• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

BLUE MOOD

I'm sure Champ Car, ALMS and NHRA were doing what they thought they needed to do last week, trying to drum-up interest during pre-season test sessions, but I have to say they all earned the Sam Brownback Award.

Brownback, a Kansas senator, recently announced his bid for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. He did so on the very same day Hillary Clinton confirmed her candidacy on the D side of the aisle. Let's be polite and just say that unfortunate bit of mistiming cost Brownback a lot of coverage. (!) While the three series were shaking-out new cars and driver-team combinations, the overwhelming number of national journalists were assembled in Charlotte for the annual NASCAR Media Tour.

However, while the reporters reported on the new Chase format and Kevin Harvick calling Teresa Earnhardt a "deadbeat owner" and Dale Earnhardt Jr. defending his stepmother and Jack Roush basically telling Toyota to bring-it-on, the news that lingered with me was Ford's withdrawal from Champ Car. Not the sort of headline CC needed less than 75 days before the season opener in Las Vegas. The blue oval automaker disassociated from the series it had participated in since 1992 just prior to the latest grim word on Ford's business: CNNMoney.com said the $12.7 billion loss for 2006 was the largest in company history, and that the fourth-quarter loss was "worse than analysts' expectations and the company warned of worse showings ahead."

That Ford would need to reduce costs/transfer resources to its Toyota-challenged NASCAR teams was no surprise. The shocker, though, was this from Robin Miller on SpeedTV.com: CC opted "to drop the pace car program in favor of Minardi boss Paul Stoddart’s two-seat Formula 1 cars." Miller quoted Ford Racing director Dan Davis thusly: “We were surprised they chose to torpedo the pace car program and even more surprised they decided to go with the F1 two-seaters. And we’re not leaving on bad terms, it’s just that Champ Car doesn’t align with our current business objectives. We’re not bitter, just very disappointed.”

IF, in fact, CC is parking its pace cars in favor of the backmarker-of-all-backmarker F1 -- F1! -- machines, it represents yet another disconnect from the American public this supposedly American series claims to court. (This on a week when Red Bull paid to put Nell Jani of Switzerland, who may be a fine driver but won't interest U.S. fans to buy tickets, into a prime PKV ride.) IF this was the deal CC's Kevin Kalkhoven did to induce Stoddart into the series as a team owner, it wasn't fully considered.

The pace car program has been a centerpiece of CC dating back to when PPG Industries became CART's series sponsor in 1980. During another era when Detroit was struggling against its Japanese counterparts, PPG executive Fred Rhue funded four cars -- brightly painted with PPG's colors but with little more than flashing lights bolted-on to the roof -- to showcase U.S. vehicles. Later, under the guidance of PPG's contracted racing director Jim Chapman, the fleet was expanded and became specialty-built performance (and highly stylized) machines. Chapman innovated the all-female pace car driving team and, over the years, hundreds of sponsor execs and guests, media, assorted VIPs and even fans were treated to exciting tours of the circuit's ovals and road courses. It was a flat-out success story and gave the open-wheel rocket show a connection to the average fan's life . . . a tradition continued by Ford.

IF, now, there is no legitimate pace car program, add it to the long list of Champ Car PR blunders. Not to mention the loss of prestige and print advertising, TV commercials, tickets, hospitality, courtesy cars and in-market promotions Ford would have purchased or provided. I guess already struggling promoters will be expected to accept this as just another CC "business decision."I was out at Firebird Raceway last weekend for NHRA's National Time Trials test session, an advance for the Feb. 23-25 Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals at the Arizona motorsports. The first thing that caught my eye was the SkyTel pagers ID and orange, blue and white paint design on Larry Dixon's Don Prudhomme-owned Top Fueler. Although this sponsorship hasn't yet been officially announced, presumably SkyTel is The Snake's replacement for Miller Lite. Ashley Force seemed comfortable signing autographs and talking with fans, while father John wasted no time in taking execs from new sponsor Mach 1 air services out to the starting line, "so they can feel the earth shake." From my own experience, I agree this definitely is a great sales tool in hooking corporate types to the 7,000-horsepower world of Funny Car and Top Fuel. One of the fun things to do at the start of each season is to scope-out the artwork on cars, uniforms and support vehicles. I was especially taken with the graphics on the tailgate of the Kenny Bernstein-owned, Brandon Bernstein-driven Budweiser King transporter. KB is beginning his record 28th consecutive season of Bud backing -- an AMAZING achievement.

