Broadcaster Jerry Punch does interviews in the pit area for both ESPN and ABC during their motor sports telecasts. This year he also helped save the lives of at least two drivers.
Punch—make that Dr. Punch; he's a trauma specialist—spends most of his week as the director of emergency services at Coastal Communities Hospital in Bunnell, Fla. He has done auto racing announcing on the side since 1979, and in that time has become sort of a Marcus Welby figure. Drivers and pit-crew men constantly ask him for medical advice. When driver Buddy Baker approached Punch before a race in August, complaining of excruciating headaches, Punch advised him to see a neurosurgeon right away. Within 36 hours Baker underwent surgery for a subdural hemorrhage that might soon have been fatal if left untreated.
Punch is quick on his feet. At a race last year he helped driver Benny Parsons regain his senses in an infield care center after a crash, then stepped outside. When Parsons emerged, Punch approached him, mike in hand, and said, "Benny, you've just been examined by the doctors. What did they tell you?" Parsons broke up.
Often the situation is far more serious. During a warm-up lap at a track in Bristol, Tenn., in August, driver Rusty Wallace's car hit a wall and rolled over five times. Punch was the first doctor at the scene, and when he arrived, Wallace was unconscious and appeared not to be breathing. To aid Wallace's respiration, Punch stabilized his cervical spine and gave him oxygen as workers cut the roof off the car and removed him. Wallace, who was back on the track the next day, credited Punch with saving his life.
Three weeks ago in an ARCA race in Hampton, Ga., Don Marmor crashed head-on into a concrete barrier at 150 mph, and his body was virtually crushed by the impact. Punch, who was working the race for ESPN, rushed over to help the paramedics. He helped place breathing tubes in Marmor's airway and stabilized him for transport. Marmor was hospitalized in critical condition, and by last week he had improved enough to be taken off a life-support system. "Hearing news like that just makes me feel great," says Dr. Pit Stop.
WILL THE BUYOUT MEAN BYE-BYE?
The sporting world generally ignores the takeover games played out on Wall Street, but it had best not ignore the blockbuster deal consummated last week: The New York investment firm of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) won a wild bidding war for control of RJR Nabisco, the Atlanta-based food and tobacco giant that spends $58 million a year on golf, tennis and auto racing sponsorships. The leveraged buyout cost KKR a record-shattering $25 billion and put the new owners of RJR under a tremendous burden of debt; they will have to cut costs and sell parts of the company to raise cash, and RJR may be forced to slash its hefty sports promotion budget.
Golf has the most to lose. RJR spent more than $25 million on the men's, women's and senior pro tours in 1988. This huge investment reflects the interest of RJR's chief executive officer, Ross Johnson, an avid golfer who loves mingling with the pros. What will happen after Johnson, who was a losing bidder in the buyout battle, departs? "I figure the new owners will cut back, no matter what," says Randy Cobb, chairman of the PGA's Greater Greensboro Open.
Cutting back right away won't be easy. PGA commissioner Deane Beman shrewdly signed RJR to a series of long-term contracts that run at least through the mid-1990s. RJR could try to get out of such commitments: After KKR engineered the leveraged buyout of Beatrice, the food conglomerate, in 1986, Beatrice canceled its $2 million Chicago marathon sponsorship and bought its way out of an auto racing sponsorship deal.
RJR has long planned to cut back its relationship with men's tennis, but the company's cigarette division, which spent $15 million last year to sponsor NASCAR's Winston Cup series, is likely to continue that support. Because cigarette ads are banned from television, cigarette makers feel they need to sponsor sports for the marketing exposure.