• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

THE SAD STATE of PR

I needed to speak with the PR rep for a championship-contending team at a late-season major event. I didn't have this person's cell number and didn't make contact when I went over to the team's pit area. No problem, I figured, we'll connect in the media center.

The day passed. That evening, I sent an E-mail: "Need to see you tomorrow." This is the actual, for real, reply I received:

"Call my cell. I don’t visit the media center much."

A publicity person who doesn't come to where the journalists are located. (!)

Welcome to what passes for contemporary public and media relations.

This is my final blog of the year. I'm sorry to conclude on a negative note. But this is one of the most serious issues within the motorsports industry and, I hope, one that will draw careful consideration by series executives, team owners and sponsor managers in 2008.

I covered last month's Phoenix International Raceway NASCAR weekend for the Arizona Republic. The listed PR reps for the top 18 (18!) drivers in the Nextel Cup standings went the weekend without interaction with writers for the state's largest newspaper. The listed contact for the Busch Series champion didn't respond to requests for assistance for a special section story.

How is that acceptable to those who make the hires and sign the checks?

Would at least one of you, please, write me with the answer to that question?

I've made this serious suggestion to NASCAR: As a test, post a sign-in sheet for PR reps in some press room early next season. The evidence, as I know it, is not much paper or ink will be required.

I encourage anyone interested in this subject to read my Dec. 12, 2006 posting. My great friend Jim Chapman (left, photo courtesy Dan R. Boyd) knew PR was ALL about working to develop one-on-one relationships with the media. Read about it in Jim's own words, as he shared his insights about the once-proud PR profession.

Jack Duffy, who as Hurst' PR VP was Linda Vaughn's boss, was an early influence on my career. Jack, who died earlier this year, used to personally invite me and other journalists to Hurst receptions. He'd say, "Please come." When we'd arrive, Jack would shake hands and say, "Thanks for coming." When we'd leave, Jack would again shake hands and say, "Thank you for stopping by. I appreciate it."

Whatever happened to that personal touch? To common courtesy? To professionalism?

The executive management of EVERY sanctioning organization should be concerned. No matter how large their own staff, or sizeable their budget, the individual team/sponsor reps will ALWAYS be the front-line soldiers for all series. Those who say, "There's nothing we can do," well, the NFL requires its teams to follow certain standards . . . why is it motorsports can't do the same?

While you're at it, please mandate some Journalism 101 courses. There's no excuse -- none -- for the "we're excited about/looking forward to" non-news "news" releases. A recent example: The open-wheel team whose announcement revealed the organization "is both flattered and excited to have" two new drivers.

Here's how that was handled on my keyboard: Ctrl/Alt/Delete.

How sad this person doesn't understand press releases are written for the PRESS, not for ego stroking of the owner. And, even more sadly, she's not alone.

Things MUST improve in 2008. No matter what it takes.
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When will they ever learn?

A news release last week informed us that Hermie Sadler is now a professional wrestling broadcaster. TNA Wrestling, on Spike TV, "delivers a distinct brand of high-risk, athletic entertainment." At least, that's what they want us to believe.

Sadler, who retired as a NASCAR driver in 2006, is a SPEED analyst. Even so, I guess Hermie forgot about the Tony Stewart-yellow flag controversy of some months ago, in which Stewart questioned the validity of debris cautions. That brought the very legitimacy of NASCAR into question and drew comparisons to -- yes -- pro wrestling. Sadler allowed himself to be quoted thusly:

“Commentating for professional wrestling is, in a lot of ways, quite similar to commentating on NASCAR.”

Great, Hermie, thank you. That's just what NASCAR needed. I, for one, will consider whatever you say about NASCAR in the future in that context.

Here's some free PR advice: Use an overnight service to send your letter of apology to Brian France. Copy Mike Helton and Jim Hunter. And, what say you, SPEED management? I'll say this again: That network needs to follow ESPN's example and retain an independent viewer ombudsman.
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Thank you to those who have contacted me about my Arizona Republic work. The feedback I've received from editors, readers, and those within the industry is we've made a least a little progress toward the goal of re-energizing enthusiasm for motorsports coverage in this state. The current plan is I will write Friday notebooks for Dec. 14 and 21, pause for two weeks, and then resume. There's a link in the right-hand column for the Republic's website, AzCentral.com. Here are links to two stories from last week:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1206racingnb1207.html

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1207racingnb1208.html
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It's been a very difficult year. One forever marked by the passing of icons Bill France Jr., Wally Parks, Benny Parsons and Shav Glick. Personally, I've lost several other friends as well, like Jack Duffy, Nick Fornoro and Pat Mittman. John Force Racing endured the unendurable, with Eric Medlen's fatal accident, and John's own serious injuries.

So, let's end with some happy news, regarding my friends Bob Margolis and Bob Carlson. It was tremendous for me to speak with Margolis, of Yahoo Sports, last week. He sounded strong and positive after his latest and difficult cancer treatments. Bob's outlook going into the New Year is much improved and he's hoping to cover Daytona. Carlson, the longtime Porsche PR pro, was able to return to his Atlanta-area home last week after cancer surgery and serious post-surgical complications. God Bless.

[ more Tuesday, January 8, 2008 . . . ]

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

AND THE NEXT STEP IS . . . ?

I'll guest next Monday (Dec. 10) on Racing Roundup Arizona to review the 2007 season and look ahead to 2008 with host Jamie Reynolds. Now in its 11th consecutive year, RRA airs from 7-9 p.m. on KXAM (1310). You can listen using the link in the right-hand column. The show is broadcast "live" from Max's in Glendale.


Helio Castroneves won Dancing With the Stars and Jimmie Johnson was officially crowned Nextel Cup champion last week and the question now is:

What does it really mean, going forward?

Depending on your point-of-view, it was either amusing or frustrating that ABC -- NASCAR's multi-billion dollar TV partner -- flew double Indy 500 winner Castroneves (left, with dance partner Julianne Hough, photo courtesy IMS/Ron McQueeney) to New York to make the media rounds . . . right in the midst of NASCAR's annual "Champions Week" activities. As far as I know, Helio didn't cost Johnson any Big Apple interviews. I suspect, though, that stock car's PR executives would have preferred the most famous open-wheel driver not to defect to NASCAR not to have taken a bite from their media feast.

Which ended, by the way, in reverse gear -- on third-tier ESPN Classic. The Cup awards aired on the main net during ESPN's previous NASCAR tenure. (Thanks to ESPN's Andy Hall, I watched the show "live" on ESPN360.com -- quite an amazing technological marvel.)

Those I know, who have a direct involvement, quietly admit some of the energy and excitement has gone out of NASCAR's New York adventure. And, of course, no less than Bruton Smith himself has suggested the ceremony be moved to Las Vegas. Conveniently, the site of the Smith-owned Motor Speedway.

From an entertainment standpoint, Bruton has a point, especially since a strike kept Broadway dark until the night before the Waldorf festivities. (Speaking of "entertainment," David Spade was a dud, like Jay Mohr before him. Spade told "jokes" that played into the stereotype of New York City -- an area in which ISC would like to build a track -- and about flying coach to a crowd who either own their own jets or use charters. Hint to Spade: Rule No. 1 is to know your audience!)

But that's NOT the point here.

For business, media and political purposes, NASCAR has every reason to keep haulin' back to NYC. It's simple: It's the easiest way to gain access to ad and marketing and PR agencies, participate in industry conferences, and get in front of media decision-makers. And keep whatever chances of a New York-region track alive. If Brian France eventually does decide to move, I'll take it as a clear signal all realistic hopes of a speedway there in the near future are gone.

As for IndyCar, the series did work to promote Castroneves' DWTS success. It was worth doing, as are the stated intentions to continue on that course. It sure can't hurt, especially considering known names/ticket sellers Sam Hornish Jr. and Dario Franchitti have split, replaced by Ryan Briscoe and Hideki Mutoh. Ouch!

I'd be fascinated to know how many gross media impressions Castroneves' DWTS title run generated compared with the combined numbers from his two Indy triumphs. Something tells me that data won't be forthcoming. The problem, however, is the next ICS race doesn't happen until March 29. In our contemporary society, where attention spans aren't much longer than a Sweet 'n Low packet, we'll cycle through dozens of "celebrities" before the green flag waves at Homestead.

