Two years ago Johnny and I drove 9 hours to Daytona. We stopped halfway and charged the company for dinner and a dingy Comfort Inn. I've never been a NASCAR fan, never watched a race, never understood the attraction at all.
Still, we'd been sent there, a token news crew, to do a series of "feature" profiles. The empty suits down the hall figure a week of stories about people who like NASCAR will draw viewers who like NASCAR for all of "Race Week". I cut the ribbon on an unlucky streak that week. It was born again last week.
Funny think about poker. It's still gambling. I know, it's a game of skill as much as any. I'd tend to agree. But every 80-20 roll gets stupid 1 time in 5.
Duh? Basic Math? Not to your brain. Or heart.
Admit it, my friendly reader, you know the odds are rigged. How often do you push in a winner and EXPECT to lose? If my opponent has 3 outs on the river, I watch the table like Eskimos watch the weather. It's gonna suck. It always does.
When I play on River Stars (I actually like the site, but I've resolved to call it that just to piss Otis off), I actually cover the screen with my hand and peel it slowly away from each card, expecting to see the one card that shoots me down. Luck, as they say, is when preparation and determination run into donkeys with draws.
That first time in Daytona, we had garage passes, a credit card, and 6 stories to shoot in just 3 days. Kevin LePage was the first one in the can.
On media day, when NASCAR crowds drivers 10 at a time into an air conditioned tent outside the track, he was sitting at the last podium in the back corner. The most famous drivers were buried beneath a microphone tree, where each local reporter reached ever higher to tilt their mic toward his prophetic words. Kevin, was totally ignored.
It was then I noticed he drove the #4 car. We're channel 4. The race is on our station. Cross-promotion?! You BET!
He was very nice. So was the otherwise bored PR woman by his side. We asked him about the race, and he kindly answered every one. The next day we toured his trailer, got a close up look at the car, and got to know our new favorite driver.
The story aired on a Wednesday, before the race. I told viewers to watch out for the #4 on 4. I'm sure some of them tried. They had to look fast. His engine exploded on one of the first laps.
I didn't see that coming.
I had this nutty teacher my senior year of high school. He was obsessed with stuff like the Kennedy assasination, backwards lyrics on Beatles albums, and Alien encounters. But I'll always remember the results of one actual study: Grasshoppers in a Jar.
The idea is, grasshoppers who grow up inside any enclosed envorinment will learn to stop jumping so damn high. Even insects, it seems, can modify behavior after enough bashings to the head. But, the interesting part, is what happens AFTER they're released: they never jump higher than the confines of the jar, ever again. The habit became a permanant limitation.
The standard grasshopper can jump almost a meter, rising to a height of almost 25cm.
I wonder if experienced poker players have a sort of grasshopper effect. Does a long night of bad beats limit our interest in otherwise reasonable plays? I know I come to EXPECT bad beats over time.
So, back to the curse.
Last week the News Director, in the middle of a ratings decline, came by my humble cube with a simple request. "Think of something to tie into this Daytona race," he said, " and it needs to be something that gets those people to watch."
I don't think he meant, "Those people" in a judgemental way.
Here's the story I found:
There's this community college, about 60 miles away, in an otherwise barren part of North Carolina. The kids there, students in auto mechanics, formed an afterschool club to practice working as a NASCAR pit crew. Kinda neat... I thought.
Here's the good part.
A Busch series team owner, who built his shop very close to the school, didn't want to pay a real pit crew for the entire season. So, he bought all the training supplies and told the kids, "Get me a professional time on tires, and you'll be my real crew all season... starting at Daytona."
The kids trained every day, actually running wind sprints with 60 pound tires to get in shape, and they've cut their time to 14 seconds... for all four tires. That's as good as Jeff Gordon or Junior's teams ever do.
We shot the story at the school. The kids were great.
We went to the shop and talked to the owner, who was very accomodating.
Then we needed them in action at the track. Luckily for us, they were headed down to PRACTICE in an ARCA race (which is the minor minor leagues of racing) that Saturday. Even more lucky, we already had a sports crew in Daytona to show the preps for race week.
We arranged the shoot. The story was gold.
That Saturday, our sports guy called from Florida, "Ummmm, we didn't get that video."
"Why not?" I asked.
"The car blew an engine during practice... I didn't qualify"
I lost a $50 tournament at The Mark on Saturday. I played the best poker I've played in a long time. After getting shortstacked early, I made it to the bubble. The hand that crippled me...
I pushed to a raise and Shep, who still had a pretty nice stack, called. I knew the 10 was coming before the dealer grabbed the cards. It flopped and I was done. Not out. But Shep made the money and I didn't.
Funny how we come to expect that stuff.
But the good thing about poker players, as opposed to grasshoppers I guess, is we can avoid the habit of reluctance. The point of the game is to get your chips in ahead. Sometimes you still lose.
It IS gambling after all. But you can't be afraid to take advantage. EVER.
Yesterday I had the day off work. I still had to come in, to work on this pit crew story, but I got enough time to play another Stars 180SNG. I finished 3rd for $480.
In the last 15 of those I've played I've finished 2,2,3,5,8 for a rather substantial win rate.
You learn well young grasshopper.
So the big Daytona Busch race was this Saturday, the "Hersheys Kissables 300." Our crew was ready to break in. We'd arranged for a sister station out of Orlando to shoot the video for us. My photographer was at the station ready to tape TNT's coverage.
Somehow I wasn't surprised to turn on the race... and NOT see my car.
I called the race owner. The car blew an engine on Friday. They were out of the race.
Still, the story airs tonight. It's actually quite good. John, the photographer, thinks it may win an Emmy. That'd be fine with me.
I'm 0-3 in shooting Daytona races, but I'll keep trying. Good stories are always worth telling.
I guess good odds are always worth chasing.