Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Scrubbing the 500, and more

Props too you, if you stayed up late watching the Daytona 500 to its Tuesday morning finish. Fans had a choice to hit "record" and watch it at a reasonable time. I had to wait it out, which is not a complaint, just part of the job.

I'm glad that I did, because I would have missed the mayhem that was the 54th running of the Great American Race. You had Elliott Sadler go brain-dead and run into the back of Jimmie Johnson at the start of lap 2 (Sadler apologized to Johnson on Tuesday), a relatively calm 140 some laps after that, and then the most bizarre on-track moment I have ever seen.

A wreck with a jet dryer. Under caution.

Mind you, this was a complete and total accident, no one person is to blame here. Something (still undetermined as of this entry), broke on the #42 machine of Juan Pablo Montoya, causing him to lose control of the car, and slide wildly and directly into a jet-dryer on the track. The dryer was cleaning up "speedy-dry", a substance used to clean up oil on the track. The resulting crash caused the dryer to burst into flames, causing roughly 200 gallons of jet fuel to burn. Once the fire was out, track workers used Tide, as in the laundry detergent, so scrub the track clean of excess jet fuel. The subsequent delay lasted over 2 hours, and once repairs to the racing surface were complete, the race finished in typical Daytona fashion. By typical, I mean pack racing wrecks taking place as drivers tried to improve their finish in the season opener.

There are those who are on the outside of NASCAR and they viewed Monday-Tuesday's event as a disaster. It truly wasn't. It could have been, but the folks with NASCAR and the Daytona International Speedway rescued what could have been a horrible situation. I did not think the race was going to be completed, and Dave Blaney was going to be named the winner. I never thought the cars would see another green flag. Hats off to the folks in charge for finding a way to finish the race, and do it as safely as you can at a restrictor plate track.

Shifting gears, so to speak, got into a Twitter discussion with some folks on Monday, who continue to clamor for the Charlotte Bobcats to change their name to "Hornets." We're really STILL having this discussion?

OK, reminders as to why this isn't happening. First, changing your name means changing your logo, uniforms, branding, marketing, etc. All of which is unnecessary expense. Unless you simply hate the name that much to want to do something about it, you won't. Secondly, the Hornets nickname is currently in use in New Orleans, which makes it highly doubtful it would be used by another team at the same time.

Now let me add this: I understand that basketball fans in Charlotte feel a sense of "ownership" with the name "Hornets," especially if they were around at the teams inception. I get the4 connection to Zo, LJ, Dave Cowens, and on and on and on. It's not lost on me. What is lost on many, though, is that the glory days of the Hornets didn't last that long. The divorce was as messy and bitter between the city and team ownership, that it blows my mind that the craving for the "Hornets" nickname still exists.

The fact that the Bobcats are struggling, and pretty much have since day one, has absolutely nothing to do with the fact they are called the Bobcats. Their record would not be reversed if they were the Hornets. It has everything to do with Bob Johnson's utter mismanagement of the basketball team, making poor decisions on many fronts, and finally selling off controlling interest to Michael Jordan. Jordan has had his stumbles as well, and made his share of mistakes. The mess of issues he has had to climb out from is mind-boggling. I am not defending MJ for some of the decisions, but I am willing to give the guy time to move the franchise forward.

The Bobcats have to focus on the names on the back of the jersey, more than the logo or team name on the front. Those are the bigger issues.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The engines have fired

I am a native of Chicago, IL, but I am a gear head.

Yep, I love me some NASCAR.

And I will be on the couch Sunday watching the season opening Daytona 500 like millions of other race fans. Some thoughts after watching the Gatorade Duels on Thursday.

  • I like the return of pack racing, but I am also ready to see the tandems show up at the end of the race. It's just the nature of these cars. The drivers seemed to be a bit wary of the packs, and I think Darrell Waltrip has it right. The decrease in spoiler height makes the cars a bit more unstable. Good for the fans who want to see those close calls, but white knuckle time for the guys behind the wheel.

