• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

FOLLOW-UP TO A FOUL-UP

While I don't intend to belabor the point, there are a few more things to be said about the IRL's DANICA WINS!!!!! news release, which said Patrick's victory in Japan made her "the first female to win a major auto racing event." That statement was heralded not only on IndyCar.com, but was repeated in staff-written stories in the Indianapolis Star, New York Times and elsewhere in the MainStream Media.

This, especially in light of Ashley Force's own historic victory -- AGAINST HER FATHER! -- last Sunday, to become NHRA's first Funny Car female winner.

If you're not up-to-speed on this issue, please refer to the first item in last week's blog, which was posted early as I was on jury duty.

Let me add:

1. For decades, management and staff of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have pretty much demanded respect, based largely on the Speedway's place in history. Fair enough. And yet, the IMS' sanctioning arm essentially showed disrespect to overall motorsports history with its elitist use of the word "major."

2. Even with open-wheel reunification, IMS and the IRL are in NO position to alienate the fans of any other racing series. Or general sports fans with a respect and appreciation for the accomplishments of legendary Shirley Muldowney, and other women.

3. The IRL had THREE YEARS to prepare for a Danica victory, including how to write a news release with factually correct historical references and context. No excuse that the release was written on deadline in the middle-of-the-night is credible -- or acceptable.

NHRA did the right thing in promptly issuing its own release. While congratulating Patrick on her win, the release detailed the long history of female winners/champions in drag racing. And, I was glad to see journalists Susan Wade and Jon Asher stand up to correct the record and take the MSM to task.

Wade, the drag racing correspondent for National Speed Sport News and owner of the 1320tv.com site (to which I contribute Business of Racing video commentaries), did the right thing, journalistically, and contacted the legendary Muldowney for comment.

"It's very hurtful," Muldowney told Wade. "What it does is prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are so many who don't do research. It's truly not fair at all."

That, from a Hall of Fame motorsports pioneer.

Wade wrote it best in her NSSN column (in which I am quoted): "Such ignorance by reporters is shameful."

A bit of MSM redemption came in the April 22 USA Today. An editorial, titled "History in under 6 seconds," read:

"Patrick's breakthrough is just the latest for women in hazardous sports that prided themselves as too tough for girls. It echoes driver Shirley Muldowney's Top Fuel dragster world title in 1977, musher Libby Riddles' victory in Alaska's Iditarod dogsled race in 1985 and jockey Julie Krone's win at the Belmont Stakes in 1993 -- all firsts in dangerous, male-dominated sports."

The next day, USAT had six graphs on pre-Danica female winners, including quotes from Angelle Sampey. However, in a classic win-one/lose-one scenario, a half-page Tissot ad congratulated Patrick on "becoming the first female to win a major motorsports event." That's a step worse than the original IndyCar release, as it widened the scope from "major auto race" to "major motorsports event."

I hope NHRA has contacted the Swiss watchmaker. At the least, the company should apologize to drag racing fans by buying a full-page ad in National Dragster, to praise the accomplishments of Muldowney, Force, Sampey, Melanie Troxel and others.
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Just to show you who is in an "outreach" mode for coverage, I got calls from both Ashley and John Force Sunday night. I interviewed her for 10 minutes and him for 15. Difficult to imagine that happening in most of the other "major" series.

And here's an important note for the MainStream Media: PLEASE pay attention and notice this basic difference between Ashley and Danica. Ashley admits she's "shy" (her word) and, in my Sunday night interview and others I heard, steered her comments toward her Ford Mustang team and the NHRA series -- paying tribute to Muldowney and others.

I just wish Ashley wouldn't hide behind her sunglasses. People (plus TV and still cameras) want to see her. Although I'm not a golfer, I admire Annika Sorenstam's professionalism. Annika (also a winner Sunday) has admitted she, too, is shy. But I noticed that after she attracted national media attention by playing in the PGA's The Colonial five years ago, Annika seemed to relax more in the spotlight, and part of that was putting her sunglasses atop her cap more often, so we see her emotions and expressions. I hope, in time, Ashley will be able to follow Annika's good example.
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To understand the declining standards in American journalism, just look at Time magazine, and managing editor Richard Stengel. To promote its advocacy of a global warming agenda, Stengel had his cover designers manipulate the iconic photo of the U.S. flag being raised at Iwo Jima, a controversial move that outraged various Veteran's groups.

