Monday, March 02, 2009


It must be true: Desperate times call for desperate measures.

That's an impression I was left with after the interests of NHRA (Firebird Raceway), USAC (Manzanita Speedway) and NASCAR (Phoenix International Raceway) collided the other week here in the Valley of the Sun.

It was, from a historical standpoint, drag racing week here. The 25th annual NHRA Nationals ran at Firebird. There was a time in motorsports when that would have been respected and others stood down. No longer.

With Antron Brown (who went on to win Top Fuel) available for the media rounds on Thursday, Feb. 19, and Manzy hosting an open test in preparation for Saturday night's USAC Silver Crown, sprint and midget tripleheader, PIR brought in Clint Bowyer for a media availability and go-kart racing. Bowyer, of course, stopped on his way to California Speedway.

The bizarre element was that Bowyer's visit was promoted as not only to pump PIR's April NASCAR weekend, but also, "the track's relationship with Coca-Cola." Apparently, Coke's brand managers and sports marketing types aren't coordinating activities, since Full Throttle is NHRA's new title sponsor. (!)

With an admission that, back in my days as CART's communications director, I was involved in an episode of trying to step on someone else's event, I have a distaste for what I saw. If there's one thing in shorter supply than entertainment dollars, it's media airtime/space. USAC at Manzy on NHRA's traditional weekend was another in the seemingly endless examples of racing shooting itself in the foot. But the attempt to Big Foot NHRA with the Bowyer visit was much more regretable, and, I'm sorry to say, a sign of our less respectful times.

Furthermore, now comes word via a Mike Mulhern website report that Cal Speedway President Gillian Zucker wants to change the date of her first Cup weekend to April, "possibly in a swap with Phoenix International Raceway" according to Mulhern. Using this year's calendar, that would bring NASCAR to the Valley on NHRA's long-held weekend.

Are the straight-liners supposed to just give up a date in which they own a ton of equity?

(To the best of my knowledge, no Valley media outlet has raised this issue. If there's no space, money, interest or manpower to pursue a potentially important story like this, what will it be if NASCAR/PIR do try to claim the date, and both series run here at the same time? Let me be clear: THAT would be the biggest mistake, the greatest debacle, the dumbest move, in Arizona motorsports history.)

Meanwhile, credit to NHRA. The Firebird crowd -- especially Saturday's -- was solid. And overall media coverage -- especially local TV -- was up from recent years. As I've said many times, NHRA is an under-reported sport. Maybe, just maybe, this was an indication of increased awareness.
Here are BASIC things we still don't know about USF1 even after last week's live "news conference" (and cheerleading) on SPEED:

1. It was said team founders Ken Anderson and Peter Windsor sold an ownership stake. Who was the buyer? What percentage? How much? Is the money in the team's bank account, or just promised?

2. It was said a visual presentation existed for display to investors. How many more investors are needed? What additional percentage of the team ownership will be sold? How much more funding is needed?

3. Is Bernie Ecclestone, either directly or through a company he owns/controls, financially involved in USF1?

4. The budget has been reported as $62 million. Is that accurate? If so, how much is actually in the bank, vs. pledged funds?

5. Sponsors?

6. Marco Andretti was promoted as a potential driver. The Andretti family position, from Mario to Michael to Marco, has been it would take a ride with one of the "top" teams to make the switch from Indy Cars. Are they saying USF1 will be considered a "top" team right from the start?

7. What is the actual deadline, go/no-go, date to ensure the team is on the grid for the 2010 season opener?

8. Oh, and why weren't the above seven questions asked?********************************************************************
I'm glad The Daly Planet is back and could not agree more with this post-Vegas analysis:

"It may be that time spent on setting up Digger in every segment of the race takes away from the time spent getting current information ready to be told to the viewers. The Fox team makes sure that Digger is a constant presence. It would be wonderful if information from the pit road reporters was presented as regularly as the animated cartoon character."
Grab a copy of next week's (March 11 cover date) National Speed Sport News. My blurb in honor of NSSN's 75th anniversary is scheduled to appear in that issue.

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]