• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

2 BILLION DOLLAR BLUNDER

Finally, some GOOD news from the American open-wheel racing front.

And, common sense.

The end of the IndyCar-Champ Car split, announced last Friday, closes of one of the most disgraceful and destructive chapters in modern sports -- and business. The zig-zagging paths taken by Tony George and his advisors, and a succession of inept Champ Car owners and executives, were mistakes of monumental portion.

(Full disclosure for those who need it: I was CART's first full-time communications director, for three years, beginning November 1980. The second full-time employee, after Kirk Russell.)

How great the cost? Let's start with money. Since I'm in Arizona, where Barry Goldwater still towers over John McCain as the state's favorite political son, I'll give a very CONSERVATIVE estimate.

At least $2 BILLION.

That figure includes lost sponsorships, advertising, hospitality and ticket sales; failed races (Phoenix, Las Vegas, Denver, Orlando, Dover, Atlanta, Gateway, Montreal, New Hampshire, Charlotte -- the list is longer than the free lunch line in any media center); design, construction and purchase cost of different spec cars and spare parts; massive outlays by competitive engine manufacturers; lawyers; accountants; shareholder value (when Champ Car went public and then bust); Welfare-like payments to teams from the sanctioning bodies; expense for Bridgestone/Firestone to support two tours; eliminated jobs; unsold souvenirs; belly-up specialty publications; shrinking broadcast and print audiences; television rights fees reduced or zeroed-out; TV and radio production charges; duplicate series marketing, promotion, ad and PR campaigns; and other adverse economic impacts, especially in the Indianapolis area.

As my friend Paul Page said during a conversation last weekend at NHRA's Phoenix-area event: "Add in return on investment, and it could be serious money."

The cost in prestige, respect and goodwill is beyond calculation.

Proving, once again, the worth of "conventional wisdom," the broad opinion going back to when CART team owners separated from USAC in 1979 was that group would "win" because of superior business skills. That viewpoint carried over when the IRL was created, as many pro-CARTers disparaged George's intelligence and biz acumen, sometimes in highly personal terms. Well, one of the central truths of the CART era is its great businessmen-team owners ran the organization in a way they never would their own enterprises.

Look at the presidents they hired and the competency of the staff. For most of my tenure, the staff was Russell, Knight and one secretary. Chairman John Frasco told us: "This company has to run lean and mean." Then, under Andrew Craig, a bureaucracy was constructed of bowing-to-arrogance yes-people and dunderheads, especially in such key areas as promoter and sponsor relations, promotions, marketing and communications. The combined competency of a large share of that employee list might have been enough to operate a pizza joint in Pawtucket; certainly not a "major" sports entertainment company.

(Now, I feel badly for a couple of good and loyal employees, Billy Kamphausen and Cathie Lyon, who should promptly be welcomed to fill important roles within George's series organization.)

The 1998 move to sell shares was yet another management disaster. Prudent and proper long-term planning was shoved aside in the name of quarterly results.

One CEO who had a clue was Bill Stokkan, who at least knew enough to open a New York City business/marketing office. I'm sure not saying it was done perfectly, but it was necessary. The Board dumped Stokkan and closed down the NYC operation.

Finally, this discussion can not end without mention of the media's role. I'll put it this way: It was not an era of excellence in motorsports journalism.

Far too-many journos took sides in the political struggle and, as a direct result, objectivity went the way of the Offy. Stories that needed to be told, to bring sunlight to dark dealings, went unreported so as not to give ammo to the "other" side.

The best example: Craig's temper tantrum in 1999 at the driver's meeting in Homestead. That this happened was well-known in the media center -- among other reasons, plenty of drivers came out and talked about it -- but no stories. When I asked one pro-CART leaning writer why, I was told, "I would if I thought it would do any good."

Does anyone doubt that if Mike Helton had done such a thing, it would have been instant news?

There had BETTER be a far higher level of professional and legitimate media coverage of the workings -- positive and negative -- within the unified IndyCar Series.

It says loads about contemporary "journalism" when George and the IRL are declared the "winners."

By ANY meaningful or objective standard, EVERYONE LOST. Any other interpretation is as ridiculous as, well, the last 12 years.