Four months from now, will most people remember who won Stars? Probably more than who will know the winner of Survivor, but no where near as many who will be able to rattle off the contestants on American Idol. As Robert Bianco, USA Today's TV critic, wrote about DWTS: "Watch and root if you must, but if by some chance your favorite doesn't win, please take it well. You know in the grand -- or even the tiny -- scheme of things, it really doesn't much matter."

Of this, though, I am certain: When ESPN turns on its cameras for the ICS opener, we'll be shown Helio dancing. The only thing I'm not sure of is will that be before -- or after -- they interview Danica?
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Budweiser has joined ESPN and Mazda as a co-host of the reception prior to the 38th AARWBA All-America Team dinner, Saturday, January 12, at the Indianapolis Hyatt. I'm dinner chairman. See link in the right-hand column for more information on tickets.

Here's a link to my story in last Friday's Arizona Republic. It focuses on Rick Hendrick and his championship management style:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1129racingnb1130.html

NASCAR reporters think they have it tough with some drivers or at tracks with inadequate work space. Read what it's like out on the campaign trail with Hillary Clinton:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/29/AR2007112902165_pf.html

Do you know about changes at the Associated Press? You should. Read here:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/03/business/media/03apee.html?ei=5065&en=401d36c5dc11efa8&ex=1197349200&partner=MYWAY&pagewanted=print

Read about John Force publicist Dave Densmore's incredible year, from his own major heart surgery to Eric Medlen's fatal accident to Force's serious crash:
http://www.competitionplus.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4665&Itemid=24

Adam Saal will leave Grand-Am Dec. 14 to operate his own communications business. First client is Rolex Series champion Bob Stallings Racing.

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

DeLANA HARVICK, Part 2

Two weeks ago I posted Part One of my lengthy interview with DeLana Harvick. Kevin's wife is very involved in the management of Kevin Harvick Inc., their Craftsman Truck and Busch Series teams. Ron Hornaday Jr. won this year's Truck title in the Harvick's Camping World Chevrolet Silverado. DeLana began her formal racing career as two-time Busch champion Randy LaJoie's public relations person.

Here's the conclusion of our conversation: (Championship photo of Kevin and DeLana courtesy of KHI/CIA.)

Q. What about the perception some people have that KHI is basically a Richard Childress team?
A. Obviously, there’s going to be some information that transfers because Kevin’s in both cars. He can’t be involved in RCR and not have some knowledge that he brings back. But that really couldn’t be further from the truth because we do everything (except engines) in-house. I’m proud we have our own body shop, we have our own paint shop, everything else is done in-house. I think that’s probably the biggest misconception, that we’re just a satellite team for RCR. Although Richard’s been very helpful, especially with advice, we’re pretty proud of what we’ve done on our own.

Q. Do you give your drivers PR advice?
A. Absolutely. If there’s an article that comes out, and I think there was one (where) Ron wasn’t happy with how a quote came out. He called me pretty upset and I talked through it with him. PR is my first love and I think that’s what I do best. I think that’s helpful to Kevin, and certainly, with newcomers like Cale Gale. I try to introduce him to all the players in the sport because it’s my hope he’s going to be around a long time. With a new kid coming from Mobile, Ala., who races a late model, he doesn’t understand the day-to-day duties the guys in NASCAR, the time that is needed to do these things. We’ve got him going to schools, to hospitals, just to get him used to being in public and around people and speaking.

I feel like I do have an influence over our drivers. Obviously, Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte, they don’t need advice from me. I think that’s what I get excited about, the kids coming up, like Cale Gale, I feel like I can be a benefit.

Q. What about when Kevin is in a controversial situation, like with Juan Pablo Montoya at Watkins Glen?
A. As a wife, I’m watching my husband having a pretty heated discussion with someone else. On the same token, I’m watching Kevin kind of through a PR person’s eyes, and I see the passion. Just a couple of years ago, he would have had him in a choak-hold, or done something a little more abrupt. I’ve seen Kevin grow so much. I think a lot of that has to do with KHI and owning his own team.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong, if you’re mad about something, tell somebody, you don’t have to be so politically correct that you’re vanilla. I never want to see that, even for my own drivers. I think, obviously, there’s a line you can’t cross, but I was happy to see that he was so passionate. That cost us a lot of points that day and we were coming down to the wire of the Chase and every point matters. If that had happened, and he wasn’t passionate about it, I don’t think I would have been as happy with him because the passion is what I love so much about Kevin.

Q. Teresa Earnhardt took a lot of criticism for not reaching an agreement to keep Dale Jr. at DEI. As a female team owner, and a PR person, what was your reaction to the media coverage and fan reaction?
A. The hard part about this sport is you have to make decisions on a daily basis and sometimes they’re not popular decisions, whether they're budget-driven, or personnel-driven. It’s unfortunate because the sport has grown to the point that, sometimes, these things plays out in the media.

The part I think everyone has to remember is, there’s always another side to the story. Obviously, we see the outcome of these situations. When you’re not there, on a day-to-day basis, and you don’t know everything that has transpired, it’s hard for me to accept people making opinions about that because they’re not informed. They're fed little bits of what the people involved want to feed them.

I hope I’ve matured a little bit, even in my personal life, where I realize there’s so much more to a situation than the final outcome. I think I put those pieces in play when determining how I feel about a situation. Whether it’s KHI related, or even my personal life. I just know, typically, there’s three sides to every story.

Q. You are the only wife who wears a fire-resistant uniform during the race. Why?
A. When we lost Dale (Earnhardt) and Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin, there was a big safety push in NASCAR. As a wife, I asked Kevin, ‘What are you doing to be safer?’ I became really interested in the safety aspect. We were talking about this one night and he said, ‘What are you doing to be safe?’ I never really thought about that. There’s a lot of moving parts and pieces that go on on pit road and I’m actually pretty astonished that more people don’t do it on their own, but they’re not required to wear some fire-safety protection. The pit boxes have gotten to be such monstrosities that, if something were to happen quickly, I couldn’t get out of harm’s way. I’m pretty much stuck.

I felt like it was only fair when I’m asking Kevin to do everything he possibly could to be safe in the car. Turnabout is fair play and I should do everything I can do to be safe on pit road and I felt that was a good solution.
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Bobby Labonte recently joined the ranks of drivers who get into the PR-marketing business. His company is called Breaking Limits, LLC. I find this interesting because I was part of a brief, and not very serious, attempt by Mario Andretti's then-manager back in 1987 to trade on Andretti's name by offering to provide such services. Several companies were "pitched." I remember a few corporate representatives came to me, privately, and expressed concern that their business would always play second fiddle to Andretti's own sponsors. The idea never really went anywhere, partially for this reason.

In 1988, Al Holbert had a similar idea. We were deep into planning a partnership when Al was killed in a private plane crash.

I couldn't help but notice this language in Labonte's news announcement (emphasis mine):

"Breaking Limits mission is to go above and beyond expectations for every partner with business professionals that have the integrity, morals and values that Labonte encompasses."

Wonder if a copy of the release reached Chip Williams?
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Wire reports last week said Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson compared his Democratic rivals to NASCAR drivers. (!)

"It's like they're all in training for the NASCAR, you know, nothing but a left turn, just steady as she goes, all the way around," Thompson was quoted as saying.

Thompson, a former Tennessee senator, wasn't knocking NASCAR or its fans, traditionally a friendly audience. Meanwhile, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani campaigned at the Cup finale at Homestead.
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Here's a link to my column in last Friday's Arizona Republic. It's a look at the state-of-play among the four Nextel Cup series automakers:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1122racingnb1123.html
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If you didn't see this article in the October Esquire, "A plan to rescue sports journalism from the same sorry fate that has befallen the regular news," here's a link:
http://www.esquire.com/features/chuck-klostermans-america/klosterman1007
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AARWBA will offer an audio-visual tribute to Bill France Jr., Wally Parks and Shav Glick at the 38th All-America Team ceremony. That's Saturday, January 12, at the downtown Indianapolis Hyatt. I'm the dinner chairman. A new element of the evening will be a pre-reception news conference, featuring brief announcements from various team, sponsor and industry representatives. Officially, that will be the Shav Glick Newsmakers Forum. For more information on the dinner, go to http://aarwba.org/, or E-mail me.

Thank you to Judy Stropus, of Don Schumacher Racing, who organized a group of NHRA team/sponsor PR representatives to jointly sponsor the November AARWBA newsletter. Their message is a "thank you" and "happy holidays" to AARWBA media members.

Others, in other series, please take note.

