• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

BACK TO THE FUTURE

WALLY PARKS, 1913-2007: NHRA's founder, a true motorsports legend, died Friday at age 94. Wally was extremely media friendly -- he was the first editor of Hot Rod magazine -- and a long-time member and supporter of AARWBA. Here, at the January 2005 All-America Team dinner in Pomona, Parks (center) joins John Force (left) and Kenny Bernstein in toasting their nominations as Newsmaker of the Half-Century -- the most important event of AARWBA's 50th Anniversary Celebration. Bernstein told me Wally liked this photo and thought it was a great tribute to NHRA to have three from the drag racing community among the 12 nominees. This was Wally's last appearance at an AARWBA function. As the 50th anniversary chairman, I can say it was a great honor to have Wally with us that evening, and I was honored to introduce him. Wally Parks' legacy will be that he had the vision to make NHRA drag racing -- the most American of American motorsports --respectable, safer and a major league-level series. (Photo courtesy Al Wong.)



I began my professional career at the Philadelphia Daily News, starting there while still completing my journalism degree at Temple University. I continue to love reporting and writing and journalism and the newspaper business. We all know of the struggles which have affected so many papers around the country and that's sad to many of us.

As I blogged here almost a year ago (Oct. 17), "Bad Newspaper News Is Bad News for NASCAR." There is no question in my mind but that, even in this time of TV and the Internet, knowledgable and substantive reporting in the papers is essential. Not just in racing, but politics, business, entertainment, you name it. So, I'm pleased to tell you that starting this Friday (Oct. 5) and continuing at least through November, I'll be a contributor to the Arizona Republic's motorsports coverage. The Republic is the state's largest newspaper. My friend Mark Armijo provided readers with distinguished coverage for about a quarter-century until yielding the "beat" to Jim Gintonio two years ago. Jim's now full-time following the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes.

On Fridays, I'll be writing a news/news analysis column. Jim will come off hockey to lead the Republic's reporting of the NASCAR races Nov. 8-11 at Phoenix International Raceway. I'll do sidebars from PIR. Most of what is published in the paper also appears at AzCentral.com. I've provided a link in the right-hand column. I hope you'll check it out.
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Budweiser again figured into NASCAR's changing sponsor landscape last week with the announcement that Coors Light is replacing Bud as stock car's official beer. The deal was widely reported to be worth $20 million over five years. Coors Light picks up the pole award in this contract while Bud keeps its season-opening Shootout at Daytona under a separate agreement and is an official Daytona 500 sponsor. Anheuser-Busch, one of the most powerful forces in sports marketing, thus continues to reposition its racing involvements. Bud let its title backing of this month's NHRA's Top Fuel Shootout at Las Vegas go to Technicoat. A-B is ending its 26-year support of the Busch Series after this season. The "King of Beers" will become Kasey Kahne's new primary sponsor in '08 and is contracted with the Kenny Bernstein-owned, Brandon Bernstein-driven, NHRA Top Fuel team through 2009 -- which will bring that relationship to an incredible 30 consecutive years.

Tony Ponturo, A-B's VP of Global Media and Sports Marketing, said the brewer "presented an offer to renew at a price that was right for us based on our total NASCAR marketing investment -- a new race team and driver, media and track sponsorships that includes the Daytona 500. Rather than spend significantly beyond our valuation of the 'official beer' sponsorship, we determined that Budweiser's broader NASCAR strategy is best supported by putting our marketing muscle behind our new relationship with Gillett Evernham Motorsports and Kasey Kahne."
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Here's a smart move in the wake of the Michael Vick dog-fighting scandal. MAZDASPEED drivers Jeff Altenburg and Randy Pobst will have new
teammates as they contend for the series title in the final two races of the SCCA SPEED World Challenge Touring Car championship. Their Tri-Point Motorsports' Mazda6s will carry special graphics to promote, in association with The Humane Society of the U.S., the adoption of shelter animals. The "MUTTS" comic strip characters, "Earl" and "Mooch," have been "adopted" by the team, with "Earl" the dog on Altenburg's car and "Mooch" the cat on Pobst's. The season enders are Friday at Road Atlanta and Oct. 21 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and life-sized versions of "Earl" and "Mooch" will be in the paddock for photo opportunities. Both Mazda hoods and driver uniforms will be auctioned to benefit The Humane Society of the U.S. Details at http://www.muttscomics.com/. Altenburg and Pobst each have won twice this season and are 1-2 in points.
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FAST LINES: ISC recently authorized budget for a badly needed new media center at Watkins Glen. “Having a new media center with state-of-the-art technology and proper space for working media, press conferences, the sanctioning bodies, and track staff will help us meet those needs and build positive press coverage during our race weekends,” admitted Glen communications director Eiron Smith. Emphasis mine and point made. Many of us hope Phoenix Raceway will be next . . . The historic 1963 Lotus-Ford (below) that truly brought the "rear-engine revolution" to the Indianapolis 500 (Jimmy Clark finished second to Parnelli Jones in a controversial finish) will be on display at the 38th AARWBA All-America Team dinner, Saturday, January 12, at the downtown Indianapolis Hyatt. As dinner chairman, I thank the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum for this courtesy. Use link in the right-hand column to go to the AARWBA site, where discounted Hyatt room reservations can be made, as well as ticket orders . . . My friend Bob Margolis, of Yahoo Sports, is scheduled is begin a six-week radiation/chemo therapy this week, followed by a six-week recovery period. mailto:Bob.Margolis@yahoo.com . . . Mike Brudenell wrote quite an amazing column last week in the Detroit Free Press, "Running on Empty?," in which he criticized automakers and the local media for ignoring much of the Michigan racing scene. Here's the link: http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070925/SPORTS16/709250306/1064 . . . If you don't know about the "Jay Leno's Garage" site, (lots to see, here a segment with Valvoline's Barry Bronson), check it out: http://www.jaylenosgarage.com/video/index.shtml?vidID=156639 .
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A social occasion I'll never forget came late in the 1992 CART season, when a "roast" was staged for Nicky Fornoro before the race at Nazareth, because Nicky was about to retire as the series' flagman. Among other tales, I recounted the time at Riverside in the early 1980s when, in the midst of a long, hot, boring 500 kilometers on Labor Day weekend, Nicky seemed to dose-off on the starter's stand! I had worked with Nicky since November 1980 when I joined CART as communications director. Nicky made the Fornoro name famous, especially in Eastern racing circles, first as a driver (he was the NASCAR midget champion in 1953, but retired at his wife's request), and after that as a colorful flagman. Nicky had a great personality and knew it was important to "play" to the fans, so we used to remind the drivers before every CART event, to wave to the fans during the parade lap. Nicky would signal them to do so by waving his hankie. Born in 1920 in Madison, N.J., Fornoro died last week as a result of a stroke. He leaves behind a large family, including his wife Bette and racer sons Drew and Nokie, and countless friends. Let me conclude the same way I did at that "roast": In all the years I knew Nicky, I have only one regret -- that he didn't have the chance to wave a checkered flag over Mario or Michael Andretti after 500 miles at Indianapolis.

[ more Blogging the Chase next Tuesday . . . ]