And now what? I fall back on this May 2006 column, which took first place in the AARWBA journalism contest:

http://www.valvoline.com/pages/racing/rn_article_viewer.asp?nid=1898

The breathtaking level of ARROGANCE, demonstrated for too long by too many, better stop right now. The first order of business is to get humble -- and that better show this May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Maybe then, people might forgive, and start to care.
********************************************************************
Here are links to some of my Arizona Republic NHRA stories last weekend, including husband-wife Funny Car rivals Tommy Johnson Jr.-Melanie Troxel; Antron Brown, who has zoomed from motorcycles to Top Fuel; Newsmaker Q&A with Ashley Force; and Funny Car winner Jack Beckman.

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/0221dragracers0222.html

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/0221racingnb0222.html

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/0223nhra.html

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/0224nhranb.html
********************************************************************
Congratulations to John Force, winner of this year's Justice Brothers Shav Glick Award, for outstanding achievement in racing by a Californian.

This is a MUST Biz of Racing read: How Pepsi landed Dale Earnhardt Jr., from Sporting News, via NASCAR.com:
http://www.nascar.com/2008/news/headlines/cup/02/20/dearnhardtjr.amp.sponsorship/index.html

This from the Feb. 22 Entertainment Weekly:

"Far be it from us to burst anyone's bubble, but you don't win an Academy Award on merit alone. Every year, between October and February, studio-employed strategists mount carefully plotted PR campaigns in the hopes of securing nominations and, ultimately, the Big Win. Back in the 1990s, when then-Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein waged infamously aggressive efforts on behalf of his films, those campaigns became a blood sport. In recent years, a sense of greater civility has returned, at least on the surface. Stumping for Best Picture, however, is still a high-stakes game."

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

WHAT I NOTICED

Daytona observations:

Uhhh, where was the Nationwide Series logo on Camping World 300 winner Tony Stewart's uniform? I, at least, couldn't see it in the designated location. Isn't that MANDATORY? And a little EMBARRASSING for the new series sponsor?

Jacques Villeneuve and Patrick Carpentier not making the Daytona 500 was an obvious setback for NASCAR's north-of-the-border push. Here's what got my attention even more than that: Villeneuve is now parked due to lack of sponsorship. For all we've been told over the years about what a great racing country it is, the evidence mounts that Corporate Canada isn't on-board with that hype. For years, Paul Tracy has been unable to get native nation backing to replace legislated-out Player's, and now, Indy/F1 champion Villeneuve has the same problem.

Once again, journalists who know less about NASCAR than they do curling decended upon Daytona, with predictable results. On Sunday morning's ESPN The Sports Reporters, Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe, on the subject of open-wheel drivers in Sprint Cup: "Mr. 'Dancing With the Stars' didn't make it. Mr. Ashley Judd didn't make it." Then, Selena Roberts added to the growing perception of Sports Illustrated's diminished motorsports knowledge, by throwing out the easy and completely superficial "insight" that Danica Patrick might and should give stock cars a try. Even in a Hendrick Chevrolet, with Chad Knaus as crew chief, Patrick would be as competitive in NASCAR as I would be in Olympic figure skating.

Meanwhile, the reporter of a Fox News Radio report on the Daytona spectator scene, which I heard Saturday night, went out of his way to reinforce every stereotype about Southern NASCAR fans.

SPEED's Tradin' Paint needed to start the season with a credibility boost -- and has gotten it -- with David Poole of the Charlotte Observer and Liz Clarke of the Washington Post exchanging opinions with Kyle Petty.

Request: When, for the first time, Brad Daugherty actually says something meaningful, or increases our knowledge about what's happening in NASCAR, please let me know.

Journalism 101: Wind Tunnel had Daytona 500 winning car owner Roger Penske on "live" Sunday night -- and somehow managed NOT to ask the 14-time Indianapolis 500 winner if he had any insight into the status of the IndyCar-Champ Car negotiations.
********************************************************************
I was at Manzanita Speedway Saturday night for USAC's Copper on Dirt Silver Crown, sprint and midget opener. The field of 57 midgets, 45 sprinters and 18 Crown cars was down from last year (continuing the trend seen at Daytona and Pomona) but still a pit packer.