Stengel then was quoted thusly in various business and journalism outlets:

“I didn’t go to journalism school. But this notion that journalism is objective, or must be objective, is something that has always bothered me – because the notion about objectivity is in some ways a fantasy. I don’t know that there is as such a thing as objectivity.”

“[F]rom the time I came back (to Time), I have felt that we have to actually say, ‘We have a point of view about something and we feel strongly about it, we just have to be assertive about it and say it positively.’ I don’t think people are looking for us to ask questions. I think they’re looking for us to answer questions.”

“I don’t even know what rules there have been all along in journalism. There are rules we kind of observed by tradition, but it’s not like you know the legal code or the being a doctor with the way you treat people. We sort of make it up as we go along and I think that is what will continue to happen.”

What a disgrace. Not surprisingly, Stengel has become a favorite on liberal TV talk shows.
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Credit-Where-Credit-Is-Due: Circumstances have delayed me from doing this, but thanks to the following PRers, who helped with my Arizona Republic NASCAR coverage at Phoenix International Raceway:

Paul Corliss, Griffin Hickman, Kerry Tharp, Jason Christley, Kelby Krauss, Joe Crowley, Jessica Rohlik, Amy Walsh, Jon Edwards, Bill Janitz, Mike Davis, Andy Hall, Judy Dominick, Dave Ferroni, Marc Spiegel, Becky Dick, Denny Darnell, Scott Sebastian, Dan Zacharias, Denise Maloof and Marc Abel.

Zip-A-Dee-Do-Da from anyone at Roush Fenway, Richard Childress Racing, Penske, DEI, Fox or SPEED, or big-time sponsors such as Lowe's, Budweiser, Miller, Mobil 1, Red Bull and plenty of others.

And the next time I'm told a driver "isn't available" for even a brief interview, I intend to repeat this story: Monday of Masters week, Steve Williams, Tiger Woods' caddy, called me from Augusta National for a 15-minute conversation. (!)

It was fun talking about my Woods-could-have-been-a-great-racer story with Dave Moody on Sirius and Claire B. Lang on XM.
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Kevin Lepage, Larry Gunselman (NASCAR) and Marty Roth (ICS) should be suspended indefinitely for inexcusable driving errors last weekend. "Probation" isn't sufficient in any of these cases. Lepage's apology (via a team statement) was appropriate but not enough for triggering the huge wreck in the Talladega Nationwide race. Gunselman had PLENTY of time to avoid slamming into Dario Franchitti's "door" area, sidelining the Indy 500 winner with a broken left ankle. As for Roth, even I could could steer into the pits -- at the reduced pit road speed! -- without hitting someone.


Here's a link to last Friday's Republic notebook:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/04/24/20080424racingnb0425.html


[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Sunday, April 20, 2008

IRL OWES DRAG RACING AN APOLOGY

I am posting early this week as I'm on jury duty:

* Despite what was written in the Indy Racing League's official news release -- and repeated by Curt Cavin on the Indianapolis Star's website -- Danica Patrick DID NOT become "the first female to win a major auto racing event." Her victory in Japan WAS the first in IndyCar. Congratulations. But to imply that the NHRA Top Fuel victories achieved by the legendary Shirley Muldowney, plus Melanie Troxel, Shelly Anderson, Lori Johns, Lucille Lee and Cristen Powell are anything less than "MAJOR" is ELITIST and factually dishonest. One might have reasonably expected the Star to know better, since drag racing's most prestigious race -- the U.S. Nationals -- takes place not far from its offices. This, once again, proves that some other sanctioning organizations and wide sections of the mainstream news media look down on drag racing as "blue collar" and not up to their white-collar "major" status. What the IRL PR department does not seem to understand is this kind of thing UNDERCUTS THE CREDIBILITY OF ALL ITS "NEWS" RELEASES. (Recall that the League issued a historically inaccurate media bulletin on the unified series before Homestead and, even after being provided with the true facts, did not correct the record.)

