• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Why would IndyCar bring back Brian Barnhart as race director? I say it's half money (saves a salary) and half politics (isn't everything anymore?).

Sunday, January 25, 2015

IMSA's SELF-INFLICTED MEDIA WOUNDS (and Jeff Gordon is No. 1 on This Week's Power Players List)

Week two of my new Power Players list is below. There will be plenty of time for thoughts on Jeff Gordon (some current NASCAR TV announcers can officially start to feel nervous about being replaced) as the season progresses. But first . . .

The challenges in elevating the status of sports car racing in America are enormous. I've been around long enough to remember the 1970s when IMSA was bolstered by John Bishop's leadership, a small but largely solid staff, the support of Bill France Sr., and the terrific backing of R.J. Reynolds' sports marketing group and Camel's title sponsorship. There was some excellent racing and some good times, too.

I predicted the first year of the combined ALMS/Grand-Am series would be difficult and it certainly was. Whatever goodwill was created by unifying sports car racing quickly fell to self-inflicted wounds, including inept officiating and a variety of organizational errors. Season two of the Tudor watches (not even remotely bringing an RJR-esque effort to the task)-entitled series opened last weekend with the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway, won by Scott Dixon, Kyle Larson, Tony Kanaan and Jamie McMurray.

Even though this is a series strongly influenced by NASCAR's philosophy and people, one of the largest hurdles to be overcome is achieving consistent season-long media coverage that goes beyond the motorsports websites. Putting the leadership together to make a real go at this goal was one of those bad mis-steps of 2014. And, I'm sorry to say, IMSA itself is responsible for another self-inflicted wound on the media front as the 2015 tour hits the road.

This may appear to be a real "inside baseball" thing, but remember, this blog is written primarily for those within the industry. As ridiculous as this may seem, it is a true fact: IMSA has made it more burdensome for legitimate media to obtain a season-long "hard card" credential than it is to get a credential for the World Series or Super Bowl.

Think about the incredible stupidity of that for a minute . . . 

Again this year, to obtain that pass, media must fill-out an overly long series of forms, at least compared to other series. If you choose to print the forms IMSA sends by E-mail, you MUST print it in COLOR.  (!) Perhaps worst of all, media have to get an IMSA license, making each journalist an "official member" of the sanctioning body. That is crap and completely inappropriate and unethical.

I am reliably told all of this bureauracy has been mandated by insurance risk assessors. Are we to believe there is more risk in IMSA than in NASCAR, IndyCar or NHRA, all of which have a much simplier credential process? If they need to reduce risk, here's a suggestion: Stop allowing TV announcers and cameramen onto "hot" pit roads. There's no other major U.S. series doing that, and I don't care what the TV types say, it's not necessary for a quality production. Or good reporting. Jamie Howe proved she couldn't get it right even with access to pit road, wrongly reporting a driver change at an ALMS Mosport event some years ago, even though she was standing right in front of the car! 

When journalists cover baseball or football or basketball or hockey or golf or tennis or horse racing or track and field or skiing or boxing or whatever, they do not become a member of the ruling organization. I am especially surprised -- and very disappointed -- that series President Scott Atherton, who began his career as a Domino's Pizza marketer in CART and then issued media credentials as a racetrack manager, doesn't know better and didn't put a stop to this obvious mistake. This is the reason I declined the opportunity to be issued an IMSA credential this season. Call it a One Man Protest if you wish, but PR and Media Relations 101 tells me my position is the right one, and IMSA/Atherton's is flat-out wrong. Hey, Scott: Stop The Madness!

Roger Penske (Atherton's old boss) told me decades ago that self-inflicted wounds are the most painful, because they can be avoided. As a sports car fan, and member of the Jaguar team that finished 1-2 in the 1990 Daytona 24, I am going to hope this isn't a sign of another troublesome IMSA season. But I'm not confident.

And, finally, also on the IMSA media front, the opening two hours of the Rolex 24 on Fox broadcast network were highly unsatisfying. Bob Varsha not calling the action? Justin Bell -- who is to sports car racing what Rutledge Wood is to NASCAR and Will Buxton is to Formula One (hint: that's not a positive) -- instead of Tommy Kendall? (Dorsey Schroeder was definitely missed.) Later, on cable, the horrendously bad Howe back on pit road? The whole production struck me to be in line with what I've observed as a bad recent stretch across all the Fox networks. (Last week on Fox News, Chris Wallace wined about not being invited to an off-the-record pre-State of the Union White House media lunch while Shep Smith, who was there, lamented about not sampling the wine. As if any viewer gave a bleep. Talk about egomania and being out-of-touch with the audience!) It all doesn't bode well for the rest of the IMSA TV season, unless the production "Big Thinkers" get their act together before Sebring. But two precious hours on over-the-air network TV resulted in Opportunity Lost.


POWER PLAYERS: The 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports for the week of January 25, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight.

  1. Jeff Gordon -- Along with Bill France Sr. and Jr., Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, one of the five most consequential figures in NASCAR history, because he crossed-over from sports to the popular mainstream culture -- Saturday Night Live, Live with Regis and Kelly, etc. -- a major player in NASCAR's rocket-ride growth period and beyond.

  2. Chip Ganassi -- Record sixth Rolex 24 victory in 12 tries -- any baseball player would like to have that .500 batting average -- now aims for co-winner Kyle Larson's first Sprint Cup victory and securing move-of-the-race driver Sage Karam a full-time IndyCar ride.

