• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

WHAT REALLY WAS HAPPENING AT DAYTONA

While thousands of "journalists" -- among those credentialed were a hand-puppet, an American Idol reject, Katie Couric's pre-game hairdo and Mo Rocca (so-NOT-funny he's qualified to host the Nextel Cup awards ceremony) -- were embarrassing themselves in Miami last week during America's annual ritual of wretched media excess, the Super Bowl, a considerably smaller group showed up at Daytona for two days of IRL testing.

And missed the real story.

Oh, sure, there was legitimate interest if Daytona's hybrid infield road course/oval could safely host Indy Cars. (The answer, apparently, is "probably.") Have no doubt, however, what went on was at least as much about business and politics as it was competition.

The League, in what seemingly is a never-ending lurch from hope-to-hope it will gain traction with Main St. and Madison Ave., freely admits it wants to add racing's "Big D" to its schedule. (Question: Given the presence of Homestead and St. Pete, just what evidence exists that Florida is ready to $upport THREE IRL events?) I understand Tony George's desire for the added prestige . . . but what would be in it for the France family?

Answer: A Rolex Series race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (!)

Considering George's own investment in the IMS combo course, and that the U.S. Grand Prix hangs from contract-to-contract at the whim of Bernie Ecclestone, it's almost inevitable that facility will eventually be utilized for another motor sport. Speedway President Joie Chitwood has spoken of his investigation of motorcycle racing, and maybe that will happen, but two-wheelers would not benefit George's woefully underperforming IRL invention. Meanwhile, the France family (Jim's in charge of advancing their Grand-Am Road Racing Association), would gain admittance to Indy for what surely would be a headline-making event -- and strike a piercing blow to the rival American Le Mans Series.

So, will that be the trade, IRL at Daytona for Grand-Am at IMS? Could be, but . . .

ALMS, which already has a foot on Speedway grounds via its Formula One support shows, also wants that opportunity. I have zero doubt that Honda Racing shot-caller Robert Clarke would enjoy watching his new Acura LMP2 machines at Indy, and has the powerful card of being able to say to Tony, "Hey, when Chevy and Toyota bailed on the IRL, I saved you with engines for all."

Tony George hit a grand slam with the Brickyard 400, singled with the U.S. Grand Prix (a foul ball in '05), but if he hasn't yet struck out with the IRL, he's facing an 0-2 count in the bottom of the ninth with Mariano Rivera set to throw a wicked cutter. I don't know if TG was tipping his hand when he bought a Daytona Prototype and raced it (after crashing in practice) in the Rolex 24, but in the business/political decision of G-A vs. ALMS at IMS, it will be fascinating to see which way he turns.Calculating the week:
+ Daytona 500: Forbes.com ranked "The Great American Race" fourth on its list of "most valuable sporting event brands" at $91 million. "Despite the lack of a truly international audience, NASCAR's top race garners four times the revenue of rival Formula 1's fabled Monaco Grand Prix," according to the report. The Super Bowl was No. 1 at $379 million, followed by the Summer Olympic Games at $176 million and the FIFA World Cup at $103 million. After Daytona came the Rose Bowl ($88m), NCAA Men's Final Four ($82m), Olympic Winter Games ($82m), Kentucky Derby ($69m), baseball's World Series ($56m) and the NBA Finals ($47m). No surprise to me that the Indianapolis 500 -- drained of ticket buyers, sponsors, TV ratings and national media coverage -- didn't make the top 10.
- Ethanol: Conventional wisdom would be to give "E" a "+" after an apparently successful first use of the 100 percent fuel in IRL's Daytona runs. Until . . . this, according to the Feb. 12 Forbes magazine: "The federal government already supports ethanol with a tax subsidy equivalent to 51 cents per gallon of ethanol. That comes to $3 billion a year."
- Cartoon Network: Only those foolish enough to believe that "any publicity is good publicity" (not true; just ask Martha Stewart) are laughing at Turner Broadcasting's marketing gimmick-turned-PR fiasco in Boston.
- Arizona News Media: No one makes the connection that the "postponed" (that wording from the news release is true "spin" given the event's financial/sponsorship issues) Denver Grand Prix was operated by the same management hired to stage the downtown Phoenix Champ Car race.
+ The American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association: AARWBA has momentum coming off its recent All-America Team ceremony in Indianapolis. (I was dinner co-chairman.) AARWBA's Jerry Titus Memorial Trophy goes on display this weekend at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona in recognition of 2006 winner Tony Schumacher. Watch for video of Schumacher receiving the Titus (AARWBA's Driver of the Year) on early-season ESPN2 drag racing shows. The Grand-Am Road Racing Association signed-up as sponsor of AARWBA's February newsletter, with Tylenol -- NASCAR's new "official pain reliever" -- set for March. Thank you to Adam Saal and Mike Mooney. Paul Page, now calling all the NHRA action on ESPN2, says he's rejoining the country's oldest and largest organization of motorsports media pros. Andy Hall, with NASCAR and ALMS on his resume, is "in" now that he's working ESPN's racing publicity. I'm glad that at least one rep at a network with lots of speed programming understands it's PR 101 to be an AARWBA affiliate member.


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