UPDATE: A staff-written story on the New York Times' website also refers to Patrick's win, in the headline and text, as the first "major" race win by a female.

I call upon the Indy Racing League to issue a formal CORRECTION and APOLOGY to NHRA, Muldowney, etc., plus all the drag racing fans it has insulted. The Star and all other media outlets who parroted this PR falsehood are required by professional standards to do the same.

* It's a tough economic environment for sponsor searchers. The rising cost to remain competitive translates to requests for more corporate support and even more demands on drivers to satisfy sponsors' needs. Jeff Gordon was promoting Nicorette's quit-smoking program at the Phoenix race when I interviewed him, and this quote is revealing, in part because Gordon has an ownership stake in Hendrick Motorsports:

"I see a side of it most drivers don’t. When I see how much it takes to keep Hendrick Motorsports going, it’s scary. So much of that is dictated by sponsorship and we’re fortunate to have good sponsors. It makes us try to not take things for granted. We’re constantly asking for more so we have to continue to give more."

* Even if you don't normally follow drag racing, I suggest keeping an eye on the developing storm between Don Schumacher and NHRA over the $100,000 fine leveled against the team owner at Las Vegas for a fuel violation. To me, this has the look of something serious -- maybe ugly. Chris Dirato crafted a well-worded statement from crew chief Alan Johnson in defense of his Army Top Fuel team. For the life of me, I can't understand why NHRA was in such a rush to announce this penalty at Vegas. There are good reasons NASCAR waits until mid-week for such pronouncements -- collecting all the facts is one -- and another has to do with not having journalists gathered in one place, ready-and-eager to blow up anything resembling a controversy. Stay tuned.

* For those who still think open-wheel reunification ended all the problems, I offer this media bulletin from the IRL: "IndyCar Series drivers Enrique Bernoldi and Franck Perera, and Firestone Indy Lights driver Sean Guthrie were guests on today’s Indy Racing League teleconference." I bet that had 'em lined up to ask questions!

* Finally, a last comment on the end of Champ Car. Without question, the WORST and most OFFENSIVE decision in the modern history of motorsports was Champ Car's to go ahead with its 2001 race in Germany the weekend after the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. The fact is Alex Zanardi should never have lost his legs -- because that race should never have happened. It was virually the only "major" event involving an American sports organization to have gone ahead that weekend. Champ Car's in-over-his-head PR man at the time -- one in a string of many -- said CC management wished it had known sooner that the NFL was putting off its games that weekend. In other words, Champ Car management needed someone else to tell it to do the right thing. To me, that was, and always shall be, an unforgiveable mistake. The Board of Directors should have immediately voted to overturn the decision to race. As far as I'm concerned, Champ Car was dead at that moment. The American sports public -- if not some obvious media cheerleaders, glorying one final time in Long Beach -- would have been better served if the whole thing had ended right then and there.


Here's a link to last Friday's Arizona Republic story on Adrian Fernandez. Be sure to note what Adrian has to say about Juan Pablo Montoya!:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/04/17/20080417racingnb0418.html

I'm quoted in Robin Miller's "Brief History of CART":
http://auto-racing.speedtv.com/article/miller-a-brief-history-of-cart/



[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

CART: BELIEVE IT OR NOT

Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is the last hurrah for Championship Auto Racing Teams/Champ Car World Series (1979-2008). So, it's time for a little truth telling. I was CART's first full-time communications director (November 1980-December 1983) and spent many years after that involved in some aspect of the organization or series on pretty much a daily basis. I take no one else's word for anything below -- I write from first-hand knowledge:

* One of CART's five founding concepts was "a greater emphasis on media visibility." When I submitted a routine planning memo for approval of CART's first media guide (December 1980), Chairman John Frasco wrote me back: "Why do we need this?"

