• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, January 31, 2010

CASE STUDIES

As some of you know, I've been under the weather for three weeks, apparently due to a bad reaction from government micro-managed health care recommendations.

Even in a sub-par state, however, I could see Toyota's leadership in Japan was slow to recognize -- and respond to -- the growing PR demo-derby in America due to recalls and tons of bad publicity related to unintended acceleration.

It made me remember how well Johnson & Johnson handled the Tylenol scare back in the early 1980s. By all business rights, that brand should have died . . . but was saved by a smart, in-tune management and aggressively candid PR.

It's amazing that, almost 30 years later, huge corporations haven't read their case studies.

I received an E the other day from Avis, which included this: ". . . if you are uncomfortable driving a Toyota vehicle, we will make every effort to offer you an alternative vehicle if one is available."

I respectfully refer you back to my first blog of 2010: In the non-Tiger category, no one/no thing has taken a bigger image hit than Toyota. And no corporation has more to prove in the next 11 months.

A Daytona 500 win would be a good start.

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.)

February 3 -- Newsmaker: Bob Tasca III. Panelists: Jim Pedley, Jeff Burk. Plus, Dave Rodman.

February 10 -- Newsmaker: Jamie McMurray. Panelists: Lee Spencer, Reid Spencer. Plus, Phil Burgess.

February 17 -- Newsmaker: Larry Dixon. Panelists: Alan Reinhart, Stan Creekmore.

February 24 -- Newsmaker: Brad Keselowski. Panelists: Mark Armijo, John Sturbin.


[ Bob Tasca III news notes Thursday . . . ]

Thursday, January 28, 2010

HURLEY's FAREWELL INTERVIEW

Sports car and Porsche Racing legend Hurley Haywood was the Newsmaker of the Week on my season-debut The Race Reporters Wednesday night on PowerUpChannel.com. Hurley says he'll retire from driving after this weekend's Rolex 24 at Daytona, where he'll be in the Brumos Porsche. Larry Edsall and Jonathan Ingram were on for the journalists roundtable and then Bobby Bennett helped us understand the upcoming NHRA season.

Hurley remembered the awesome -- and fearsome -- Porsche 917 Can-Am car:

"Peter (Gregg) bought the 917 in 1972 and campaigned it in the Can-Am. He didn't really like it so he asked me if I would like to buy it, and if I did, he would campaign it for me. So, I said, 'OK.' Back then, I think I was too stupid and too naive to understand how unbelievably dangerous that car was. It had 1,200 horsepower. It was a short-wheelbase car and very difficult to drive. But I did pretty well in it. Mark Donohue was very instrumental in bringing me up-to-speed on what to do and what not to do. It was a fairly successful effort. I still have that car; it's in our collection at Brumos. When I look at that car, and drive it at special events, I'm in awe at how raw that car was. A monster, really. You sat between two 50-gallon tanks of gasoline; that in itself today would be totally unacceptable . . . That whole era of Can-Am enticed the imagination of builders and fans alike. It was beautiful, but not an easy car to drive. As Brian Redman once said, 'Everytime I finished a race, I was just glad I was alive.'"

Listen to the entire show using this link:
http://www.voiceamerica.com/voiceamerica/vepisode.aspx?aid=43926

Here's a link to a news story I wrote this week on CompetitionPlus.com: http://www.competitionplus.com/index.php/drag-racing/news/13117-tasca-developing-nitro-version-of-tasca-cobra-jet

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.)

February 3 -- Newsmaker: Bob Tasca III. Panelists: Jim Pedley, Jeff Burk. Plus, Dave Rodman.

February 10 -- Newsmaker: Jamie McMurray. Panelists: Lee Spencer, Reid Spencer. Plus, Phil Burgess.

February 17 -- Newsmaker: Larry Dixon. Panelists: Alan Reinhart, Stan Creekmore.

February 24 -- Newsmaker: Brad Keselowski. Panelists: Mark Armijo, John Sturbin.


[ more Monday . . . ]

Sunday, January 24, 2010

TIME FOR PRO-GEORGE JOURNOS TO COME CLEAN

REMINDER: The Race Reporters resumes with original and live shows Wednesday (January 27) at 7 p.m. Eastern. Retiring sports car legend Hurley Haywood will be Newsmaker of the Week ahead of the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Larry Edsall, Jonathan Ingram and Bobby Bennett will be media panelists. Please listen at http://www.blogger.com/www.PowerUpChannel.com .


I well remember how hot the passions were when Tony George launched the Titanic-disaster Indy Racing League in 1996. Not only among fans and competitors, but also within the media.

