Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Dario Franchitti, as one might expect of the current Indianapolis 500 winner, was on PR tour last week in advance of the IRL's Saturday night race in Richmond, Va. Franchitti visited the Washington studio of ESPN's popular Pardon The Interruption show for what is called the "Five Good Minutes" segment. Definitely a good opportunity.

Up front knowledge for you: I've known Dario since he came to CART in 1997 with the late Carl Hogan's team. Two years later, in the paddock at Belle Isle after the Detroit Grand Prix news day, my friend (and then Dario's teammate) Paul Tracy instigated a conversation about the media's interest in Franchitti's dating relationshp with Ashley Judd, just then hitting the celebrity press. I felt awkward because Dario wasn't my client and personal-is-personal, but then he asked me, "What do you think?", so I offered a few brief words of counsel and let it go. My experience has been, you can't help but like Dario, so I was pleased for his Indy victory.

At PTI, Dario's shirt had the logos of his sponsors, so he didn't mention them. OK (a harmless plug for Canadian Club and Honda wouldn't have caused him to break a sweat, though.) What raised my antenna, however, was no one ever spoke a single word about the Richmond race! Wasn't that a big point in setting up the interview in the first place, to help sell tickets, and try to attract some PTI viewers to ESPN for the race coverage? (Those who did watch saw Dario win what was a parade, despite Marty Reid calling Richmond, "The Action Track.")

Did anyone ask -- or remind -- Dario to do this? More evidence for all of those who shake their heads at the discount-store quality of PR within the IndyCar series and its teams. Those unsold tickets and 1.1 network/.6 cable TV ratings don't happen by accident.
I guess Kevin Kalkhoven was happy after last Sunday's Champ Car return to Canada's Mont-Tremblant. Neither of Kevin's PKV drivers won, but the famed Robert Doornbos did, for Paul Stoddard's Minardi team. Yes, that's the same Stoddard who used to field the wanker-of-all-wanker Formula One teams, but found his way to Champ Car, in a deal that amazingly included his two-seat F1 ride-along vehicles replacing Ford's pace car program. Kalkhoven welcomed Stoddard by saying something to the effect that Paul "is more our kind of guy than Roger Penske." I'm certain we'll hear what a "great story" Minardi is, but the signal to the public and corporate community is this: Standards in our series sure aren't what they used to be. It is stunning to think that Minardi now is tied for the championship lead with Newman/Haas/Lanigan -- the team that in 1993 was able to attract reigning world champion Nigel Mansell to CART -- because the series was THAT strong. (I did the team PR during "Mansell Mania" -- motorsports' first-and-only 24-hour news cycle.)

So this is what Champ Car has devolved into in less than 15 years: Mansell to Minardi.

Over at Richmond,
Sam Hornish again dropped big hints he's bound for NASCAR. The IRL's reaction? Hornish was quoted this way: "The League hasn't said two words to me about it. You feel like they don't need you sometimes. They've got their stars. That's another reason why you might want to do something else."

Hello, Terry Angstadt? Anyone home?

I can't help but wonder if this will be yet another case where a League official will respond post-bad news with a weak: "There's nothing we can do." I've heard that excuse from more IRLfolk more times than Ashley Judd shows up on TV. They should be embarrassed saying those words . . . but don't seem to be.
It's quite a feat to make Paris Hilton look insightful, but that's pretty much what Larry King did last week on CNN -- perhaps the WORST talk-show interview of the TV age. CNN reached an all-time low promoting this appearance, including an on-screen countdown clock leading up to King's program. I know CNN is desperate to reclaim its ratings throne from Fox News Channel . . . and it showed . . . it's a sad commentary on our celebrity-driven society that so many watched. Of course, to CNN and King, that justifies everything.

(Disclosure: When I did the PR for Mario Andretti's retirement tour in 1994, Mario was booked on King's show to promote his book. The interview was canceled at the last minute. Why? The O.J. Simpson trial was in full throat, and that afternoon, the infamous Judge Ito threatened to remove "live" TV cameras from the courtroom! King's producers decided THAT deserved a full hour of discussion.)

Getting back to desperation, that of ABC/ESPN/IRL shows, too, with continued "promotion" of the very minor Danica Patrick-Dan Wheldon Milwaukee incident. Sad. Very, very sad.

(One more thing about Paris' coverage. I was stunned to hear a marketing "expert" say her saga represented an "opportunity to rebrand" the Hilton name. (!) I would think Hilton hotels would offer all its preferred customers a free room as an apology to loyal customers for turning the once-proud name into a national joke.)
FAST LINES: SPEED's Tradin' Paint last Saturday continued the trend of producers booking guests on the basis of perceived prestige, not actual knowledge. The media panelist who joined Kyle Petty works for a national newspaper, which of course made him qualified to be on TV, and oh-so-uninsightful. The issue of Aric Almirola getting yanked for Denny Hamlin by Joe Gibbs Racing at Milwaukee drew a cutting edge "nobody wins" comment (Petty countered: "I don't like it") and we learned the Roush Fenway partnership is "huge." Wow! . . . It tells you everything you need to know about Champ Car and its chosen production company when a pit reporter from ESPN said this Sunday: "Graham Rahal, of the United States . . . " . . . I'm not a golfer, but here's the Quote of the Week, courtesy of off-the-tracks Michelle Wie at the women's U.S. Open: "It's just a very fine line between shooting 69 and shooting what I shot today." Wie shot 82!
Speaking of embarrassing interviews, Ohio Senator George Voinovich had one of the most on Sean Hannity's national radio show last week. (In 1981, when I was CART's communications director, I worked with then-Cleveland Mayor Voinovich and City Council on the creation of the series' first-ever temporary course event. Funny, I never saw Jim Freudenberg there.) Voinovich, a Republican, took to the airwaves to explain (well, he never did explain) his position on the hotly-debated immigration bill. Within three minutes, the Senator: 1) Appeared to not realize he was on-the-air; 2) Appeared not to know anything about the Fairness Doctrine; 3) Got the results wrong on an amendment vote. Responding to grassroots opposition to the legislation broadcast loud-and-clear on conversative talk radio, Voinovich arrogantly proclaimed he would not be "intimidated" by the public response, citing his "40 years in the business (politics)." Unhappy that Hannity continued to press him for a specific answer on how he would vote, Voinovich hung up!

I would like to have been present for the "conversation" I'm certain the good senator had with his press secretary immediately thereafter. (!)
Welcome to Big Time Auto Racing, Paul Corliss, Phoenix International Raceway's new communications director. Corliss spent five years with the NFL's New Orleans Saints as community affairs and business PR director. He worked on a multi-state outreach program for the team in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

[ more next Tuesday, the one year anniversary of this blog . . . ]