* At the 1980 awards banquet, Frasco decided while standing at the podium -- literally -- to honor Mexico City race organizer Gustavo Hellmund as "Promoter of the Year." This had not been discussed in advance and so there was no award to present. Frasco loved the parties and fireworks Hellmund put on and wanted other track operators to do the same.

* After Frasco thought he had a deal with Hellmund for a street race in Acapulco, he confidentally told Board members on a conference call, "We're going to have our own Monaco." Of course, the event never happened.

* When Hector Rebaque won the series' first race at Elkhart Lake, in 1982, there was no trophy for him. The track thought CART or PPG provided such hardware.

* When any unsuspecting new CART secretary would ask, "Who's calling?" Pat Patrick would say, "John Cooper." And that's how the secretary would announce the caller.

* When CART's offices (in a building owned by Patrick) were among several burglarized in the early '80s, insiders immediately wondered if another sanctioning body was responsible. But no files were taken and it turned out to be local criminals stealing typewriters, etc.

* When owners decided to replace John Caponigro, it was Barbara Trueman's idea to put John Capels in charge.

* CART's first marketing director quit before his first day on the job. The second marketing director spent his first morning reading files, went to lunch, called in his resignation, and never returned. The third marketing director -- who worked from Frasco's law office, not CART's -- lasted a few months then left under murky circumstances.

* Whatever mistakes he made, Bill Stokkan was right -- and ahead of his time -- in establishing a business office in New York City. Of course, owners eventually closed it down as "too expensive."

* When I introduced myself to new chair Andrew Craig and mentioned I had worked on the staff, he replied: "Oh, you're one of those." That's how he looked-down on most of those whose efforts made it possible for there to be a job for him.

* When Craig was bounced, ESPN2's old rpm2night committed journalism suicide, by agreeing to give Craig the questions in advance of the interview.

* After driver-owner-director Bill Alsup stood up at a Dallas Board meeting and expressed concern that individual team owners were giving conflicting instructions to staff members, Frasco told us not to discuss organization business with Alsup.

* When Steve Weiss came over from Philip Morris with the too-New Yorkish title of "managing director, communications," Weiss told everyone he made the move "because I see the potential in this form of sports entertainment." We all rolled our eyes, because we'd heard the same thing from various here-and-gone staffers for years.

* Robby Gordon described the cheap plastic awards given to drivers at the 1995 banquet as "ice scrapers."

* With Michael Andretti returning to Newman/Haas for the 1995 season, plus Paul Tracy and Budweiser joining the team, Kmart wanted to host a reception before the 1994 banquet. Even though all the details had been reviewed with, and cleared by, CART's banquet coordinator, Craig objected and insisted Kmart's function be canceled. He said it would "interfer" with his other activities. I agreed to take the blame, since Carl Haas didn't want to embarrass Craig with his sponsors.

* Fawning media praise for Craig's "leadership" at the start of the IRL overlooked the fact that, already, some owners had concerns but didn't take action because of not wanting to look weak to Tony George. When I pointed out to several big-time writers that Craig appeared strong because "the most powerful unifying force for any organization is a common enemy," the typical answer was, "Oh."

* Craig's "presentation" at the 1999 Homestead drivers' meeting was well known to media -- drivers came out talking about it. When I asked one media biggie if he was going to write the story, the answer was, "I would if I thought it would do any good." If that had been Mike Helton, the story would have been written faster than Rick Mears got around the ovals.

* Randy Dzierawski. Tara Scott. Mike Hadley. Rena Shanaman. Kim Parker, et al.

* After I introduced the ESPN announce crew at the 1980 Milwaukee drivers' meeting -- the network's first live race telecast -- Al Unser pulled me aside and asked, "What's ESPN?"

* At the 1982 pre-season promoters meeting, Frasco announced: "We'll have two foreign races this season. One in Mexico City. And one in Riverside." Les Richter didn't look amused.

* I struggled for one week to get one telephone installed in the Mexico City press room before the 1981 race. As soon as the checkered flag waved, workers pulled it out. "The race is over. You don't need it anymore," was the explanation.

