• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Monday, October 06, 2008

SEEING the LIGHT

OK, Carl Edwards triggered the second "big one" Sunday at Talladega, but I'm happy to say he's seen the light. Or he's getting -- and taking -- some good advice.

I've noticed for a few weeks now that, when Carl is approached for his live ABC/ESPN TV interviews, he either takes off his sunglasses, or pushes them up on his head.

He lets us see him.

As I've written before, drivers have been getting so covered-up with big sunglasses, cap, and now also those damn Terrible Towels, well, they are so concealed, I'm not sure they could be ID'd in a police lineup. (No, that is not an excuse for drivers to be allowed to walk around with their uniforms pulled down, which looks sloppy, unprofessional, and is disrespectful to fans and sponsors who lose value.) The eyes may -- or may not -- be the window to the soul, but they sure help reveal the personality.

Many drivers have sunglasses "deals" -- I don't know if Carl does or not -- but his approach serves both needs. The company gets a little TV time and the folks get to feel closer to the person.

Fans need to see and sense more of a connection with their heroes. Well done, Carl. Keep it up. And, I hope, others will take note.
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Sunday produced a noteworthy contrast in what we -- the viewers -- got out of our racing TV experience.

Talladega fans didn't need an Amp Energy drink to feel revved-up, but I wonder if it would have helped some of the announcers. As I've repeatedly spotlighted in this space, too many pit reporters are poor questioners. Sunday, I got very tired of the trite, "What did you see from your perspective?" "From your perspective" seems to be the new "at this point in time" as needless words microphoner holders junk into their sentences. And, let's just be honest about it, the checkered flag call was embarrassing -- Dr. Jerry Punch didn't know the "out-of-bounds" rule, Andy Petree had one opinion, Dale Jarrett another. When Punch said he was looking into the adjacent NASCAR officials' booth for an answer, well, I felt sorry for him. What a downer.

I wrote here several weeks ago, in the aftermath of Helio Castroneves' blocking penalty at Detroit, about what I've observed too often over the years: Drivers not paying attention at the drivers' meeting. This might have come into play again after 'Dega, when various drivers said they had different understandings of the below-the-yellow-line rule. That's ridiculous and unacceptable. According to what I've been told and read, some drivers sought clarification on what was legal on the last lap in individual conversations with officials, but no one asked questions when the subject was raised in the pre-race meeting. Now, I realize everyone wants to seek an advantage -- in this case, knowing something a competitor doesn't -- and that NASCAR loves to keep things vague to provide ample room for "judgment calls." This, however, was a safety issue and Punch's inability to inform the fans with certainty was unfair to us.

Later, Jeff Gordon did his annual co-host gig on Wind Tunnel. It was a boffo hour -- fun and informative and entertaining. Tommy Kendall's question about how close Jeff actually came to joining the BAR Formula One team was enlightening. Jeff admitted discussions had taken place and said he thought the team wanted an American driver. I can add a little follow-up to this: Jeff's right. When Gordon didn't pursue the deal, BAR tried to sign Jimmy Vasser.
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AMEN!: According to Sports Business News.com, ESPN will make a "concerted effort" to add live sports event coverage "while cutting back on scripted series, reality shows, original movies and other types of more general sports entertainment."

John Skipper, ESPN's vice president of content, was quoted this way: "We have found that what sports fans really care about, and why they come to ESPN properties, is to watch live games."

I could not agree more.
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HEADLINE NEWS (or not): SBN.com also reported last week that an increasing number of daily newspapers have put NHL coverage on ice as a way to reduce costs.

Examples: The Palm Beach Post has ended staffing of the Florida Panthers. The Los Angeles Times is using just one beat reporter to cover both the Kings and the Anaheim Ducks. Road games won't be attended on a regular basis. The Philadelphia Flyers are one of the League's prestige teams, but the Inquirer's beat writer took a buyout when shifted to NFL reporting, and quoted the sports editor as calling hockey "an irrelevant sport." At least early in the season, the Arizona Republic isn't traveling with the Coyotes.

So, motorsports isn't alone battling for space . . . but I continue to believe racing is (or has the strong potential to be) a far bigger generator of revenue, in terms of sales and advertising, than some sports which have been judged as essential to cover. But publishers have to be made to realize that -- and get their sales people to act accordingly.
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Here's my suggestion for those who still believe "any publicity is good publicity."

See last Thursday's AP story (among many others) about Helio Castroneves.

Then ask Roger Penske.
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Recently, it was a bad week for racing coverage in Arizona. Atlantics driver and former Malcolm In the Middle star Frankie Muniz no-showed on a long-scheduled appearance (re-confirmed the day before) on Racing Roundup Arizona. No explanation offered. Two days later, Kyle Busch was promoted as a guest on the morning talk show on the Valley's MRN affiliate. You guessed it: Kyle's call never came. Oh, the lack of professionalism, and common courtesy, in our society.
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Here's a link to my new "All Business" column in the October Drag Racing Online.com. It deals with the effects of the Wall Street crisis on motorsports:
http://dragracingonline.com/columns/knight/x_9-2.html
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As chairman of the AARWBA All-America Team ceremony, I've strived to make the event more valuable and newsworthy for members and guests. Last year, we added the pre-dinner Shav Glick Newsmakers Forum, an opportunity for drivers/teams/sponsors/tracks/sanctions to make brief announcements. That was a success and we'll do it again before the 39th annual ceremony, Saturday, January 10, at the Ontario (Calif.) Hilton.

I'm pleased to share with you that, this time, we'll spend the day on a "field trip." Saturday morning, AARWBAers will board NHRA-provided transportation for a visit to John Force Racing, in Yorba Linda. We'll have breakfast, tour the 14-time Funny Car champion's facilities, hear from John, and have plenty of time for one-on-one and small group interviews with John, daughter Ashley, Robert Hight and others. After that, it's on to Pomona, for an afternoon of media racing. NHRA drivers will teach Drag Racing 101 and then we'll have elimination rounds in Pontiacs, NHRA's official vehicle. NHRA will have awards for the winner and runner-up. Then, back to the Hilton, with plenty of time to get ready for the 5:30 p.m. Forum, pre-dinner reception co-hosted by ESPN and MAZDASPEED, and the 7 p.m. dinner and ceremony presented by A1GP World Cup of Motorsport. Legendary announcer/broadcaster Dave McClelland will MC.

This is a great opportunity both for AARWBA members and NHRA. I thank NHRA and JFR. Now's the time to make your plans to attend: Go to http://aarwba.org/aarwba09.htm to order tickets, reserve tables and advertise in the program book. A special AARWBA room rate is available at the Hilton.

I have accepted AARWBA President Dusty Brandel's appointment to serve as national vice president on an interim basis. This will provide continuity of leadership following Mike Hollander's death. I'll serve until a new national VP is chosen by the membership in regularly scheduled elections later this year and will not be a candidate.

Thanks to the many who have written in reaction to last week's posting, remembering Paul Newman, Mike Hollander and Al Holbert. If you didn't read it, please scroll below.

[ more Blogging the Chase next Tuesday . . . ]