  3. Jim Utter -- The Charlotte Observer's motorsports writer is key in shaping opinion in NASCAR's hub, is a new Hall of Fame voter, and will be prominent in this week's annual Media Tour.

  4. Ross Tannenbaum -- President of Fanatics Authentic does 10-year deal with NASCAR and major teams to be primary retailer at all Sprint Cup series events that will evolve into a climate-controlled superstore retail center (phasing out trailers) for all merchandise. 

  5. Scott Dixon -- Underappreciated due to IndyCar's popularity decline and his low-key personality, but leader of the Rolex 24 winning driver lineup is arguably American motorsports' most relentless driver, setting an example for racers everywhere to follow. 

  6. Jamie Allison -- Ford racing director's brand-important EcoBoost engine shows speed, efficiency and reliability to finish first in the Rolex 24 with Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray, a very Big Win for the Blue Oval.

  7. Tino Belli -- IndyCar's aerodynamic development director begins initial inspection of bodywork kits submitted by Chevrolet and Honda after homologation deadline.

  8. John Force -- Team successfully tests near Phoenix and he responds to controversy about the Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car bodywork he'll run this season -- and reveals daughter Ashley is contracted as emergency backup driver for not only her dad, but also sisters Courtney and Brittany and brother-in-law Robert Hight -- in my CompetitionPlus.com exclusives (also on Twitter @SpinDoctor500). 

  9. Ben Geisler -- World of Outlaws' chief marketing officer spearheads search for new title sponsor to replace STP with 90-race sprint car season opening  Feb. 13 at Volusia Speedway Park in Florida. 

10. Winston Kelley -- Executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame rolls out red carpet for new HoF class, including Bill Elliott, and that positive regional and national publicity might give the financially-troubled facility a much-needed bounce. 

[ new list and more next week . . . ]

Sunday, January 18, 2015

SOMETHING NEW: POWER PLAYERS

I've long said it's impossible to be a good fan -- or motorsports journalist -- without knowing at least a little about the Business and Politics of Racing. I mean really knowing, as in experience or at least making the effort to be informed, not guessing or throwing out wild statements. To reinforce that I am offering something different here this season -- I've been blogging since 2006 -- based on my four decades of industry experience. That includes not only time in the pits and media centers, but also inside the haulers and motorhomes, behind closed garage doors, seated in the team and corporate conference rooms.

Each week I will present Power Players, my list of the 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Racing. The rankings are 100 percent my own with all evaluations done exclusively by me and me alone. The key words here are "influential" and "weekly" and "Business and Politics of Racing." This isn't a rating of the best drivers or the biggest name team owners or the most talented PR spinners among sanctioning body executives or crew chiefs most skilled at bending the rules or track officials who orchestrate the most outrageous pre-race show.

It's about who shapes the news in a Big Picture sense, who makes the Big Decisions, who convinces others to see things his/her way, who has a true vision for the future, who handles crisis situations professionally, who can make the $ale, who has REAL power. I trust the difference is clear. 

Obviously, there are some names which could make the list every time: Roger Penske, Brian France, Rick Hendrick, for example. But they won't because my list is intentionally a WEEKLY one. It's a snapshot taken every seven days based on that week's developments. Some names will be obvious while others might be a surprise and appear only once all season. That's OK because it will reflect who is up and who is down at that moment. It will, at least occasionally, include names not typically found on such a list but who I know to be key players even if the name isn't known in every household. Names it would be good for you to learn. And, I'll admit up-front, some weeks I might overlook someone. That will be an honest mistake.

I post this list with the hope it will further your knowledge of who is making things happen within the industry, how and why they do it, and to expand your understanding of the B & P of R. Along with those goals, I would be glad if it promotes some healthy debate. However, forum posters be aware, only informed and respectful comments are cared about (at least by me.)

Some weeks Power Players will stand alone. Other weeks it will accompany blog text on other topics. As we begin 2015, I thank you for taking some of your valuable time each week to read what is offered here for your consideration. I hope we all are able enjoy a fantastic racing season -- and learn along the way.

POWER PLAYERS: The 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports for the week of January 18, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight.

  1. Jim France -- The driving force in bringing his Grand-Am and the competing American Le Mans Series together, the chairman of the Tudor United SportsCar Championship needs to insist on pedal-to-the-metal management and promotional performance to meaningfully grow the circuit in Year 2, starting with this weekend's Rolex 24 at Daytona.

  2. Jim Campbell -- Chevy goes all-in in NHRA Funny Car class as GM's U.S. performance vehicles and motorsports VP announces Camaro bodywork and sponsorship for John Force Racing.

  3. Emmett Hahn -- Chili Bowl co-founder stands tall among short-track event promoters as Rico Abreu wins 29th running of midget race in front of packed stands at Tulsa's Expo Center plus MAVTV audience.

  4. Scott Atherton -- Following an organizational reboot, the former ALMS and current SportsCar president must demand common sense officiating, and hope for compelling competition, at Daytona. If the problems of 2014 are repeated, it's the one-time Domino's Pizza marketer who rightly should be held accountable.

  5. Scott Pruett -- The face of American sports car racing goes for his record sixth 24-hour victory at Daytona.

  6. Steve Phelps -- NASCAR's chief marketing officer is point-man in search for new Cup series sponsor.

  7. Bob Varsha -- As host of the Fox's Daytona coverage, he'll set the tone, take the lead in the storytelling, and basically decide if something is important for the viewer to know. 