Many in the print and broadcast community staked claim to their pro-or-con Tony George positions; objective reporting be damned. Of course, I wasn't surprised. For one thing, I remember I WAS surprised back in 1979, when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's press room was occupied by quite a few journalists wearing "I Support Dick King" buttons when a legal issue involving the USAC president was leaked a few days before the Indy 500 during the first USAC-CART power struggle.

A lot of self-interest was involved in picking sides back in '96. Mostly money, as in books, employment as the "IRL correspondent" vs. "CART correspondent," and side-deals with teams, tracks or sponsors. Which is not to say some didn't truly believe in, or disagree with, George's "vision."

Last week, however, officially brought this sad saga to a close. After open-wheel unification two years ago, followed by the Hulman-George family forcing Tony out as IMS CEO last year primarily over financial issues, Tony formally resigned all of his director positions with all of the Hulman family business ventures. Bottom line: He's now another team owner without a sponsor; prospects uncertain.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Now, finally, it's time for media accountability. It's time for those who were solidly in Tony's camp to come clean and acknowledge they were wrong. They supported what history will now undoubtedly record as one of the worst business decisions ever in the sports arena. Among other things, an American sporting tradition and institution was driven from a month-long celebration of speed worthy of mainstream importance to a greatly diminished one-day event.

The most important thing in journalism is CREDIBILITY. Now that Tony George has completely wiped his hands of the mess he created, some journalists better come clean, too. If they don't have the understanding it's necessary, their editors has best insist.


Here's a link to my NHRA testing notebook in last Sunday's Arizona Republic:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2010/01/23/20100123spt-nhra-firebird-international-raceway.html




The American Media, January 2010: Liberal radio talk-show (and The Hate Network) host Ed Schultz told radio listeners that if he lived in Massachusetts he’d try to vote 10 times, claiming that he’d “cheat to keep these bastards (new senator Scott Brown) out.” Isn't voter fraud a crime?


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.)

January 27 (first original show of the year) -- Newsmaker: Hurley Haywood. Panelists: Larry Edsall, Jonathan Ingram. Plus, Bobby Bennett.

February 3 -- Newsmaker: Bob Tasca III. Panelists: Jim Pedley, Jeff Burk. Plus, Dave Rodman.

February 10 -- Newsmaker: Jamie McMurray. Panelists: Lee Spencer, Reid Spencer. Plus, Phil Burgess.

[ more next week . . . ]

Monday, January 18, 2010

'THE RACE REPORTERS' RESUMES JANUARY 27

For the benefit of those kind enough to ask, my The Race Reporters show will make its season debut Wednesday, January 27 on http://www.powerupchannel.com/. We'll still be live for one hour on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. Eastern.

Newsmaker of the Week on the show will be Hurley Haywood. The endurance sports car legend says he'll retire after that weekend's Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. I dealt with Hurley when he competed in IROC and it will be great to speak with him just days before his retirement race. Just as we did with Gil de Ferran last year. Larry Edsall, editor of iZoom.com; and Jonathan Ingram, of RacinToday.com, will join me for the journalists roundtable and to question Hurley. Then, CompetitionPlus.com editor Bobby Bennett will talk with me about the upcoming 50th Winternationals and the NHRA season.

There are some new things in the works and I'll share those with you soon.


Here's a link to my Arizona Republic story last Wednesday, breaking the news that the April 10 Sprint Cup race distance at Phoenix International Raceway will INCREASE:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2010/01/12/20100112phoenix-nascar-race-longer.html

I'm not a fan of longer races -- BUT -- let me comment that the negative reaction from a lot of journos to PIR adding laps proves yet again how little many of them understand about the Business of Racing. The job of a track promoter is to SELL TICKETS. If PIR has data to think adding laps, so the event continues to end at night, is the best way to do that -- well, I suspect they know more than most of those punching the computer keyboard.


Gordon Kirby is always a "must read" for me and his Monday blog is even better than usual:
http://www.motorsportmagazine.co.uk/ .


With a government "official" number of 10 percent national unemployment -- and the real-life number more like 20 percent -- it is quite stunning how certain people in motorsports -- including journalists -- don't get what is happening out there. I just read a story about a social event touting the "chocolate and special gifts" given to media and the catered meal, entertainment and even the ice cream. I guarantee you the readers, some unable to afford the price of an NHRA race ticket, don't give a damn and don't appreciate being told about the good times enjoyed by reporters.


The NBC TV network, not its comedy shows, has become a national joke. And a historic case-study in stunningly-bad management decisions. If I didn't know better, I'd think Tony George, Andrew Craig, Joe Heitzler and the rest of the deep-thinkers who drove American open-wheel racing into the ground were running NBC.


