My first 2011 blog, posted January 13, included direct quotes from five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson about his desire to race in the Indianapolis 500. (Nice the Indianapolis Star last Friday finally got around to using some JJ quotes about this from last week's media tour.) There was an obvious follow-up to that, and that was to talk with Rick Hendrick, owner of Jimmie's No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. I saw Mr. H at the Barrett-Jackson classic car auction. As circumstances would have it, his time was limited, as he was on his way to the bidder's area. So arrangements were made for a telephone conversation. That happened last Wednesday.
Here's the complete transcript of Hendrick's answers to my questions if he'd give Johnson permission to give it a go in the I500, keeping in mind Johnson said he couldn't race a Honda-powered car, but Chevy is returning to Indy in 2012:
"His wife (Chandra) and I both feel the same way. We don't want to take a chance on Jimmie getting hurt in an open-wheel car when he's got what's going on here (NASCAR). I know it's one of those things he'd love to do, but I'm more concerned with his safety, just having him drive a car where, as competitive as he is, that he hasn't had any experience in. It's hard to get the test time in. You never say never, but right now, I'm going to be wanting him to concentrate on what we're doing here and not take a chance on getting hurt."
What if Chevy expressed a desire for Johnson to race Indy? Would Hendrick consider a partnership with an existing IndyCar team -- perhaps with Roger Penske?
"Roger and I have talked about it. He's a good friend. I'm not going to say it's out of the question, but it's not something I want to do right now."
FAST LINES: This is my 20th year as a member of the Indianapolis 500 Oldtimers (membership card number 1,000). So, recently, I automatically received my special gold cap plus a very nice 20-year Cross pen. Thank you to Oldtimers Executive Secretary Jack Martin . . . Not that the above means anything to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway PR department, which didn't even think that I might be interested in interviewing IMS President Jeff Belskus when he was at Barrett-Jackson. This is the kind of "oversight" that happens when PR is improperly cast as a marketing function, a fundamental misunderstanding of how to effectively work with the media. The ability to use an adding -- or should I say a subtracting -- machine doesn't mean someone knows how to sell. I have no sympathy for IMS in terms of its unsold tickets and declining TV numbers and overall media coverage. You get what you deserve and the IMS Corp. is richly deserving of all the negative consequences of all its self-inflicted wounds of the last 17 years . . . I've expressed my concern on the state of journalism many times in this blog, but let me tell you, real journalists don't need any condescending lectures from Larry McReynolds. Let's remember that it was McReynolds who one year used his TV position to keep current on garage area technical developments, then spent the non-Fox half of the season taking that knowledge to Kyle Petty's team -- hugely inappropriate. Also, supposedly "objective" TV announcers have no business MCing team publicity events. Shame on those who provided McReynolds' the forum . . . Congratulations to Ashley Force Hood and husband Dan, expecting their first child. Now, let's tell it like it is: Ashley's on-track absence this season is bad news for NHRA in terms of ticket sales, media coverage and TV ratings. And I'm not saying she should place business considerations ahead of personal fulfillment, just stating a fact . . . The new World of Outlaws PR coordinator, Kyle Luetters, has huge shoes to fill following the excellent Tony Veneziano . . . Congratulations to Kevin Kennedy, the 25th recipient of the Spirit of Ford Award, and the 2006 Jim Chapman Award winner for excellence in motorsports PR. Plus: Dodge PR rep Denny Darnell (Ken Patterson Helping Others Award) and Ford's Dan Zacharias (Joe Littlejohn Award) on being honored at the National Motorsports Press Association convention. The late Jim Hunter, earlier recognized with the 2010 Jim Chapman Award, was remembered with the NMPA Speedway Spirit Award . . . Another follow-up -- the Phoenix Business Journal reports sales at the 40th Barrett-Jackson collector car auction in Scottsdale reached $70 million with total attendance of 230,000 . . . Chutzpah: Chris Matthews -- the most over-inflated media ego in Washington -- has taken to calling a congresswoman "Balloon Head." Civility, indeed. I suggest that the new Comcast management bursts the balloon it just inherited.
When I became CART's first communications director in November 1980, a priority during that off-season was to simplify the points system, one carried over from USAC. The numbers ran into the thousands and, in certain circumstances, even fractional points were awarded. The system Kirk Russell and I created was easy to understand and follow: 20 points for the winner, 16 for second place, down to one point for 12th. The Board wanted about half of the drivers in a typical non-500 mile field to get points. Plus, we added one bonus point for the pole winner, and one for the driver who led the most laps. I'm glad NASCAR has finally embraced the concept of easy-to-understand. It's impossible not to notice, though, that with all available bonus points, the winner can earn a maximum of 48 points per race. Yes, that's right, 48.
As I've written before, legendary TV production executive Don Ohlmeyer was a great choice as ESPN's Ombudsman. Ohlmeyer wrote his last column in that capacity last week. It's too long for me to generalize about, but I did take a measure of satisfaction that Don got into some topics that I've highlighted here: The need for better storytelling, news reporting, transparency and being more responsive to the audience. The link is below and it's worth your time to read -- and think -- about what Don wrote. I don't know who ESPN's new "O" will be, but I'm hoping for something more than the rubber-stamp of an Eastern media or academic elite. And, this is a good time to say again that Speed really should have an Ombudsman. Why? Cutting away from Brian France's news conference Q&A in favor of pundits would be a valid place to start.
[ more next Monday . . . ]