at Charlotte Motor Speedway Thursday for qualifying for the Coca Cola 600!

Mike Solarte

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The LeBron Saga and more...

I wish I could remember who Tweeted this comment so I could give them full credit, but when did John Calipari become Red Auerbach?


Also, why is he part of the Summer of LeBron? More on LeBron and the NBA later.

Raceweeks are in Charlotte, a busy All Star Week kicked off Monday night with Jeff Burton saying he was embarrassed and disgusted that he is not locked into the All Star Race. I love Burton. He speaks his mind, and does it in a way that isn't nasty, or demeaning. The guy is genuinely hacked off that his team hasn't done enough to earn a spot. He also says he appreciates those who vote for him, but he wants to race his way into the event, via the All Star Showdown. Those comments alone might earn him enough fan support to get him in. Fans can still vote at

JR Motorsports announced Tuesday that Greg Sacks will drive the #88 Chevrolet at Daytona in the Nationwide Series race in July. Yes. I said Greg Sacks. I want to see Dale Earnhardt, Jr. succeed both as a driver and an owner. As a driver, it seems his crew (along with the #5 team of Mark Martin) are having a tough time figuring out the best combinations with the spoiler. As an owner, playing musical drivers with the #88 Nationwide ride is doing nothing more than confusing people. I am hoping that is not an indication of how things are being run at JRM. Again, I want to see him succeed. When Dale Jr. is going well (as driver or an owner) that is good for NASCAR. Period.

Brian Vickers is still on the mend. No word yet on whether he will be driving in the All Star race on Saturday, but he plans to address the media on Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Vickers was diagnosed with blood clots in his legs and near his lungs last week. That kept him out of the Dover race, with Casey Mears filling in for him. Here's to a speedy recovery to BV.

OK, back to hoops. LeBron has things he has to deal with in regards to his future, but linking Calipari with him makes it a circus. How those two got hooked together in the first place is beyond me, but LeBron is going to sign a contract with someone, and that includes Cleveland. I think he will walk, but the talk of him going to Chicago puzzles me. LeBron idolizes Michael Jordan. Where would he be better served, striking out on his own (or even remaining in Cleveland) to build his own legacy, or going to the House that Michael Built? To me, him being in Chicago would be a tough chore. He would really, and I mean REALLY, be in Jordan's playing shadow (MJ still has a statue outside the United Center). The Summer of LeBron will be interesting to watch.

Boston took a 1-0 series lead on Orlando, handing the Magic their first playoff loss this post-season. A minor setback for the Magic. I think they will win the series, and go back to the Finals. They beat Charlotte, destroyed Atlanta, and they will get by Boston. The Celtics aren't the same team that won it all a couple years ago, a little longer in the tooth. Still capable, but against the younger Magic, I feel they might run out of gas.

The Lakers got 40 from Kobe Bryant in their opener against Phoenix (a.k.a. Bobcats West), in a 128-107 win. The Lakers are deep, and that poses problems for the Suns. I won't count Phoenix out just yet, because a lot can happen in a series, but getting thumped by 21 in the opener sends a bad message.

Quick mention of the Stanley Cup playoffs--wow, has it been exciting! Eastern Conference semi-finals both go 7 games, and the underdogs advance? Really? The 7-8 matchup between Philadelphia and Montreal (Philly leads 1-0) for the Prince of Wales Trophy, and in the West, the 1-2 matchup of San Jose and Chicago (Chicago leads 1-0).

Enjoy the racing!

Mike Solarte

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

It's a busy time around here....

NBA Playoffs, Quail Hollow Championship, NASCAR Hall of Fame opening, Ultra Swim, Race! Couple random thoughts to empty my brain.
  • The NASCAR Hall of Fame is now officially open for business. I am looking forward to my first visit there (I've been inside, but not as a spectator, just on a work assignment). I can easily see myself being lost in there for hours. The new Hall is impressive on the outside, and equally impressive from the inside (from what I have seen on video). Said it before, they got the 1st induction class right, and of the 25 names selected to be in the eligible inductees all of them will get in as time goes by. The induction ceremony takes place May 23rd, the day after the All Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
  • Speaking of racing, don't be too quick to grab the shovel to bury Jimmie Johnson just yet. Yes, the #48 team is in a funk, but they have shown the ability to overcome adversity in the past. I would expect them to be in the thick of things when it gets down to crunch time. Meanwhile, big props to Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin. They are getting it done, and Hamlin is doing it while rehabbing after knee surgery. Dover this week, before the free-for-all running at the All Star.
  • Still no word from Larry Brown what his future plans are. Brown is feeling the tug of home, and the tug of doing what he loves. As I said before, I think he will leave the Bobcats, because he loves his family. It's a tough choice to make, but in the end, I think family will win out. Selfishly, I hope he will stay. The Bobcats are at their highest point, and have loads of room to grow. Brown has been a cultivator with this team, and it would be a shame for him to miss the harvest.
  • The Stanley Cup Playoffs grind their way towards a close of round 2, and the San Jose Sharks are the only ones waiting and resting. The Sharks await the winner of the Chicago-Vancouver series (CHI leads 3-2), with in the Eastern Conference, Pittsburgh and Montreal will meet for a game 7 on Wednesday, while Boston and Philadelphia play game 6 on Wednesday. It has been exciting to watch, and it really makes you realize just how hard it is to win a championship of any kind.
  • Many of the biggest names in swimming will be in Charlotte for the 26th Ultra Swim at the Mecklenburg Aquatics Center. I know what you're thinking, what big names? Start with that Michael Phelps guy. Then there is Cullen Jones and Aaron Piersol. They go on and on, and add in a purse of $50,000 dollars, and you get a world class event. If you can check it out, do so.

On the way out, if you are into social media, we have it all. You can become a fan of Sports Night on Facebook. You can follow me on Twitter ( and now, the News 14 iPhone app is available! You can download it from the App Store, and it's at a price you can't beat. Free!

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Remembering Ernie Harwell

One of the great joys of my life is satellite radio. As a sports fan it allows me to hear other team's announcers and get at least a small window into another city.

No sport connects its announcers with its teams more than baseball; and the game lost one of the truly legendary voices Tuesday in Ernie Harwell. He was Detroit Tigers baseball. He was the lifeline between the team and the fans who invited the Hall of Fame broadcaster into their homes via the radio on a daily basis.

The truth is you didn't need to be a Tigers fan to appreciate how Harwell called a baseball game. I can remember listening to him on my satellite radio back in 2006. Harwell (who had retired in 2002) entered the Tigers radio booth to call a few innings of a postseason game. He was by far better than either of the two regular Tiger radio broadcasters. What a shame, I thought, to have been deprived of this great broadcaster most of my life since I didn't grow up in Michigan. And thank heaven I got to hear him one last time.

Harwell handled his battle with cancer with such grace and dignity that we should all be so lucky to handle a trying event in our lives in the same manner.

Sadly, we are losing more and more of the great announcers. Red Barber, Mel Allen, Harry Carey, and Jack Buck are all gone. The broadcasters of today would be wise to study and learn a thing or two from the greats of the past.

It's probably why I treasure my satellite radio so. Every chance I get, I listen to Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, who I grew up with on NBC's old "Baseball Game of the Week" telecasts. Scully is 82 and yet still paints the best picture of a baseball game. I imagine I'll shed several tears the day Scully joins Barber, Allen Carey and Buck in that press box in the sky.

Until then I'll cherish every game I get to hear Scully and the few other great baseball broadcasters call on my satellite radio.

Next to marrying me, it's the best gift my wife ever gave me.

Jason Brown