Let the Spin Begin: Nine of the 10 Chase races will be on ESPN instead of ABC.


Thanks to those who've noted my recent semi-regular appearances on Sirius XM's Tradin' Paint with Rick Benjamin and Danny (Chocolate) Myers.


Yes, I know the bar has been lowered. I know Car and Driver has steered mostly in reverse since the Brock Yates days. I know he's a columnist. But . . . John Phillips' attempt-at-humor col in the February mag can't be permitted to pass without comment.

Phillips offers "20 new rules to boost NASCAR's ratings." Fair enough. But . . . "Fans may throw anything on the track . . . ;" "One (celebrity driver) must be severely maimed or paralyzed in a crash so violent that it shuts down the track for 30 minutes . . . ;" "the spectator who starts the largest fire will be invited to participate in the victory celebration;" "drivers will demonstrate their helmet-throwing abilities. Any driver who inflicts a closed head injury will be crowned that day's 'Helmet-Hurling Hero';" and "One car per event must explode."

Well, that is just unacceptable.

Since when is it funny for someone to be maimed or paralyzed or for a person to suffer a closed head injury or to start a fire? Have journalistic standards really sunk this low? Do you mean to tell me an editor actually exists who let this into print?

An immediate apology should be distributed by the mag via every available outlet. And this is one where NASCAR actually SHOULD provide some push-back. In this case, it would be the right thing to do.

This, after in the January issue, C&D referred to Tony George as "president of the International Speedway Corporation, which controls the Indianapolis Motor Speedway" and that TG was fired "by his own mother . . . apparently for spending too much money upgrading the track."

I don't know what Eddie Alterman is doing, but apparently, he isn't actually editing his magazine. I bought my first C&D in 1963. I can't believe it's come to this.


The American Media, January 2010: Simon Cowell's announcement that he'll leave American Idol after this season is treated as a major mainstream news story.

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

January 20 -- Best of: Robby Gordon. Panelists: Bill Fleischman, Jim Pedley.

January 27 (first original show of the year) -- Newsmaker: Hurley Haywood. Panelists: Larry Edsall, Jonathan Ingram. Plus, Bobby Bennett.

February 3 -- TBA.

February 10 -- Newsmaker: Jamie McMurray. Panelists: Lee Spencer, Reid Spencer. Plus, Phil Burgess.

[ more next week . . . ]

Sunday, January 10, 2010

THE (SPORTS) WORLD IS ABOUT TO CHANGE

It won't be long before we think of the way athletes are reported on as BTCC and ATCC.

Before Tiger's Car Crash and After Tiger's Car Crash.

Dispatches within the media industry say celebrity site TMZ soon will launch TMZ Sports. TMZ -- which stands for Thirty Mile Zone (around Hollywood) -- gained plenty of traction with what proved to be its accurate reporting on Michael Jackson's death and Woods' "activities," among other stories.

"I don't really see a difference between a sports star and a celebrity," said Harvey Levin, the executive producer. He added that existing sports media outlets engage in "agenda reporting" -- meaning, they hold the rights for teams or leagues and generally are too-close (re: friendly) with the athletes they cover.

For example, golf media make money from reporting on what Tiger does on the course. It's just the opposite for TMZ.

For those unaware of what goes on outside the garage area -- and there are too many of those -- TMZ is a power. It has over 100 employees and gets an audience in excess of 20 million per month worldwide, according to various accounts. TMZ photogs do not shy-away from any image and its microphone-holders don't hold-back on any questions. Including those of a highly personal nature.

Watch out, NASCAR drivers. (Others too, except that with rare exception, the celebs that would make TMZ's radar screen will be from the stock car sport.)

This is a media game-changer, because any story that TMZ breaks will be repeated by others, including those which in the past wouldn't have touched such topics with a 10-foot boom mike. In today's celebrity-driven, People magazine, photo-op, sound-bite society, they'll have no choice. To ignore would be to fall way behind the competition. Translation: That would be bad for bu$ine$$.

How will NASCAR and others deal with this? To (credential) TMZ or not to (credential) TMZ, that is the question. (Among others.) And, considering how many so-called "media relations" representatives don't know enough to even come into the media center, introduce themselves to journalists, and bother to build one-on-one relationships, just how many would even be capable of handling a TMZ "situation?"

I would advise any driver of this: In a world of cell phone cameras, assume someone will have a photo or video of anything you do. And, be willing to sell it to TMZ.