  8. Craig Jackson -- Barrett-Jackson CEO concludes 44th auction in Scottsdale with Jeff Gordon and Sharon Stone among the crowd, classic cars, and Big Money.

  9. John Force -- Life in his Brave New World -- no Ford, no Castrol -- officially begins with Camaro bodywork testing in Peak colors at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, near Phoenix. 

10. Jamie Allison -- Ford's racing director starts the season needing more speed from the Ecoboost IMSA engine and a more competitive Roush Fenway team in NASCAR, following the sensational unveiling of the new Ford GT at the Detroit Auto Show, plus no John or Courtney Force.

P.S. 1 -- Circumstances limited me to one,four-hour visit to the Barrett-Jackson auction last week. My favorite car of the show was the No. 70 1968 STP Lotus-turbine, the famous four-wheel drive "wedge" design. This car was displayed in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum last May and took a demonstration lap before the race. I spent about 20 minutes closely looking over the car, which was restored at the Lotus factory in England. It was chassis number 56/3. Even the contingency sponsor decals were perfectly in place. Graham Hill drove it. Whether you were around (as I was) to like or dislike the radical turbines, the "wedge" is an Indy classic, and a reminder of when innovation was an essential element of Indy's lure.

P.S. 2 -- Congratulations to the new  National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductees and their families. Gene (Tiger) Brown, Donnie Kreitz Jr. and Danny Smith in the driver category; Roger Beck and Gil Sonner in the owners-mechanics-builders-manufacturers-sponsors category; Bruce Ellis and Mike Arthur in the promoter-official-media category and Charlie Wiggins in the pre-1945 category. Ceremony will be May 30 in Knoxville, Iowa. I'm a HoF voter.

P.S. 3 -- Here's an example of what is so troubling about today's echo-chamber media audience. Last week I was on the John Force Racing conference call to announce Chevrolet as its new manufacturer partner. It was an important story and industry announcement and I sent out a series of news-oriented Tweets while the call was on-going. This was completely in keeping with how I said I would use Twitter. Breaking News! That night I got an E-mail from someone saying he would no longer be "following" me. Why? He's not a John Force fan. (!) Opinion, not legitmate news, too often rules these days and that is profoudly sad.


[ new list and more next week . . . ]

Monday, December 15, 2014

2014

The circumstances of life sometime make it necessary to ride the bike and patch the tire at the same time. A tricky balancing act, to be sure.

I'm one of those people who have always felt self-satisfaction in taking on a variety of challenges -- usually several at a time -- be it in business or personal matters. For me, 2014 will always stand as a year of great personal challenge, far more than I knew on January 1. I will start 2015 with most of those challenges yet to be brought to conclusion. But I continue to remember the examples of some special people I am blessed to call "friend." Alex Zanardi, Jack Beckman, Bob Margolis, among others.

Even though we are here at a time of great divisiveness, I think we all agree one of motorsports' great allures is the absolute need to overcome challenge in order to succeed. That applies to drivers, owners, designers, engineers, mechanics, marketers, publicists, track operators, sanction officials and even the fans. For me, it has and continues to be, a source of strength.

I think the sport and the industry, in generally, have asked too much of its fans too often -- the best examples are in the IndyCar and sports car series -- and I make a direct connection between "fan" and what he/she really is.

Our customer.

Customer service, and consumer relations, are two of the hottest of hot-button issues for me. It's sad that there has been such a fall-off -- no where else more obvious than the airline travel experience -- that the paying customers have been so beaten-down that much of the time they just accept the unacceptable as "they way it is." No. I refuse to do so.

It's our money that keeps these enterprises in business, that make jobs possible for their employees. Never, ever, forget that. Reputations can be made or lost (ask Bill Cosby) in an instant given the instant communications possible with social media and other non-traditional communications tools. 

I believe customer service is at an all-time low. I personally discovered this this year with Mayo Clinic. Despite its Big reputation (and I have no doubt many have benefitted from care there), what my experience here in Scottsdale was that, unless you are prepared to help them maximize revenue (no matter what your insurance coverage and I'm not talking about outright declining a test), there is a second-class level of attention. Almost nine months after an important diagnostic test, the results still have not been formally reported to me, but, hey, I'm only the patient/customer. The person charged with reviewing how my case was handled, Jon Nordrum,  apparently conveniently skipped-over this important detail. At least as he reported his findings to me. Mountainside Fitness is the worst business of the year and CEO Tom Hatten gets my award as the year's worst CEO since in my Constitutionally-protected opinion he seemingly has zero grasp about the bad customer service happening in his Scottsdale location (at least.) Core Concepts' Dylan King deserves the "honor" as the year's worst sales person because his attitude as experienced by me is he's doing a customer a favor by being there, not that the customer is doing him a favor by spending his/her money with Mountainside. Danielle Hawks is the year's worst location manager because of her unprofessional and insensitive demeanor and because she doesn't know the first thing in business is to get the money out of a willing customer's hand ASAP. By her own actions as demonstrated to me she's proven she has no qualification for such a job. Mountainside Fitness' Robyn Klawitter is the year's worst VP because she reversed a professional promise to a customer (me) less than 72 hours after making it. 

Because of their own actions, none deserve a penny of my business.