  • I am still not sold on Danica Patrick's success in stock cars, but she sold me on her ability, and guts Thursday. On the final lap of the first Duel, Patrick was in the wrong place at the wrong time, a victim of some inner-pack shuffling. Aric Almirola got shoved into the side of her car, and Patrick absorbed a violent impact on the inside retaining wall (properly covered with SAFER barrier). Patrick's hit was a passenger side strike, which was a good thing, but her in-car camera showed her releasing the steering wheel before the impact. Sure, lots of drivers do that, but for the spotlight on her constantly, she is showing herself to be far better than her critics are giving her credit for. Good on her, and glad she wasn't injured.

  • Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth won the Duels respectively, and I wouldn't be surprised if Stewart wins the 500 on Sunday. I know, going out on a limb there, but if it's not Stewart, then give be.....Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Yep, the 88 ran pretty well Thursday, and wasn't really trying to show too much. There is a renewed sense of vigor in Dale Jr., something I picked up on during the pre-season media blitz. This might be a good one for him to win, and rejuvenate his fan base. Not they need much of a boost, anyway.

Needless to say, this is just one race. There will be 25 others before the Chase gets underway, and I am looking forward to enjoying as many laps of it as I can.


Mike Solarte

Monday, February 20, 2012

Spraying to All Fields

The ACC race is sorting itself out, a little anyway. UNC, Duke and FSU remain at the top of the hill, and others are falling by the wayside. The biggest story in the league over the weekend turned out to be a referee tossing a pair of school legends.

Karl Hess ejected Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani, claiming the duo was inciting fans, as well as approaching the scorers table. Hess sent an e-mail on Monday, and here is how it reads:

"They were ejected for excessive demonstration on several calls as they came right up to the scorer's table. The policeman at the end of the FSU bench was warned that their continual excessive demonstration that incited the crowd would result in ejection."

Hess was reprimanded by the league for not following ACC protocol in handling such a situation. A response from Commissioner John Swofford followed suit:

"Karl Hess is one of the best on-court officials in college basketball, but the ACC has established a game management protocol, which allows the opportunity to potentially diffuse any situations before they reach the level of ejection. His reprimand is a result of a failure to follow that protocol."

Hess was reprimanded by the league the following day, but here's my question,and it's one I can ask having been a hockey referee. How can you hear two particular guys in an arena filled with screaming fans? Turn off the radar, Karl. Keep the rabbit ears down. You are a good official, and don't need to get involved with that kind of mess. In the end, Hess looks worse than the fans in question, because instead of letting his thick skin thwart the verbal jabs, he gave in, and responded.

I'm not saying Googs, and Corch were in the right. I don't know what they said, nor will I pretend to think I know. I do, however, know the officials have to be concerned with what is happening in the game, more than what is going on in the stands.

I have tried to stay away from Jeremy Lin, but I can't any longer. The kid is having a phenomenal run playing guard for the New York Knicks. Sadly, his on-court work is getting overshadowed by the unfortunate slurs of some members of the media. One poorly phrased headline cost someone their job, a radio personality using the same phrase was suspended for 30 days. Then you have folks comparing Lin to Tim Tebow.


Let Jeremy Lin play basketball. As fans, let's all enjoy just how much fun he is having playing, and obviously playing well. And most of all, let's treat Lin like he's any other player in the league. His nationality is a NON STORY. The story is the fact he has taken a Knicks team on a magical 8-2 run since he hit the floor. THAT is the story.

I must admit, I wanted to stay away from Lin, but the firing of the ESPN employee hit me close to home. When in college, I wrote a headline for my school paper that, to me, was nothing. It was later pointed out to me, by our advisor, that I could have gone a different way with it. I am intentionally NOT repeating it here, because I learned a valuable lesson about copy editing as a result of that. Of course, the circulation of the paper was small, and it was long before internet (yeah, I'm that old), but I have never forgotten that lesson.

I guess I am writing this to say I can understand, and believe the person who was fired simply made an honest mistake. I made it myself. I don't see color. I don't see race. I wasn't raised to be a hateful person. I see people. I see human beings. I see individuals who have beliefs that may be similar or different than my own.

In the end, we're all just people trying to do the best we can, at what we do.