I was pleased with the announcement that Paul Page will anchor all the NHRA telecasts on ESPN2 this season. And Andy Hall, well-known to many of us for his good work at NASCAR, ALMS and elsewhere, joined ESPN a couple of months ago to do publicity for its motorsports properties. Good luck, Paul and Andy.

Also: Anyone charged with promoting drag racing should watch Susan Wade’s interview with Jack Roush at http://1320tv.com. This was taped before Roush's appearance as featured speaker at the Jan. 13 AARWBA All-America Team ceremony in Indianapolis. For those who don't know, NASCAR mega-team owner Roush started in straight-line racing. Here’s one of Roush’s many interesting quotes:

“If the hospitals, with all their medical science, could find a way to put somebody in a tube and blow them out to a drag strip whenever a Top Fuel or Funny Car is getting ready to make a pass, it would have a more rejuvenating effect than the electric shockers they put on your chest when your heart stops. To stand on the starting line and watch as a Top Fuel car makes a burnout or as a Funny Car makes a burnout or even a Pro Stock car, there's a level of excitement, there's a level of percussion. I believe that if there’s life someplace else in the universe and could look down, I think they would find a unique energy source at what goes on at our drag strips.”
* I had a pleasant E-mail exchange last week with a journalist new to the motorsports scene, Gene Laverty, of Bloomberg News. Laverty's story on Ford's departure from Champ Car said CC's season would open in Phoenix (it's Las Vegas). I sent him a note and got this in reply: "Good to hear from you . . . I never take a correction as criticism, always see it as somebody doing me a favor." Now, isn't that refreshing! Gene says he started on the racing beat for Bloomberg January 1. Welcome . . . Mike Harris was another last week to say "thanks" when I spotted something in his Associated Press post-Rolex 24 report.

* The bad local reporting on the Phoenix CC race (regularly referred to in local reports as an "Indy Car" event) continued recently when the Phoenix Business Journal wrote that it "will include the first major race to feature methanol rather than gasoline, eliminating carbon dioxide emissions." Of course, USAC replaced gasoline with methanol in Champ Car competition decades ago. (!)

* It doesn't help when the Phoenix event's official website doesn't even list the right race dates: While the top-of-the-home-page-banner has the correct dates of Nov. 30-Dec. 2, as of yesterday, just a little below that it read: "Race weekend//November 16-18, 2007".

* Sign of the Times: CNN began its report on Al Unser Jr.'s DUI arrest thusly: "NASCAR great Al Unser Jr. . . "

* There were 17,809 jobs lost in the media biz last year, almost double the 2005 total, outplacement consultancy Challenger Gray & Christmas reported last week. With recent announcements of cuts at Time Inc. and the New York Times Co., it appears the downsizing trend will continue.

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

ROSIE vs. THE DONALD IS LESS RIDICULOUS

Those who wonder why they should attend the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association's All-America Team dinner -- and, yes, amazingly, I've been asked that question -- would have gotten the answer if they had been in the ballroom of the Indianapolis Hyatt Jan. 13 for the 37th Team ceremony.

NHRA -- arguably now No. 2 to NASCAR -- got a huge boost in front of about 250 AARWBA media members and guests when Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher (right, photo courtesy of Ron McQueeney) won the Jerry Titus Memorial Trophy. The Titus is AARWBA's No. 1 honor and goes to the driver who received the most Team votes. Tony was joined by Don Schumacher Racing Senior VP Mike Lewis, PR man Chris Dirato, crew members, representatives of main sponsor the U.S. Army, Valvoline's Barry Bronson, plus his team had a table and his record-setting car was on display in the lobby. Army Staff Sgt. Jacob Lopez, who has served in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq, led the Pledge of Allegiance. John Force was making his record 11th dinner visit, with long-time PR guru Dave Densmore, and sat at a table reserved by Castrol. Jerry Archambeault, NHRA's VP of PR and communications, was at NHRA's table. Anthony Vestal, NHRA media relations director, had provided AARWBA important help in the weeks leading up to the event.

IMS/IRL had a large group, including Tony George, Joie Chitwood and Brian Barnhart, in support of attending champ Sam Hornish, and Fred Nation, Ron Green, John Griffin and Amy Konrath on the PR side (plus Speedway media center boss Bill York, an AARWBA favorite). Honda, with Dan Layton, and Bridgestone/Firestone also had tables. Champ Car's table featured marketing VP Garrett Mudd, acting PR leader Eric Mauk, along with three-time titlist Sebastien Bourdais and Newman/Haas rep Kathi Lauterbach. As explained here a couple of weeks ago, Grand-Am and ALMS hosted a combined road racing champs table for Jorg Bergmeister (who came from Germany just for the dinner), Rinaldo Capello (in from Italy), Luis Diaz (up from Mexico City) and Scott Pruett. Bob Dickinson was there for ALMS, with Nate Siebens and Tom O'Connor (now moving to GolinHarris on the Toyota NASCAR account) there for the Rolex Series as Adam Saal was on assignment in England. Eight-time ARCA king Frank Kimmel sat at the Ford table, captained by Kevin Kennedy, with the evening's featured speaker, NASCAR team owner Jack Roush. Rising star J.R. Hildebrand was the other Team driver in attendance.