Mayo and Mountainside Fitness certainly weren't the only entities to fall into decline. Sears and McDonald's are others on that list. I think chances of Sprint renewing its Cup series entitlement aren't too favorable given management changes and telecom industry market conditions. Government lost standing, too, at least in general, as did a certain segment of the public's ability to thumb-its-nose at the established legal process by breaking the law with impunity. The PRI show, apparently ignorant of CART history, invited Andrew Craig to be a panelist at an industry seminar. And just how many ESPN hosts were suspended in the last 12 months?

At least regarding a story that came out of sports competition, the year's best/worst example of media-in-decline was Tony Stewart's involvement in a fatal sprint car accident. I'm convinced, at least in the early hours, some media mouths reacted not knowing the difference between sprint car and Sprint Cup. We saw, again, that too often in the media, opinion, ego and agenda are more important than the FACTS.

It's all part of the dehumanization of American society, where wonderous technical innovations and machines have led to a new generation -- and an older generation reprogrammed -- to not bother to actually TALK to others. At least in motorsports, there is no worse offender than the Global Warming-esque PR theory and bureauracy that is NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications. At least for the two Phoenix International Raceway events, NIMC came into the market without knowing or bothering to find out what was going on with the local media. I don't think NIMC realizes yet how much coverage of the November PIR races declined, at least in terms of quantity, compared to previous race weeks. No one, it seems, is paying attention. What could be more fundamental? What say you, Brian France?

Elsewhere, at least in sports, the paying customers did get their money's worth. No single athlete in a team sport is alone responsible for victory, but San Francisco Giants' pitcher Madison Bumgarner came as close as you can get in the World Series. Kevin Harvick was a worthy NASCAR Cup champion because he was fast all season, led a ton of laps and poles, and won the last two races. And Derek Jeter capped what Bob Costas called "a charmed baseball life" with a game-winning bottom-of-the-ninth RBI single in his last Yankee Stadium game. "It wasn't just what he did. It was the way he did it. From the beginning to the very end,"  said Costas. What a wonderful role model for bad-behavior players that, these days, infect even high-school sports. I can't wait to hear the excuse from whoever doesn't vote for Jeter for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Whoever that is will embarrass himself.

Finally: I'm not comfortable asking for help because I figure I should be capable enough to handle things myself. Necessity forced me to do otherwise in 2014, however, so I owe some special thank yous to some who provided that help when needed. The list includes: Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, and his assistant, Lisa Brown. The IMS infield medical center staff. Media center staffer Tim Sullivan. U.S. Air. Jennifer Jepson, previously of Phoenix International Raceway, now with the Fiesta Bowl. And to PIR for the honor of including me on its list of 50 storied legends and being asked to write three stories for Phoenix at 50: A Half-Century of Racing commemorative book.

And, as always, thanks to you, loyal readers, for using some of your valuable time to consume the information presented in this spec of cyberspace. 

[ more a week or so before the Rolex 24 . . . ]

Monday, November 17, 2014

THINK BASEBALL WHEN PONDERING NASCAR 2014

To explain the NASCAR season, I first have to talk about baseball.

Bud Selig's long tenure as Commissioner of Baseball (I've always thought that, and Heavyweight Champion of the World, are the two most impressive titles in all of sports), will officially come to an end in a matter of weeks. But Selig's time effectively concluded with the World Series, determined by one run in Game 7.

And the Series featured a traditional winning team in the San Francisco Giants and a small market Cinderella Kansas City Royals. (The last thing I did before leaving the Philadelphia Daily News in 1980, for CART, was cover the Phillies winning the WS over the Royals.) No doubt Selig enjoyed the matchup, which short of Yankees vs. Dodgers or Red Sox vs. Cubs, was about as good as it could get for what Selig's tenure was all about. (Except for smaller market team translating to down TV ratings.)

By the way, let's note that WS competition was exactly the sort of "Wow" and "Game 7" type moments Brian France has been saying he wants for NASCAR.

Anyway, Selig's commissionership was certainly controversial. Even more importantly, though, it was CONSEQUENTIAL. Think about it: Wild card teams, play-in games, inter-league play, revenue sharing, drug testing, cancellation of a World Series due to a players' association strike followed by a long period of labor peace, refusal to reinstate Pete Rose, Congressional hearings, steroids, Barry Bonds, massive player contracts, doing away with separate league presidents and umpires, moving Milwaukee and Houston to different leagues, selling the MLB-run Montreal franchise to owners in Washington, D.C., new stadiums, rich TV deals, instant replay, a former team owner becoming President of the United States, having the post-Sept. 11, 2001 Series fall into November, specifying the playing of God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch, pitching domination, slow pace of play, All-Star Game determining WS home-field advantage, Alex Rodriguez suspension, successful enough to hand-pick his successor. Baseball is a fundamentally different sport as Selig leaves than it was when he entered.

Whether that's good or bad is up to you, the fan -- and history -- to decide. My point is Selig became one of the Top 10 most influential people in baseball history. He was CONSEQUENTIAL. And will, unquestionably, have his own place in Cooperstown.

Which brings me to France, the NASCAR chairman.

Even if France left the stock car sport today, his time as CEO, starting in September 2003, mirrors Selig's as controversial, historic and consequential. 