* During a live interview on a Mexico TV network before the that '81 race, register Barbara Russell dead-panned: "Oh, I love it here. I haven't had this much fun since the last time we raced in Trenton."

There's countless more, to be revealed another time, another day.

-30- CART/Champ Car.
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Here are links to some of my Arizona Republic stories from the last week's NASCAR at Phoenix --

Dale Earnhardt Jr. feature:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/04/09/20080409dalejr.html

Nationwide Series feature:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/04/09/20080409nationwide.html

Could Tiger Woods have been a great NASCAR driver?:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/04/10/20080410tigerdriver.html

Friday notebook:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/04/10/20080410racingnb.html

Saturday notebook (Jeff Gordon says no Indy 500 for him):
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/04/11/20080411pirnb.html

Roundtable with Mike Helton, Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, Ray Evernham and J.D. Gibbs:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/04/12/20080412pirroundtable.html

Drivers aren't the only ones from open-wheel to go NASCAR:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/04/12/20080412openwheels.html

Sunday notebook (Dario "sad" Jeff's not going to Indy 500):
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/04/12/20080412pirnb.html

I'll be doing occasional Business of Drag Racing columns for the monthly Drag Racing Online. Here's a link to the first one:
http://dragracingonline.com/columns/knight/x_4-1.html

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

MORE and MORE

The misses just keep on coming:

* While I interviewed a NASCAR driver recently, his PR person watched from a distance, but continued on with lunch, never once coming over for an introduction or to ask if any background information was needed or to exchange business cards. If I hadn't asked the driver if that was his PRer, and then gone over and introduced myself, I'm certain this "media relations" rep would have left without ever speaking a word to me. (!)

* At this same gathering, I sat near the person who is paid (in part) to field requests from local media for a local motoring business. This person didn't know I have been writing the Friday racing notebook for the Arizona Republic since last October. Didn't know the writer who previously had racing in his portfolio has been covering hockey all season. Let me repeat: This person lives here and the employer in a local company. (!)

* One might bet his/her professional Life that it would be a Lock a local company would be pro-active in trying to get local coverage when it sponsors a car in the local big race. One would be wrong, as proven here in the Valley just last week. I'm still waiting for a call, E-mail, or copy of the news release . . .

* In advance of the NASCAR weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, my friend Mark Armijo sent questionaires to PR people representing 40 drivers. He got 12 responses.

Brian France says NASCAR is an under-covered sport. That might well be true. If the NASCAR chairman really wants to know why, he should ponder the above. And I can provide countless other examples . . . (I can't wait to see how many Cup team/sponsor reps actually bother themselves to make the rounds in the media center this weekend at PIR.)

Yes, I blame the team owners and sponsor managers who hire such people. But, increasingly, I'm going to point to NASCAR. In theory, I understand why a Jody Powell, press secretary in the failed Jimmy Carter presidency, would be brought in as a guest speaker at the PR Summit. Now, though, the NEED is for some "straight talk" speakers willing to lay the issues square on the table. Obviously, if sadly, basics need to be taught.

A good beginning would be understanding good PR starts with establishing good, professional one-on-one relationships with journalists.
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Sign of the (Economic) Times: Target is out as sponsor of Tiger Woods' charity golf tournament. Who is in? Chevron. Tells you where the money is these days.

A young PR person asked me not too long ago what I meant by an "overwritten" news release. Here's an example. (The first sentence alone is about 50 words! Way too-long overall. Way too much overblown, breathless hype.):
http://www.nascar.com/2008/news/headlines/cup/04/04/tstewart.prelude.dream/index.html

Considering the state of the American newspaper industry, this site was inevitable:
http://angryjournalist.com/
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In this Thursday's Republic, I'll have a long feature on the "new" Dale Earnhardt Jr. I think you might find some of his quotes interesting from an fan-relationship standpoint. Here are links to today's Republic story on Kasey Kahne, and last Friday's notebook, leading with Casey Mears:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/04/07/20080407nascar.html

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/04/03/20080403racingnb0404.html

[ next Tuesday, on the eve of the failed CART/Champ Car sports-business-management experiment fading into history, I'll tell you things I'll bet you didn't know happened in the organization's history . . . ]

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

THINGS I'VE NOTICED

* Whatever happens in IndyCar from now on -- good or bad -- it's ALL on Tony George. He apparently didn't want to include Kevin Kalkhoven or Gerry Forsythe as partners, so it's Tony's deal 100 percent. That means 100 percent of the credit -- or 100 percent of the responsibility. I hope the Indianapolis news media will keep that in mind.