Also on hand: USAC Chairman John Capels, Audi North America motorsports head Rod Bymaster, driver Jerry Nadeau, former IMS and Daytona President John Cooper, HANS developers Jim Downing and Dr. Robert Hubbard, Fernandez Racing chief Tom Anderson and orthopedic surgeon miracle-worker Dr. Terry Trammell. Every AARWBA VP, and that list includes the AP's Mike Harris, was there along with Indy radio biggies Vince Welch and Dave Wilson and basically more media people this side of the free buffet line.

The evening was not just a social occasion and a news event, it was an opportunity to network, make new contacts, and lay the groundwork for future stories. It was a chance to learn, as we remembered the great PR legend Jim Chapman. It was a chance to hear Force (who revealed there will be a second season of A&E's Driving Force) explain why he keeps coming back to the dinner, to show his respect for the media, because it's the publicity that keeps him in business with Castrol, Ford, AAA and other sponsors -- and that allows him to win. To hear Diaz say his Team honor from the media provided "motivation" to accomplish even more. To hear Pruett admit, "I still love what I do." To hear Schumacher tell of how news of his come-from-behind championship was rapidly transmitted to Army troops around the world. To hear Roush express his views on NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow, ownership limits, the ups-and-downs of his own teams, and even reveal a glimpse of his private life. To see the enthusiasm of Capello and Diaz in checking-out the Army Top Fueler and A.J. Foyt's 1967 Indy winner (on loan from the IMS Hall of Fame Museum) in the Hyatt lobby. To show respect for members of the country's oldest and largest organization of motorsports media professionals.

Who wasn't there? In a damning indictment of the state of open-wheel racing PR, not one of the Indy-area IRL or Champ Car teams -- with the exception of Fernandez Racing -- was represented. No owners. No drivers. No PR people. Not a ticket or table or program ad bought. Not one phone call or E-mail to me (as dinner co-chairman) or anyone else at AARWBA to say, "Hey, it's great that you're coming to Indy! What can I do to help?"

(Contrast this to MAZDASPEED communications officer Dean Case, who pitched-in to help us set-up the ballroom Saturday afternoon. Thank you, Dean!)

What a disgrace. It tells you everything to you need to know why open-wheel is in such sorry shape. Of course, these are the same people who think it's generous to offer the media a 10-minute group interview with Danica Patrick -- at a test! Shame on the owners and sponsors who accept this PR "service" -- or are so inattentive as to be unaware! And it's no compliment to the sanctioning bodies, apparently incapable of leading their teams to follow their example, and do the right thing.
The Grand-American Road Racing Association's Rolex Series opens this weekend at Daytona. The series will get broadcast network exposure for the first time, with Fox on-air Saturday at 1 p.m. (Eastern) for 90 minutes, including the first hour of the 24-hour classic. SPEED then takes over to combine for 15 hours of coverage. As one who believes the series has definite upside potential, I'll be interested to observe how Fox frames its show. Specifically, if the focus will only be on Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, et al from NASCAR, or if season-long championship contenders Scott Pruett, Patrick Long, Jorg Bergmeister, Wayne Taylor, Max Angelelli, etc. also get the attention that can help Grand-Am going forward.

For the record: Both Bergmeister and Capello sent me "thank you" E-mails after the AARWBA dinner. Jorg and Rinaldo, my thanks to you!
Many have forgotten that it was Benny Parsons who agreed to carry the first modern-day in-car TV camera, for CBS, at the 1979 Daytona 500. It was heavy and bulky in his M.C. Anderson Oldsmobile and clouds didn't allow the Goodyear blimp to climb high enough to get the signal all the way around the track.

Parsons told me later: "The thing that I heard most was, 'Why didn't you clean the windshield?' I said, 'Man, that's the cleanest it's ever been.' We made it a point to clean it for the camera."

Years later I had the pleasure of being a guest in Benny's home, near Charlotte Motor Speedway, for an evening BBQ out by his pool before an IROC race. That was Benny -- taking care so the TV audience could see from his car, or taking care of his dinner guests -- always a gentleman.

