• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, October 31, 2010

'OLD SCHOOL' TAG A TRIBUTE to JIM HUNTER

There's no question the most significant story of the last racing weekend was the death of Jim Hunter. The many tributes to NASCAR's vice president of communications (including naming the Talladega press box in his memory) are all manifestly deserved. It cannot be argued that Hunter will forever be remembered as one of the most important people in the history of NASCAR and I feel sure he will be honored in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. He was a most trusted confident of Bill France Sr. and Jr. and that carried down to following generations of France family members. Jim Hunter was old-school in the best tradition and one of the reasons NASCAR grew into a national sport. I knew Jim for about three decades. On a couple of occasions we were on opposite ends of the motorsports political arena but, unfailingly, our conversations were polite and respectful. In fact, just days after a brief NASCAR-CART turf battle when I was CART's communications director, Jim generously hosted me at a Talladega Cup race. He was a gentleman in the Jim Chapman tradition. Of course, Hunter began his career in journalism, a key factor in his PR successes. Jim always understood the "story" and his example of one-on-one communications with reporters is, very sadly, something that largely is a thing of the past. Phoenix International Raceway President Bryan Sperber recalled Hunter -- author of a book with David Pearson that I read decades ago -- as a wonderful "storyteller" and that is one of the best salutes offered in the aftermath of Hunter's death, from cancer. I will have reason to share more about Hunter in upcoming weeks. For now, I say -- Thank You Jim. Hail and Farewell. And, God Bless.


Saturday was a Halloween Eve Horrow Show at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. I was there for the NHRA Nationals, and I have never, ever, seen such a bizarre day at any racetrack ever. Crash-after-crash, oildown-after-oildown, incident-after-incident resulted in hours-long delays in both qualifying sessions. Pro quals were to wrap around 4:30 p.m. but were still running at 9. I felt sorry for Jeff Wolf, writer-on-deadline, for the Las Vegas Review-Journal!

In a sense, this is the downside to strong car counts, because some of the machines were held together with spit and gum. I respect anyone who wants to be a racer, but . . . There was a lack of professionalism in some cases, and a lack of respect for the sport as a whole. I thought the crowd was very good Saturday and excellent Sunday, but . . . while, there definitely was some GREAT racing (Matt Hagan vs. John Force, 1-2 in Funny Car points, in the finals is one example -- Force won), I don't think four-second bursts of terrific racing can overcome long, terribly long, delays as far as cultivating repeat customers is concerned.

Some well-funded racers had issues, too. Robert Hight got sideways on his last run and failed to qualify. On that same run, Jeff Diehl turned sideways, the throttle stuck, and he had a huge accident. Happily, he walked away. Every drag racing expert I asked, ranging from NHRA "voice" Bob Frey to senior VP of competition Graham Light, said they had never experienced a day like it. I sure haven't, including the most wacko days I've ever spent at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was Example One why drag racing can't have live TV.

This isn't a rip on NHRA, although I continue to believe dropping the fines and point penalties for oildowns was a mistake, and a decision that MUST be reversed. No question NHRA's Safety Safari did the best they could to get the track ready under most trying circumstances. I would say, however, NHRA must make a very careful, round-by-round review -- and not allow regional competitors to return, the ones who have proven they simply can't or won't put a reasonably prepared machine on the track. It was more than lack of budget. There were some who exhibited lazy work, and the result of that lack of work ethic was a terribly embarrassing national event. LVMS said Sunday ticket holders can come back free for this weekend's Lucas finals.

I talked with Light about this late Sunday afternoon. A couple of times he rightful pointed to the stands and said, "Those are the most important people here." He said he did send a couple of teams home. Don't be surprised at some response from NHRA before Pomona. In fact, from a PR standpoint, I'd say there is no choice.

I'm glad none of the accidents ended in injury. Taken as a whole, it was the worst racing event I've ever attended in my life.

P.S. -- Summit Racing Pro Stock team owner Ken Black made his racetrack return following a stroke . . . Nicely done: Video tribute to Jeff Byrd during pre-race ceremonies.


FAST LINES: Entertainment media reports say NBC is developing a NASCAR-themed family drama, The Crew, for the next TV season. NASCAR's cooperation is being sought, including use of logos, etc. To me, the timing doesn't seem too good for such a project, although I understand NASCAR would like the exposure and some revenue. But no one should think this would be the next Days of Thunder. If the TV show bombs, it will be just another talking point on how NASCAR's popularity has gone downhill . . . Congratulations to Paul Page, who recently received the Sagamore of the Wabash, the state of Indiana's highest honor . . . How far have standards of conduct fallen? Look no further than Jon Stewart calling the President of the U.S. "dude" to his face. This lowering of the bar hurts all of us . . . Please look for my NASCAR story in this Sunday's Arizona Republic. Mark Armijo and I will have coverage of the Phoenix International Raceway events all next week. If you're not in the state to buy the paper, check us out on http://azcentral.com/ .

[ more next Monday . . . ]