• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Monday, May 31, 2010

WHAT HAPPENED at INDY

The best moment of Indianapolis 500 weekend was Bill York, the longtime Speedway media center manager (starting 1958 until last year) receiving the Bob Russo Founders Award at the Saturday AARWBA breakfast. Bill's name was added to the large plaque displayed in the media center. The Russo is presented for "profound interest, tireless efforts and undying dedication to auto racing as exemplified by Russo through his career." Russo, the late racing journalist/historian/publicist, founded AARWBA in 1955.

The smartest moment was new IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard making the media center rounds Friday a.m., putting faces with names. (Why didn't the new IMS' marketing/PR VP do the same?) I spent some time with Randy. I reaffirmed a point made when Randy guested on my The Race Reporters show last week: The problems of Indy and the series can be described in one word -- Arrogance. I respectfully urged him to continue to squeeze that out of the IMS Corp. system.

That led to the dumbest moment, as the infamous IMS Yellow Shirts took it upon themselves to deny access to the media parking area Saturday morning, instead directing everyone to a more remote lot, claiming, "We're not honoring parking passes today." No reason given -- just typical Yellow Shirt arrogance!


We got what was to be expected from ABC for a one-day production effort, as opposed to the days that includes practice and qualifying coverage on ABC/ESPN: Awful. This is what happens when there isn't a dedicated Indy-focused production crew -- and, fans have a right to know -- includes people whose personal agendas include showbiz and entertainment ventures. That's fine, but not when it takes away from a quality presentation of a diminished-but-still American sporting classic. The truth is there were troubles with ESPN's coverage across its various information delivery platforms -- it was not a good month for ESPN as far as telling the Indy story was concerned. Too many mistakes! On the TV side, what is it the network finds so difficult about doing a proper victory lane interview? After the Jack Arute fiasco last year, detailed in this blog, Vince Welch got the spotlight assignment this time, and came up with this poorly thought-out opener to Dario Franchitti: "How sweet the milk tastes . . . How good did that milk taste, my friend?" Completely embarrassing! The all-important showcase victory lane interview was a 500 percent dud. Really, can't ABC find four pit reporters who actually know to ask meaningful questions? When Marty Reid came over from NHRA to replace the much criticized Todd Harris, a well-known broadcast industry name told me: "Marty runs out of talent after a quarter-mile." Many would say that's been proven to be true. Pseudo-intellectual Eddie Cheever for a one-off? Please, have more respect for the audience. And, as I've said for a long time, Brent Musberger should have been retired to pasture when CBS fired him two decades ago. Bottom line: A sad and terrible effort from the sports operation made famous by the legendary Roone Arledge. ABC has the rights through 2012, but you can now firmly put me in the camp of those who believe the time for change has come. Especially after last Sunday's lazy, uninspired and in key areas, obviously unprepared, production.

Here's a link to my story in last Sunday's Arizona Republic, focused on Danica Patrick and Simona De Silvestro. You might "enjoy" A.J. Foyt's quote, as well as some of the things said by Simona, Danica and Sarah Fisher. At over 800 words, this story was quite long by local standards:

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2010/05/29/20100529simona-de-silvestro-danica-patrick-indianapolis-500.html


FAST LINES: The second smartest move was displaying the Delta Wing car in the high-traffic area of the plaza, behind the Padoga . . . Another "classic" Indy 500 start, or what Brian Barnhart thinks is "classic," with the field stretched single file. I thought it was going to be all about showbiz now . . . Crowd reaction to Danica during driver introductions reminded me of what Jeff Gordon gets. But public opinion is a fragile thing, and she may have regained favor with a top-10 finish . . . I thought it would be better -- lower level front straight seats empty from almost the start/finish line back toward turn four, and the now-expected gaps in the corners and Tower Terrace. I hope Randy Bernard takes a look at the overhead camera images, which will drive-home the challenges in rebuilding Indy and the series.

Congratulations to my friend Jon Asher, announced as winner of AARWBA's Straight Shooter Award Saturday, in memory of photographers Art Flores and Ron Hussey.

Anyone who doesn't think a part of the Formula One-to-Austin, Texas news last week was Bernie Ecclestone sticking it to IMS doesn't know Bernie.

Absolutely no excuse for this: In a news release last week, Sunoco's PR minions wrote that Mark "Donahue" won the 1972 Indy 500 under the company's sponsorship. (I'm told someone woke-up and corrected it.)

Now, here's a sponsor name (Matt Kenseth's at Charlotte): Jeremiah Weed Southern Style Sweet Tea Vodka. (!)

Everyone else take envy: Specs for Michigan International Speedway's new 66,000 square foot, $17 million media center and pit road suites building:

* Owner-driver meeting room -- 175 seats;
* Deadline room workstations -- 122;
* Team PR workstations -- 85;
* Photographers room workstations -- 75;

Plus -- five dedicated conference rooms, two single interview rooms, four radio rooms and a media lounge and radio, TV and AP editing.


Finally, this: In the annual AARWBA journalism contest, The Race Reporters took first place for Best Podcast. I also took firsts in the blog (third straight year) and online column categories and an honorable mention in newspaper feature writing.

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

June 2 -- Journalists Roundtable on Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600. Panelists: Holly Cain, Tim May, Al Pearce, Ron Lemasters Jr., Larry Henry.

June 9 -- One Year Anniversary Show featuring original Newsmaker John Force and first panelists Paul Page and Jon Asher. Plus: Special surprise guests from around the racing world.

June 16 -- TBA.

June 23 -- Newsmaker: Robin Braig (Daytona International Speedway president). Panelists: Dave Rodman, TBA.

June 30 -- Newsmaker: Jamie Allison (Ford North America Motorsports director). Panelists: Larry Edsall, Lewis Franck.

July 7 -- Newsmaker: Jack Beckman. Panelists: Alan Reinhart, Stan Creekmore.

[ Roundtable news notes Thursday . . . ]