If you missed it, I posted twice last week, including a special remembrance of BP. See below.


[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

WHEN I TOOK BP OUT TO THE BALLGAME

I first met Benny Parsons while at the Philadelphia Daily News and reported on his wins at Daytona and Pocono and Dover. I was a card-carrying member of the Baseball Writers Association of America back then, too, and while doing interviews in the Phillies' clubhouse discovered that Benny and Phils' second baseman Ted Sizemore grew up together in Detroit but hadn't seen each other in years. I invited Benny to Philly when he came north for Dover's fall 1978 race, and had the pleasure of reuniting him with Sizemore. BP died Tuesday, at age 65, of complications from lung caner. Below is what I wrote in the Daily News on Sept. 15, 1978:

Benny Parsons had dinner at the White House Wednesday night. A picnic on the south lawn. Roast beef, country ham, cole slaw, the music of Willie Nelson. He stepped out in a three-piece white suit.

Benny Parsons ate at the Vet last night. A snack in section 320, row five. Hot dogs, pizza, coffee, the antics of the Phillie Phanatic. Wore a sports shirt and blue jeans.

"Going to the White House was an honor," said Parsons in that gentlemanly way of his. "But this is a thrill."

Ted Sizemore thought so, too. He and Parsons grew up together in Detroit, scuffling around Palmer Park, both dreaming those big dreams of glory.

Parsons zoomed on to win the Winston Cup Grand National championship and the Daytona 500. Sizemore hit it off at Michigan en route to becoming the Phils' starting second baseman.

The have raced to the top of different worlds, not seeing each other for some six years. The Daily News reunited them yesterday afternoon before the Phillies transformed the Cubs' playoff hopes into an endangered species with an 11-5 victory. It was one of those giddy, back-slapping, gosh-golly-gee, two-kids-in-a-toy-store sessions.

Sizemore gave Parsons and Dave Marcis, both of whom will compete in Sunday's Delaware 500 at Dover Downs International Speedway, the grand tour. Gus Hoefling, the strength and flexibility guru, had them cracking on the weight machines, at one point lifting the 6-0, 195 Parsons off his feet.

Danny Ozark hosted them in his clubhouse office for a half-hour. "Do they change the tracks every year," the manager asked his guests.

"No, but the weather changes the racetracks," explained Benny, who now lives in Ellerbe, N.C. "That's the biggest thing we have to fight. The more worn-out a track is, the harder it is to get the car handling right."

"Just like AstroTurf," Sizemore said. "The last year we played on the old surface it was like playing on the street, like playing on ice."

Bullpen Coach Carroll Beringer wanted to know if stock car drivers really ran moonshine in the old days.

"That's a true story," Parsons admitted. "They used to haul moonshine from Monday till Saturday and have arguments about who was faster. So they raced on Sundays. That's how it really started."

"What amazes me is watching the pit crews," said owner Ruly Carpenter. "It takes me a long time just to change a tire."

"I feel like we should get outta here and let you work," Parsons eventually said to Ozark, who also expressed interest in Janet Guthrie's racing exploits.

"I was gonna ask you for another hour," Danny replied. "In here is the hard part. Out there (motioning toward the field) is like driving. Things happen and you can't always do much to control them."

Sizemore, who chopped a single over third baseman Rodney Scott's head in the fifth inning to score Mike Schmidt, plans to join Parsons' pit crew for the Nov. 5 Dixie 500 in Atlanta. Ron Reed, who still lives in Georgia, will also be there.

"Hey, we're gonna be down in the pits," Reed said excitedly after earning his 13th save. "But I know one place you won't get me and that's behind the wheel . . . Those guys earn their money. Anybody who goes 190 mph bumper-to-bumper should get a lot of money."

Parsons and Marcis, who had never been to a baseball game before, surveyed the carnage from the first-base stands. For once, they were fans, not professional athletes, watching the action instead of creating it.

"Watch that guy," Benny said, pointing to a vendor who finessed mustard on hot dogs like a child running his tongue across the chocolate icing on a freshly baked cake. "I was at a game at Dodger Stadium a few years ago and there was this peanut seller who really had an act. He'd throw those bags of peanuts underhanded, behind his back, he could have thrown a bag in from left field.

"The is about as big a deal as going to the White House," Benny Parsons reaffirmed. "This is fantastic."

CONGRATULATIONS KEVIN KENNEDY!

