• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

CHASING THE PACK

Adam Saal (center), marketing and communications director for the Grand American Road Racing Association, produced all four of his Rolex Series drivers elected to the All-America Team at last year's AARWBA dinner. From left: Luis Diaz Jr., Scott Pruett, Saal, Max Angelelli, Wayne Taylor.


Last week's blog about the pack mentality in journalism resulted in some interesting E-mails. Events of last week also helped prove my point.

The Economist -- influential among The Intellectuals -- published an article, datelined Homestead, Fla., headlined "Time for a tune-up". Essentially, it was a "me-too" pile-on following USA Today's Nov. 15 page oner about the decline in NASCAR ticket sales and TV ratings. The magazine's tone, however, was less-than-polite in describing the scene and certainly the fans. Here are portions from the first three paragraphs (bold emphasis mine):

"NASCAR's fortunes are starting to wane.

"A NASCAR race is a straightforward event. Racers get a stock, or mass-production, car, soup it up beyond recognition, and drive around a track several hundred times. Many people find this boring and pointless . . .

"On November 19th 80,000 enthusiasts gathered in Homestead, Florida. That made the speedway twice as populous as the city itself. Vendors did a brisk trade in beer, burgers and ugly T-shirts. A lonely 'international food' stand sold slices of pizza. A car salesman tried to make a new friend. 'Do you chew?' he asked. (That is, do you stuff a wad of tobacco inside your lip and then dribble quietly into an empty can?)"

Nice. The story did wrap by noting the arrival of ABC/ESPN, Toyota, Juan Montoya and the "Car of Tomorrow" next season. It ended, "Don't count out American sport's most remarkable recent success quite yet."

( http://www.economist.com/world/na/displaystory.cfm?story_id=8326996 )
Noticed from my observation post in Scottsdale, Arizona:

* My faith in the courtesy of "old-time" PR was (somewhat) restored a few days ago when I received a hand-written note from Kristi King of Talladega Superspeedway. I was introduced to Kristi during the recent NASCAR weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, we exchanged cards, and she kindly followed-up. It does my heart good to see there are still a few (very few) people who understand the value of professional relationship building.

* Cotton candy has more substance than provided by SPEED's Nextel Cup awards "arrival" show Friday night. Proving yet again that it will move-the-bar to whatever-it-takes on behalf of sponsors, NASCAR changed this from a red carpet walk-in to what was billed as a "yellow (as in Nextel) carpet" event. Actually, it was a black carpet with yellow lines. Since NASCAR is willing to go this far for its series patron, I hope they'll forbid those stupid towels from being placed over drivers' shoulders for post-race TV interviews, which have covered-up Nextel's uniform logo. Not surprisingly, Matt and Katie Kenseth avoided the ridiculous "Who made your suit/dress?" hyping, winning the hearts of true racers everywhere. As a fan of the musical theater, I was disappointed to hear Matt say he attended his first play while in New York City, but apparently didn't enjoy it. Next time, Matt, take Katie to The Phanton of the Opera. And, was it just me, or did NASCAR have the announcers somewhat play-down the record amounts of prize money distributed -- maybe in reaction to complaints the stock car sport has gotten so big it has left behind its blue-collar fans?

* Promoters of Champ Car's April 6-8 Las Vegas Grand Prix finally issued a news release last week, most noteable for what it didn't say. Not one Champ Car driver was mentioned in its 12 paragraphs, and it is precisely that severe lack of ticket-selling household names that requires each of these events to be promoted as a "festival of speed." Vegas, the release heralded, will have a "Historic Grand Prix race, along with support racing events, boxing matches, concerts, expos and a celebrity poker tournament." Also: "Admission into the event site is free. To access the seating areas with premium views of the race track, to view Jumbotron video boards of live race action and enjoy daytime concerts, patrons will need to be in a ticketed grandstand area." Here in the Valley of the Sun, we're still waiting for the first promotional word touting the downtown Phoenix race, a project of the same promoters and managers offering-up Vegas.

* Meanwhile, over at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where last May the sizeable inventory of unsold Indy 500 tickets was attempted to be peddled by offering free hot dogs and sodas, there's a new gimmick to move Allstate 400 tickets. Those went on sale yesterday for the July 29 NASCAR headliner and, "any fan who buys two tickets before Dec. 25 will have a chance to take a lap around the famed"oval. Oh, that lap, next March 24-25 in a Chevrolet, costs an extra $25. (!) That does include a photo at the "famed Yard of Bricks start-finish line." (!)

* It was good to see some good news out of USAC. Filling the void created when Phoenix Raceway essentially abandoned the Copper World Classic (now sadly relegated to Thursday night of November's NASCAR event), Manzanita Speedway will host a USAC Tripleheader Feb. 9-10. Silver Crown, national and western midgets and USAC/CRA sprint cars will be on the half-mile oval. Manzy's Dennis Wood originated the Copper World concept at PIR in 1978. I will be interested to see if PIR, which hurt its image with segments of the Arizona grassroots motorsports community by some of its anti-Phoenix Champ Car street race tactics, will do anything to support Manzanita's most-welcome new event.

* Journalist (and blog reader) Anne Proffit kindly provided this correction to my Nov. 21 "Customer Service, Part 2" posting. Ford's Steve Van Houten didn't get to go home after Homestead's Ford Championship Weekend. Steve then hauled cross-country for the Turkey Night Grand Prix at California's Irwindale Speedway. Anne says Steve helped serve-up "16 big ol' birds" to guests and "made sure everyone had everything they needed throughout the night."

* Time magazine's Dec. 4 issue has an article exploring the potential effect his Mormon faith could have on Massachusetts' Gov. Mitt Romney's run for the Republican presidential nomination. The story says the church's media relations director, Michael Otterson, visited with political reporters during an October trip to Washington, D.C. According to Time, "Otterson says he has a 'no dumb questions' policy and urges journalists to call his cell phone, day or night." Oh, for the days when racing publicists -- hungry for hard-to-get coverage and willing to work for it -- acted that way.

Indy 500 winner and IRL champion Sam Hornish Jr. is confirmed to attend the AARWBA All-America Team dinner, Saturday, January 13, at the Hyatt in downtown Indianapolis. Thanks to Chris Schwartz -- now safely relocated to Penske Racing's Mooresville, N.C. facility -- for helping make this happen. With Sebastien Bourdais also set to be there, that means the rare and interesting dynamic is in place of having both open-wheel series titlists at the same event. NHRA Top Fuel title-holder Tony Schumacher will be another attendee and Jack Roush will be the featured speaker. I'm dinner co-chair with Gil Bouffard. The full All-America Team will be revealed later this week and, as always, I'm waiting to see which PR reps stand-up to help AARWBA and which ones decide they can't be bothered. Go to http://aarwba.org for tickets, Hyatt reservations at the special AARWBA rate, and other information.


[ Please come back next Tuesday, Dec. 12, for the year's last blog. It will feature some very special and important words -- from someone other than me. ]