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

TOO MUCH HYPE IN NASCAR?

Is there too much hype in NASCAR?

I asked Brian France that exact question during my extended one-on-one exclusive interview with him Friday of NASCAR weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. His answer:

"There’s always too much hype when the competition on the field or on the track doesn’t fulfill it. It’s OK to have hype but it’s even better to have a great race or a great baseball game that matches the hype."

I don't know how anyone could disagree with France's answer.

The truth is, the 2007 Nextel Cup campaign was not a great season. So that means, yes, there was too much hype.

It was a Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports blowout. In achieving its 31st manufacturers' championship, Chevy won 26 of the 36 races. Led by Jimmie Johnson's 10 victories and second consecutive Cup, Hendrick visited victory lane 18 times. Jeff Gordon was second in points with six wins. Kyle Busch and Casey Mears combined for two more.

I realize some of you will find this strange, coming from me, but there IS such a thing as too much hype. Here are my two favorite examples from the season past:

1. At California Speedway, in February, an MRN announcer told us the race was important because "after today, there will only be 24 more races until the Chase." ONLY 24!

2. At New Hampshire, in September, an ABC announcer told us an upcoming series of gas-and-tire service was "critical, because it's the first pit stops in the Chase." ONLY ABOUT 50 MORE TO GO!

Please . . .

I've been asked several times what I'd do to "fix" NASCAR's two-year TV ratings/attendance/media coverage/popularity slide. My advice:

Give it a rest, guys!

Not every race is a "great" race. Not every lap is "critical." Not every driver is a "champion." Not every driver who spins or crashes does "a great job" saving the car. Not every driver is "driving his brains out." Not every event is "exciting." Not every speedway has a "huge" crowd.

I've learned this: Relentless, baseless hype eventually will EXHAUST the public. No one can keep up with it all. No one believes it all. The credibility factor eventually comes into play.

I hope, in 2008, at least for a little while after the 50th anniversary Daytona 500 "Great American Race," NASCAR and Humpy Wheeler and Eddie Gossage and Fox and ESPN and SPEED and MRN and everyone else involved will take a step back. Study the way CBS televised the recent New England Patriots-Indianapolis Colts game -- just let the action tell it's own story.

For that to have any chance of happening, of course, the Car of Tomorrow needs to produce great racing. Fans didn't like what they saw in the second Bristol and Talladega races. If Daytona is an entertainment dud, I know the hype machine will be fed nitro.

If you didn't read my Q&A with France, click the first link below. The second one is my Arizona Republic column of last Friday, which includes even more questions-and-answers with him. (His future plans? Status of diversity program? Criticism of TV coverage?) The third is my Republic story on open-wheel drivers coming to NASCAR, which has Brian's comments on that trend:

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1110france1111.html

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1115racingnb1116.html

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1109openwheelers1110.html
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I made this point during my XM Satellite Radio interview with Claire B. Lang at PIR:

“The Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team made the National League playoffs this year. They did not sell out all of their home playoff games which is really incredible for the National League Championship Series. All the reserve tickets at PIR (Phoenix International Raceway) for Sunday’s Checker 500 kilometer race are sold out. What does that tell you about the strength of NASCAR even with some of the issues going on in the day? Very impressive.”
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In case you missed it, please take a look at my latest "Business of Racing" video commentary on 1320tv.com. I look back on the sad 2007 NHRA season, and look ahead to the two big issues of 2008:

http://www.1320tv.com/dialed_in/article11.asp?vid=dialed_in/dialed_in_mk_bor_02&title=2007%20Powerade%20Drag%20Racing%20Series%20Recap

Thanks to popular California radio personality Joe Benson for the nomination in AutoWriters.com's search for the 100 top automotive blogs, as mentioned in AW.c's November newsletter.

Congratulations to Barry Bronson, Valvoline communications director, elected last week as secretary of ASE (National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence).

I've noticed, for a while, that AP's NASCAR boxscores list winning average speeds in kilometers per hour as well as mph. The Homestead results sheet went a step further, though, showing Matt Kenseth's first-place purse not only in dollars, but also euros. (!) For the record, AP calculated Kenseth's $359,941 converted to euro245,700.

USA Today's Monday odds on the Dancing With the Stars contenders put Helio Castroneves at 8-to-1. The story also called him "the Formula One race car driver . . . "

It was sad to receive news of Bob Holbert's death last week at age 84. Bob was a four-time SCCA national champion and U.S. Road Racing Championship titlist. He stopped racing in 1964 and saw son Al's successful career, which included three Le Mans victories. Al was one of my closest friends -- he recruited me to do the PR for the Quaker State Porsche CART team he ran in 1988 -- and Al died in a private airplane crash in September that year. The Holbert's showroom, in Warrington, Pa., is America's oldest authorized Porsche dealership. Porsche Cars North America President Peter Schwarzenbauer said that Bob "helped establish the Porsche brand in America" and called him "a true American Porsche pioneer.” Indeed.

It's Thanksgiving week, so in that spirit, I'll refrain from naming names of the terrible "PR" people I dealt with (or, in some cases, tried to deal with) in my coverage at PIR. I will say this: There was no legitimate excuse -- none -- for Kyle Busch's boorish behavior upon exiting his hauler after the Cup race. As Busch's handler yelled to reporters, "He doesn't want to talk!," the PR rep (who, apparently, had not thought to educate Kyle beforehand the media would need his comments no-matter-what since he had won the weekend's first two races) stood by and did nothing.

I am thankful, however, to Jim Hunter, Ramsey Poston and Owen Kearns (NASCAR), Judy Dominick (Chevrolet), Bill Janitz (Interstate Batteries/JJ Yeley) and Steve Van Houten (Ford hospitality).


[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

DeLANA HARVICK ON THE RACING BIZ

DeLana Harvick is one of the more impressive people I've met in the more than four decades I've been in-and-around professional sports.

She grew up in motorsports. DeLana's father, John Paul Linville, drove in NASCAR's Busch Series until 1995. "I was at the racetrack every weekend, so I didn't really do a lot of kid things," she explains. "I didn't do soccer or brownies or anything like that. I was always with my dad at the track."

What's of interest to readers of this blog is DeLana began her racing career as double Busch Series champion Randy LaJoie's public relations representative. "PR is my first love and I think that’s what I do best," she told me.

She married Kevin Harvick in February 2001, less than two weeks after Dale Earnhardt's death. Kevin was suddenly thrust into the national spotlight as owner Richard Childress' choice to take over the white and renumbered No. 29 Goodwrench Chevrolet. He won a thriller at Atlanta just over a week after their wedding.

Kevin Harvick Inc. fields teams in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck and Busch Series. Ron Hornaday Jr. will go for the Truck championship this Friday at Homestead in KHI's Camping World Chevrolet Silverado. KHI has about 80 employees and DeLana's office is in the 70,000 square-foot shop in Kernersville, N.C.

This is part one of our conversation.

Q. Why did you and Kevin decide to start your own team?
A. It started with the Truck. Kevin had never won a Truck race. So, in 2001, we decided to build a Truck, just to go out and race. We had a fifth-wheel trailer and guys who would just come in and help, no employees. The first time we ran we finished second and almost won. That was just more of a prodding, ‘We can do this. We can go out and run these races.’ Kevin finally won in a Truck we built.

It evolved into a full-time Truck team with full-time sponsorship. On the Busch side, someone came to us and said, ‘I’m interested in running some Busch races. Would you want to do that?’ We thought, ‘Yes, sounds like fun.’ That was the beginning of our Busch team. It just grew and evolved from there.

Q. Ron Hornaday Jr. told me you are the "boss." How do you describe your role within KHI?
A. I don’t have a typical 9-5 job. I think I do a pretty good job putting on different hats depending on what the situation calls for. I hope the employees view me as a good sounding board and someone who’s fair.

When you run your own business, sometimes your heart tells you to do one thing, but your head tells you to do another. That’s been the hardest part for me. Especially when it comes to having to let people go, or make tough decisions when it comes to budgets. Really understanding what it takes to run a successful business is not always necessarily what you want to do with your heart.

Q. Do you have a formal title?
A. I think I’m secretary. I think that means I’m the one who signs all the checks. I guess that’s a good title to have. If the trash needs to be emptied, I’ll empty the trash. If the toilet paper needs refilling, I’ll do that. If there’s a sponsor I need to go do hospitality for, I’ll do that. I think, sometimes, when you put formality into it, I don’t like that. I want people who want to be at KHI that are willing to do anything to make it successful and that’s part of what I hope to instill in people who come here is, you can’t do just one thing, and if you’re closed-minded on that, you’re probably not going to be what we need at KHI.