Mike Harris (right) joins me in presenting the 2006 Jim Chapman Award to Kevin Kennedy. (Photo courtesy of Dan R. Boyd.)


Right after John Force, and just before Jack Roush, I went to the podium in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency-Indianapolis Saturday night. The occasion was the 37th annual American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association's All-America Team ceremony. My role was to remember my great friend James P. Chapman and introduce the Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations. Mike Harris of the AP followed me to announce the 2006 honoree, Kevin Kennedy, long-time Ford Racing representative and current executive vice president of PCGCampbell, Ford's agency.

At the request of the Chapman family, I am honored to serve as chairman of the Chapman Award selection committee. The award is chosen by a blue-ribbon group of AARWBA media members, all of whom knew Jim, and so they best understand the high standards required to be a Chapman Award winner. In selecting Kevin, the committee chose well and chose wisely. Congratulations, Kevin!

Here's what I said:

One evening, many Mays ago, American film icon John Wayne was a guest in Jim Chapman’s downtown hospitality suite before the Indianapolis 500. Jim once showed me a black-and-white photograph of that occasion.

When I visualize that image of Jim and the Duke, it reminds me of one of John Wayne’s most famous movies – nominated for the Academy Award – titled The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Near the end of the film, there’s a GREAT line, one of interest to journalists and PR people alike.

The actor playing the role of a newspaper editor says to Wayne’s character, "When the legend is bigger than the truth, print the legend."

In considering the professional life story of James P. Chapman, the legend and the truth are one and the same.

Since AARWBA resumed the Jim Chapman Award as part of our 50th Anniversary Celebration, it has been my high honor – at the request of the Chapman family – to come to the podium each year to remember Mr. Chapman. Jim was my closest friend and had a profound influence on my life and career. Among many other things, Jim was a man for his times, so while I will recall a few of Jim’s accomplishments, the times demand that tonight I also do something a little different.

Jim was blessed to live a great American life, one full of interesting and successful experiences. For those of you who didn’t know him, the best way to begin is to tell you Jim was Babe Ruth’s PR man. When Jim began his PR career in 1946, as regional PR director for Ford in Detroit, he hired Ruth as consultant to the company’s sponsorship of American Legion Junior Baseball. They traveled together and became confidants. They were so close that Jim was at Ruth’s bedside when he died. In the business of public relations – especially motorsports PR – Jim Chapman remains as much of a legend as Babe Ruth is in baseball.

Jim began his professional life in journalism, and that continued through a stint at the New York Times. He served in the Air Force during World War II. Then it was on to PR. In 1950, Jim left Ford to form his own PR firm. One of his first clients was Warren Avis, who was just starting Avis Rent-a-Car. Jim’s first venture into motorsports was in 1951, when his client was Detroit’s 250th birthday celebration. He teamed with Bill France Sr. to promote a 250-lap race at the Michigan state fairgrounds. In 1967, Jim first became involved in open-wheel racing, when Ozzie Olson sponsored Dan Gurney’s team. As Dan said, “Jim practically invented most of what is now considered routine sponsor PR work.” He was one of the first to think of putting up a trackside sponsor hospitality tent. Jim also organized the Driver of the Year award at New York’s famed 21 Club.

Jim’s greatest acclaim, however, came from 1981 through 1992 as director of racing for CART series sponsor PPG Industries. At the time Jim signed on, PPG’s prize fund was $250,000. It grew to more than $3.75 million at the time of his retirement in February 1993. Jim negotiated with then IMS President Joe Cloutier to put politics aside and make the Indy 500 a points event in the PPG World Series. The all-female PPG pace car driving team was another Chapman innovation. So were the PPG Editor’s Days, when he brought non-sports journalists to tracks for lunch, pace car rides, and quality time with the drivers. The PPG hospitality tent was the centerpiece of the CART paddock area. Again quoting Dan Gurney: “Jim created a home in the shape of a tent. Here, everybody gathered for the family lunch, and it was there that contacts were made, relationships started, networks woven and friendships cemented, with Jim as the beloved and wise patriarch who orchestrated it all.”

Indy Car magazine named Jim the sport’s “most influential man” of the 1980s and wrote that Jim turned “a public relations assignment into an art form.” Jim then served as honorary chairman of Mario Andretti’s 1994 farewell tour. He died in October 1996 at age 80. Ironically, of complications from throat cancer, just like Babe Ruth.

That’s only a brief review of Jim’s many achievements. I would urge all of you to learn more by reading the story in your program book. Last month on my SpinDoctor500blog, I published the transcript of Jim’s last formal Q&A session, which remains wisdom for the ages.

