Congratulations to Judy Stropus, recipient of the 2008 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations. Series executives, team owners and sponsor program managers in NASCAR, IRL, etc., please note: This is the THIRD time in FOUR years the Chapman has gone to an NHRA team publicist (2005 -- Susan Arnold; 2007 -- Dave Densmore).
Stropus, representing Don Schumacher Racing, was honored at last Saturday night's 39th AARWBA All-America Team ceremony. Presented by A1GP World Cup of Motorsport, it was at the Ontario Hilton, with Susan Wade joining me as event co-chair. NHRA Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher earned the evening's No. 1 honor, the Jerry Titus Memorial Trophy, as the top vote-getter on the Team regardless of category. It was Tony's second Titus in three years. Legendary broadcaster/announcer Dave McClelland, our MC, was the surprised winner of the Pioneer In Racing Award. And we rememberd Paul Newman, Mike Hollander, Bob Carlson, Phil Hill and Scott Kalitta.
The Chapman, which dates to 1991, is named in memory of the late and legendary PR executive. Jim was Babe Ruth's PR man and PPG's director of racing overseeing the landmark series sponsorship during CART's big-time days. The winner is chosen by AARWBA media members who knew and cared about Chapman. PR reps from all forms of motorsports are eligible to be considered. Judy took her rightplace place on the list of Chapman Award winners.
I remembered Jim and then introduced AP's Mike Harris, another of Jim's many friends, who announced Judy. Here are some of my remarks from the podium:
"Jim was my closest friend. He had a profound influence on my life and career. I take this time to tell you about him because, especially in an era of declining standards, it is important to learn from Jim’s unmatched example . . .
" Every year I try to share with this audience a different example of the way Jim lived his life. Mike Harris reminded me of a story . . .
" During a CART race weekend in September 1985, the fire alarm went off at the Holiday Inn in beautiful downtown Mansfield, Ohio. It was Saturday, between 1-2 a.m. As fire engines pulled up to the lobby, guests came down the fire escape and assembled in the parking lot – in various stages of dress and undress.
" As you probably know, you’re not supposed to use the elevator in this sort of situation. However, some of us standing outside could see inside the lobby, and were treated to this sight – The elevator doors opened, and out stepped Jim, wearing a double-breasted navy blue blazer, dress shirt, pressed slacks and loafers.
" That’s the way Jim was – his appearance and professionalism were a matter of personal pride . . .
" As Jim once said: 'There is almost NO decision made, about ANYTHING, that doesn’t, in some way, involve PR.'
" Jim loved the PR business. I know it would sadden him that, today, too many 'PR' people don’t bother to build one-on-one relationships with journalists. Jim would insist that PR people actually spend meaningful time in the media center, that phone calls be returned, and E-mails be answered. He knew people prefer the honesty of an answer -- even if it’s NO -- to the discourtesy of indifference. Those are things worth remembering . . .
"To tonight’s recipient, as well as those past and future, I say the honor is NOT in the plaque you receive. The TRUE honor is having your name forever associated with that of the great James P. Chapman."
Like every other organization, AARWBA has been impacted by the economic downturn. We thanked ceremony presenting sponsor A1GP and reception co-hosts ESPN, MAZDASPEED and Valvoline. We presented appreciation awards to five automakers -- Ford, Honda, Toyota, Mazda and Porsche -- which have long supported AARWBA and continued to do so as table hosts. Schumacher, Scott Pruett, Scott Sharp, Johnny Benson and Wolf Henzler were Team drivers who attended.
I also spoke from the podium in my role as event co-chair. Here are some of those comments:
"The wins and championships and great moments deserve to be celebrated . . . and we will.
"It is impossible, however, not to also acknowledge that we come together tonight at an especially difficult time in our sport, our industry, and our country.
"We understand that.
"But in the words of a senator from my state, Arizona, this occasion also calls for some ‘straight talk.’ Those of you who have had the questionable pleasure of knowing me for a long time won’t be surprised.
"Just as the world-wide economic downturn as affected the auto companies, team sponsorships, and track ticket sales, so has it impacted on our gathering. Members who have been fixtures at this event were unable to make the trip. Too many of the Team drivers aren’t with us. Some have a good reason. Some don’t. Anyone who wants to know who falls into which category, well, I’ll tell you privately. It doesn’t help that some of their so-called 'PR' people don’t give a damn. And, let me add, one of the most insidious trends in modern motorsports is driver business managers making media relations decisions. This is to be resisted at every turn.
(It was wonderful to hear Scott Pruett agree and say, especially in this economy, it's more important than ever for drivers to get closer to the fans and media. Tony Schumacher and Johnny Benson picked up on the theme.)
"Under the circumstances, the old thinking that companies automatically buy tables and ads just to seek favor with the media seems as outdated as an Offenhauser. The new reality, for journalists as well as everyone else, is EVERY expenditure MUST make business sense. It is AARWBA’s responsibility to attempt to organize the most VALUABLE event possible. The time of the AARWBA dinner being just that, a dinner, is in the past. Last year, we added an important new element with the Shav Glick Newsmakers Forum, an opportunity for participants to tell their news directly to media attendees. Today, thanks to NHRA and John Force, we had the good fortune to spend quality time with John and his Ford Mustang team at his shops and then do some media drag racing at Pomona. It’s been a full – and fantasic – day. It demonstrates AARWBA’s desire to host an important event for our members, corporate friends, and competitors. One that does deliver a Return on Investment and offers the chance for essential relationship building. In my opinion, AARWBA can and must change with the times."
It is great to see new people come to the AARWBA ceremony and use the opportunity to meet new people and network and build relationships. Allison Barry, PR/media services manager for the ALMS, did so. Tony Veneziano of the World of Outlaws was back after a few years' absence. Jamie and Betsy Reynolds of Racing Roundup Arizona and Mark Armijo of the Arizona Republic and Chuck Givler of the Easton Express were among media on hand for the first time. Allison and NHRA Funny Car Valvoline Dodge driver Jack Beckman were interested to learn more about Jim Chapman, a joy for me.
As I said to NHRA President Tom Compton Saturday night, it was a good day for drag racing, and the Full Throttle series made some new media friends. NHRA and John Force Racing organized a fun and fantastic field trip. AARWBA members (Johnny Benson came along, too) went by bus to Force's incredible facility for breakfast, an "every room is open for you to see" tour and a typically incredible presentation by John and Robert Hight. (I engaged in a lively one-on-one interview with Force. Photo courtesy of Don Helms.) Afterwards, the bus went to Pomona, where Beckman taught Drag Racing 101 before an afternoon of media competition. Ace photographer Ron Lewis won the AARWBA Nationals. High-profile journalists who haven't been exposed much to drag racing came away impressed -- and that was a big positive for the sport.
Thanks to the PR people who helped in various ways: Chris Dirato, Jerry Archambeault, Anthony Vestal, Michael Padian, Jamie Stephens, Dave Densmore, Elon Werner, Bob Dickinson, Allison Barry, Dean Case, Andy Hall, Mike Geylin, Andy Schupack, Kelby Krauss, Marc Spiegel and J.J. O'Malley.
Good News: When Versus announces its IndyCar broadcast team this week, Bob Jenkins will be confirmed as host.
I'm VERY sorry to report that Valvoline communications director Barry Bronson's position was eliminated last week due to the economy. And Susan Wade has discontinued 1320tv.com.
[ more next Tuesday . . . ]