• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

HEADACHES

It's good Tylenol is now the "official pain reliever of NASCAR" because all of auto racing has suffered some big headaches so far this year.

* NASCAR's television ratings are down, for Nextel Cup on Fox, and the new Busch Series package on ABC/ESPN2. There are as many theories as to why as self-serving network promos, but here's mine: The public has been de-sensitized to the true excitement of the sport by all the breathless hype. This is my favorite example thus far in 2007: During the MRN pre-Auto Club 500 show, an announcer was telling us how "important" the California race was, "because, after today, there will ONLY be 24 races until the start of the Chase." My second favorite example came last Sunday on Fox, courtesy of Chris Myers, who claimed "everyone across the country" was talking about the dicey Las Vegas track conditions.

The emphasis is mine, but you see my point. NASCAR, its promoters, and media partners have so over-hyped, over-exaggerated the importance and "drama" of everything that it no longer stirs the public's passions. I expect the TV numbers will continue to be challenged the next few weeks due to the NCAA Tournament, so here's a suggestion: Just back off for a while and let the racing story tell -- and sell -- itself.

* I feel such deep pity for the person involved I won't reveal the name. But, yes, this REALLY happened (I heard it myself): A few weeks ago, in admitting ticket sales were slow, a promotions person blamed it on the public being distracted by the death of Anna Nicole Smith. (!)

* Juan Pablo Montoya was in Scottsdale last Thursday to play in the J.J. Yeley Charity Golf Classic, co-hosted by Phoenix International Raceway. (The Phoenix Children’s Hospital Foundation received a $50,000 check.) Noting that he's quickly picked-up the habit of calling his car the "Texaco/Havoline Dodge," I asked him why Grand Prix drivers don't mention their sponsors. "In Formula One, they say they don't need it," he answered. "Here, they say they want it. In Formula One, they don't ask me to do it. It's that simple."

In the aftermath of the Montoya-Scott Pruett controversy in Mexico City, I don't have a problem with the team issuing "cooling-off" statements from those drivers last week. But, to be honest, such days-late releases don't accomplish much. Especially when asked at the golf outing how he would handle the same on-track situation if it came up again, Montoya was quoted by the Arizona Republic as replying, "The same way."

*
I'll say this much for the Las Vegas NASCAR weekend: At least track GM Chris Powell had the good sense not to make "Shut Up and Race" T-shirts. Or issue a press release that he was assigning security guards to Goodyear's tire engineers.

* Robin Miller got dumped from his assignment writing for Champ Car's website because the Powers-That-Be didn't like his tough assessment of the series' problems offered in a SpeedTV.com column. Implications? Here's what I'll be watching for: To see if the firing has any chilling effect on other journalists who provide content for the CC site.

As for last Thursday's series Media Day at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Robin wrote on SpeedTV.com: "But the best news for Champ Car is that nobody noticed, because Media Day didn’t get a lot of national play. No USA Today. No L.A. Times. No Indianapolis Star. No Las Vegas papers. Not even new broadcast and marketing 'partner' ESPN bothered to send anybody. It was just a quaint little group . . . a few Internet sites, one racing weekly and SPEED."

* Proformance Sports Marketing and Entertainment recently announced plans to open the nation's first official Cheerleading Hall of Fame. I can think of several people, who broadcast races in several series, who would be worthy nominees.

In happier news . . .

* Last Friday was Vince Welch's last as sports director at Indy's WIBC radio. Vince told me a new and extensive assignment schedule with ABC/ESPN meant he "just wasn't going to be able to balance both." Good luck, Vince! Meanwhile, Vince is hunting sponsorship for 13-year-old (and straight A student) son Dillon's upcoming season in USAC's Kenyon Midget series. That is about 30 races, mostly on Indiana quarter-mile tracks, in full-size cars with less horsepower. Learn more at www.DillonWelch.com . Dillon did six years in quarter-midgets and won championships in both of his divisions last year.

* David Poole reported in the Charlotte Observer that Bristol Motor Speedway has created a 30-member fan advisory board so track management can get direct feedback from its customers. Poole wrote that Bristol got 1,588 applications from 41 states and Canada, and picked the first 30 members this week. That group has representatives from 18 states plus Canada. They'll serve one year. WHAT A FANTASTIC IDEA!

* Eric Mauk kindly sent me Champ Car's new (and, by the looks of it, comprehensive) "official historical record book." Having spent hundreds of hours researching Champ and Indy history over the years, I'm planning to give it a serious look. I see some stats go back to 1909 . . . I still don't understand how the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indy Racing League allowed CC to somehow claim all of these records as its own.

* My good wishes to the vastly experienced Sid Priddle, recently named as a consultant to Champ Car's communications operation. Sid, I hope they listen to you . . .


[ more next Tuesday . . . ]