As I said earlier, Jim was a man for his times, and the times now demand that ALL of us learn from Jim’s great example. As Jim once said: “There is almost NO decision made, about ANYTHING, that doesn’t, in some way, involve PR.”

Jim loved the PR business. He would have taught us to resist declining standards and insist that phone calls be returned and E-mails be answered. He knew people prefer the honesty of an answer -- even if it’s NO -- to the discourtesy of indifference. As a gentleman, and a professional, he believed in developing solid one-on-one relationships with journalists. And, when Jim became your friend, he ALWAYS was your friend. While he extended many more courtesies than anyone returned, Jim never forgot if you did him a favor. Ladies and gentlemen, these are things worth remembering . . .

In 1991, the Jim Chapman Award was established by his peers and the news media, honoring PR excellence in the CART series. AARWBA resumed it, with the permission of the Chapman family, and expanded eligibility to representatives from all forms of motorsports. This is the highest honor in racing PR.

Jim took great pride in this award. He wanted it presented before an audience of drivers, team owners, sponsor executives, track operators, sanctioning officials and industry leaders so that – at least once a year – they would be reminded of the importance of high-quality PR work.

Tonight’s recipient was selected by a blue-ribbon media committee, all of whom knew Jim, so they best understand the high standards required to be a
Chapman Award winner. I thank the committee members, many of whom are here tonight, for their most thoughtful consideration. As always, my own test is simply to ask, “Would Jim approve?” I have no doubt Jim would agree with this selection -- and would smile at the connection to his own career.

To tonight’s recipient, and to those who follow, I say the honor is NOT in the plaque you will receive. The TRUE honor is having your name forever associated with that of the great James P. Chapman.

In announcing Kevin as the recipient, Mike Harris noted that Kevin has been a mentor to younger PR people, as was Mr. Chapman. Kevin, who did not know of his selection until it was announced, was gracious in accepting and here's some of what he said in a follow-up E-mail:

"Needless to say, I am humbled . . . to be mentioned with Jim Chapman is an honor in itself, since he was a true gentleman, a man who knew how to get things done behind the scenes, and was someone never 'too big' to give advice and counsel (and a smile) to budding PR people like myself.

"Mike Harris' speech mentioning that I have mentored many PR people in the motorsport and auto industry touched me, and that is truly one of the things I feel most proud of in looking back over my career. In fact, three of my 'boys' -- now involved with Dodge and Chrysler work -- invited me just before Christmas to join them at a local watering hole to discuss the business, and laugh about old times as we learned the craft together. It's situations like that, and the time I mentioned when I realized the Big 3 motorsport PR programs were all being run by people I had hired at one time, that make me most proud.

"I have been truly blessed to work with great people in this industry -- drivers, owners, media, executives, team and sanctioning body marketing and PR folks -- but also with a great group of people here at PCGCampbell who have been very willing to buy into the concept that media relations is not about how to say no to media, but how to always look for a way to say yes, no matter who the media person is and who they work for. It's certainly what Mr. Chapman always tried to do.

"Thank you again for this great honor."Congratulations to Tony Schumacher, winner of AARWBA's No. 1 honor, the Jerry Titus Memorial Trophy. Jerry was a professional journalist, and a skilled pro racer, who was killed in a Trans-Am event at Road America. The Titus goes to the driver who received the most All-America Team votes. Tony, who won his fourth NHRA Top Fuel title for the Army team on the last pass of the last race of the 2006 season in one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, joins Don Prudhomme, Shirley Muldowney and John Force as the only drag racers to claim the Titus, AARWBA's Driver of the Year. Force, Sam Hornish Jr., Sebastien Bourdais, Frank Kimmel, Scott Pruett, Jorg Bergmeister, Rinaldo Capello, Luis Diaz and J.R. Hildebrand were the other Team drivers in the audience of about 250. Jack Roush was the featured speaker.

AARWBA President Dusty Brandel chose well in selecting national VP Mike Hollander as winner of the President's Award. Mike has served AARWBA over many years in many ways, including as webmaster, dinner show producer, and program editor. He's also a pioneering Internet journalist -- Mike was putting racing news on-line before most of us even knew where was such a thing!

As dinner co-chair, I offer thanks to the PR representatives and others who helped arrange for the drivers to be at the AARWBA dinner, or assisted in other ways:

Mike Lewis, Chris Dirato, Dave Densmore, Jerry Archambeault, Anthony Vestal, Chris Schwartz, Steve Shunck (no longer with Champ Car as of last Wednesday), Kathi Lauterbach, Ron Green, Kevin Kennedy, Torrey Galida, Bob Dickinson, Adam Saal, Bob Carlson, Drew Brown, Tamy Valkosky, Kelby Krauss (heading to North Carolina from Indy to work on the Ganassi NASCAR team PR), Nate Siebens, Tom O’Connor, Barry Bronson, Dan Layton, Stacie Shain, Jeremy Riffle, Dean Case and Karen Holschlag.