The previous week I did a phone interview with Kevin Miller, the new USAC president, and picked-up the conversation in the pits. (See link to my Arizona Republic story on Miller below.) I won't repeat everything in my article, but Miller has an ambitious plan for change for the 53-year-old organization. I've known just about every USAC prez since Charlie Brockman in the 1960s and, when I've questioned them about ways to strengthen the group, the answer always has been the same: We don't have the money to do those things.

So, of course, I asked Miller. He admitted some of his projects will require sponsorship support, but also said some of his initiatives are in the works, such as Internet solutions. I agree with Miller's assessment that USAC's time-buy TV history needs review, given the "new" media, and that USAC must "live" on the Internet. Including web programming from races with pit reporters.

Here's something else I agree with: Miller said USAC needs to take more "ownership" of its events, including marketing, promotion, a better-organized program of races and between-events entertainment. I know this -- already -- is meeting with resistence from "this is the way we've always done it" promoters. Overcoming this will be one of Kevin's biggest challenges.

One decisive move Miller made last week was to park the controversial and unloved new generation Silver Crown cars in favor of the traditional model. Those superspeedway worthy SC cars were, at least partially, born of a plan to provide tracks -- ISC tracks like Darlington, Kansas and Homestead -- with new "programming" if you will. I note ISC executive John Saunders is no longer on USAC's Board.

I, for one, will be watching with interest at this summer's roll-out of Miller's promised "new USAC." It could be one of the year's most significant stories.

(Meanwhile, congratulations to USAC's loyal communications man, Dick Jordan, who will be inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in late May. Well deserved.)

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/0214racingnb0215.html
********************************************************************
I recommend Jon Asher's latest column on Competition Plus:

http://www.competitionplus.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=5204&Itemid=24

I'll be at Firebird Raceway all weekend covering the NHRA action for the Republic and taping a batch of new Business of Racing video commentaries for 1320tv.com.


[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

DAYTONA 50

I'll be a guest on Racing Roundup Arizona next Monday (Feb. 18). The show airs from 7-9 p.m. (local time) on 1310 KXAM. It originates from Max's in Glendale. You can listen via KXAM.com or use the Racing Roundup link in the right-hand column.


In recognition of Sunday's 50th Daytona 500, here's my list of my top 50 memories of "The Great American Race":

50. PR rep for Marlboro's CART team getting in the press box for the Winston Cup event.

49. The first major impression left by Toyota -- the Michael Waltrip cheating scandel.

48. Go-or-blow Buddy Baker winning his way in 1980.

47. Politicians cruising for votes -- and campaign contributions -- in the garage area race morning.

46. NASCAR closing the garage area to the media . . . that was back in the old days.


45. Underdog, underfunded, Johnny Benson almost pulling THE upset in 2000.



44. Not getting to see Adam Petty race in the 500.

43. Richard Petty. The King.

42. Lee Petty's inaugural victory in 1959, decided days later following review of finish-line photos.

41. Ken Squier's nationally syndicated radio show at the Hawaiian Inn.

40. Cale Yarborough flipping in qualifying then winning in a backup car in 1983.

39. The First National City Travelers Checks' corporate luau in 1976.

38. A radio reporter admitting to me he was excited to snag a press box credential because "I'll be up there drinking beer and eating those sandwiches."

37. Good times at Down the Hatch, Gene's Steak House and the Chart House.

36. Sitting pool-side with Al Unser Jr. late afternoon before his only Daytona 500 start in 1993.

35. Darrell Waltrip's victory lane dance in 1989. The car owner? Some guy named Rick Hendrick.

34. The old, annual STP media breakfast at the Indigo Inn and the hospitality of Ralph Salvino, Jim Vogrin and Harvey Duck.

33. Sitting with Tony Hulman at a race week sponsor dinner in the mid-1970s.

32. Joe Whitlock's stories from the good old days at the 1979 Wrangler party.

31. Salvino riding on the hood of Petty's car on the way to victory lane in 1981.

30. Bill Broderick's fun, fun, fun annual Union 76 Racing Panel of Experts dinners.

29. Turn four -- "Calamity Corner."

28. Bill Elliott showing 'em how it's done in 1985 and 1987.

27. Ricky Rudd's barrel roll in the 1984 Busch Clash -- then coming back to race the next week. (And winning, at Richmond, the week after that.)