Mike Solarte

Monday, February 13, 2012

The ACC coming off of turn 4....

The ACC race is actually a race, and not because it's coming down to North Carolina and Duke. It's a race because it's UNC, Duke AND Florida State!

I have no allegiances here, but the ACC is better when there is another team in the mix not named UNC or Duke.

While Tar Heel fans were down (and frankly stunned) when Duke took the first meeting last Wednesday, those that remained on the ledge were talked back in after the Heels took care of a very good Virginia team. Carolina will be fine, and the season finale in Durham could end up being another classic.

With about a month left in the basketball regular season (three weeks, really), I am going to put a minimum of 4 ACC teams in the NCAA Tournament. They are UNC, Duke, FSU and Virginia. NC State still has work to do, in my opinion, to punch their ticket. That work involves adding to their ACC win total. Nine wins in the ACC will be enough for the Wolfpack, and they sit at 7. To me, an over .500 record in league play will do the trick. The ACC is not the dominant league like it was in yesteryear, but it is up from where it was. I also think Miami has an outside shot, but like NC State, they have work to do, and just 6 games left to do it.

As for the top seed in the ACC Tournament, here's what the top three teams have ahead of them:

Duke: v. NCSU, @ Boston College, @ FSU, v. Va Tech, @ Wake, v. UNC
UNC: @ Miami, v. Clemson, @ NCSU, @ Virginia, v. Maryland, @ Duke
FSU: @ NCSU, v. VT, v. Duke, @ Miami, @ Virginia, v. Clemson

Biggest remaining games are Duke at FSU, UNC at Duke and FSU @ NC State. The FSU-NCSU game is big for both teams. An NCSU win gets them no worse than .500 in league play. FSU needs it to keep pace with the Heels and Devils.

There will be plenty of action to set up the seeds in Atlanta, and my advice to hoop fans everywhere is simple. Enjoy the ride.

Mike Solarte

Friday, February 3, 2012

Bobcats and Super Bowl XLVI

For all those folks clamoring for a coaching change for the Charlotte Bobcats, please stop. The number is small, but the fear I have is that their dull noise will grow into a roar.

Paul Silas wasn't given a championship contender to work with. He was given a team, that if they were healthy, could be competitive. Truth is, a couple games over .500 would have been remarkable. Instead, Silas has had to work with a young group, that has been battered by injuries, and very few practices with which to work due to the compressed schedule.

The injuries might be the byproduct of the lockout that cost teams a normal training camp, but the facts are this: this team was short on a full bench worth of talent at the start, injuries to top players have killed them, and ultimately, Silas is not to blame. This record with a healthy roster? The song changes.

Super Bowl XLVI (46 for the Roman numerically challenged), should, and I stress SHOULD, be a fantastic game. The Patriots and Giants have proven themselves to be the best teams in their respective conferences. Yes, both had to dodge some playoff bullets to get here, but give them the proper credit. I picked against the Giants in their playoff opener with Atlanta, but haven't since.

New England has returned to its usual self. You know, the team that angers America because they play so well, with their hoodied Head Coach Bill Belichick, and their GQ cover boy Tom Brady. Yep, those Patriots. Yes, they had to dodge the endzone drop against Baltimore to make it to Indianapolis, but they are worthy AFC champions.

Who am I taking? The football pick is New York. The sentimental pick, however, is New England.

Yes, I said the sentimental pick is New England.

Football fans, remember this: the 2011 NFL season may not have taken place in its entirety, minus the Hall of Fame game, if it weren't for Patriots owner Robert Kraft. No disrespect meant to Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, or Giants owner John Mara, or any of the others that took part in the lockout discussions. Kraft was there, while his wife, Myra, the love of his life, lay dying. She passed away just prior to the deal being completed, and through Kraft's work (which I have heard was instrumental), the season was saved.

You show me a football fan that didn't get a lump in their throat when they saw the image of Kraft and Colts center Jeff Saturday embrace on the day of the lockout's end, and I'll show you a corpse.

So, here you go:

Giants 28
Patriots 21

SENTIMENTAL PICK (and Mike's pick)
Giants 24
Patriots 27

Mike Solarte