[ much more from the AARWBA dinner next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A SPIRIT OF COOPERATION

This weekend, God willing, I'll be in Indianapolis for the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association's http://aarwba.org 37th All-America Team dinner and awards ceremony. Among those who have confirmed their attendance are: John Force, Tony Schumacher, Sebastien Bourdais, Sam Hornish Jr., Jack Roush and Frank Kimmel. The winner of the Jerry Titus Memorial Trophy, which goes to the driver who received the most Team votes from AARWBA members, and the Jim Chapman Award, for excellence in motorsports public relations, will be revealed.

I'm only traveling from Arizona. Jorg Bergmeister, the Grand-Am's Rolex Series champion and ALMS' GT2 titlist, is coming from his home in Germany. Rinaldo Capello, co-champ of ALMS' premier LMP1 class, is flying in from his residence in Italy. Luis Diaz, Rolex Series runner-up, is heading in from Mexico City -- for the second consecutive time. (!)

Their presence, as Team members in the road racing class, voted the honor by members of the country's oldest and largest organization of motorsports media professionals, is significant for another reason.

As dinner co-chairman, I didn't want to put Bergmeister (right) and Diaz, who made the Team for his good work in Rolex but now is in ALMS, in the awkward position of sitting at the Grand-Am table vs. ALMS or vice versa. So, thanks to the cooperative spirit shown by both groups -- which demonstrates respect for the drivers and AARWBA -- we've been able to create a Road Racing Champions table. Co-hosted by G-A and ALMS, it will be positioned front-and-center in the Hyatt Regency's ballroom. I consider it an honor to have a seat at this table, joining not only Bergmeister and Diaz, but also Capello and Scott Pruett.

My congratulations to Grand-Am President Roger Edmondson and ALMS President Scott Atherton, and thanks to G-A's Adam Saal and counterpart Bob Dickinson, for working with me to make this happen. It is an important moment, one that deserves applause, appreciation and respect, and a true "win-win" deal. I predict this will be noticed throughout the motorsports industry.

Memo to others, including some who will be in the Hyatt ballroom: YES, it can be done!A few things happened during our hiatus that merit mention:

* The media advisory of Danica Patrick's December test for Andretti Green Racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway specified the following, and I quote: "Media will be allowed to be on site from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for photo/B-roll opportunities. Patrick will be available in a group interview session for 10 minutes at approximately 12:45 p.m. Media will be asked to exit the facility by 1 p.m. or at the start of the afternoon testing session." Ten minutes!!! It says here a rainout saved Dear Danica from an embarrassment -- or would it have been a wake-up call?

* I wonder if Tony Stewart and his representatives realize a new day just might have dawned Jan. 3 with the news that Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli was forced out by the company's Board. Nardelli, who walked with a $210 million severance package according to CNNMoney.com, was a super-fan of Stewart and the No. 20 Joe Gibbs team. It appeared to me Nardelli gave Stewart lots of leeway when it came to some of Tony's less-attractive public antics. Those of us who have gone through sponsor CEO changes know how dangerously wrong it is to assume the next CEO will continue to hero-worship a driver. Did anyone cashing a PR paycheck think to so-counsel Stewart?

* The naive thought Phoenix City Council's OK of a downtown Champ Car event meant the hostility of the pro-and-con groups was over. I hope they faced reality when Las Vegas and Phoenix race boss Jim Freudenberg gave this quote to Robin Miller when announcing VISA sponsorship (actually, by processing company First Data Independent Sales of Fresno by Cardservice International). "This is a significant deal. I wish I could tell you exactly how much it is because it's so much better than what Phoenix International Raceway gets for its NASCAR race." That shot -- no surprise to me -- is proof the controversy and negative undercurrent created by both sides continues and, I predict, will do so right-up-to-and-beyond the race's Dec. 2 date. The embarrassing hit parade of mistakes (on both sides) that has marked this event continued when the race's local PR rep, Denise Resnik & Associates, recently distributed a Phoenix media list showing Mark Armijo as the motorsports writer for the Arizona Republic. Mark left the racing beat almost two years ago! The race's kickoff media function is Wednesday evening.