26. Richard Petty's barrel roll in 1988.

25. Benny Parsons lugging CBS' first box-like in-car camera in 1979.

24. Jeff Gordon pounding the hood of his DuPont Chevrolet in delight after winning for the first time in 1997.

23. Junior Johnson.

22. Smokey Yunick's "Best Damn Garage in Town."

21. Leonard Wood turning down my interview request in 1976: "I'm too dang busy." He got publicity for sponsor Purolator by winning a couple of days later with David Pearson.

20. Attending the news conference where Darrell Waltrip said he was "very, very happy" to be driving for DiGard.

19. "Golden boy" Fred Lorenzen.

18. "Golden girl" Linda Vaughn.

17. Dale Jarrett backing-off his radio promise to work with Mark Martin to pass leader Johnny Benson in the closing laps of '00. Martin got hung out and Jarrett got to victory lane.

16. Benny Parsons winning in 1975, then writing a poem about it.

15. CART refugee Scott Pruett whispering into my ear in the garage area in 2000, "These cars drive terrible!"

14. A.J. Foyt slipping out a side door at Halifax Hospital to avoid me and other journalists after an overnight stay following his 1978 flip. Soon thereafter, kidney stones made me an unexpected Halifax patient.

13. My friend, Al Holbert, doing interviews before the 1978 race. The subject? He was a "Yankee with a college diploma."

12. Reporter who had one-too-many leaving his rental car on the beach late one night -- only to discover the next day high tide had captured it.

11. Mario Andretti's tale-happy Ford keeping his competitors at bay in 1967.

10. Great guy Neil Bonnett, a couple of days after winning the 1984 Busch Clash, sitting on a stack of tires outside his garage and doing interviews for two hours. It was his first year with Budweiser and I was working on Bud's PR. "Keep sending 'em over," Neil told me. "Just bring me something to drink once in a while."

9. NASCAR suspends Tim Richmond in 1988 and every reporter in town tries to track him down for a comment. I bump into him in the lobby of the beach-front Hilton.

8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the winner's circle in 2004.

7. Dale Earnhardt's flat tire on the last lap in 1990, costing him a sure victory.

6. Bobby and Davey Allison -- father and son -- 1-2 in 1988.

5. My 35-minute one-on-one interview with Bill France Jr. in his office the week of the 1978 race, in which he predicted NASCAR would eventually become as popular as baseball and football.

4. David Pearson-Richard Petty coming to the checkered flag in 1976.

3. Last turn, last lap, 2001. Then, watching Dale Jr. hurry over to the infield medical center.

2. The 1979 finish -- maybe the moment that "made" NASCAR. Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison wreck; Cale, Donnie and Bobby Allison fight; Richard Petty wins.

1. 1998. Dale Earnhardt wins. The entire pit road population celebrates.
********************************************************************
The opening weekend of NASCAR TV coverage calls into question whether there really is such a thing as "broadcast journalism." How any announcer can put a "live" microphone in front of Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch and NOT ask if they had a physical confrontation in the NASCAR hauler after their practice crash Friday is beyond my comprehension. Ditto for mentioning a Cup team owner by name yet failing to say that owner is currently in federal prison. Ditto for the interviews by smiley-gushy pit reporters who sound more like the president of the driver's fan club.

Don't tell me how pretty the pictures were, or how crisp the audio, or the usefulness of the graphics. There's nothing more basic, necessary, or important than straightforward reporting from the "broadcast journalists."

