• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM: How could Kelli Stavast interview Helio Castroneves post-Fontana and NOT ask him about the pit entry penalty that ended his IndyCar championship chances?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

HALFWAY POINTS

We're at the halfway point in the Chase and so it's a good time for me to make several points:

*
Sprint Nextel Chairman and CEO Gary Forsee resigned last week and now it can be said: The two-year-old merger of the telecommunications companies has -- thus far -- been a failure. According to USA Today, shares have lost approximately 27 percent of their value since the merger, and SN likely will report a net loss of about 337,000 subscribers in the third quarter. Those are staggering numbers. SceneDaily.com quoted Tim Kelly, Sprint's chief marketing officer, as saying: "It's business as usual. The NASCAR relationship is one of the cornerstones to our marketing efforts." I can tell you, from personal experience, when there is management instability and the Board of Directors is expected to recruit someone from outside the company as the new CEO, there is no such thing as "business as usual." My advice to NASCAR observers: Stay tuned.

* More big biz news last week came with word that SABMiller and MolsonCoors will combine U.S. operations in an attempt to compete more efficiently against Anheuser-Busch. The on-going changes in the brewing industry are worth watching because the major beer brands long have been among the most aggressive -- and biggest-budgeted -- sports marketers. The Miller side will have 58 percent share while Coors will take 42 percent. Corporate voting interests will be equal, however. Claims are cost savings will be $500 million (including elimination of "duplicate marketing services"), although we know from other couplings, that does not always prove to be fact. This entity will be called MillerCoors but HQ is as yet undetermined. I'll bet Kenny Bernstein -- and, I trust, NHRA -- are monitoring the situation quite closely. Jon Asher has some interesting thoughts on how this could impact drag racing here:
http://competitionplus.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4296&Itemid=6

* Deaths as a result of illegal street racing were in the news again last week. Especially given the recent loss of Wally Parks -- who founded NHRA to provide a safer (and legal) venue for drag racing -- I would like to see NHRA become much more pro-active on this issue, PR-wise. I suggest an on-going communications program with national news outlets on this issue. PLUS: The creation of a "fast response" team of drivers -- Brandon Bernstein, J.R. Todd, Ashley Force, Angelle Sampey and Antron Brown would fit the demo -- available to guest on the morning and cable TV shows and talk radio to respond when these kind of sad events occur.

* If memory serves, and I believe it does, management has long positioned Lowe's Motor Speedway as being extremely fan friendly. So, I was quite disappointed to see Clint Bowyer with his back to the paying public while being interviewed by ABC's Allen Bestwick during Saturday night's driver introduction parade lap. At the end of the chat, Bestwick told Bowyer to wave to the crowd. That's what Bowyer -- and every other driver -- should be doing during those laps. As I've written before, that's the fans' time, not TV's. ABC and every other NASCAR-partner network has plenty of chances for Q&As during a weekend, but the spectators have limited opportunities to see their heroes up-close. Taking that away not only is disrespectful, it's wrong. I noted plenty of empty seats at Charlotte, where it's supposed to be all-about entertainment value. Track management had no problem taking on TV back in 2001, threatening to have tow trucks remove NBC's production units, because they weren't calling it "Lowe's" Motor Speedway.

* Memo to those responsible for promoting ESPN.com via NASCAR telecasts: Just how many different "search words" do you think people will remember?

* If, like me, you are concerned about the avalanching trend in journalism of reporting opinion as fact, read this: "Fed fast food of opinion, ESPN audience starves for reported fact," by ESPN ombudsman Le Anne Schreiber. It's long but worth your time -- and thought:
http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=schreiber_leanne&id=3050882

* Headline news in Indianapolis radio last week: Emmis Communications announced that legendary WIBC will split next January 7, with 93.1 FM becoming WIBC-FM and broadcasting a news/talk format, and 1070 AM presenting an all-sports format as an ESPN affiliate. Kevin Lee, who started hosting a Monday night racing show earlier this year, was an immediate casualty. Indy 500 and IRL broadcasts will continue on the AM station.

* The Business Journal of Phoenix, which I noted to be error-plagued in its coverage of the canceled downtown Champ Car race, did it again last week. A story about upcoming appearances by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mario Andretti began this way: "Two of NASCAR's most celebrated drivers will visit Phoenix in the coming weeks . . . "

* Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta is positioned as second only to Sebring in importance in the ALMS. So, I was more than a little surprised by the several E-mails I received from those who were on-site for the 1,000-mile race the other week, complaining about media operations and facilities. An on-going issue is TV's unwillingness to use graphics showing OVERALL standings, not just by class. I've switched away from at least two ALMS races this season in frustration, not being able to understand if a P1 Audi or P2 Porsche was the overall leader. This is a serious audience turn-off and a policy that MUST be changed, a point I've made in recent E-mail exchanges with ALMS President Scott Atherton. No matter the sport, the two basic questions a viewer will have are: 1) Who's leading?; 2) Who won? When ALMS telecasters don't make the answers obvious, well, let's just say that represents a very fundamental misjudgment.

* I've mentioned this before, but it merits repeating, based on what I've seen recently: Too often, media guests who appear on shows such as SPEED's Tradin' Paint are invited on the basis of the perceived importance of their outlet, NOT because of the individual reporter's own REAL knowledge (or experience in) the sport.

* My friend Al Pearce has set-out on his most ambitious fundraising project yet on behalf of the Victory Junction Gang Camp. He's attempting to get all 18 living world Formula One champion drivers to sign a helmet, which then will be auctioned to benefit the Camp. Al previously did this with NASCAR champions and Indy/Daytona 500 winners, resulting in close to $25,000 in contributions.

* Huge congratulations to Linda Vaughn, who will be inducted into the Georgia Automobile Racing Hall of Fame later this month. Linda is a native of Dalton, Ga.

* A1GP isn't a regular newsmaker in U.S. media but this announcement drew some deserved attention: The series signed a six-year agreement for Ferrari to manufacture and supply all A1GP engines. The famed automaker also will design and consult on the manufacture of chassis starting with the 2008-09 season. Now, that's prestige.
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Longtime Porsche PR ace Bob Carlson made a low-key visit to Petite Le Mans. I worked with Bob on the Porsche CART project in 1988. We shared the difficult personal and professional experience of losing our boss and friend, Al Holbert, in a plane crash. Bob has cancer and his wife, Debbie, is keeping a Caring Bridge website with frequent entries. You can E-mail Bob through this site:
http://www.caringbridge.org/cb/inputSiteName.do?method=search&siteName=bobcarlson
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Kevin Kennedy, the 2006 Jim Chapman Award winner for excellence in motorsports PR and Ford's key racing spokesman (and media strategist), kindly brought this to my attention: AutoWriters.com is searching for the "top 100 automotive blogs." Its October newsletter lists several nominees -- including the blog you are reading now. (!) See for yourself: http://www.autowriters.com/news/10.2007.htm ********************************************************************
Here's a link to my Arizona Republic news/notes column from last Friday:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1011racingnb1012.html
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I didn't know Ray Cooper well, but I know he was very respected by the NASCAR media corps. After a dozen years as a sportswriter, Ray became Chevrolet's NASCAR media representative, and took a similar position with Dodge in 2001. Over a 15-year run he worked more than 450 consecutive races and earned several prestigious awards. Cooper, 53, died of cancer last weekend.

[ more Blogging the Chase next Tuesday . . . ]