Q. Is this a seven-day-a-week job for you?
A. It depends on what part of the season. Sometimes I’m here from 8-to-8. There’s no one day that’s the same. Sometimes I choose to work from home, depending on what I’ve got lined up for the day. But, again, I never shut it off. My cell phone never goes off. I’m always in contact whether it’s E-mail or phone calls. You can’t step away from this, because if you do, you’re going to miss something.

Q. How did you learn the different aspects of running a racing business?
A. I can’t say I’ve completely learned. I’m learning every day. I think that’s the part that I’m so challenged by. It's not the typical desk job. I’m out on the shop floor listening to competition-related things, listening to marketing and public relations issues, and trying to come up with solutions for everything.

I think my background, being involved in racing from such an early age, I first and foremost was intrigued by the competition part. Then, as I graduated from college and started to work in the business side of the sport, I realized how much more was out there for me to learn. It’s challenging because I don’t do the same thing every day. I’m still learning and trying to get better and I think that’s what continues to drive me.

Q. Do you negotiate directly with Camping World, Dollar General and the other KHI sponsors?
A.
I have a good group who does that but I am involved when it comes to budgets and expenses and portions of the program. That’s the part that I’m most uncomfortable with because, at the end of the day, I want to race to be competitive but the budget is the hard balance. When you’re a competitive person your initial reaction is, ‘I need everything.’ What you have to realize is, you are racing on a budget, and at the end of the day, we have to be successful on what we have coming in. The more support we have coming in, the better, but it’s always a business for the sponsor and it has to make sense for them as well.

Q. Is Richard Childress a resource for you?
A. There’s always an open-door policy with Richard. He’s a good sounding board, but Kevin and I have taken this responsibility of running our teams on our own. We realized from the beginning we had to take baby steps. People assume we’re going to go Cup racing because that’s the next step. That’s not necessarily what we’re interested in. We’re racers. That’s what we do. But we want to have fun.

To me, Cup racing, owning Cup teams, is not necessarily the direction I see KHI going. I would go almost so far as to say that I would likely rule it out. The Cup series is so competitive and if you’re not a multi-car team, almost a powerhouse team, you’re going to struggle. Kevin and I don't necessarily have a life outside of KHI, but I know we wouldn’t have a life outside KHI if we had Cup teams. That’s not really interesting to us.

Coming soon, more with DeLana Harvick, including what she has to say about PR -- including the public image of her sometimes controversial husband.
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Let's turn to NHRA for a moment: Please check out my "Business of Racing" video commentary on 1320tv.com. It looks back on 2007 and the two issues that will be foremost going into 2008. Here's the link:
http://www.1320tv.com/dialed_in/article11.asp?vid=dialed_in/dialed_in_mk_bor_02&title=2007%20Powerade%20Drag%20Racing%20Series%20Recap
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Here are links most of my Arizona Republic stories from last weekend's NASCAR events at Phoenix International Raceway. Please note the first one, a transcript of my exclusive one-on-one conversation with NASCAR Chairman Brian France. Space in Sunday's paper didn't permit me to use it all, so there will be more of this interview in Friday's Republic. And, I'll have more from France in next week's blog:

Brian France Q&A:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1110france1111.html

The NASCAR Super Teams: http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1107nascarteams.html

Open-wheel drivers to NASCAR:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1109openwheelers1110.html

JJ Yeley's Race Day:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1111yeleyside1112.html

Busch Series race preview (Carl Edwards):
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1107pirbusch.html

Craftsman Truck race preview (Mike Skinner-Ron Hornaday Jr.):
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1107pirtrucks.html

Who/What to Watch for at PIR:
http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/sports/articles/1108pirhotnot1108.html

Thanks to Claire B. Lang for an enjoyable interview on XM Radio last weekend.

[ more Blogging the Chase next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

POMONA POWER POINTS

DANCING WITH HELIO: The IndyCar Series is pro-active about promoting double Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves in ABC's Dancing with the Stars. A package, with campaign-style sign, T-shirt and "Vote for Helio" letter, was distributed last week. Castroneves and dance partner Julianne Hough were in Indy last Friday to stump for votes. Viewers of the hit show vote for their favorite via a toll-free phone number (1-800-868-3409) or online at www.abc.com. It's good to see the series taking this publicity opportunity as seriously as Helio obviously is the dancing competition!


Despite the smell of nitro in the air, I usually find it refreshing to visit an NHRA Powerade Drag Racing Series event, and last weekend's Auto Club Finals in Pomona was no exception. As broadcaster Paul Page has said to me a few times, from a media and fan standpoint, the atmosphere at NHRA races is what it used to be in CART. For whatever reason, it seems easier to get access to any driver on short-notice, or set up a last-minute meeting, than in any other series.

A main purpose of my trip to Pomona was AARWBA's present-
ation of its Rick Mears
"Good Guy" Award to Gary Scelzi (right). AARWBA offers this honor, on an occasional basis, to show appreciation to a driver for longtime cooperation with the media. We did this Saturday in the Shav Glick Media Center, with a second present-
ation by AARWBA Western VP Susan Wade, during Sunday's pre-race ceremonies. Susan kindly posted video on her 1320tv.com site. To see my introduction, President Dusty Brandel's presentation and Gary's comments, use this link:

http://www.1320tv.com/racevideos/autoclub.asp?vid=11-1-07/scelzi_aarwba_final&title=Gary%20Scelzi%20Receives%20AARWBA%20Honor&des=2005%20Funny%20Car%20champ%20becomes%20first%20drag%20racer%20to%20be%20presented%20Rick%20Mears%20Good%20Guy%20Award

As usual, NHRA provided AARWBA with plenty of cooperation. President Tom Compton stopped by for the ceremony. Thanks to NHRA's Jerry Archambeault, Anthony Vestal, Michael Padian and Glen Cromwell to working with me to accomplish what needed to get done. Plus, of course, Judy Stropus of Don Schumacher Racing.

NHRA's new Countdown championship format -- designed to create drama -- worked in Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle. Tony Schumacher and his amazing Don Schumacher Racing Army Top Fuel team did it again, winning the title (his fourth straight) on the last pass of the season. The same for Matt Smith on the bikes. Funny Car was basically decided the previous week at Las Vegas, when Tony Pedregon won, and his three rivals all lost in the first round. That's the downside to a two-race shootout, and I'm among those who think that's not enough racing to settle any title.

Plenty of Business of Racing news came out of Pomona, including:

Budweiser renewed its "official beer" partnership with NHRA, which now will go more than three decades. I'm told the deal is for two years, through 2009, which will match Bud's current sponsorship with Kenny and Brandon Bernstein.

NHRA made a contribution of $2,500 to Pasadena City College in honor of legendary Los Angeles Times sportswriter Shav Glick, who died Oct. 20 at age 87. The college foundation annually presents two $500 scholarships -- The Shav Glick Journalism Scholarship -- to outstanding journalism students who are active members of the college newspaper.

With Geico on notice it will have to wrap-up its sponsorship in what will become NASCAR's Nationwide Series, NHRA jumped on this and signed a multi-year marketing partnership. Geico will continue its sponsorship of Karen Stoffer's bike team.
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Controversial questions are unusual on media teleconferences, but there was one last week. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was on the phone with reporters from Atlanta Motor Speedway during his first Hendrick test. Someone asked if Junior felt a responsibility to speak out on military-related issues, since the National Guard will be one of his sponsors next year, and the Navy backs his Busch Series team.

Earnhardt Jr.:

"I'm not in a position to blast opinions on anything like that. I mean, certainly when it comes to knowledge of those various and specific situations that you just spoke of, I'm not intelligent enough about them independently to be able to sit here and think that I would be able to tell a cameraman or a print reporter what I thought should be done.

"You know, what I enjoy doing, I do got some friends in Iraq. One of my buddies just went there recently. I just ask them what they need. They tell me. I try to mail it to them. You know, I think if there's one responsibility, obviously my job with my race team is to try to let young Americans and young adults know that that's an opportunity, to join the Guard, to join the Navy, that that's an opportunity, and try to give them all the information that they can have to make that decision.

