Face To Face: How NOT To Set Up An Interview

This comes from personal experience, I’m sorry to say.

A couple of months ago, I had an idea for an article. Jerry Caminito, a native of Jackson, New Jersey, was a privateer drag racer for many years and is famous for suffering an absolutely MASSIVE accident in 1994 at the Memphis Motorsports Park.

Caminito was doing a practice run in his Funny Car when his rear skid plate came loose. Caminito veered straight into the guardrail and crashed at 279mph, sending the car over the wall and into a deathroll. Caminito was tossed about in the crash, and when the car finally came to a stop, his legs could be seen sticking out of the rollcage.

Caminito somehow survived this accident with few permanent injuries, and returned to drag racing the next year.

There wasn’t much available on Caminito, so I contacted him for an interview. However, the way I conducted myself was very unprofessional. I wasn’t rude or anything, but my responses were very distant, and in retrospect, seemed almost faked. I started everything off with ‘Dear Mr. Caminito’, and spoke in such a manner that it seemed like I was putting him on a pedestal. Even worse, when he agreed to the interview, I said that I would be leaving for a few days (which I was, for personal reasons, though this had been planned for several weeks). I believe he was simply fed up and decided not to respond any further, which, looking back on it, I can justify. If I was in his shoes, I likely would have as well.

Props to Mr. Caminito for not giving up after his crash, he is a true fighter.

Nowadays, I’ve learned how to speak to others.

Step 1: Apologize for interrupting them, AKA ‘Sorry if I’m bothering you’

Step 2: State your interests and purpose, AKA ‘I’m a journalist with a focus on motorsports and I thought you may know something about _____________’

Step 3: Wait for a response

Step 4: Just be natural from there, be respectful and use proper grammar, but you don’t have to be overprofessional (because that IS a thing)

Soooo yeah, that’s my biggest screwup as a journalist, hopefully I learned something from it and it never happens again.

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Justin Philpott And The Fools At Taxbrain

I’m aware that, as an analyst and a journalist, I should withhold my opinion as best as I can, but this…this is just ridiculous. A sponsor risks the life of a driver and his entire family for a publicity stunt, and the driver allows bygones to be bygones. I’m not sure who the more foolish one is.

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Justin in 2006; Credit to Stockton 99

Despite this all, Justin Philpott’s talent is evident. Philpott, the driver involved, mostly raced super late models at the half mile Altamont Speedway and quarter mile Stockton 99 Speedway, both in California. He eventually caught the eye of the company Taxbrain, which helps its consumers sort out their taxes so those taxes can be paid much more easily a la Turbotax. Taxbrain got its wanted publicity on the sixteen-year-old’s super late model, but apparently they wanted more. Some executives, who were undoubtedly chastised if not fired after this all, decided that they would steal Justin’s car straight out of victory circle the next time he won and film a commercial out of it. They told a few officials at Altamont, but did not tell the announcer, Justin’s family, or even Justin himself, all to make things look genuine. On August 13, 2006, Taxbrain got to show its lack of common sense after Justin won a super late model race at the track. During victory lane ceremonies, a man, unnamed by the media for legal reasons (I will refer to him as John for the sake of this, it likely is not his name, but for the sake of this article it will be), hopped the fence, got in the car, and, with a camera or two rolling, flipped the ignition switch and took off. The announcer noticed this quickly and called for security, while Justin and his family stood there for awhile, absolutely dumbfounded. In the meantime, John continued doing laps in Justin’s $200,000 car. Eventually, some officials hopped in a wrecker and backed it down the track, and John slowed to a stop. Ryan Philpott, Justin’s cousin, ripped John from the car, and John was arrested.

Taxbrain’s representatives quickly ran over to the track security and explained what was going on. After some cross-referencing, police discovered that this had indeed been a stupid stunt. John was not charged, but undisclosed sanctions were laid against Taxbrain.

How no one was hurt despite John’s insane driving (this was part of the stunt) and lack of any safety gear, the world may never know. John could have easily killed himself or the Philpotts. However, that isn’t the end of the idiocy.

Justin also proved himself to be one of the duller knives in the drawer. Despite the fact that his sponsor had stolen his $200,000 race car, he still re-signed Taxbrain to another year when he moved up to the NASCAR Whelen All American Series in 2007. Incredibly, he stuck with Taxbrain for a long time. The two only parted ways sometime between in 2011 and 2014.

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Justin in late 2010, note the Taxbrain sponsor on his uniform; Credit to NASCAR Home Tracks
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Justin in early 2014, note his sponsor is now his family’s auto body shop, Philpott’s Garage, with no visible Taxbrain logos; Credit to Stockton 99

Altamont Speedway closed after 2008, but Justin still races in the Southwest, and is quite successful at that. I’m not sure if Justin was naive, forgiving, or if Taxbrain paid him a lot of money to keep them aboard (probably a mix), but if I were him, I would have told them to mess off. John could have killed himself and/or the Philpotts, and Justin’s forgive and forget attitude towards it all is almost as strange and as laughable as the incident itself.