Among the things to consider: Creation of the Chase format and its evolution to this season's "elimination" format, management restructuring, pressure for more side-by-side racing and exciting finishes, TV contracts which guarantee NASCAR's financial stability for a decade, digital and social media expansions, the Winston-to-Nextel-to-Sprint, Busch-to-Nationwide-to-Xfinity, Craftsman-to-Camping World series sponsorships for the three national series, relocation of the Cup championship celebration from New York City to Las Vegas, offices in Los Angeles, New York and Charlotte, broadening the mandate of the research and development center, Car of Tomorrow to the current Gen-6 vehicle, double-wide restarts, green-white-checker finishes, steering the sport through the 2008 national economic crisis, diversity programs, penalty structure, handling of the 2013 Richmond race manipulation mess, drug testing, creation of the Hall of Fame, retooling of the souvenir business, industry growth initiative. 

All is not perfect. The formation of the Race Team Alliance, born of escalating costs and continuous rules tinkering, tells us that.

Both Selig and France benefitted from good timing as the creation of Fox Sports 1 and 2 and NBCSports cable network increased demand for content to fill those thousands of hours of airtime. And that jacked-up the price from what either sport would otherwise have been able to demand.

Most could agree nothing has been more discussed and debated than the Chase. France's attempt to bolster NASCAR's season-ending stretch to better compete against college and especially pro football was copied by NHRA, the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup, and others. He took it to perhaps its ultimate extreme this season by boiling the marathon 36-race championship season (and a couple of meaningless exhibitions, which should be done away with) down to a Final 4 and highest-finisher at Homestead being crowned as Cup titlist.

Winning, we were all told, was now the emphasis and would be rewarded. Yet winless Ryan Newman had a chance to claim the Cup at Homestead. Don't doubt for a second France and NASCAR dodged a bullet on that one. Kevin Harvick's superb winning drive at Homestead not only clinched the championship but all four finalists ran competitively for most of the race. Which was about as good as it could get for the NASCAR Powers-That-Be.

I predict a rule change will come, maybe not for 2015 as it obviously would be a slap at Newman, but it will come, to where all Final 4 drivers must have at least one points-paying victory during the season. That would have put Jeff Gordon in, and eliminated Newman coming out of Phoenix, and avoided a week of national mainstream media sniping at the prospect of a winless Cup champion which would defy the basic common sense of the American sporting public. And have no doubt France knows, if not publicly admits, that what the national media influencers say is important. To be prosperous in the long run, NASCAR must make new fans, and a key process in that is attracting attention via non-racing and non-sports media.

Virtually everyone agreed France's new system ramped-up intensity. And that helped lead to the post-Charlotte and post-Texas brawls. Which fed into the changing short-attention span American society's taste for conflict and instant gratification. It is very worthwhile to ponder the impression that leaves with America-At-Large.

One thing NASCAR not only doesn't do well, it doesn't do at all, is understate its presentation. Baseball has understood for generations how attractive that can be but NASCAR goes to the other extreme. I'll never forget, years ago, during the original Chase rules, when California Speedway was the season's second race. An MRN voice said during the pre-race show that Cal was very important because, afterwards, there would only be 24 more races before the Chase. Only 24 more races! The breathless and absurb hype of the meaningless All-Star race (which ceased to be an "All-Star" event a few years ago when Kenny Wallace got in) and Sunday's Final 4 introductions perfectly illustrates the true and real mindset in the NASCAR executives offices, especially under the current management.

Like it or not, what we got in NASCAR 2014 was not only what Brian France wrought. It was what he wanted.

My caution, going forward, is: Be Careful What You Wish For.

[ the year's last blog here mid-December . . . ]



Friday, November 07, 2014

JON EDWARDS WINS 2014 JIM CHAPMAN AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN MOTORSPORTS PR


Jon Edwards, who has been media representative for four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon for almost 15 years, today was announced as winner of the 2014 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations.


The Chapman Award is considered by many in the industry as the highest honor in racing public relations. It is named in memory of Chapman, the legendary PR executive and innovator, who worked with Babe Ruth and was named Indy Car racing’s “most influential man” of the 1980s. Chapman died in 1996 at age 80.

The announcement and presentation were made at Phoenix International Raceway by Michael Knight, chairman of the selection committee, and one of Chapman’s closest friends. The award is determined by a vote of national media members, most of who knew Chapman, and is authorized by the Chapman family. PR representatives from all forms of motorsports are eligible for consideration.

As has happened before, the selection committee chose two equally-deserving Chapman Award recipients this year. Elon Werner, of John Force Racing, was recognized last weekend at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway before the NHRA national event.

“Jeff Gordon is one of the most media friendly athletes in all of sports and Jon Edwards has played an essential role in making that happen,” said Knight, the longtime journalist/publicist and award rights-holder. “Jim Chapman would approve of the committee’s choice because Jon’s open approach in working with the media parallels what Jim did with his own roster of legendary clients, including Babe Ruth.

 “Jim set the ultimate standard of professionalism, class and dignity. He knew that building good one-on-one professional relationships with journalists was important in good times and absolutely essential in bad times. That’s too often missing today in a communications age where an E-mail or text message or over-reliance on social media is incorrectly considered ‘relationship-building.’ Jim was a true ‘people person’ and knew nothing could replace a handshake, a face-to-face conversation, or the sound of another person’s voice.

 “Jeff’s cooperation with the media has not only benefitted him, his team and corporate sponsors, it has benefitted NASCAR and all of motorsports. It’s very appropriate to recognize Jon’s many important contributions to this aspect of Jeff’s successful career.”

Edwards began as a PR/marketing assistant at North Carolina Motor Speedway while attending the University of North Carolina in the early 1990s. He joined Performance PR Plus, DuPont Motorsports’ agency, in 1994, managing PR in several series and trackside hospitality. In 1999, he was with driver Ricky Craven’s NASCAR team, then began working with Gordon in mid-2000 and became an employee of Jeff Gordon, Inc. in 2011. Edwards received NASCAR’s most valuable PR representative award in 2003 and 2007.

