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Sunday, December 06, 2009

HENDRICK on GM's CEO SHIFT

THE NEWS CAN'T WAIT: Hard-working Bob Pockrass, of NASCAR Scene, files right from the hallway outside the room where Chase drivers did interviews at the Wynn.


The traffic on the Strip rivaled former Sprint Cup host city New York. The wait to check into Wynn seemed as long as 500 miles at Pocono. The weather was cool, and Danica (and, yes, Tiger) were the hot stories for many in what was a more robust media crowd (absent, for the second consecutive year, the Charlotte Observer) than I expected.

Except to me.

General Motors abruptly fired CEO Fritz Henderson last week. A spokesman said something about wanting to steer a new course. "The board decided—and Fritz agreed—that it was time to make some changes,'' a GM spokesman said.

Remember, as posted here, it was only a few weeks ago at Phoenix International Raceway that Sen. John McCain said this of GM's corporate financial survival: "I think it's going to be a near-thing."

Industry analysts interviewed on CNBC and various other outlets said the "word" is GM's activist board is going to search for an "outsider" -- meaning, a non-car guy -- as the new CEO.

That's the sort of thing that will cause NASCAR and its Chevrolet team owners concern. So, Thursday in Vegas, I asked Cup championship team owner Rick Hendrick:

"I was surprised. Fritz Henderson, I thought, was doing a very good job. Of course, I don't know the details, but all I can say is, I hope they get the right guy. They've got some awful good people at GM . . . but we've lost some good people, too. We'll see.

"It concerns me on the racing side, but it concerns me more on the business side. I've got 35 GM franchises. GM's got the best products they've ever had. That takes people and planning to put that together, the Volt, the Camaro. If you have someone who doesn't understand that product sells, that part concerns me. In my opinion, we don't need to lose momentum with the products we have today . . . My point is, I don't think Fritz Henderson ever had a chance. That's where I am. I'm hoping the board, when they look around and compare the products . . . I hope they get the right person.

"I see the way we market NASCAR into the sales side of the business. They've had to justify that. They can measure the success of racing. If it wasn't valuable Toyota and these other folks wouldn't be in that. I would think that what's in place will stay until someone gets in place, permanently, who can weigh all of the advantages of what the sport does."

Don't underestimate the importance of this latest GM management change. I can assure you, even in the midst of celebrations and parties in Vegas in tribute to Hendrick's and Jimmie Johnson's latest championship, NASCAR's inside players and power-brokers understood what's at stake.

P.S. -- Given my own four decades-plus experience in the industry, I can't help but be somewhat amused by Vegas-datelined stories positive about Dodge's future in NASCAR. For one thing, Chrysler's new business plan apparently has written-off Arizona. At least it seems that way to me based on the Z-E-R-O communications/outreach to AZ media by Dodge NASCAR PR as noticed by me in recent weeks.


NASCAR-IN-VEGAS FAST LINES: I've been around long enough to have attended the NASCAR awards at the Plaza hotel in Daytona Beach, which (believe it or not) took place the week of the Daytona 500. And, since I also went to some of the New York ceremonies, it was good perspective to be at the first-time celebration in Las Vegas. Here we go . . .

Security entering the Wynn ballroom was just right -- visible but not difficult -- and invitations were checked several times. As far as I know, the White House party crashers didn't get in . . . A huge plus was the size of the ballroom, which allowed comfortable spacing between tables and walking-around room for those wise enough to get up and relationship-build . . . For the second straight year, NASCAR correctly judged the economic times and didn't announce prize money totals. It used to be every driver was handed a check, with the total revealed, but the only reference to money Friday night was Sprint's $6.6 million award . . . The biggest pre-dinner question was inclusion of fans. It was a plus, definitely added a different atmospheric element, and I understand fan ops will be expanded next time. As long as it's well-managed, it's all good . . . Frank Caliendo as host and John Pinette's comedy were big winners . . . Announcing sometimes was a little too gushy, to be expected, but certainly not over-the-top . . . Terrific driver, but Kasey Kahne just isn't a Teleprompter guy. That was painful. If his handlers can't teach it to him, they'd do Kasey a real favor and create a new way for him to deliver his podium remarks . . . The ceremony, attended by 1,500-2,000, ran right to four hours . . . It used to be people knew an event like this was a tremendous opportunity to exchange business cards and build new professional relationships. NASCAR keeps saying it wants to expand its media coverage. Here's the problem, as observed by me at Thursday's Chase driver media avails -- As long as team/sponsor PR people stand around and don't introduce themselves to media people they don't know (that's called PR 101) or do pro-active outreach to welcome in the non-regulars, those Big Picture Goals aren't going to be achieved. That's not my opinion. That's a true fact.

Upcoming The Race Reporters guests:
(Show is live Wednesdays at 7 p.m. ET, downloadable, and available on-demand at no cost. Click on TRR page logo in upper right-hand column.)

December 9 -- Season-In-Review, Part 1. Panelists: Holly Cain, Gordon Kirby, Jeff Burk.

December 16 -- Season-In-Review, Part 2. Panelists: Jon Asher, John Oreovicz, Bob Margolis.

[ more Thursday . . . ]