 

End Of The Beginning: The World Trade Center Grand Prix

Built in 1973 and brought down on September 11th, 2001, the twin towers stood magnificently over the horizon of New York City. Two thousand, nine hundred and seventy eight innocent lives were lost that day fifteen and a half years ago, with all but about 225 being in New York City at the Towers. I barely remember that day, though I do remember it. The sight of smoke over the horizon is something that you just don`t forget. The fact that I could see it despite being well over forty miles away just shows you the magnitude of the disaster.

People from all over were killed. I personally believe four or five residents of my town perished. My town is not exactly one where everyone knows each other, as it`s actually quite large, but it`s still a town where crime is infrequent and murders happen maybe once every five to ten years. The daily routine is: You get up, you go to school/work, possibly pulling into a gas station if need be (I live in New Jersey, so we don`t pump our own gas, which I actually love), you attend school/work, you do anything else you need to, you come home, and that`s that. It`s a large town with a bit of a small town feel, so that day is still spoken of frequently here.

Which makes it all the more understandable why no one remembers what happened on February 26, 1993. On that day, a bomb was set off in one of the towers` basements, with the intention of causing it to domino onto the other tower and bring both down. It was a powerful bomb, but didn`t have the intended effect of felling the towers. Even still, it did cause a high amount of destruction and chaos: well over a thousand injuries were reported, nearby residents went without television signals for a week and power overall for five hours, and six lives were lost. The perpetrators were caught and brought to justice, but after 9/11, this attack is rarely noted.

The attack on Feburary 26th also had another bizarre, and indirect, effect: completely ending any chance of the CART Grand Prix Of New York being held.

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Credit to Grandprix.com

Scheduled for either June 27, 1993, or July 11, 1993 (I`ve heard both), the Marlboro CART Grand Prix Of New York was first proposed in 1990 and was announced in 1992. A race in downtown New York had been something organizers had wanted to do since the beginning of motorsport, yet the closest they`ve ever gotten was, or will be, the shoreline streets of Brooklyn later this year for a Formula E race, though there have been a few karting events on short street circuits every once in a while.

The track itself was, suffice to say, not enough either, though due to its location its simplistic layout was justified (it didn`t require the closure of too many streets). It was 1.3 miles, and about eight or so turns, five major ones with the rest being small kinks. The track encircled the Twin Towers, and as such is often remembered as the World Trade Center Street Circuit. The race was apparently going to be between 180 and 200 miles, meaning they`d probably be either 139 laps for 180 miles, 144 laps for 187 miles (300km), or 154 laps for 200 miles. The Lights race would likely have been 58 laps for 75 miles, as that was the usual length of Lights races around that time.

Upon this announcement, the Meadowlands Grand Prix was almost immediately cancelled. The Meadowlands Grand Prix was held at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey, not too far from the city. The race at the Meadowlands was already losing steam around that time, but with the announcement of the New York race, the organizers quickly bailed on the East Rutherford event and called it off. They learned some time later that bailing was a big mistake. Many of these organizers thought that it was just the end of the beginning for the New York GP, and that, with the race finally announced, it would be held and be a huge success.

In fact, it was the beginning of the end.

The big problem with the race, besides the obvious closure of the streets and the need for them to be repaved, was in the sponsor – Marlboro. The entire country in general was sort of doing an anti-smoking crusade, as all withheld effects had been released to the public in the late eighties, and the government had started to crackdown on tobacco advertising. New York`s mayor, Michael Dinkins, was staunchly for the crackdown, and had banned tobacco advertisements from sports arenas in the city in 1990. Dinkins promised a series of small events and programs geared towards children to teach the dangers of smoking. So the race, which Marlboro had wanted to basically be a big Marlboro advertisement with billboards everywhere, was also planning on holding several events geared towards youngsters showing them that smoking was unhealthy and unbecoming. Marlboro voiced their displeasure, leading to concerned parents on one end and an angry sponsor on the other.

While the logical move would have likely been to find a middle ground, it`s safe to say that there was no middle ground. These were the early 1990s, after all, the public had recently learned that all the harmful effects of tobacco and asbestos that had been conspiracies for the longest time were truthful, and they were extremely distrustful of big companies in general. Marlboro`s next move was never disclosed, though with Dinkins not budging on the kids` events, they likely decreased the amount of money they were feeding into the event. The event pretty much sat on a table for a few weeks after that, but Marlboro did eventually agree to some anti-smoking billboards in certain sections of the general area. However, the political hypocrisy, as one writer called it, had taken its toll.

In early October, the Marlboro Grand Prix Of New York was called off. The cash flow from Marlboro did not make up for the logistical issues in closing off major streets in New York City and repaving those streets for a CART race. The attack on February 26th, 1993 sealed its fate, with the city pouring millions into its own recovery.

New York has tried several times for a race in or near the city limits. Throughout its history, several F1 street circuits have been proposed, including one in Flushing Meadows in 1985 and Central Park in 2009, plus several downtown circuits throughout the seventies and eighties. Several speedways have been proposed as well. One just outside the city limits came close to being built in the late eighties before some key players in the project were arrested, and a 1.35 mile trioval by the name of Liberty Speedway was proposed in 2003, with the man at the helm of the project being none other than our current president. But, at the end of all roads lay failure for every project to host a race near the American center of commerce, and the World Trade Center street circuit was no exception. The Formula E race in July will be the first time a major event has been held in New York`s streets, and even then it`s a fair distance from downtown.