Established in 1991 by media and publicists within the CART series, the Chapman Award originally focused on achievement in CART. After a hiatus of several years, the award was resumed in 2004, with eligibility expanded to anyone working in racing PR.

Chapman started as sports editor or managing editor of several Southern newspapers before joining the New York Times. He served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. He entered the PR business in 1946, as regional PR director for Ford Motor Co. in Detroit.

Soon thereafter, Chapman hired Ruth as consultant to the automaker’s sponsorship of American Legion Junior Baseball. They traveled together for more than two years for personal appearances and became close friends. Chapman was one of only three friends at Ruth’s bedside when he died in August 1948 and then officially announced Ruth’s death to the press corps that had maintained an around-the-clock vigil at New York’s Memorial Hospital.

Chapman proudly showcased several photos of Ruth in his office.  One was inscribed: "To a pal that is a pal." Chapman also displayed a framed letter, written on Ruth's personal stationery from Memorial Hospital, dated July 13, 1948, inviting him to the July 26 premier of the film, The Babe Ruth Story. That letter read, in part, "That evening would not be complete without your being my guest.  To you, Jimmy, I say you must be with me that evening."

In 1950, Chapman left Ford to start his own PR firm. One of his first clients was Avis founder Warren Avis. Chapman devoted much of his time to financial PR, which he once called his “favorite form of PR,” and helped companies get recognition among analysts and even gain admission to the New York and American stock exchanges.

Chapman’s first venture into motorsports was in 1951, when he joined with NASCAR founder Bill France to promote the Motor City 250. The race was part of Detroit’s 250th birthday celebration, a Chapman client. In 1967, Chapman entered Indy Car racing with client Ozzie Olson’s Olsonite sponsorship of Dan Gurney’s team, which later featured Bobby Unser as driver.

 “Jim was one of the most innovative and imaginative PR men ever to grace a pit lane,” said Gurney. “Jim practically invented most of what is now considered routine sponsor PR work. He was the first, as far as I know, who thought of putting up a sponsor hospitality tent alongside a racetrack (at the old Riverside International Raceway), filling it with extravagant race car ice-sculptures, beautiful food and beautiful people from the business, sports and movie industries. He started an ‘open house’ tradition in Ozzie’s hotel suite in Indianapolis, where journalists could rub shoulders with John Wayne or (astronaut) Scott Carpenter.”

Chapman also directed Olsonite’s sponsorship of the Driver of the Year award. He orchestrated all the details, including the media panel voting, and an annual luncheon at New York City’s famed ‘21’ Club. That gathering was considered so prestigious it was routinely attended by leaders of all the major U.S. sanctioning organizations regardless of what series the Driver of the Year competed in.

Chapman’s greatest professional acclaim came from 1981-1992, as director of CART series sponsor PPG Industries’ program. Chapman was instrumental in raising PPG’s prize fund from $250,000 to more than $3.75 million at the time of his retirement in February 1993. The all-female PPG Pace Car Driving Team was another Chapman innovation, as were the PPG Editors’ Days, when he brought business and feature writers to the tracks for lunch, pace car rides, and driver interviews.

In 1982, Chapman negotiated a landmark sponsorship for PPG with then- Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Joe Cloutier, which formally made the Indy 500 a points-paying event in the PPG Indy Car World Series, an arrangement that continued through the 1995 season. “That was one of the most satisfying moments of my career,” Chapman recalled. “Roger Penske, among others, told me it was the best thing that had ever happened to CART.” In addition to a major contribution to the prize fund, PPG later became sponsor of the $100,000 Indy 500 pole award, and paid a special winner’s bonus in the early years of NASCAR’s Brickyard 400.
“With Jim, when he says ‘jump,’ we just ask ‘how high?,” Indy 500 winner and PPG Cup champion Al Unser Jr. said on behalf of his fellow drivers. “And we do it right then.”

Indy Car Racing magazine named Chapman the sport’s “most influential” man of the 1980s, saying he turned “a public relations assignment into an art form.” After his retirement, Chapman continued to consult PPG, and agreed to Mario Andretti’s personal request that he serve as honorary chairman of Andretti’s “Arrivederci, Mario” farewell tour in 1994.

Chapman's professional achievements earned him vast recognition.  The mayors of Detroit and Long Beach, Calif., presented him proclamations and the key to each city.  In 1993, Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh named him Sagamore of the Wabash, the state's highest honor. He served as president and/or director of more than 30 Michigan and Detroit-area civic and charitable organizations.  Chapman became active in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and represented the Detroit Urban League and United Negro College Fund in several controversial situations.  He admitted to shedding "buckets of tears of joy" when Willy T. Ribbs became the first African-American driver to qualify for the Indy 500 in 1991.

“The true honor of this award is not the plaque,” Knight concluded. “The true honor is having your name forever associated with that of the great James P. Chapman.”