"But I feel like, as a citizen of the United States, you know, being able to take some time out of my week to put together a care package to send to a couple of buddies of mine that they can disperse throughout their company and whatnot, that's probably the best thing. I remember being in military school. That was the coolest thing that could happen, when your parents sent you a box of stuff, new socks, candy bars, whatever.

"As ridiculous as that sounds to us, to just be able to walk up to the corner store and pick it up, it's really hard to get over there. You can get an iPod, but you can't download music. The things we take for granted.

"They tell me what the kind of things they wish they had or hadn't thought about bringing over with them, and I try to mail it to them. When we're all on our XM radio show we try to tell our listeners that that's a good exercise for them, too, is just to put a care package together. Takes five minutes. Makes a big, big difference to those guys, the morale over there."
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Danica Patrick picked-up some useful publicity for a couple of companies she is endorsing during a New York City PR tour the other week. (Congratulations to whoever pushed the button for that Oct. 25 USA Today piece.) She's been in the IndyCar Series three years and already is being asked how much longer she'll race? Answer: 10 years. As best I could determine in reading about/listening to her, one of Danica's big things right now is trying to launch her own fashion line, plus more beauty-products endorsements.

Here's what I DIDN'T hear: What Danica is doing to make herself a better race car driver! To try to actually WIN a race, not just in the ICS, but anything. Seems to me she could be spending off-season time in various types of cars, keeping her skills sharp, and working to improve her aggression level on starts and restarts. Even if it means spending some of her own money to rent rides/tracks.

THAT would impress me a lot more than what diamond-studded watch she's wearing.
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Best wishes to Robert Clarke, the president of Honda Performance Development, who will retire from Honda on June 30, 2008. Effective January 1, Robert will move into an executive advisory role at HPD, as Erik Berkman becomes HPD president. Berkman currently is Executive Engineer, Honda R&D Americas, Inc.

I'll be at Phoenix International Raceway Thursday-Sunday, covering for the Arizona Republic. Please check out the paper or http://azcentral.com/ . Here's a link to my column last Friday:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1101racingnb1102.html

[ more Blogging the Chase next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

CARL EDWARDS' FLIP FLAP

I think Carl Edwards is a good guy to help build NASCAR's popularity.

He's just not popular with his Roush Fenway teammates.

Matt Kenseth wouldn't be anywhere near the top of my list of drivers most likely to get tangled in a PR battle, but that's what happened. SPEED's fortuitously placed cameraman caught Edwards' (left) "conversation" with his fellow Roush Ford driver as both were walking out of Martinsville.

I hope somebody sent Ron Dennis the YouTube link to help ease his Fernando Alonso-Lewis Hamilton heartburn. (!)

I listened-in to Edwards on NASCAR's media teleconference last week and wasn't surprised he began with an apology. What got my eyes saucer-wide, though, was that Mr. Backflip didn't leave it there, just pass it off as a mistake. Instead, he launched into a widely-reported discourse on the lack of "team spirit" at Roush. With his answer to each question ("Matt Kenseth and I have not spoken -- I don't think Matt's voluntarily said two sentences to me in the last six months") -- Carl progressively fed the media beast for an all-too predictable controversy. Kenseth later had his say, Greg Biffle had his the night before on TV, and even Kevin Harvick felt free to voice his opinion on a call the next day with Western state reporters.

Hey, at least Carl got to split for Memphis, for (what turned out to be an ugly) Busch Series event!

I don't know if Edwards spoke out on his own, or if there was some PR huddling, but it was a mistake. UNLESS Carl's true purpose was to put public pressure on his team and teammates to deal with what should have been an internal matter. Maybe, just maybe, he had tried to sort-it-out in-house and it wasn't happening?

The sidebar fascination in all of this was how jumbled the "expert" opinions came out. USA Today's man wrote that Edwards and Kenseth "have so much in common." Yes, and Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton both are New York politicians.

An ESPN NASCAR Now analyst did cite the two drivers' numerous personality differences. A show "insider," however, earned the week's biggest "WHAT THE . . . ?!" by calling on Biffle to "step-up" within the Roush driver corps. You betcha! There's a better chance Al Gore will invite George W. Bush to his Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.

Having lived through the Mario Andretti-Nigel Mansell saga at Newman/Haas in 1993 and 1994, I sympathize with Jack Roush. I can also assure him of this: The sun will come up tomorrow. That does not mean, though, he shouldn't do what must be done to Band-Aid -- if not heal -- this wound. Let me tell you from experience, Jack, it WILL hurt your team's performance. I believe Ron Dennis would say the same.
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Those who know of my deep interest in politics and the PR biz will understand why this got my attention: "Conflicts of Interest: Burson-Marsteller and Hillary Clinton's Alliance," by former President Clinton strategist (now anti-Hillary) Dick Morris and his wife, Eileen McGann. Accept or reject as you wish, but it's interesting reading:
http://www.dickmorris.com/blog/?p=180#more-180

While we're on the subject of our government-at-work, educate yourself about this media relations fiasco by FEMA during the California fires. With no legitimate reporters at a news conference (called with little notice), staff PR people did the question-asking!:
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N26366100.htm
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Saturday's Busch Series "race" at Memphis was the worst since . . . ??? I'd say CART's in Australia in 2002, ruined by a non-stop downpour and terrible officiating decisions. Memphis had 25 cautions for 117 of the 253 laps! As radical as it sounded, Rusty Wallace had it right on ESPN2, when he said NASCAR should have thrown the red at halfway and called the drivers together for a chewing-out. In a refreshing bit of broadcast-booth candor (where typically every race is called a "great" race), Rusty described Memphis as "bad."

Sunday, Wallace got teary-eyed on ABC, following a pre-Atlanta video feature on 1992 Cup owner-driver champion Alan Kulwicki.

Larry Henry's "This Week in Ford Racing" podcasts have begun in advance of Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Larry will be podcasting from the track race weekend. Last year, he put up over three hours of material. I don't understand why more sponsors and teams aren't utilizing this sort of "new media" technology. Check it out at http://fordracing.com/ .
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Here are links to my stories about Kevin Harvick and John Force/Robert Hight in last Friday's Arizona Republic:

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1025harvick1026.html

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1025autonb1026.html
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I'll be in Pomona this weekend for the NHRA championship finale. On Saturday, AARWBA will present its Rick Mears "Good Guy" Award to Gary Scelzi in a media center ceremony.

Jim Wilson, the longtime Indianapolis broadcaster and former AARWBA president, is in the cardiac intensive care unit at Indy's St. Vincent's Hospital after suffering a heart attack during surgery.

For some, unexplained, technical reason, even though I posted as usual last Tuesday a.m., it seems many of you could not access the new blog until Thursday. If you missed my tribute to Shav Glick, please scroll down.

[ more Blogging the Chase next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

ANOTHER GIANT PASSES

I take comfort in the fact that Shav Glick's last byline was over Wally Parks' obit in the Los Angeles Times, not many weeks ago.

Shav began with these words:

"Wally Parks, the hot-rodder and entrepreneur who curbed drag racing on city streets by steering drivers onto legal racing strips and founded the National Hot Rod Association, died Friday. He was 94."

Times' editors were smart enough to understand that no one could do a story on Parks' remarkable life better than Glick, who had retired about 21 months earlier. Shav got it -- that Wally's great legacy was inventing a sport that helped get illegal racing off the public streets.

Wally and Shav had known, and respected, each other for decades. While so many Big Time Journalists tend to look down on drag racing -- it's just too blue-collar for them -- Shav delighted in the great straight-line personalities like Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney, Don Prudhomme, John Force and Kenny Bernstein, and enjoyed telling their wonderful tales. Wally saw to it that the media center at Pomona was named for Shav.

I spoke with Shav a couple of weeks ago. Battling cancer, he sounded weak. I am so glad, however, that right up to an E-mail he sent me eight days before he died Saturday morning -- at age 87 at his home in Pasadena -- Shav remained fully engaged in selecting the 2007 Jim Chapman Award winner. Chapman was one of Shav's many friends and admirers and the award recognizes excellence in motorsports public relations. Just as the Shav Glick Award highlights outstanding achievement in motorsports by a Californian. I will forever remember the many social occasions I enjoyed with Jim and Shav. It was an honor to be counted among Shav's countless friends.

Champ Car VP David Higdon asked me to write a tribute to Shav for CC's website. It includes some of my personal memories and comments from Danny Sullivan, Paul Tracy and Jimmy Vasser:
http://www.champcarworldseries.com/News/Article.asp?ID=12301 .