Looks like it's going to be a long season for anyone interested in knowing the NEWS.
********************************************************************
Sad Sign of the Times: Longtime Detroit-area radio man Larry Henry recently was informed his broadcast position had been eliminated. Larry is available for multi-media work or a PR assignment. He can be reached at LarryHenry@pitpassusa.com .
********************************************************************
If you missed it last week, please check out my new Business of Racing video commentary -- explaining how the national economy affects the racing economy -- on 1320tv.com. Here's the link:
http://www.1320tv.com/dialed_in/article4.asp?vid=dialed_in/dialed_in_bor_feb08&title=COMMENTARY:&des=The%20Business%20of%20Racing%20with%20Michael%20Knight

Here's a link to my notebook in last Friday's Arizona Republic, featuring Emerson Fittipaldi on NASCAR, A1 and A2, U.S. open-wheel racing and driving the Corvette pace car at the Indy 500:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/0207racingnb0208.html


[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

ANOTHER EXAMPLE

Watch my new Business of Racing video commentary -- explaining how the national economy affects the racing economy -- on 1320tv.com. Here's the link:
http://www.1320tv.com/dialed_in/article4.asp?vid=dialed_in/dialed_in_bor_feb08&title=COMMENTARY:&des=The%20Business%20of%20Racing%20with%20Michael%20Knight



Two recurring issues on this blog -- doing homework and attention to detail -- came into play in a single E-mail I received last week.

The message, from an Arizona publicist, started with: "Welcome to Phoenix." I've called Scottsdale home for 13 years! The E also listed the track's website. When I clicked to that, I discovered it wasn't the right address!

And some wonder why people like me -- and I KNOW I'm not the only one -- are so frustrated with so-called "PR" people?
********************************************************************
Elon Werner, of John Force Racing, has read here about Jim Chapman and sent me this interesting -- and instructive -- note:

"I had a great mentor at the Dallas Mavericks, Kevin Sullivan, who instilled in me the idea that I was a media services representative and I should remember to keep the 'service' in my attitude with all members of the media whether they represent a national outlet or local newspaper."

That's a great reminder for everyone. Thanks for sharing, Elon. Everyone needs mentors like Jim and Kevin. If you have a similar story to share, I'd be happy to receive it.
********************************************************************
I've been fortunate to have some amazing experiences in life. Few were as amazing as my 90-minute conversation with John Force (facilitated by Elon and Jim Chapman Award winner Dave Densmore) the other weekend at Firebird Raceway.

There's no doubt in my mind John is a changed person as a result of Eric Medlen's fatal crash last year and John's own serious injuries. Twice, our talk got quite emotional. John said to me: "I spent my whole life chasing an ET (elapsed time) slip and a trophy. And then I woke up one day and said, 'How can I be that stupid?'" I have no doubt he meant it.

Here's another: "When I got in that (medical) helicopter (in Texas, after last September's accident), I didn't know if I was going to get out at the other end. I was terrified. I've been in other crashes, and I'd jump out and yell, 'Get me a beer.' I was a tough guy. I was full of bleep."

John's a great competitor and, as such, he's in a uniquely difficult position this season. Ford, and all of his other sponsors, want to WIN. But John -- who has a photo of Vince Lombardi in his Yorba Linda, Calif., shop ("I don't want to go against Lombardi. But maybe he never had anybody die on the playing field") -- now says winning isn't the only thing. "This new (safer, stronger) car may not work. If I don't win a race this year, I won't complain. But if I kill somebody, I quit."

Remember, daughter Ashley and son-in-law Robert Hight are among John's Mustang drivers.
********************************************************************
HD Partners' announcement that it intended to acquire NHRA's pro racing assets was one of last year's most important Business of Racing stories. Last week's admission that HD didn't receive enough votes to finalize the $120 million transaction immediately became 2008's No. 1 biz story.

I can't say I was all-that surprised. I couple of business-savvy insiders told me at Firebird word was spreading the deal was in trouble. Even a casual look or listen to daily news reports would let you know investment capital is tight and the national economy is uncertain. Said Eddy Hartenstein, chairman and CEO of HD Partners: “Unfortunately, in the time since we first announced this transaction in May of 2007, we have witnessed a dramatic shift in both the financial markets and the perceived strength of the U.S. economy, which we believe adversely impacted the final outcome of this transaction."

NHRA says it will operate as before. Even though management invested what proved to be a fruitless 18 months into this effort, I hope the drag racing organization will be able to operate BETTER than before. It's likely going to be a tough summer, biz wise, for everyone. One bit of good news was the release that 21 of the 24 races on ESPN2 will air in the prime 7-11 p.m. (Eastern) time slot.
********************************************************************
Here's a link to my notebook in last Friday's Arizona Republic:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/0131racingnb0201.html


[ more next Tuesday . . . ]