• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Monday, November 24, 2008

WHO IS RACING's 'MAN' in D.C.?

The last time things were this bad, with Jimmy Carter as president and hostages in Iran and long gas lines and double-digit interest rates and an economy looking like a "Big One" wreck at Talladega, the American racing powers-that-were got organized and funded a lobbying effort in Washington, D.C. NASCAR led the way but USAC was involved and so were the SCCA, IMSA and NHRA.

Les Richter, the football star who went on to run Riverside International Raceway and chair IROC, was put into place as Motorsports' Man in D.C. He was successful enough, and enjoyed it enough, that Richter later considered running for Congress from California. He passed on that idea but had a long tenure as NASCAR's competition vice president and played a key role in building California Speedway.

The Business of Racing has gotten a lot more sophisticated since then, of course, but I have gotten to wondering who is the face representing the sport's OVERALL interests on Capitol Hill. Is there one? If so, he or she isn't visible to me.

(I'm not talking about ACCUS, the umbrella group that exists to rep the U.S. in international racing politics.)

I question if American racing has gotten so fragmented, so oriented toward the wants and needs of individual series, that such a collective effort is even possible now as it was when Richter was making laps in D.C.

The need could not be more obvious. The collective will and spirit of cooperation isn't so apparent.
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As a public service, SPEED should have provided extensive live coverage of last week's Congressional hearings, as the CEOs of Detroit's Big 3 testified in support of taxpayer assistance to help rescue GM, Ford and Chrysler. This should have been supplemented by panel discussions featuring SPEED's own business-knowledgeable announcers plus well-informed external voices. It would have been the RIGHT thing to do. Count me as VERY DISAPPOINTED the re-runs of Unique Whips and Hot Import Nights played on while industry and governmental leaders spoke out at such a crucial time of such high-interest to the network's core audience.
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From a PR standpoint, the performance of the Big 3 CEOs in Washington was Marty Roth-ish. GM's Rick Wagoner, in particular, exhibited such a PR tin-ear he actually made Chrysler's Bob Nardelli look good in comparison.
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ECONOMY WATCH: A great era in sports marketing will end Dec. 31. Tony Ponturo, Anheuser-Busch VP of global media and sports marketing, will "retire" on that date. Ponturo oversaw Budweiser's vast collection of sports sponsorships, including NASCAR and NHRA, but probably was best known for orchestrating placement of the brewer's popular Super Bowl TV commercials. InBev's buyout of A-B closed last week . . . Buick is the official car of the PGA, but likely won't be able to provide courtesy cars for players and officials at most tournaments next year . . . The 2009 Sprint Cup schedule posted at NASCAR.com shows only three races -- the Budweiser Shootout, Daytona 500 and Sprint All-Star Challenge, with official names. Everything else is shown as "TBA" . . . Here's the new NASCAR Camping World Truck Series logo . . . No surprise, the ethanol business here is down, so the IRL has joined with APEX-Brasil to make the trade promotion agency its official fuel supplier. The announcement said they "will look to partner with a U.S.-based ethanol company to supply the IndyCar Series with corn-based ethanol." IF this is ever going to succeed in America, the ethanol will have to be sourced using sugarcane or cellulosic materials -- not corn, which can drive-up food prices . . . ESPN says ratings for its 23 Nationwide Series races on ESPN2 increased seven percent, to 1.5 from 1.4. The male 25-54 demo averaged 1.3 vs. 1.1 last year. ABC's numbers for the 10 Chase races stayed the same as last year, 3.8 . . . The three USA Today coin boxes most convenient to my home in Scottsdale have been removed. Why?

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]