I'll remember 2007 for the passing of the giants: Bill France Jr., Wally Parks and, now, Shav Glick.
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I enjoyed a fun evening Friday with the World of Outlaws at Manzanita Speedway. Danny Lasoski won while Donny Schatz closed in on his second consecutive championship. I can honestly say it would do a lot of PR people good to get out of the NASCAR, Champ Car or IndyCar garage areas and experience some of what it's like in the "real world" Outlaws' pits. Series PR director Tony Veneziano will work all 75 events this year!

I made certain to introduce myself to Joey Saldana, who drives for Kasey Kahne's team. A couple of weeks back, I left a voice mail for Joey, and he returned my call within five minutes. (!) Very professional. I chatted a bit with Steve Kinser, whose son Kraig got shuffled out when Ginn was folded into DEI. When I asked Steve if Kraig (who won the 2005 Knoxville Nationals) had anything new going in NASCAR, he answered, "He's looking . . . like 100 other guys." Steve left open the possibility he'd field an Outlaws sprinter for Kraig in 2008, but some I spoke with think the younger Kinser might be chosen to join Schatz in Tony Stewart's expanded two-car team.
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I've been a Formula One fan since my earliest days, delighting in the exploits of Jimmy Clark, Colin Chapman, Graham Hill, John Surtees and Dan Gurney. That said, I'm glad this F1 season is over, with Kimi Raikkonen's win and world championship last Sunday in Brazil. It can only be described as a ridiculous and counter-productive year, what with the spy scandal, silly FIA rulings, Scott Speed from F1-to-ARCA (still mind-boggling), no more USGP at Indianapolis and unprofessional conduct within the McLaren team. Ron Dennis' reputation as a master manager took a Big Hit with the Fernando Alonso-Lewis Hamilton controversies. I'm quite sure at least three former McLaren drivers of my acquaintance smiled at that spectacle! All of this only served to reinforce F1's elitist image, which, I regret to say, seeps through into the SPEED telecasts: "Hamilton is purple in sector one!" Purple? Please.

Meanwhile, cheers to Ferrari, which won the championship right away P.S. (Post-Schumacher) and despite key personnel changes -- and now, a dispute over fuel temperature!
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FAST LINES: The news of Shav Glick's passing was sad enough. Even sadder, for the news industry he loved, was that neither Speed Report nor Wind Tunnel acknowledged Shav's death. Thanks, SpeedFreaks and Racing Roundup Arizona, for doing the right thing . . . The IndyCar Series will join the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in sponsoring the 2008 AARWBA Journalism Contest. Prize money will increase 25 percent over the previous three-year arrangement. Thank you to my negotiating counterpart, IMS/ICS Executive VP, Communications Fred Nation . . . Last week I reported on the Big News in Indy radio, the AM-FM split by powerhouse WIBC in January. Now, BIGGER News: When that happens, Dave Wilson, the longtime "King" of afternoon drive, will switch to an 8:30-11:30 a.m. time slot. Wow! . . . Congratulations to John Cardinale, promoted to Infineon Raceway's VP for communications and marketing. John managed the track's media relations since 1998. But here's what I don't like -- The continued trend to put media/PR/communications into the same department as marketing. Memo to the sales deep-thinkers: Publicity IS selling, if you want to be honest about it, but casting PR that way by combining it with marketing is not conducive to good relationships with savvy journalists . . . I wish every PR rep would get a copy of Joe Torre's news conference last Friday and make his/her driver watch it. The former New York Yankees' manager read an informal opening statement, told a huge media gathering "I'm here as long as you need me," and answered questions for more than an hour. Torre's class and dignity tamed the notoriously tough Big Apple media . . . IHRA named Mike Perry its media relations director several weeks ago. He must be busy, because I'm still waiting for the courtesy of a reply to an E-mail I sent Oct. 8 . . . Here's the new logo for NASCAR's Nationwide Series, debuting in 2008, following 26 years of Busch beer backing. NASCAR, Nationwide and Jump Co. (interestingly, of Anheuser-Busch HQ city St. Louis), collaborated on the design. "The logo is simple yet extremely effective in delivering a completely new look to the branding of the series," said Steve Phelps, NASCAR's chief marketing officer. "It's good to be able to place a 'face' to a name now" . . . Quote of the Week (in Time magazine) from Mitt Romney's press secretary, Kevin Madden: "The biggest mistake press secretaries make is that they view the press corps as the enemy. I view them as a conduit" . . . It's been impossible for me not to notice Jenna Fryer's significant volume of Juan Montoya coverage this year. (If this keeps up, Tony Stewart might get jealous.) Last week, it reached a new level -- I'll let you decide if this is a "high" or "low" -- when in an AP Q&A, six of her nine questions were about Martinsville's hot dogs! Oh, the journalistic times in which we live.
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Here's a link to my column in last Friday's Arizona Republic. It focuses on Outlaws' leader Donny Schatz and Adrian Fernandez on his first ALMS season:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1019racingnb1019.html


[ more Blogging the Chase next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

HALFWAY POINTS

We're at the halfway point in the Chase and so it's a good time for me to make several points:

*
Sprint Nextel Chairman and CEO Gary Forsee resigned last week and now it can be said: The two-year-old merger of the telecommunications companies has -- thus far -- been a failure. According to USA Today, shares have lost approximately 27 percent of their value since the merger, and SN likely will report a net loss of about 337,000 subscribers in the third quarter. Those are staggering numbers. SceneDaily.com quoted Tim Kelly, Sprint's chief marketing officer, as saying: "It's business as usual. The NASCAR relationship is one of the cornerstones to our marketing efforts." I can tell you, from personal experience, when there is management instability and the Board of Directors is expected to recruit someone from outside the company as the new CEO, there is no such thing as "business as usual." My advice to NASCAR observers: Stay tuned.

* More big biz news last week came with word that SABMiller and MolsonCoors will combine U.S. operations in an attempt to compete more efficiently against Anheuser-Busch. The on-going changes in the brewing industry are worth watching because the major beer brands long have been among the most aggressive -- and biggest-budgeted -- sports marketers. The Miller side will have 58 percent share while Coors will take 42 percent. Corporate voting interests will be equal, however. Claims are cost savings will be $500 million (including elimination of "duplicate marketing services"), although we know from other couplings, that does not always prove to be fact. This entity will be called MillerCoors but HQ is as yet undetermined. I'll bet Kenny Bernstein -- and, I trust, NHRA -- are monitoring the situation quite closely. Jon Asher has some interesting thoughts on how this could impact drag racing here:
http://competitionplus.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4296&Itemid=6

* Deaths as a result of illegal street racing were in the news again last week. Especially given the recent loss of Wally Parks -- who founded NHRA to provide a safer (and legal) venue for drag racing -- I would like to see NHRA become much more pro-active on this issue, PR-wise. I suggest an on-going communications program with national news outlets on this issue. PLUS: The creation of a "fast response" team of drivers -- Brandon Bernstein, J.R. Todd, Ashley Force, Angelle Sampey and Antron Brown would fit the demo -- available to guest on the morning and cable TV shows and talk radio to respond when these kind of sad events occur.

* If memory serves, and I believe it does, management has long positioned Lowe's Motor Speedway as being extremely fan friendly. So, I was quite disappointed to see Clint Bowyer with his back to the paying public while being interviewed by ABC's Allen Bestwick during Saturday night's driver introduction parade lap. At the end of the chat, Bestwick told Bowyer to wave to the crowd. That's what Bowyer -- and every other driver -- should be doing during those laps. As I've written before, that's the fans' time, not TV's. ABC and every other NASCAR-partner network has plenty of chances for Q&As during a weekend, but the spectators have limited opportunities to see their heroes up-close. Taking that away not only is disrespectful, it's wrong. I noted plenty of empty seats at Charlotte, where it's supposed to be all-about entertainment value. Track management had no problem taking on TV back in 2001, threatening to have tow trucks remove NBC's production units, because they weren't calling it "Lowe's" Motor Speedway.

* Memo to those responsible for promoting ESPN.com via NASCAR telecasts: Just how many different "search words" do you think people will remember?