As announced here last week, Attitude's Competition Plus.com is my new drag racing coverage home. Here's CP.com's kind intro and also please take a look at my first "Drags, Dollars and Sense" column:
http://www.competitionplus.com/index.php/drag-racing/news/12928-veteran-motorsports-writer-michael-knight-joins-staff

http://www.competitionplus.com/index.php/drag-racing/editorials/12940-drags-dollars-and-sense-a-new-column


A motorsports media business person, whose opinion I respect, said this to me last week following the disspiriting news of the mass NASCAR Scene layoffs: "Do you think this will be the kick-in-the-stomach a lot of NASCAR (meaning to include team/sponsor reps) PR people need to appreciate the media more?" I am sorry to say my honest answer was "no."


I'll say this for Tiger: Somehow, for more than a month, he has succeeded in avoiding every single paparazzi. Think about that in this day and age! That might be more difficult to accomplish than the Grand Slam.


We exist in a world of pundits. Sometimes, even the most respected ones go too far. Thus was the case recently with Brit Hume on Fox News Sunday. I happen to like Hume, who was one of Washington's most respected journalists, before switching to full-time punditry last year. Fair enough for him to comment on Tiger, but this one crossed the line:
http://www.politico.com/click/stories/1001/hume_to_tiger_choose_christianity_.html

Racing examples I remember of going beyond the bounds include a Detroit newspaper columnist calling for cancellation of the CART-era Detroit Grand Prix on racial grounds. That was a disgrace and, if there had been a competent editor on the desk, it would have been (and should have been) spiked. One I personally pushed-back on was when a Detroit Free-Press writer and his columnist colleague told Michael Andretti to "chill out" at the '92 inaugural Belle Isle race when he didn't enjoy the course layout after a personally tough couple of weeks following father Mario's and brother Jeff's serious injuries in the Indy 500. Those two guys were way, way out of line -- and I told them so.


The Washington Post's David Broder has, for decades, been considered by the Beltway Elites as one of D.C.'s media "wise men." (Never mind he dresses for Sunday TV shows like his clothes come from Goodwill.) Let me say this politely: Broder is getting up there in years, and I fear it showed in his column the other day in the aftermath of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's PR-disaster interviews right after the Christmas Day airplane terrorist attack. I quote directly from Broder's column:

"It came as no surprise to anyone who knows her that Napolitano handled the incident and its aftermath with aplomb. In the years I have known her, she has managed every challenge that has come her way with the same calm command that she showed in this instance . . . I watched as she made the rounds of the morning interview programs on Sunday, laying out what she knew about the would-be terrorist and carefully refusing to speculate about the many matters that were still being investigated. She is being criticized for saying 'the system worked,' but her part of the response system did work. It must have been a frantic time for her. She was in San Francisco, far from her Washington office, and she must have had a sleepless night. But her eyes were bright, and her voice was calm. Everything appeared to be completely normal, except that her usual sense of humor was absent, as it should have been, given the circumstances."

Broder ended this embarrassment with: "Her potential is almost unlimited."

Some editor, perhaps out of respect for Broder's long years of journalistic service, should have done him a favor and politely suggested a rethink/rewrite. Or, if absolutely necessary, pressed the "delete" button. Another absurd column like this -- so laughable it could have come from a Jay Leno joke writer -- and a forced retirement will be in order.

The American Media, January 7, 2010: ABC News correspondent Becky Worley reports from the Consumer Electronics Show -- wearing blue jeans with the knees cut out.

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

January 13 -- Best-of: NASCAR 2009. Panelists: Dave Rodman, Kenny Bruce, Larry Henry.

January 20 -- Best of: Robby Gordon. Panelists: Bill Fleischman, Jim Pedley.

[ more next week . . . ]

Monday, January 04, 2010

THE MOST TO PROVE IN '10? TOYOTA

Who has the most to prove in 2010?

Brian France? Dale Earnhardt Jr.? Lance McGrew? Kyle Busch? Danica Patrick? Jack Roush? Carl Edwards? Sam Hornish Jr.? Richard Childress? Kevin Harvick?

No.

The most to prove in '10? To me, that's obvious.

Toyota.

In the non-Tiger category, has anyone or anything taken a bigger hit to his/its reputation for quality and class? I think not.

In recent weeks, virtually every major newscast, newspaper and especially the business media has focused a harsh spotlight on the diminished Japanese automaker. For about a generation, Toyota's image was for quality and reliable vehicles at an acceptable price. Now? Well, I'd say the Dec. 21 USA Today headline put it as well as anyone: "Toyota's reputation needs some TLC -- Company built on quality has suffered painful hits".

It wasn't that long ago that "recall" and "Toyota" would fit into the same sentence about as well as "scandal" and "Tiger." Now, neither are unusual. Toyota has been smacked with reporting on the hottest-of-hot-button consumer issue: Safety. The most prominent of which is unintended vehicle acceleration.

