• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Monday, October 13, 2008

MESSAGES

Talk about sending the wrong message.

Kyle Busch, at his pre-Charlotte media availability, was asked if the national -- no, make that worldwide -- economic crisis caused him to worry about the overall health of NASCAR.

"I don’t really pay attention to any of it to be honest with you. I don’t have money invested in anything or any of that stuff. To me, it seems like it’s a bad thing because everybody says it is and it’s in the dump. I don’t necessarily notice it much, I mean I’ve got my own race team and stuff, and yeah, the costs are high for fuel and taking the hauler around and all that stuff. It seems to be OK for us."

It's beyond me how anyone could not pay attention. I guess Kyle was too focused on driving to notice all those empty grandstand seats and camping areas at Talladega. I assure you Toyota and all his sponsors noticed and, yes, are paying attention. As are NASCAR fans, who, ultimately, make Kyle's comfortable lifestyle possible. Great for Kyle if he doesn't have any worries -- but NASCAR Nation does.

I mark this as another example where the people who supposedly are there to look out for the best interests of Kyle, his team and sponsors, are MIA.

I've been asking motorsports' powerbrokers about the economy since the summer of '07. Sharp people I've spoken with, including Jeff Gordon, Ray Evernham, Jack Roush, Kenny Bernstein and Don Schumacher have expressed concern.

At Lowe's Motor Speedway, Gordon was asked the question again.

"It’s a scary time right now. We see strong teams struggling to get sponsorship. With the economy the way it is and sponsorship being so significant in our sport, I know that Rick Hendrick and I have had several conversations that were a little nervous. We’re very fortunate that we have our sponsors tied down for several years and that’s extremely important at this time. But even that doesn’t guarantee anything in an economy like this.

"We’ve got to not only try to do our best to perform and keep those sponsors, but we’ve got to do our best to cut costs as well and make sure that we’re not being exuberant in anything that we do. So we challenge everybody at the organization to watch those numbers and also we challenge ourselves as teams and drivers to make sure that we keep the performance up.”


Gordon recently unveiled his new black graphics design for the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet on NBC's Today show, hoping to rocket-launch sales of new souvenirs (just in time for the holiday shopping season). I'm sure Jeff grasps how tough the environment is, even considering the ultra-passionate nature of NASCAR fans.

The point here, however, is Jeff sent the proper signal to those not as economically fortunate. He gets it. He wants the public to understand he knows it's tough out there and appreciates their continued support. Jeff Burton did it, too, after winning Saturday night.

That was the right message.

P.S. -- Given the wretched excesses of Formula One, Peter Windsor would have done well to ask Ron Dennis about the effects of the global economic crisis on racing's richest series during their pre-Japanese Grand Prix interview on SPEED. And sought out other owners and manufacturer movers-and-shakers for comment. Elsewhere, considering the financial challenges faced by many NHRA fans, ESPN2's pre-Virginia Nationals feature on a driver's expensive toys was inappropriate for the times. I've said for a few years that ESPN2's NHRA presentations are racing's best-produced shows, but some cracks are starting to show. Sunday night, the gimmicky "Stat Man" took time away from racing for some numbers that promoted ESPN's Monday Night Football game. Unacceptable.

P.S. II -- Last week I noted drivers who no-showed for scheduled interviews on Phoenix radio stations. Add Clint Bowyer to the list. I'm told he didn't call-in for an arranged segment on the Valley's MRN affiliate Oct. 8. It's time for the managers charged with the responsibility to obtain maximum value for team sponsorships to get with it and pay attention -- especially in this economy! Oh, and when qualifying was rained-out last Thursday, just how many "publicists" used the "down" time as an opportunity for their drivers to do phone interviews with radio or print media? Just wondering . . .
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In recent weeks, I've noted the lack of attention drivers too-often display in pre-race drivers' meetings. There is another side to that story, it seems -- at least in NASCAR -- as evidenced by Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s comments last weekend at Lowe's Motor Speedway:

“I don’t like doing it (asking questions) in front of all the other drivers. It’s really a soapbox that I don’t really like to climb on to, and if I was to give Regan (Smith, penalized for passing below the line at Talladega on the last lap) any advice, I’d tell him to go ask that question of them guys (officials) personally hours prior to the race or before the race. That’s how I’d do it if I had a question that I’m curious about, I go ask it myself. Standing up in front of everybody in the drivers' meeting, a lot of times, you don’t get the real answer. When they have to give you the answer in front of everybody, a lot of times you’re better off to go get it behind closed doors, and hear exactly what you need to hear.”

A reporter asked Junior if that approach didn't defeat the purpose of the meeting. His brief answer said plenty:

“Who are you kidding?”
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NHRA and Coca-Cola unveiled the new logo for the 2009 season, when Full Throttle energy drink takes over the title sponsorship from Powerade. FT has said it will be more aggressive than P in promoting the series -- which is greatly needed. The announcement cited "at-track activation, out-of-home media support, online presence, retail programs and sampling." I'd say the second and fourth items on that list are the most important in trying to grow the sport.

Please note I've added Paul Page's blog to my recommended list in the right-hand column.
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We can see when a driver/car combination is faster. We can see when the gap between positions opens or closes. We can see when a crew performs a faster pit stop.

Which brings me to the ALMS' Green Challenge, which officially debuted the other week at Road Atlanta. As a manufacturer-participation-inducing technical exercise, and olive branch to the environmentalists, I grasp the value. I get that. That's fine. The press release says a Porsche was the P class winner and a Corvette in GT. How would we know if the ALMS didn't tell us? We can't see the factual elements of this competition.

Like the NFL's quarterback rating system, or the one NASCAR promotes in Sprint Cup, the mathematical formula used to make these determinations is so byzantine as to be not understandable by the media or public. Thus, it will be limited to specific interest-group publicity materials, and automaker advertising. It's not a tool to attract the general public.

I have a feeling the series would tell me: No worry. That's not our demo.
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Life on the Campaign Trail: John McCain may be trailing in the polls, but a CBS reporter says the Republican's media relations operation is much more efficient than Barack Obama's -- and even claims the Democrat's campaign plane smells. (!) Read it for yourself:
http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2008/10/07/politics/fromtheroad/entry4507703.shtml
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AARWBA will present John Force with its Comeback Award during a ceremony in the Shav Glick Media Center at Pomona on Saturday, Nov. 15. The 14-time NHRA Funny Car champion returned to the winner's circle this season after his serious injuries last fall. Shirley Muldowney, A.J. Foyt, Darrell Waltrip, Al Unser, Neil Bonnett and Scott Pruett are among the previous honorees. I'll be there to participate and talk about the January 10 39th All-America Team ceremony, presented by A1GP World Cup of Motorsport, which will return to California for the first time in four years. Site: The Hilton in Ontario, Calif. Go to http://aarwba.org/ for ticket/table/program ad information.

[ more Blogging the Chase next Tuesday . . . ]