• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, November 30, 2008

GOOD MANNERS at a BAD TIME

Congratulations to all who will be honored during NASCAR's Champions Week celebrations in New York City, especially Sprint Cup three-peaters Jimmie Johnson, Rick Hendrick and Chad Knaus.

This time, however, things are drastically different -- and I hope everyone involved understands that and acts accordingly.

With all due respect to Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and other Bowtie Biggies, when Chevrolet is recognized as the manufacturers' champ, people better realize General Motors is on the brink of bankruptcy and asking for taxpaper help to continue operations. And, just let loose the world's most famous athlete, Tiger Woods, from his Buick endorsement deal in order to save a reported $7 million per year.

NASCAR has issued its usual listing of media events. I'm trusting the actual happenings will come across to the sport's financially stressed-out fans as less lavish than described. With a "dollar menu" helping to boost McDonald's sales in tough economic times, I don't think we need to hear about the "Champion’s Welcome Dinner in the Waldorf-Astoria Executive Kitchen, a gathering attended by NASCAR and champion team representatives, and overseen by Executive Chef John Doherty."

We can only hope the Dow doesn't drop 500 points Wednesday, when Johnson is scheduled to ring the New York Stock Exchange's opening bell.

Despite the annual criticism of NASCAR's black-tie Cup awards presentation in the Waldorf's Grand Ballroom, there surely is a segment of fans who enjoy seeing Jimmie and Junior and the others in something other than Nomex and Wranglers. And NASCAR has put its week in the Big Apple to a useful purpose from a business standpoint, out of public view, in front of ad agency and media execs.

But, please, this year, someone in authority make it a point to remind Jerry Punch and Allen Bestwick and whatever (usually dopey) comic and everyone else of what is happening in the country. A repeat of the usual "what a great season it was" and the general gushing of how wonderful it is in NASCAR Nation would be inappropriate. It would send the wrong message. It would be wrong.

In order to show the public and the press and the politicians that NASCAR and its competitors understand there is a real world out there, beyond the garage area fence, the tone needs to be toned-down. The luxury needs to be less luxurious. The ceremony needs to be less ceremonious.

NASCAR brass, take note: Even the long-standing and over-the-top Super Bowl and Academy Awards parties are being canceled or scaled way-back. I'm sure the corporate marketers who believe NASCAR drives sales would prefer senators, directors, shareholders and customers not see a spectacle out-of-touch with the times.

To the stock car elite, I offer this polite suggestion:

Celebrate. Enjoy. But, as Paul Newman taught me: Know Your Audience.
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Given the public rumblings from its recent APEX-Brasil ethanol deal (Jeff Wolf, in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, even called for fans to boycott the Indy 500!), the IRL had to issue a statement last week from Terry Angstadt, president of the League's commercial division. Here is part of it:

“The IndyCar Series is proud to be fueled by ethanol, a renewable energy fuel. For the last three years, ethanol has been the official fuel as a result of a sponsorship agreement with the ethanol producers and EPIC, the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council. The ethanol producers recently notified the IndyCar Series that it would not be renewing the agreement for 2009 and beyond and EPIC is ceasing operation. No one from any other part of the American-based ethanol community stepped forward with a substantial proposal. Soon after, the IndyCar Series and APEX-Brasil reached a preliminary agreement."

Check the blog archives and see what I wrote about the EPIC's PR problem on Aug. 7, 2007.


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