• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

10 QUESTIONS to START YEAR 3

This week begins the third year of this blog. As I explained in the first posting, I consider this "A Great Adventure" (see why July 10, 2006). It's a spec in the cyberuniverse to think and learn and air-out issues and ideas within the Business of Racing. That includes the industry-at-large -- sponsorship, public relations, publicity, management, image, promotion and yes, journalism.

The timing of Tony Stewart's announcements last week, that he's gotten a release from Joe Gibbs Racing and will become 50-percent owner of the two-Chevrolet Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009, happens to bring into focus one of our favorite topics here.

Where have all the journalists gone?

I find it stunning the number of broadcast and print stories that failed to mention team founder Gene Haas is serving a two-year federal prison sentence for tax evasion. This most especially applies to NASCAR's (and Stewart's) media "partners" -- a disgrace -- and a disservice to the audience. Anyone who thinks that's not important, or a significant detail, needs to go back to J school.

For the obvious reasons, when a story involves the names "Joe Gibbs" and "Tony Stewart," people who don't follow NASCAR that closely are going to pay attention. Those people very likely have no idea of Haas' situation -- that he was convicted of conspiring to cheat the government out of millions of tax dollars owed by his company, Haas Automation Inc., the country’s largest machine tool builder. (The race team was not involved in the prosecution and all involved have said the team operates as a separate business.)

Good reporting, common sense, and a non "inside baseball" mindset meant the following 10 questions were MANDATORY. I don't claim to have heard every report, or seen every story, but as far as I know nobody bothered to ask:

1. Stewart said in his news conference last Thursday that "December was the first time I was presented with this opportunity." Haas went to prison in January. So, did Stewart meet in person with Haas to discuss the proposal before Haas went to prison? If so, when and where?

2. Under terms of his sentence, is Haas permitted to have ANY role in the team's management? Did Haas personally sign-off on this deal?

3. If so, did Stewart speak with Haas after he went to prison? Did Stewart visit Haas in prison? Did they communicate in any other way? By telephone? Any written communication?

4. The team was represented by General Manager Joe Custer. Stewart said Custer is the person's he worked with in this process. Who else was involved? Was any other member of the Haas' family involved in the negotiations? Given Haas' legal woes, did NASCAR or Chevrolet "encourage" a change of ownership?

5. Once he is released from prison, what role will Haas play with the team? Active or passive?

6. What is Haas' current status with NASCAR? Will he be subject to any penalites from NASCAR upon his release?

7. Given the fact that Stewart employed Larry Curry after Curry was released from prison, what is Tony's general attitude toward doing business with those who have been convicted and jailed for serious offenses?

8. Since Stewart has been subject to reprimand by Gibbs and Home Depot for his own actions as a driver, representing that team and sponsor, what -- if any -- "code of conduct" will he place on his teammate and crew members now that he's an owner?

9. Since Stewart will have a much stronger financial incentive to, in effect, see NASCAR be successful, and given his criticism of the sanction -- including the "phantom yellows" controversy of earlier this season -- will he now withhold such criticism and/or require his teammate and crew members to do so?

10. Now that he'll be a direct beneficiary of various corporate sponsors, will Stewart make sure others who are paying his team don't have their logos covered-over by the Old Spice towel?

No doubt the answers will be coming soon via the "experts" paid to appear on NASCAR Now, Trackside, RaceDay and elsewhere. But, then, why haven't these "insiders" and "analysts" already asked such obvious questions?

I would like those who make the hirings to answer that last one.
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* If you missed the CNBC segment touting the sponsorship value of NHRA, here it is:
http://www.nhra.com/content/news/30498.htm

* Michael Padian has been promoted to NHRA PR director and Lachelle Seymour to senior media relations manager.

* InBev's $52 billion buyout of Anheuser-Busch -- the country's top sports marketer and advertiser -- could reshape the American sports landscape from a business perspective. This from Monday's Reuters report: "Led by Chief Executive Carlos Brito, InBev is known for ruthless cost-cutting." CNBC has scheduled a one-hour special on Budweiser this Thursday at 9 p.m.

* My old friend Rick Benjamin is back in business hosting SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup events on DirecTV and Dish Network. The races will also be available online via a dedicated YouTube.com channel. Search for “MX-5 Cup.”
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Here's a link to my new "All Business" column, on Ford's technology transfer between racing and street vehicles, in the July Drag Racing Online.com:
http://dragracingonline.com/columns/knight/x_7-1.html

And to last Friday's Arizona Republic notebook, featuring Patrick Carpentier:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/07/10/20080710racingnb.html


[ more next Tuesday . . . ]