• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

TOO MUCH HYPE IN NASCAR?

Is there too much hype in NASCAR?

I asked Brian France that exact question during my extended one-on-one exclusive interview with him Friday of NASCAR weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. His answer:

"There’s always too much hype when the competition on the field or on the track doesn’t fulfill it. It’s OK to have hype but it’s even better to have a great race or a great baseball game that matches the hype."

I don't know how anyone could disagree with France's answer.

The truth is, the 2007 Nextel Cup campaign was not a great season. So that means, yes, there was too much hype.

It was a Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports blowout. In achieving its 31st manufacturers' championship, Chevy won 26 of the 36 races. Led by Jimmie Johnson's 10 victories and second consecutive Cup, Hendrick visited victory lane 18 times. Jeff Gordon was second in points with six wins. Kyle Busch and Casey Mears combined for two more.

I realize some of you will find this strange, coming from me, but there IS such a thing as too much hype. Here are my two favorite examples from the season past:

1. At California Speedway, in February, an MRN announcer told us the race was important because "after today, there will only be 24 more races until the Chase." ONLY 24!

2. At New Hampshire, in September, an ABC announcer told us an upcoming series of gas-and-tire service was "critical, because it's the first pit stops in the Chase." ONLY ABOUT 50 MORE TO GO!

Please . . .

I've been asked several times what I'd do to "fix" NASCAR's two-year TV ratings/attendance/media coverage/popularity slide. My advice:

Give it a rest, guys!

Not every race is a "great" race. Not every lap is "critical." Not every driver is a "champion." Not every driver who spins or crashes does "a great job" saving the car. Not every driver is "driving his brains out." Not every event is "exciting." Not every speedway has a "huge" crowd.

I've learned this: Relentless, baseless hype eventually will EXHAUST the public. No one can keep up with it all. No one believes it all. The credibility factor eventually comes into play.

I hope, in 2008, at least for a little while after the 50th anniversary Daytona 500 "Great American Race," NASCAR and Humpy Wheeler and Eddie Gossage and Fox and ESPN and SPEED and MRN and everyone else involved will take a step back. Study the way CBS televised the recent New England Patriots-Indianapolis Colts game -- just let the action tell it's own story.

For that to have any chance of happening, of course, the Car of Tomorrow needs to produce great racing. Fans didn't like what they saw in the second Bristol and Talladega races. If Daytona is an entertainment dud, I know the hype machine will be fed nitro.

If you didn't read my Q&A with France, click the first link below. The second one is my Arizona Republic column of last Friday, which includes even more questions-and-answers with him. (His future plans? Status of diversity program? Criticism of TV coverage?) The third is my Republic story on open-wheel drivers coming to NASCAR, which has Brian's comments on that trend:

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1110france1111.html

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1115racingnb1116.html

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1109openwheelers1110.html
********************************************************************
I made this point during my XM Satellite Radio interview with Claire B. Lang at PIR:

“The Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team made the National League playoffs this year. They did not sell out all of their home playoff games which is really incredible for the National League Championship Series. All the reserve tickets at PIR (Phoenix International Raceway) for Sunday’s Checker 500 kilometer race are sold out. What does that tell you about the strength of NASCAR even with some of the issues going on in the day? Very impressive.”
********************************************************************
In case you missed it, please take a look at my latest "Business of Racing" video commentary on 1320tv.com. I look back on the sad 2007 NHRA season, and look ahead to the two big issues of 2008:

http://www.1320tv.com/dialed_in/article11.asp?vid=dialed_in/dialed_in_mk_bor_02&title=2007%20Powerade%20Drag%20Racing%20Series%20Recap

Thanks to popular California radio personality Joe Benson for the nomination in AutoWriters.com's search for the 100 top automotive blogs, as mentioned in AW.c's November newsletter.

Congratulations to Barry Bronson, Valvoline communications director, elected last week as secretary of ASE (National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence).

I've noticed, for a while, that AP's NASCAR boxscores list winning average speeds in kilometers per hour as well as mph. The Homestead results sheet went a step further, though, showing Matt Kenseth's first-place purse not only in dollars, but also euros. (!) For the record, AP calculated Kenseth's $359,941 converted to euro245,700.

USA Today's Monday odds on the Dancing With the Stars contenders put Helio Castroneves at 8-to-1. The story also called him "the Formula One race car driver . . . "

It was sad to receive news of Bob Holbert's death last week at age 84. Bob was a four-time SCCA national champion and U.S. Road Racing Championship titlist. He stopped racing in 1964 and saw son Al's successful career, which included three Le Mans victories. Al was one of my closest friends -- he recruited me to do the PR for the Quaker State Porsche CART team he ran in 1988 -- and Al died in a private airplane crash in September that year. The Holbert's showroom, in Warrington, Pa., is America's oldest authorized Porsche dealership. Porsche Cars North America President Peter Schwarzenbauer said that Bob "helped establish the Porsche brand in America" and called him "a true American Porsche pioneer.” Indeed.

It's Thanksgiving week, so in that spirit, I'll refrain from naming names of the terrible "PR" people I dealt with (or, in some cases, tried to deal with) in my coverage at PIR. I will say this: There was no legitimate excuse -- none -- for Kyle Busch's boorish behavior upon exiting his hauler after the Cup race. As Busch's handler yelled to reporters, "He doesn't want to talk!," the PR rep (who, apparently, had not thought to educate Kyle beforehand the media would need his comments no-matter-what since he had won the weekend's first two races) stood by and did nothing.

I am thankful, however, to Jim Hunter, Ramsey Poston and Owen Kearns (NASCAR), Judy Dominick (Chevrolet), Bill Janitz (Interstate Batteries/JJ Yeley) and Steve Van Houten (Ford hospitality).


[ more next Tuesday . . . ]