 JIM CHAPMAN AWARD HONOREES:
1991 – Michael Knight
1992 – Tom Blattler
1993-94 – Deke Houlgate and Hank Ives
1995 – Kathi Lauterbach
1996 – Marc Spiegel
1997 – Mike Zizzo
1998 – Tamy Valkosky
1999 -- Carol Wilkins
2000-2003 – (Award not presented)
2004 – Doug Stokes
2005 – Susan Arnold
2006 – Kevin Kennedy
2007 – Dave Densmore and Bob Carlson
2008 – Judy Stropus
2009 –  (Award not presented)
2010 -- Jim Hunter
2011 -- Bill York
2012 -- Judy Kouba Dominick and Nancy Wager
2013 -- Anne Fornoro
2014 -- Jon Edwards and Elon Werner

[ more next week . . . ]

Sunday, November 02, 2014

ELON WERNER WINS 2014 JIM CHAPMAN AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN MOTORSPORTS PR


Elon Werner, who directs the publicity and communications for drag racing’s biggest  star John Force and Force’s championship team, today was announced as winner of the 2014 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations.
The Chapman Award is considered by many in the industry as the highest honor in racing public relations. It is named in memory of Chapman, the legendary PR executive and innovator, who worked with Babe Ruth and was named Indy Car racing’s “most influential man” of the 1980s. Chapman died in 1996 at age 80.

The announcement and presentation were made at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway before Sunday’s NHRA national event by Michael Knight, chairman of the selection committee, and one of Chapman’s closest friends. The award is determined by a vote of national media members, most of who knew Chapman, and is authorized by the Chapman family. PR representatives from all forms of motorsports are eligible for consideration.

Werner not only works directly with the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion, but also Force’s rising-star driver daughters. Ashley Force Hood twice won the U.S. Nationals before stepping aside to start a family. Courtney Force has won eight Funny Car races while Brittany Force was last year’s top NHRA rookie in the Top Fuel class. Robert Hight, Force’s son-in-law, was the 2009 Funny Car titlist.

“Elon’s work in developing successful relationships with the media is reminiscent of Jim Chapman and so this honor is most appropriate,” said Knight, the longtime journalist/publicist and award rights-holder.

“Jim set the ultimate standard of professionalism, class and dignity. He knew that building good one-on-one professional relationships with journalists was important in good times and absolutely essential in bad times. That’s too often missing today in a communications age where an E-mail or text message or over-reliance on social media is incorrectly considered ‘relationship-building.’ Jim was a true ‘people person’ and knew nothing could replace a handshake, a face-to-face conversation, or the sound of another person’s voice.

“John Force has been NHRA’s greatest cheerleader for decades, working to create new fans and new customers for his sponsors. Elon has done more than coordinate the numerous interview requests for John. Just as importantly, he’s provided wise guidance to Ashley, Courtney, Brittany and Robert, as they have followed John’s example. Elon’s outreach to motorsports-oriented reporters, and well as to those in the mainstream media, has helped produce a vast amount of news coverage for the sport, Force and his team, and their corporate partners.” 

Werner worked for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks before joining the Texas Motorplex as PR manager in 1993. He eventually became that track’s general manager. After positions with several Dallas-based sports agencies and coordinating media for a number of motorsports clients, he became John Force Racing’s PR director in 2007.

Significant national media placements have included Courtney Force’s ESPN The Magazine cover, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, CBS Sunday Morning, National Public Radio and virtually every major motorsports publication. Werner also has built JFR’s social media presence.

With longtime Force publicist Dave Densmore the 2007 Chapman Award winner, this is the first time that the honor has been earned by two people from the same racing organization.

Knight also announced that, as has happened before, the selection committee has chosen two equally-deserving Chapman Award recipients this year. Announcement and presentation of that person will be made next weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.

Established in 1991 by media and publicists within the CART series, the Chapman Award originally focused on achievement in CART. After a hiatus of several years, the award was resumed in 2004, with eligibility expanded to anyone working in racing PR.

Chapman started as sports editor or managing editor of several Southern newspapers before joining the New York Times. He served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. He entered the PR business in 1946, as regional PR director for Ford Motor Co. in Detroit.

Soon thereafter, Chapman hired Ruth as consultant to the automaker’s sponsorship of American Legion Junior Baseball. They traveled together for more than two years for personal appearances and became close friends. Chapman was one of only three friends at Ruth’s bedside when he died in August 1948 and then officially announced Ruth’s death to the press corps that had maintained an around-the-clock vigil at New York’s Memorial Hospital.

Chapman proudly showcased several photos of Ruth in his office.  One was inscribed: "To a pal that is a pal." Chapman also displayed a framed letter, written on Ruth's personal stationery from Memorial Hospital, dated July 13, 1948, inviting him to the July 26 premier of the film, The Babe Ruth Story. That letter read, in part, "That evening would not be complete without your being my guest.  To you, Jimmy, I say you must be with me that evening."

In 1950, Chapman left Ford to start his own PR firm. One of his first clients was Avis founder Warren Avis. Chapman devoted much of his time to financial PR, which he once called his “favorite form of PR,” and helped companies get recognition among analysts and even gain admission to the New York and American stock exchanges.

Chapman’s first venture into motorsports was in 1951, when he joined with NASCAR founder Bill France to promote the Motor City 250. The race was part of Detroit’s 250th birthday celebration, a Chapman client. In 1967, Chapman entered Indy Car racing with client Ozzie Olson’s Olsonite sponsorship of Dan Gurney’s team, which later featured Bobby Unser as driver.

