During the past few days, my editor at RACER, David Malsher, was growing antsy about me breaking the Tony Kanaan-to-Chip-Ganassi-Racing story. I’d alerted him a couple weeks earlier but said we couldn’t do anything until T.K. had signed.
Malsher was understandably concerned that Chip Ganassi would tell his good friend, Associated Press motorsports writer Jenna Fryer, about signing Kanaan and she would beat us. Well, that’s not exactly what happened, but she did put out a story Friday afternoon that broke the news.
When RACER‘s Marshall Pruett phoned me Friday afternoon, he read her report and glumly said: “We got beat.”
So naturally I’m pissed that I held the story and not real thrilled with Jimmy Vasser, who I think tipped Fryer (whose main beat is NASCAR). But I think the best response is to tell loyal IndyCar fans how this thing all came down.
In the 45 years I’ve covered Indy car racing, I’ve managed to get several good scoops (even a couple big ones in NASCAR) because I can keep a secret and I’ve built up some trust and allies. And, of course, I’m old.
After I wrote a story earlier this month for RACER.com outlining Kanaan’s plight (he was told by every owner he talked to that he needed to bring money), he took me into his confidence about striking a potential deal with Ganassi for his fourth car. It was going to be a good story that Chip rescued the most popular driver in the series and they would finally become a team after a failed attempt in 2008.
Fast forward to this month. After being flown to meet Joe Gibbs and discuss a switch to NASCAR, T.K. got serious about not only staying in IndyCar but improving his surroundings. He and Chip began negotiating a deal.
The beauty of this was that everyone had either James Hinchcliffe or Ryan Briscoe pegged for Ganassi’s fourth car. Kanaan didn’t seem to be on anybody’s radar. And this was one of those delicious stories that only about five people were privy to (OK, seven because Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon knew).
Anyway, I’d check with Tony every day to see if he’d signed a contract and was trying to formulate a plan to write the story. My idea was to ask Briscoe, Hinchcliffe and Oriol Servia if they were in line for Chip’s other car, use their quotes and then speculate it was going to be Kanaan. You can’t always write everything you know but this way RACER gets the scoop and it’s vague enough that Tony isn’t implicated in any way. But I wanted to wait until next week (the Houston race) before writing anything because I truly didn’t want to ruin Chip’s big news.
So much for being a nice guy. (OK, that’s a stretch.)
Here’s what I think happened Friday. Vasser must have learned Kanaan wasn’t returning to KV Racing in 2014. The AP story had no quotes, just attribution about someone close to Kanaan and the best I can figure is Jimmy (also a good friend of Fryer’s) because it makes sense that Chip really wanted to keep this quiet until it was signed.
Now here’s the good part. I’ve been calling Vasser to see what he knew because I figured if he told me T.K. was gone to Ganassi, I’d have the confirmed information I could use in my story. Now I know Jimmy wasn’t happy with me for writing the Kanaan-needs-money story, so maybe telling Jenna was his way of getting back at me.
Anyway, I called Vasser a half-hour before the AP story broke Friday and he was still sticking to his story that there still was a contract offer on the table for Kanaan and he didn’t have to bring any money. “If anything has happened, I’m a mushroom in the closet,” he said with a laugh.
A mushroom with a secret. J.V. had to know Kanaan was gone when we spoke but he never said a word.
The bottom line? It’s not the end of the world, nobody was injured, I still like Vasser, T.K. is poised for a top ride and it’s still going to be a good storyline for next season. I guess I owe Malsher a steak dinner and an apology for not pulling the trigger.
But, if you burn somebody after giving your word or break a promise to hold a story until the timing is right, it’s like putting a gun to your head in this business you won’t get many scoops.
And, just as I’m getting ready to send this story to RACER, I finally get T.K. to answer his phone and he swears it’s still not a done deal.