No need for me to repeat the list here -- the stories have been out there far-and-wide. If you require some useful background commentary, go to Peter De Lorenzo's Autoextremist.com site.

Full disclosure: My 2001 Platinum-edition Lexus GS was one of the best cars I've ever owned. But my current GS has had 3, three, THREE (!) factory recalls, as well as some other issues with the build and dealer service. My position is clear: For a Lexus owner, ONE recall is unacceptable. Period.

And, in my opinion, it hasn't helped that PR people have been offering-up outdated consumer "satisfaction" data -- instead of dealing with the problems head-on. It sure hasn't impressed me, I'll tell you that. Some straight-talk is definitely in order!

The question here is: Can Toyota recover?

Maybe.

One way to get down that road is the same as Tiger's: Win.

I know, from my own study and travels to Japan, that a great strength of the Asian culture is to look way down the road. I congratulate my friend, Lee White, president of Toyota Racing Development, for the automaker's to-date success in NASCAR. Now, however, in Cup Season Four, the needs and expectations should be and are higher. A Daytona 500 victory. (Yes, it looked like Kyle Busch had the car to beat the last two years.) A Brickyard 400 win (to go along with the Indianapolis 500.) A Sprint Cup championship (after Busch failed to make the Chase.)

Winning won't cure all of Toyota's problems. Or fix my unhappy experience. But it sure would help given the existing and negative environment.

I'll bet you Tiger is thinking the same thing.


AT&T took the PR art of burying news to a new level by letting word out it had dropped Tiger on New Year's Eve day. If you think that timing was just a coincidence, I have a dirt track near the South Pole to sell you.


Oh, yes, Tiger's team botched it Big Time. You can add the president plus the laughable initial comments of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs after the Christmas Day terrorist attack to the how-not-to-do-it list. Laughable, that is, if it were not so deadly serious. Please do not insult our intelligence by calling it an "attempted" or "alleged" or "possible" or "potential" attack -- all of which I heard from various politically correct politicians and pundits. It WAS an ATTACK!

And, let me add, if the conservative broadcasters really were as attuned to their audience as they like to tell themselves and everyone else, every one of them would have come off vacation and back in front of the microphone (Michael Savage did) right away. (Get well soon, Rush.) From a strictly political standpoint, they wasted a watershed week to spread the word and work to change opinions going into an election year. (!)

Question. Since the president's perpetual campaign theme is "unity" -- and since he was vacationing just miles from the hospital where Rush Limbaugh was taken -- why didn't Obama go visit the leader of the opposition? That was an opportunity to send a powerful message of goodwill and really show a desire to work with all sides in our great political debate. Conservatives would have had no honorable choice but to grant a Big IOU to the president.


I have a new drag racing coverage home. As of January 1, I have moved my business/politics-themed column to Competition Plus.com. I thank editor Jeff Burk for the opportunity with Drag Racing Online.com for the last 18 months. The chance to join CP.com editor Bobby Bennett and his very strong editorial team is a big plus. My new monthly column, "Drags, Dollars & Sense" debuts this month. Please give it a read.


FAST LINES: Anything written by Dave Argabright is worthwhile. Over the holidays, I read Dave's new book, Fast Company, by and about "Speedy" Bill Smith. As someone who interviewed and wrote about Jan Opperman, I was interested in those stories, including the 1976 Tony Hulman Classic, which forever changed sprint car racing. It's not just a racing book; it's a business book, too. As for the way "Speedy" had his tonsils removed, well, I don't want to hear anyone say how tough the Gitmo prisoners have it! Go to www.AmericanScenePress.com for more information . . . Is it just me, or is ESPN suddenly over-subscribed with NASCAR pit reporters? . . . Fascinating. Tiger Woods' TV commercials got yanked but Charlie Sheen, who was arrested Christmas Day, had his Hanes' spots stay on . . . I want to acknowledge the death of sportscaster George Michael, age 70, during the holidays. He was a victim of cancer. Michael was best known for his long-running syndicated The George Michael Sports Machine Sunday night show, which featured taped highlights before SportsCenter made such replays standard. I worked with George and his staff several times on racing-related features. Before his sports career, I well-remember Michael as one of the country's top AM radio DJ's on Philadelphia's famed WFIL.

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

January 6 -- Best-of: NHRA Funny Car champion Robert Hight. Panelists: Mark Armijo, John Sturbin.

January 13 -- Best-of: NASCAR 2009. Panelists: Dave Rodman, Kenny Bruce, Larry Henry.

[ more next week . . . ]