• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

DAYTONA WEEK + & -

Daytona 500 week left my calculator in need of new Energizers . . .

+ Krista Voda. Debuting on Fox as replacement for the over-rated Jeanne Zelasko, Voda showed again she has star potential. But . . . Voda must continue to work hard to sharpen her reporting and interviewing skills, two essentials for a pit reporter. Zelasko was a poor interviewer, proven when she repeatedly presupposed the answer by ending questions with a "yes" or "no." ("You're OK, yes?") I'll never forget when Zelasko attempted to be too-clever-by-half by asking Cingular-sponsored Robby Gordon "how many calls have you gotten on your Nextel phone?" Robby rightly verbally slapped her down on that one. Or, how after Ryan Newman violently flipped in the Daytona 500, Jeanne gently complained that Ryan had kept her waiting in the rain for an interview. (!) I hope Krista learns from her predecessor's miscues. There was an era when networks would hire a producer or broadcast vet to coach-up promising talent. Now's the time for such an investment.

+ WIBC (1070-AM). Indianapolis once again has a weekly "live" locally produced motorsports program. WIBC is Indy's 50,000 watt flagship of the IMS and IRL radio networks. The WIBC Racing Review with Kevin Lee debuted Feb. 12 and will go every Monday night, for one hour, at 10 p.m. (Streamed on http://wibc.com .) Lee is a pit reporter on the IRL broadcasts and host of WIBC's nightly Sportstalk show. Opening night guests included Paul Tracy, Mike Joy and Mike King. Listener calls will be part of the mix.

- Michael Waltrip. Even before NASCAR penalized Waltrip's team for rules violations, Tom Jensen wrote this on SpeedTV.com: "If it turns out that Waltrip’s engine and car are cheated up, Waltrip will be in a world of hurt. His public image as the lovable-but-goofy bumpkin who can’t say his sponsors’ names often enough will be history and he’ll be looked down on as just another cheatin’ sumbitch in the garage, and not a very bright one at that." Waltrip even earned a place on the Drudge Report homepage, with a photo of him and his NAPA car over the headline, "Cheating scandal hits DAYTONA 500; TOYOTA debut . . . "As if the timing wasn't bad enough, Mikey-gate coincided with a Detroit Free-Press story revealing an internal report warned that Toyota faced "possible political and consumer backlash caused by its rapid U.S. growth." Toyota is expected to pass General Motors this year as the world's largest automaker.

+ Brian France. Good move moving the NASCAR chairman's "State of the Sport" address and news conference from December in New York to February in Daytona -- on a day with no on-track action. Brian made no big announcements, but two things got my attention: 1) Specific mention of open-wheel standouts Juan Pablo Montoya, Sam Hornish (a limited Busch Series schedule) and A.J. Allmendinger coming into NASCAR -- take that, Bernie Ecclestone, Tony George and Kevin Kalkhoven; 2) Repeating his contention that NASCAR continues to be "under covered" in several major media markets. Brian also called the motorsports press "the hardest working media corps in sports."

- Andretti Green Racing. What happens when you pick the day NASCAR suspends four crew chiefs and 99 percent of the nation's racing media have stock cars on-the-brain to announce Michael Andretti will again drive in the Indianapolis 500? Predictably, a few lines on Page 12c of USA Today. Once again, legitimately calling into question the thought process of PR "pros."

+ NHRA/John Force. Drag racing's most famous driver goes to the media -- at Daytona -- for a Friday news conference, garage tour photo-op, and relationship-building session on behalf of the POWERade series.

- Bill Elliott. Sad to see the one-time "Awesome Bill" even bother to show up at Daytona in an uncompetitive car, one not even fitted with the 2007 Dodge nosepiece.

- Red Bull. The perils of too-much hype, in this case about the Formula One engineering experience the team would bring to its new Toyota Cup effort, bit hard as Brian Vickers and A.J. Allmendinger didn't make the big show.

+ Montoya's Sponsors. Juan Pablo scored a print media "hat trick" of sorts with features in Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine, and a USA Today cover story all published the same week.

? Kevin Harvick. A huge + on Sunday, but why was he wearing his Shell Nextel Cup team uniform when he won Saturday, which co$t Busch Series car sponsor AutoZone major victory lane exposure?

? Hornish Handlers. With his Dodge backed by Mobil 1, why was the Indy 500 winner allowed to be interviewed on ESPN2 post-race Saturday in front of the Havoline hauler? Someone with Sam should have been paying attention and moved the driver a few steps to avoid the conflicting sponsor backdrop.

? TV Time Out. The excellent story-telling video replays were the best part (by far) of Fox's Daytona 500 presentation, but it was disappointing -- and a bit frustrating -- that the network went to commercial and missed the season's first round of pit stops.

- ESPN2. A down debut on Busch Series coverage, with numerous driver/team/car misidentifications and especially shaky performances by Andy Petree, Tim ("I tell you what") Brewer and (no surprise) Jamie Little. The network's stated goal is to expand the series' fan base (especially since it's helping NASCAR sign a new title sponsor!) and that will never happen as long as Petree talks about the "4, 88 and 27" and begins an interview with someone in the pits, "Hey, PK!" Very few viewers knew the people ID'd by numbers or initials. When Juan Pablo Montoya pitted with engine trouble, the "expert insight" we got was: "They're working on it . . . there must be something wrong." And, while new technology gizmos are fun, when the displayed data doesn't match what's happening on the track, it's confusing.

- Bob Dillner. Of all the convoluted yap that came out of Daytona, nothing topped Dillner Feb. 14 on SPEED, somehow making an analogy between Michael Waltrip's mess and a head of lettuce. (!) Maybe he meant the damage E.coli bacteria lettuce did to Taco Bell . . .

Elsewhere . . .

* It hasn't been long since glitzy announcements were made in Las Vegas and Phoenix that processing company First Data Independent Sales Fresno by Cardservice International had tied VISA's name to the Vegas Champ Car event and First Data as title sponsor of the downtown Phoenix run. Suddenly, though, the VISA and First Data ID's have disappeared from logos and content on those race's websites. Yesterday, in response to my E-mail asking about the status of the sponsorship, PR representative Jana Watt replied: "Thank you for your inquiry regarding the Visa/First Data sponsorship for the Las Vegas and Phoenix races. I apologize but at this time I can not provide any updates on the status of our partnership. We are continuing to move forward with our events and are looking forward to two fabulous weekends. As soon as there is additional information available you will see it released via the Vegas Grand Prix and Grand Prix Arizona websites." Last December, Robin Miller quoted V/P race boss Jim Freudenberg thusly: "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."

* It's terrible how some who hold media credentials seem not to know they have an obligation to act like professionals. I recently witnessed this: A guy who handed out business cards affiliating him with a radio station was at a track and met the raceway's PR director, who appropriately asked if he needed any help. "Actually, I'm looking for a free lunch," was the response. "You know how we media guys are, always looking for something free. Where can I get lunch?" These quotes are exact because I immediately wrote down the exchange. What an embarrassment . . . if I knew this man's name I'd ID him.

* Sponsor Update: I noticed during the weekend's Nissan Open golf coverage that Phil Mickelson no longer has Ford's blue oval on his shirt.

* For those following the Academy Awards, note this from the Feb. 16 Entertainment Weekly: "On average, studios can spend anywhere from $5 to $25 million mounting Oscar campaigns -- even for films that may not clear that amount at the box office."

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]