* I'm not interested in hearing about HD or rotating cameras. Homestead proved the low business priority ABC/ESPN REALLY places on the IndyCar Series. Brienne Pedigo, who still struggles to speak a clear sentence or ask a meaningful question, has been brought back for a second year. Her tenure in the pits should have been briefer than Lisa Guerrero's on the Monday Night Football sidelines. After the pre-produced opening, it was only seconds before Marty Reid got into Danica Patrick/Sports Illustrated and Helio Castroneves/Dancing With the Stars. TV's Danica Obsession is as absurb as ever (never has a sixth-place finisher received so much attention: Dan Wheldon's pass of Scott Dixon for second place was missed as the director focused his cameras on her running around alone in eighth). D.O. reached a new low when viewers were shown a silhouette and Reid said it was Danica's father. Are you sure? For all we could tell, that could have been Barack Obama! And, once again, the network used its own race title, creating a conflict with the "official" sponsor name publicized to the media by the series and track. Like ALMS, which apparently lets GT2-class owners dictate how its races are produced and so the viewer usually doesn't know the overall leader, ICS on TV no longer merits any serious discussion here. Case Closed.

* Equipment is at a premium, and they are trying to make the case that Indy-again-is-Indy (Paul Newman/Roger Penske letter to former 500 ticket-buyers), so what does the ICS do? Force drivers/teams into a four-lap qualifying format. Thereby, among other things, making Indy that-much-less unique. It doesn't make sense!

* THE most tiresome announcer phrase: "It will be interesting to see if . . ."

* It's no secret the public school system doesn't produce students well educated about the facts of history (let alone history's lessons). So, I guess, why should racing be any different? Both the ICS and Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing issued news releases last week that were historically inaccurate. I know, because in both cases, I was a small part of the actual history. I provided those involved with the correct facts. As far as I can determine, no correction was issued to the media. (You're welcome!)

* Why is it so hard for publicists to understand that journalists need to receive media guides BEFORE the season starts? (I'm giving ICS a pass this time due to the late reunification timetable.) PR 101, ladies and gentlemen.

* Here's ANOTHER lost art among contemporary PRers: Saying a simple "thank you" to a reporter for a nice story. I'm aware of a few recent articles that made their way into print ONLY because the writer cared enough to make it happen. Some of us used to write a formal thank you note in return. How old-fashioned.

* Not that you'd know it listening to the Fox announcers, but the most important story at Martinsville was the poor attendance. Yes, I know, it was cold -- but there were major sections of empty grandstands.

* For years, it's been an automatic for MRN announcers to say pit crews were adding "two cans of Union 76/Unocal/Sunoco" gasoline. We never heard that much on TV, though. Well, somebody-has-gotten-to-somebody, because the Sunoco reference is now regular on Fox. We hear it almost as often as plugs for T-shirts on Darrell Waltrip's website.
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Judging by my E-mail, last week's blog apparently made the rounds of the Champ Car staff and officials. Common comment: "Don't hold your breath." It turns out several officials care enough to have volunteered their services, and pay their own way, to Long Beach -- just to be a part of Champ Car's "grand finale."

As I wrote, I don't expect the organization to do the right thing at Long Beach. That doesn't mean it wasn't the right thing for somebody -- me -- to say it. (A reminder for those who need it: I was CART's first full-time communications director, from November 1980 through December 1983.)
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Here's a link to my notebook in last Friday's Arizona Republic, featuring Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Arie Luyendyk Jr. By the way, I'll have a major feature on Dale Jr. in the Republic's NASCAR special section, Thursday, April 10:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/0327racingnb0328.html


[ more next Tuesday . . . ]