* If, like me, you are concerned about the avalanching trend in journalism of reporting opinion as fact, read this: "Fed fast food of opinion, ESPN audience starves for reported fact," by ESPN ombudsman Le Anne Schreiber. It's long but worth your time -- and thought:
http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=schreiber_leanne&id=3050882

* Headline news in Indianapolis radio last week: Emmis Communications announced that legendary WIBC will split next January 7, with 93.1 FM becoming WIBC-FM and broadcasting a news/talk format, and 1070 AM presenting an all-sports format as an ESPN affiliate. Kevin Lee, who started hosting a Monday night racing show earlier this year, was an immediate casualty. Indy 500 and IRL broadcasts will continue on the AM station.

* The Business Journal of Phoenix, which I noted to be error-plagued in its coverage of the canceled downtown Champ Car race, did it again last week. A story about upcoming appearances by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mario Andretti began this way: "Two of NASCAR's most celebrated drivers will visit Phoenix in the coming weeks . . . "

* Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta is positioned as second only to Sebring in importance in the ALMS. So, I was more than a little surprised by the several E-mails I received from those who were on-site for the 1,000-mile race the other week, complaining about media operations and facilities. An on-going issue is TV's unwillingness to use graphics showing OVERALL standings, not just by class. I've switched away from at least two ALMS races this season in frustration, not being able to understand if a P1 Audi or P2 Porsche was the overall leader. This is a serious audience turn-off and a policy that MUST be changed, a point I've made in recent E-mail exchanges with ALMS President Scott Atherton. No matter the sport, the two basic questions a viewer will have are: 1) Who's leading?; 2) Who won? When ALMS telecasters don't make the answers obvious, well, let's just say that represents a very fundamental misjudgment.

* I've mentioned this before, but it merits repeating, based on what I've seen recently: Too often, media guests who appear on shows such as SPEED's Tradin' Paint are invited on the basis of the perceived importance of their outlet, NOT because of the individual reporter's own REAL knowledge (or experience in) the sport.

* My friend Al Pearce has set-out on his most ambitious fundraising project yet on behalf of the Victory Junction Gang Camp. He's attempting to get all 18 living world Formula One champion drivers to sign a helmet, which then will be auctioned to benefit the Camp. Al previously did this with NASCAR champions and Indy/Daytona 500 winners, resulting in close to $25,000 in contributions.

* Huge congratulations to Linda Vaughn, who will be inducted into the Georgia Automobile Racing Hall of Fame later this month. Linda is a native of Dalton, Ga.

* A1GP isn't a regular newsmaker in U.S. media but this announcement drew some deserved attention: The series signed a six-year agreement for Ferrari to manufacture and supply all A1GP engines. The famed automaker also will design and consult on the manufacture of chassis starting with the 2008-09 season. Now, that's prestige.
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Longtime Porsche PR ace Bob Carlson made a low-key visit to Petite Le Mans. I worked with Bob on the Porsche CART project in 1988. We shared the difficult personal and professional experience of losing our boss and friend, Al Holbert, in a plane crash. Bob has cancer and his wife, Debbie, is keeping a Caring Bridge website with frequent entries. You can E-mail Bob through this site:
http://www.caringbridge.org/cb/inputSiteName.do?method=search&siteName=bobcarlson
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Kevin Kennedy, the 2006 Jim Chapman Award winner for excellence in motorsports PR and Ford's key racing spokesman (and media strategist), kindly brought this to my attention: AutoWriters.com is searching for the "top 100 automotive blogs." Its October newsletter lists several nominees -- including the blog you are reading now. (!) See for yourself: http://www.autowriters.com/news/10.2007.htm ********************************************************************
Here's a link to my Arizona Republic news/notes column from last Friday:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1011racingnb1012.html
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I didn't know Ray Cooper well, but I know he was very respected by the NASCAR media corps. After a dozen years as a sportswriter, Ray became Chevrolet's NASCAR media representative, and took a similar position with Dodge in 2001. Over a 15-year run he worked more than 450 consecutive races and earned several prestigious awards. Cooper, 53, died of cancer last weekend.

[ more Blogging the Chase next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

'BIG ONE' of NASCAR NEWS DAYS

Talladega again lived up to its reputation as home of the "Big One" last Sunday. NASCAR had its version of the "Big One" -- news wise -- on Wednesday.

I'd say it was Too Big.

October 3 opened with Chip Ganassi confirming what all admitted was "one of the worst kept secrets in NASCAR" -- the signing of Indy 500 winner/IRL champion Dario Franchitti to drive the N0. 40 Dodge next year. It was a poorly-kept secret . . . but that didn't mean it wasn't NEWS. Among the revelations -- aside from hearing Dario explain himself -- was he agreed to a multi-year deal in opposition to his previous policy of one-season contracts. Also, it was said, Dario almost made the jump this year, only to be aced out of the No. 42 ride by none other than Juan Pablo Montoya. Of course, that turned out to be a huge blessing-in-disguise, as Franchitti cleared his table by first taking care of business and winning Indy and the series title.

Up in New York, Kyle Busch unveiled the M&M's colors and graphics that will adorn his No. 18 Joe Gibbs' Toyota next season. Busch took the occasion to keep grumbling to reporters all-too-happy to record his words that he was still unhappy with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for banging him into the wall at Kansas. AP Alert: Kyle Busch Is Bleeped-Off! Stop the presses, if not the Internet.

Meanwhile, Brian France waved his arms and away-went the gathering dark clouds surrounding the future of the Busch Series. NASCAR's search for a replacement for Anheuser-Busch -- ending its 26-year title backing of the No. 2 stock car series -- concluded with the announcement of a seven-year agreement with Nationwide Insurance. The process began with NASCAR and partner ESPN in a joint search for $30 million a season, with about one-third of that designated for advertising across the vast universe of ESPN's media platforms. Names like Subway, KFC, Monster energy drink and Coors were mentioned along the way. Nationwide also becomes NASCAR's official auto, home and life insurance provider. The per-season fee is estimated to be around $12 million. Critics will say that's less-than-half of the original asking price. I'll point out at least NASCAR is able to sign serious series sponsors. NASCAR Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps said Nationwide will "activate the sponsorship far differently than we've seen before." Mike Wallace was torqued because NASCAR has told him his deal with Geico must end within two years. It was pointed out to Wallace Geico is free to move up to Nextel (ooops, Sprint) Cup or down to Craftsman Trucks.

Before the day was done, Scott Riggs was confirmed as a new driver for Haas CNC. And Busch's Busch Series crew chief was fined $10,000 for an illegal intake manifold on the winning Chevrolet at Kansas. And, of course, Bruton Smith was threatening to close Lowe's Motor Speedway and rebuild elsewhere if local officials won't allow him to build a drag strip.

That was about one week's worth of headlines in one day. Too much, in fact. NASCAR usually is excellent at stage-managing its news but things got sideways this time. I understand the M&M's event was scheduled several weeks ago. And, for sure, there's no controlling Bruton's blustering. I guess the Franchitti press conference had to be Wednesday since ARCA practice at 'Dega was the next day. From NASCAR's perspective, though, the Nationwide deal had to take center stage. If they couldn't offer a "suggestion" to Ganassi to bump his announcement, then, I'd have waited 24 hours.

I would have expected NASCAR to do what had to be done to ensure that Nationwide was the one to get the nationwide headlines.
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How do you get a sponsor? That's racing's age-old question and it comes my way from time-to-time. I'm given to suggest Googling "Kenny Bernstein" and "Budweiser" since Kenny has maintained a relationship with the St. Louis brewer that will reach an amazing 30 consecutive years come 2009. SpeedTV.com last week posted the Toyota Formula One team's sponsorship-pitch video and, no matter what your budget, it might provide an idea or two. Plus, I just found it interesting, although I laughed a bit at this line: "Sponsors make Formula One touchable." http://www.speedtv.com/speedvideo/?bcpid=340473122&bclid=647737970&bctid=1203050066
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FAST LINES: Rarely does a week go by that I don't hear media complaints about so-called "PR" people who don't even have enough business savvy or common courtesy to return a phone call or answer an E-mail. Given that, it was my pleasure to make contact last week with World of Outlaws PR director Tony Veneziano and Bill Klingbeil, who has a similar role at WoO leader Donny Schatz' team. Also, ARCA's Don Radebaugh. Tony and Bill and Don all responded to my requests very promptly and provided all the help any journalist could ever hope to receive. For the NASCAR and open-wheel types who, I am sure, will say: "That's just sprint cars and ARCA," let me respond in advance: No matter the series, either you know how to be a professional and understand courtesy, or you don't . . . A well-done, also, to Kristi King, Talladega Superspeedway PR director, not only for the well-written, quote-filled releases she issued in advance of last weekend's races, but also the comprehensive "media information" sheet provided to journalists before they ever set foot inside the Alabama oval. Most details regarding media facilities and activities were contained therein. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway does the same. So should every track . . . I love how the "brand-ers" spin their concepts to earn their six-seven figure fees. In unveiling its new logo (left), the LPGA (who worked with SME) said the stylized design "represents the power, strength and athleticism of our athletes" and "for the first time in the association's 58 years, the LPGA's primary mark will not be enclosed in a frame, representing a future with limitless potential." The invoice is in the mail . . . For the record: The Forbes 400 of the Richest People in America includes John Menard, $7.3 billion (44th overall); Roger Penske, $2.7 billion (149th); Jim France and Bruton Smith, $1.5 bil each (tied at 317). No. 1, of course, is Bill Gates -- at $59 b . . . There was a nice photo of Patrick Dempsey and Frankie Muniz in the Oct. 1 People magazine, smiling during the Grand-Am finale in Utah. Both are wearing Mazda caps; both cost sponsors hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in exposure value because their uniforms are pulled down, leaving white Nomex on the image instead of logos . . . If you'd like to read my first Arizona Republic motorsports notes column, from last Friday, here's a link: http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1004racingnb1005.html .


