• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

WHAT a WEEKEND!

There was some GREAT racing last weekend -- especially the ALMS GT2 class finish at Sebring and Karen Stoffer winning the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle opener at Gainesville from the No. 16 spot with three holeshot victories -- but some other happenings were, well, read on . . .


- America's sense of political correctness bit SPEED last Saturday. During the Sebring 12 hours, as Adrian Fernandez sat in his Lowe's Acura while the nose section was replaced after contact with an Audi, pit reporter Andrew Marriott described Fernandez's mood as "pretty calm for a Mexican." No doubt at the instruction of network management or his producer, anchor Leigh Diffey offered an apology shortly thereafter. Marriott -- I first met him in the late 1970s when he was doing Formula One PR -- later interviewed Fernandez but his earlier comment wasn't mentioned. To be honest, I was a little surprised Andrew was allowed to continue on the telecast.

- Whoever filed that unbylined Sebring race report for the Associated Press made a huge error and no editor caught it. AP's story said, and I quote, "Dario Franchitti joining his brother, Marino, and Bryan Herta in the Andretti Green Acura . . ." Uh, Marino NEVER got in the car! Tony Kanaan co-drove with Dario and Bryan to the LMP2 class victory (second overall). Now, I would have thought one of the crackerjack PR people associated with this program would have cared enough to check out the coverage, and so would have noticed this mistake . . . turns out it was this industry observer who spotted the problem and notified AP. Mike Harris (in Atlanta for the NASCAR weekend) said he was asking the New York desk to move a correction.

- The issue of The Terrible Towel -- written about frequently in this space -- returned after last Saturday's Busch Series race at Atlanta. Jeff Burton -- a pro who usually knows better -- had a Coca-Cola towel wrapped around his neck in victory lane, denying Richard Childress team sponsors Holiday Inn, Chevrolet, Snap-on and NASCAR's series patron Busch, among others, their bought-and-paid-for uniform ID exposure on ABC network television. (Burton did remove the towel deep into the interview.) While Coke does have an "official" relationship with NASCAR, the ruling organization should NEVER allow the logo of its series sponsor -- even a lame-duck one -- to be covered. Over at ALMS and Sebring, whoever that was who jammed a white cap over the top of the winner's Michelin cap, should never again be allowed within a mile of any victory lane. How amateurish . . . yet racing executives like to talk about the "sophisticated" marketing programs that can be tapped via sponsorship. (!)

- I've heard Paul Newman say several times it's essential for an actor -- or broadcaster -- to "know your audience." I don't understand why producers don't instruct international announcers to speak to their American audience in a way Americans can understand. (!) Steve Matchett provides unmatched technical insight for SPEED's Formula One coverage. However, he constantly uses the metric system, and like-it-or-not the vast majority of Americans don't understand kilos or kilometers or centimeters. That makes Matchett's commentary less enlightening. I wish producer Frank Wilson would please give Matchett a conversion chart and instruct him to use it!

+ ALMS President Scott Atherton, during a SPEED interview Saturday at Sebring, noted that new manufacturers coming into the series are developing technologies that will wind up on road vehicles. He cleverly translated this into a reference that ALMS machines represent the real "Car of Tomorrow."

+ Tuesday, April 3, 3 p.m. (Eastern) will be the debut of In the Winner's Circle with Lyn St. James on VoiceAmerica's sports network. It’s a one-hour Internet radio show. Lyn says she will be interviewing guests and talking about women's sports, racing, business and the auto industry. Check it out at www.VoiceAmerica.com .

+ Even though all Marlboro ID has come off Roger Penske's IndyCar Series Hondas -- still in red-and-white but running simply as "Team Penske" -- Philip Morris USA remains as sponsor. I note the team's 2007 media guide and CD bear copyrights by PM USA.

- Apparently as part of a sponsorship deal, the Michael Waltrip Out Loud show will debut tonight on XM satellite radio, airing from 7-7:30 p.m. (Eastern). To be blunt, I would have thought those responsible for overseeing Waltrip's sponsorship at NAPA, UPS, Domino's Pizza and elsewhere would have put their foot down and insist Michael spend his time making his teams competitive, rather than taking on more ego-gratifying media work.

- When Nextel followed Winston as NASCAR'S Cup series sponsor, it wisely ran a series of commercials paying tribute to the sport's history, assuring ultra-loyal fans it would continue in that tradition. Now, I don't know the exact wording of Nextel's (now Sprint) contract with NASCAR, which apparently keeps out other telecommunications companies except for those "grandfathered" into the deal. But I do know, strictly from a PR standpoint, Sprint Nextel is guaranteed to be the loser if popular Richard Childress and Jeff Burton lose their Cingular backing. AT&T now owns Cingular (which, as I've written about here, has a non-performing "customer service" department) and wants to change logos on the No. 31 Chevrolet, but has not been permitted to do so under terms of the series sponsorship agreement. News came Friday that AT&T is taking NASCAR to court over the issue. NASCAR's image will take a hit, too, considering its fuel deal with Sunoco has forced Childress to reduce Shell logos on Kevin Harvick's Daytona 500 winning Chevy. It's important to remember that Childress stood by NASCAR throughout the investigation into Dale Earnhardt's death -- another reason he has such rock-solid credibility, and goodwill, with the public.
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A huge get-well-soon wish to Dave Densmore, John Force's longtime PR guru, who recently underwent heart surgery. Word is it was a quintuple bypass. See Denzy's friends, assembled at last weekend's Gatornationals, send their greetings to him at 1320tv.com. I know Dave must find it especially difficult to be on the sidelines now given Eric Medlen's serious accident yesterday while testing at Gainesville.
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The PR profession lost one of its all-time greatest practitioners last Friday with the death of Jack Duffy. Jack was exceptionally nice -- and helpful -- to me starting in the early 1970s when I took the first steps in my journalism career in Philadelphia and he was the PR VP for Hurst Performance, headquartered in nearby Warminster, Pa. A lot of people probably best remember Jack as Linda Vaughn's "boss" but I also knew him as someone who, like another PR legend, Jim Chapman, reached out to make new friends everywhere he went. Hurst benefitted tremendously from Jack's "What can I do to help you?" approach, sadly, so lacking among today's "PR" representatives. I'll forever be grateful to Jack for his encouragement and friendship as I moved from a trade paper freelancer to assistant sports editor at the Philadelphia Daily News. Several of us felt he would have been a fantastic PR director for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and, once, I even said that to Tony Hulman.

Jack retired with the rank of Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy, serving in both World War II and in Korea. Among the many honors he earned in motorsports was NHRA's PR Man of the Year. One of the best tributes Jack ever received came from another friend of mine, Bill Simmons, the late Philadelphia Inquirer auto editor. Bill was known to be a bit skeptical of what PR people told him, but told me he always trusted Jack.

Jack was 82 and died in Levittown, Pa. God Bless . . .


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