• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

POMONA POWER POINTS

DANCING WITH HELIO: The IndyCar Series is pro-active about promoting double Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves in ABC's Dancing with the Stars. A package, with campaign-style sign, T-shirt and "Vote for Helio" letter, was distributed last week. Castroneves and dance partner Julianne Hough were in Indy last Friday to stump for votes. Viewers of the hit show vote for their favorite via a toll-free phone number (1-800-868-3409) or online at www.abc.com. It's good to see the series taking this publicity opportunity as seriously as Helio obviously is the dancing competition!


Despite the smell of nitro in the air, I usually find it refreshing to visit an NHRA Powerade Drag Racing Series event, and last weekend's Auto Club Finals in Pomona was no exception. As broadcaster Paul Page has said to me a few times, from a media and fan standpoint, the atmosphere at NHRA races is what it used to be in CART. For whatever reason, it seems easier to get access to any driver on short-notice, or set up a last-minute meeting, than in any other series.

A main purpose of my trip to Pomona was AARWBA's present-
ation of its Rick Mears
"Good Guy" Award to Gary Scelzi (right). AARWBA offers this honor, on an occasional basis, to show appreciation to a driver for longtime cooperation with the media. We did this Saturday in the Shav Glick Media Center, with a second present-
ation by AARWBA Western VP Susan Wade, during Sunday's pre-race ceremonies. Susan kindly posted video on her 1320tv.com site. To see my introduction, President Dusty Brandel's presentation and Gary's comments, use this link:

http://www.1320tv.com/racevideos/autoclub.asp?vid=11-1-07/scelzi_aarwba_final&title=Gary%20Scelzi%20Receives%20AARWBA%20Honor&des=2005%20Funny%20Car%20champ%20becomes%20first%20drag%20racer%20to%20be%20presented%20Rick%20Mears%20Good%20Guy%20Award

As usual, NHRA provided AARWBA with plenty of cooperation. President Tom Compton stopped by for the ceremony. Thanks to NHRA's Jerry Archambeault, Anthony Vestal, Michael Padian and Glen Cromwell to working with me to accomplish what needed to get done. Plus, of course, Judy Stropus of Don Schumacher Racing.

NHRA's new Countdown championship format -- designed to create drama -- worked in Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle. Tony Schumacher and his amazing Don Schumacher Racing Army Top Fuel team did it again, winning the title (his fourth straight) on the last pass of the season. The same for Matt Smith on the bikes. Funny Car was basically decided the previous week at Las Vegas, when Tony Pedregon won, and his three rivals all lost in the first round. That's the downside to a two-race shootout, and I'm among those who think that's not enough racing to settle any title.

Plenty of Business of Racing news came out of Pomona, including:

Budweiser renewed its "official beer" partnership with NHRA, which now will go more than three decades. I'm told the deal is for two years, through 2009, which will match Bud's current sponsorship with Kenny and Brandon Bernstein.

NHRA made a contribution of $2,500 to Pasadena City College in honor of legendary Los Angeles Times sportswriter Shav Glick, who died Oct. 20 at age 87. The college foundation annually presents two $500 scholarships -- The Shav Glick Journalism Scholarship -- to outstanding journalism students who are active members of the college newspaper.

With Geico on notice it will have to wrap-up its sponsorship in what will become NASCAR's Nationwide Series, NHRA jumped on this and signed a multi-year marketing partnership. Geico will continue its sponsorship of Karen Stoffer's bike team.
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Controversial questions are unusual on media teleconferences, but there was one last week. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was on the phone with reporters from Atlanta Motor Speedway during his first Hendrick test. Someone asked if Junior felt a responsibility to speak out on military-related issues, since the National Guard will be one of his sponsors next year, and the Navy backs his Busch Series team.

Earnhardt Jr.:

"I'm not in a position to blast opinions on anything like that. I mean, certainly when it comes to knowledge of those various and specific situations that you just spoke of, I'm not intelligent enough about them independently to be able to sit here and think that I would be able to tell a cameraman or a print reporter what I thought should be done.

"You know, what I enjoy doing, I do got some friends in Iraq. One of my buddies just went there recently. I just ask them what they need. They tell me. I try to mail it to them. You know, I think if there's one responsibility, obviously my job with my race team is to try to let young Americans and young adults know that that's an opportunity, to join the Guard, to join the Navy, that that's an opportunity, and try to give them all the information that they can have to make that decision.

"But I feel like, as a citizen of the United States, you know, being able to take some time out of my week to put together a care package to send to a couple of buddies of mine that they can disperse throughout their company and whatnot, that's probably the best thing. I remember being in military school. That was the coolest thing that could happen, when your parents sent you a box of stuff, new socks, candy bars, whatever.

"As ridiculous as that sounds to us, to just be able to walk up to the corner store and pick it up, it's really hard to get over there. You can get an iPod, but you can't download music. The things we take for granted.

"They tell me what the kind of things they wish they had or hadn't thought about bringing over with them, and I try to mail it to them. When we're all on our XM radio show we try to tell our listeners that that's a good exercise for them, too, is just to put a care package together. Takes five minutes. Makes a big, big difference to those guys, the morale over there."
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Danica Patrick picked-up some useful publicity for a couple of companies she is endorsing during a New York City PR tour the other week. (Congratulations to whoever pushed the button for that Oct. 25 USA Today piece.) She's been in the IndyCar Series three years and already is being asked how much longer she'll race? Answer: 10 years. As best I could determine in reading about/listening to her, one of Danica's big things right now is trying to launch her own fashion line, plus more beauty-products endorsements.

Here's what I DIDN'T hear: What Danica is doing to make herself a better race car driver! To try to actually WIN a race, not just in the ICS, but anything. Seems to me she could be spending off-season time in various types of cars, keeping her skills sharp, and working to improve her aggression level on starts and restarts. Even if it means spending some of her own money to rent rides/tracks.

THAT would impress me a lot more than what diamond-studded watch she's wearing.
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Best wishes to Robert Clarke, the president of Honda Performance Development, who will retire from Honda on June 30, 2008. Effective January 1, Robert will move into an executive advisory role at HPD, as Erik Berkman becomes HPD president. Berkman currently is Executive Engineer, Honda R&D Americas, Inc.

I'll be at Phoenix International Raceway Thursday-Sunday, covering for the Arizona Republic. Please check out the paper or http://azcentral.com/ . Here's a link to my column last Friday:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1101racingnb1102.html

[ more Blogging the Chase next Tuesday . . . ]