[ more Blogging the Chase next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

BACK TO THE FUTURE

WALLY PARKS, 1913-2007: NHRA's founder, a true motorsports legend, died Friday at age 94. Wally was extremely media friendly -- he was the first editor of Hot Rod magazine -- and a long-time member and supporter of AARWBA. Here, at the January 2005 All-America Team dinner in Pomona, Parks (center) joins John Force (left) and Kenny Bernstein in toasting their nominations as Newsmaker of the Half-Century -- the most important event of AARWBA's 50th Anniversary Celebration. Bernstein told me Wally liked this photo and thought it was a great tribute to NHRA to have three from the drag racing community among the 12 nominees. This was Wally's last appearance at an AARWBA function. As the 50th anniversary chairman, I can say it was a great honor to have Wally with us that evening, and I was honored to introduce him. Wally Parks' legacy will be that he had the vision to make NHRA drag racing -- the most American of American motorsports --respectable, safer and a major league-level series. (Photo courtesy Al Wong.)



I began my professional career at the Philadelphia Daily News, starting there while still completing my journalism degree at Temple University. I continue to love reporting and writing and journalism and the newspaper business. We all know of the struggles which have affected so many papers around the country and that's sad to many of us.

As I blogged here almost a year ago (Oct. 17), "Bad Newspaper News Is Bad News for NASCAR." There is no question in my mind but that, even in this time of TV and the Internet, knowledgable and substantive reporting in the papers is essential. Not just in racing, but politics, business, entertainment, you name it. So, I'm pleased to tell you that starting this Friday (Oct. 5) and continuing at least through November, I'll be a contributor to the Arizona Republic's motorsports coverage. The Republic is the state's largest newspaper. My friend Mark Armijo provided readers with distinguished coverage for about a quarter-century until yielding the "beat" to Jim Gintonio two years ago. Jim's now full-time following the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes.

On Fridays, I'll be writing a news/news analysis column. Jim will come off hockey to lead the Republic's reporting of the NASCAR races Nov. 8-11 at Phoenix International Raceway. I'll do sidebars from PIR. Most of what is published in the paper also appears at AzCentral.com. I've provided a link in the right-hand column. I hope you'll check it out.
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Budweiser again figured into NASCAR's changing sponsor landscape last week with the announcement that Coors Light is replacing Bud as stock car's official beer. The deal was widely reported to be worth $20 million over five years. Coors Light picks up the pole award in this contract while Bud keeps its season-opening Shootout at Daytona under a separate agreement and is an official Daytona 500 sponsor. Anheuser-Busch, one of the most powerful forces in sports marketing, thus continues to reposition its racing involvements. Bud let its title backing of this month's NHRA's Top Fuel Shootout at Las Vegas go to Technicoat. A-B is ending its 26-year support of the Busch Series after this season. The "King of Beers" will become Kasey Kahne's new primary sponsor in '08 and is contracted with the Kenny Bernstein-owned, Brandon Bernstein-driven, NHRA Top Fuel team through 2009 -- which will bring that relationship to an incredible 30 consecutive years.

Tony Ponturo, A-B's VP of Global Media and Sports Marketing, said the brewer "presented an offer to renew at a price that was right for us based on our total NASCAR marketing investment -- a new race team and driver, media and track sponsorships that includes the Daytona 500. Rather than spend significantly beyond our valuation of the 'official beer' sponsorship, we determined that Budweiser's broader NASCAR strategy is best supported by putting our marketing muscle behind our new relationship with Gillett Evernham Motorsports and Kasey Kahne."
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Here's a smart move in the wake of the Michael Vick dog-fighting scandal. MAZDASPEED drivers Jeff Altenburg and Randy Pobst will have new
teammates as they contend for the series title in the final two races of the SCCA SPEED World Challenge Touring Car championship. Their Tri-Point Motorsports' Mazda6s will carry special graphics to promote, in association with The Humane Society of the U.S., the adoption of shelter animals. The "MUTTS" comic strip characters, "Earl" and "Mooch," have been "adopted" by the team, with "Earl" the dog on Altenburg's car and "Mooch" the cat on Pobst's. The season enders are Friday at Road Atlanta and Oct. 21 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and life-sized versions of "Earl" and "Mooch" will be in the paddock for photo opportunities. Both Mazda hoods and driver uniforms will be auctioned to benefit The Humane Society of the U.S. Details at http://www.muttscomics.com/. Altenburg and Pobst each have won twice this season and are 1-2 in points.
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FAST LINES: ISC recently authorized budget for a badly needed new media center at Watkins Glen. “Having a new media center with state-of-the-art technology and proper space for working media, press conferences, the sanctioning bodies, and track staff will help us meet those needs and build positive press coverage during our race weekends,” admitted Glen communications director Eiron Smith. Emphasis mine and point made. Many of us hope Phoenix Raceway will be next . . . The historic 1963 Lotus-Ford (below) that truly brought the "rear-engine revolution" to the Indianapolis 500 (Jimmy Clark finished second to Parnelli Jones in a controversial finish) will be on display at the 38th AARWBA All-America Team dinner, Saturday, January 12, at the downtown Indianapolis Hyatt. As dinner chairman, I thank the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum for this courtesy. Use link in the right-hand column to go to the AARWBA site, where discounted Hyatt room reservations can be made, as well as ticket orders . . . My friend Bob Margolis, of Yahoo Sports, is scheduled is begin a six-week radiation/chemo therapy this week, followed by a six-week recovery period. mailto:Bob.Margolis@yahoo.com . . . Mike Brudenell wrote quite an amazing column last week in the Detroit Free Press, "Running on Empty?," in which he criticized automakers and the local media for ignoring much of the Michigan racing scene. Here's the link: http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070925/SPORTS16/709250306/1064 . . . If you don't know about the "Jay Leno's Garage" site, (lots to see, here a segment with Valvoline's Barry Bronson), check it out: http://www.jaylenosgarage.com/video/index.shtml?vidID=156639 .
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A social occasion I'll never forget came late in the 1992 CART season, when a "roast" was staged for Nicky Fornoro before the race at Nazareth, because Nicky was about to retire as the series' flagman. Among other tales, I recounted the time at Riverside in the early 1980s when, in the midst of a long, hot, boring 500 kilometers on Labor Day weekend, Nicky seemed to dose-off on the starter's stand! I had worked with Nicky since November 1980 when I joined CART as communications director. Nicky made the Fornoro name famous, especially in Eastern racing circles, first as a driver (he was the NASCAR midget champion in 1953, but retired at his wife's request), and after that as a colorful flagman. Nicky had a great personality and knew it was important to "play" to the fans, so we used to remind the drivers before every CART event, to wave to the fans during the parade lap. Nicky would signal them to do so by waving his hankie. Born in 1920 in Madison, N.J., Fornoro died last week as a result of a stroke. He leaves behind a large family, including his wife Bette and racer sons Drew and Nokie, and countless friends. Let me conclude the same way I did at that "roast": In all the years I knew Nicky, I have only one regret -- that he didn't have the chance to wave a checkered flag over Mario or Michael Andretti after 500 miles at Indianapolis.

[ more Blogging the Chase next Tuesday . . . ]