* Chris Schwartz, Susan Bradshaw Crowther, Adam Hoover and Jeremy Riffle took advantage of the holiday season to bulletin the media thusly: "We'd also like to take this opportunity to let you know that Philip Morris USA Inc. will return to sponsor the Team Penske entry in the 2007 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series, but will remove the Marlboro name from the cars, uniforms, support equipment and promotional materials visible to the public. This decision is consistent with Philip Morris USA's efforts to reduce the overall profile of its cigarette brand marketing. To that end, the official name of the racing team will be "Team Penske." Effective immediately, we would appreciate your referencing the Team by its official name, Team Penske as the Team will no longer be referred to as 'Marlboro Team Penske.' "

* Anheuser-Busch and NASCAR did a professional job in announcing Dec. 18 that the brewery will conclude its 26-year run as Busch Series sponsor after the 2007 season. (Disclosure: I played a small role in the company's transition from Budweiser to Busch backing for the tour in 1984.) This was properly positioned primarily as a "business" as opposed to "sports" story. What attracted the most attention was acknowledgement by NASCAR it will work together with new series TV partner ESPN in soliciting a fresh title patron. On the other hand, it's incredible to me the teams/sponsors/sanctions/tracks that don't understand you don't get good coverage during the holidays. (Hint: journalists, like everyone else, take time-off and are busy with other things!) On Dec. 20, Ganassi Racing revealed its new two-car Indy Pro Series team, via an IRL teleconference. Andretti Green made the same mistake in 2005 by confirming Marco Andretti to Indy Cars right before Christmas. Even more ridiculous was the Robert Yates-Ricky Rudd announcement on Dec. 21. That SHOULD have been positioned as the first BIG motorsports story of 2007! Publicists who bother to establish even a basic working relationship with reporters know lots of journos get very irritated by Christmas-time news conferences, or as the IRL and Champ Car have done in the past, ones during Daytona 500 week.

* I was glad to receive the news that Mike Mooney, who led the communications effort for Nextel's NASCAR series sponsorship, joined Millsport as vice president/account director. Mike's duties include client strategic direction and activation development, as well as building a communications capability for Millsport Motorsports. Clients include Sunoco, Tylenol and XM Satellite Radio. His new contact information is:

Mike Mooney
Vice President/Account Director
Millsport Motorsports
7575-A West Winds Blvd.
Concord, NC 28027
704.361.9499 (cell phone)
mike.mooney@millsport.com

* I was reminded again over the holidays how cooperative -- and kind -- Fernandez Racing's Tamy Valkosky is in dealing with media requests. I wish a lot of the so-called "PR" representatives who patrol NASCAR garage areas -- and not just in Nextel Cup -- would take note. Far-too-many of them work with a mindset where their FIRST reaction is, "NO!" Not, "Let me see what I can do," or, "Let's see what's possible," and certainly not "Thanks for the opportunity," just a fast "NO!" The fact that sponsors put up with this attitude is a sad commentary on the state of the motorsports business.

* In catching up on some reading, I finally got to Sports Illustrated's Nov. 6 rare profile of NBA Commissioner David Stern. I can't imagine anyone involved in sports management, marketing or communications who should not read this article. In fact, I can think of several people who fancy themselves as international sports marketers who should read it twice.

* Time magazine named you -- yes, YOU! -- as Person of the Year. I recommend you list that on your resume.

* To understand why I cheer ESPN for having an Ombudsman -- George Solomon -- see his Jan. 7 column on ESPN.com. It's a straightforward, candid assessment of the network's hits-and-misses during 2006. As I've written here previously, SPEED Channel would do well to follow ESPN's example.

* Worth some thought -- Quote from American Idol judge Simon Cowell: "I have a saying: 'Create the hype, but don't ever believe it.' "

My thoughts are with two friends: AARWBA Midwest VP Ron Lemasters, whose mother died last Saturday night. And Bob Margolis of Yahoo! Sports, who had surgery the day after Christmas to remove an enlarged lymph node, and has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Bob shared this in an E-mail (and said it was OK to make public): “At this point, the doctors believe that we have a head start on the disease . . . The specific lymphoma I have is called diffuse B cell and it is very aggressive, so I expect that I will be treated accordingly. The prognosis for recovery is 100 percent. I expect the next 4-6 months of my life won’t be the most fun I’ve ever experienced, but then again, I’m up for the battle. I will beat this disease.” You can write Bob at Bob.Margolis@Yahoo.com .


[ blogging about the AARWBA ceremonies, and the 2006 Jim Chapman Public Relations Award winner, next Tuesday . . . ]