“Jim was one of the most innovative and imaginative PR men ever to grace a pit lane,” said Gurney. “Jim practically invented most of what is now considered routine sponsor PR work. He was the first, as far as I know, who thought of putting up a sponsor hospitality tent alongside a racetrack (at the old Riverside International Raceway), filling it with extravagant race car ice-sculptures, beautiful food and beautiful people from the business, sports and movie industries. He started an ‘open house’ tradition in Ozzie’s hotel suite in Indianapolis, where journalists could rub shoulders with John Wayne or (astronaut) Scott Carpenter.”

Chapman also directed Olsonite’s sponsorship of the Driver of the Year award. He orchestrated all the details, including the media panel voting, and an annual luncheon at New York City’s famed ‘21’ Club. That gathering was considered so prestigious it was routinely attended by leaders of all the major U.S. sanctioning organizations regardless of what series the Driver of the Year competed in.

Chapman’s greatest professional acclaim came from 1981-1992, as director of CART series sponsor PPG Industries’ program. Chapman was instrumental in raising PPG’s prize fund from $250,000 to more than $3.75 million at the time of his retirement in February 1993. The all-female PPG Pace Car Driving Team was another Chapman innovation, as were the PPG Editors’ Days, when he brought business and feature writers to the tracks for lunch, pace car rides, and driver interviews.

In 1982, Chapman negotiated a landmark sponsorship for PPG with then- Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Joe Cloutier, which formally made the Indy 500 a points-paying event in the PPG Indy Car World Series, an arrangement that continued through the 1995 season. “That was one of the most satisfying moments of my career,” Chapman recalled. “Roger Penske, among others, told me it was the best thing that had ever happened to CART.” In addition to a major contribution to the prize fund, PPG later became sponsor of the $100,000 Indy 500 pole award, and paid a special winner’s bonus in the early years of NASCAR’s Brickyard 400.
“With Jim, when he says ‘jump,’ we just ask ‘how high?,” Indy 500 winner and PPG Cup champion Al Unser Jr. said on behalf of his fellow drivers. “And we do it right then.”

Indy Car Racing magazine named Chapman the sport’s “most influential” man of the 1980s, saying he turned “a public relations assignment into an art form.” After his retirement, Chapman continued to consult PPG, and agreed to Mario Andretti’s personal request that he serve as honorary chairman of Andretti’s “Arrivederci, Mario” farewell tour in 1994. 

Chapman's professional achievements earned him vast recognition.  The mayors of Detroit and Long Beach, Calif., presented him proclamations and the key to each city.  In 1993, Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh named him Sagamore of the Wabash, the state's highest honor. He served as president and/or director of more than 30 Michigan and Detroit-area civic and charitable organizations.  Chapman became active in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and represented the Detroit Urban League and United Negro College Fund in several controversial situations.  He admitted to shedding "buckets of tears of joy" when Willy T. Ribbs became the first African-American driver to qualify for the Indy 500 in 1991.

“The true honor of this award is not the plaque,” Knight concluded. “The true honor is having your name forever associated with that of the great James P. Chapman.”
  
JIM CHAPMAN AWARD HONOREES:
1991 – Michael Knight
1992 – Tom Blattler
1993-94 – Deke Houlgate and Hank Ives
1995 – Kathi Lauterbach
1996 – Marc Spiegel
1997 – Mike Zizzo
1998 – Tamy Valkosky
1999 -- Carol Wilkins
2000-2003 – (Award not presented)
2004 – Doug Stokes
2005 – Susan Arnold
2006 – Kevin Kennedy
2007 – Dave Densmore and Bob Carlson
2008 – Judy Stropus
2009 –  (Award not presented)
2010 -- Jim Hunter
2011 -- Bill York
2012 -- Judy Kouba Dominick and Nancy Wager
2013 -- Anne Fornoro
2014 -- Elon Werner and TBA.
[ second Chapman Award announcement here Friday . . . ]

Sunday, October 26, 2014

NASCAR's WORRY; KENSETH's IMAGE CHANGE

Now that NASCAR is deep into its new Chase, and as we see winless Ryan Newman unspectacular-but-steady and Matt Kenseth hanging-in-there (both would advance to the Homestead finale as of now), it's time for me to repeat what I said long ago:

If this "elimination" system produces a champion who went the entire 36-race season without a victory, NASCAR will get ripped Big Time in the national media, and there will be a whole lot of unsatisfied fans. At a minimum.

However, if Kevin Harvick is to be believed, the NASCAR suits need not worry about a second Cup for Kenseth. After their wreck and beating-and-banging Sunday at Martinsville, Harvick said:
“Yeah, he (Kenseth) won’t win this championship.  If we don’t, he won’t.” 
Kenseth has been one of racing's most uncontroversial drivers his entire NASCAR career. Man, has that changed in the last three weeks! Kinda late in life to be changing his image!

On the Business of Racing front, NASCAR and baseball are alike in two respects. Both the Chase and World Series TV numbers have been down. And both sports have long-term TV contracts, worth billions, to keep them secure.

News from Wall St. last week worth noting: Both Coca-Cola and McDonald's, two important NASCAR sponsors, reported bad quarterly results. Stock analysts immediately began predicting management changes. One CNBC head said it could be 20 years before he'd buy Coke stock! McDonald's year-to-year same-store sales and overall numbers have been downsliding for quite a while and the company hasn't been able to successfully launch a new product or shake its "unhealthy" image. In an unfortunate bit of timing (or maybe it was intentional), this was the week CBS' Sunday Morning show chose to run its soft and fuzzy Politically Correct feature on McD's CEO. 

[ announcement of recipient of 2014 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports PR here Sunday, Nov. 2; also @SpinDoctor500 ]