• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

DO I HAVE STORIES FOR YOU

GOOD FOR THE BUSINESS OF NASCAR: No. 24 atop the scoreboard.


PLEASE CHECK BACK HERE MONDAY, MARCH 7, TO READ ABOUT AND SEE MY THRILL RIDE WITH TREVOR BAYNE AT PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY.

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Since I wrote 18 stories last week on NASCAR at Phoenix International Raceway -- 13 for the Arizona Republic and five for National Speed Sport News -- I'm going to invite you to check out those writings.

Below are links to what was in the Republic, found at http://azcentral.com/ .

* Tuesday: Review of NASCAR off-season changes --http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2011/02/21/20110221get-up-speed-nascars-many-changes.html

* Wednesday notebook: Joey Logano, Greg Biffle and more --
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2011/02/22/20110222nascar-joey-logano-adjusting-sprint-cup-series.html

* Thursday: Dale Earnhardt Jr. --
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2011/02/23/20110223rick-hendrick-tries-help-dale-earnhardt-jr-end-woes.html

* Thursday notebook: Travis Pastrana and more --
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2011/02/23/20110223travis-pastrana-set-2nd-stock-car-start.html

* Friday notebook: PIR sells out grandstands and more --
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2011/02/24/20110224phoenix-international-raceway-grandstand-seats-sold-out.html

* Friday: Drivers remember an old friend --
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2011/02/24/20110224phoenix-international-raceway-prepares-repaving.html

* Saturday notebook: Danica, Trevor Bayne and more --
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2011/02/25/20110225nascar-pir-danica-patrick-nationwide.html

* Saturday: Kyle Busch wins Truck race --
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2011/02/25/20110225nascar-pir-kyle-busch-wins-trucks.html

* Sunday: Kyle Busch wins Nationwide race --
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2011/02/26/20110226nascar-pir-kyle-busch-nationwide-win.html

* Sunday: Kyle Busch Q&A --
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2011/02/26/20110226qa-nascar-driver-kyle-busch.html

* Monday: Accidents eliminate top drivers --
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2011/02/27/20110227nascar-pir-accidents-sprint-cup.html

* Monday notebook: Why Busch left Hendrick, Danica, and more --
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2011/02/27/20110227nascar-pir-kyle-busch-sweep-ends-sprint-cup.html


Please go to http://nationalspeedsportnews.com/ for my Speed Sport stuff, including a column on the state of racing in Arizona. Or check out this week's paper. By the way, this is my 40th consecutive year as a NSSN subscriber.

Thank you!

PIT STOPS: Trevor Bayne's Daytona 500 victory played well with America's obsessions with youth, surprise and an upset result. The ABC and NBC nightly newscasts had features the following night . . . Over at PTI, the co-hosts -- SURPRISE! -- thought the NBA's gimmick dunk contest and exhibition All-Star game were a higher priority than a legitimate sports event. When they got to Daytona, intellectually lazy Tony Kornheiser twice called it "Sprint Car." Shame on NASCAR "partner" ESPN. The show's title really should be: Pardon The Interruption IF We Talk About Anything Other Than Basketball . . . It's one of the oldest ethical considerations in sports journalism: No Cheering in the Press Box. Too bad it wasn't honored when the checkered flag waved at Daytona . . . We'll see: ESPN will have The Poynter Institute serve as its Ombudsman function for the next 18 months. One place for P to start would be the disastrous Daytona Nationwide race presentation. Still waiting on Speed to understand it needs an O. Apparently the added "journalism" to its new Speed Center is for host Adam Alexander to pace around the studio -- with his hand hanging out of his pocket . . . Man, does ESPN have problems when it comes to racing. On ESPN Radio Sunday morning, host John Kincade asked a caller, "Who do you think will win the Indy 500 TODAY?"

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, February 20, 2011

WHAT JOHNSON SHOULD HAVE DONE ON 'PTI'

Jimmie Johnson passed on an opportunity for a huge win last week, even before the Daytona 500.

Wednesday, the five-time Sprint Cup champion appeared on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption show. That was after co-host Tony Kornheiser had recklessly tossed-out the gossip that Dale Earnhardt Jr. had won the D500 pole because his car wasn't legal.

First, let's be clear: Kornheiser is no longer a reporter. He is no longer a journalist. He trades off his past in those roles, but they no longer apply. Kornheiser said on-air several years ago that he doesn't like to interview athletes; he prefers talking to reporters. THAT IS NOT REPORTING! And it bit Kornheiser in the can big-time in this case, because his "source" for this rumor-mongering was a Washington Post writer. Sub co-host and out-of-control egomanic Dan LeBatard actually praised Kornheiser for having done some "reporting" on Junior. Which proves how little LeBatard actually knows about journalism.

No, I've never worked for the Post or the New York Times, but I know this: IF Kornheiser had talked to Junior, or Rick Hendrick, or Steve Letarte, or a NASCAR official, THAT WOULD have been REPORTING.

He didn't. And it wasn't.

Credibility is supposed to mean everything in the news business, but, apparently ESPN management doesn't apply that standard to PTI. What out-of-touch-with-their-audience media elites like Kornheiser don't accept, because their egos blind them, is the impression left with NASCAR fans is this: If Kornheiser knows so little about racing and is too lazy to learn but that doesn't stop him from mouthing-off, why should we think he knows about anything else he talks about? INFORMED opinion is perfectly acceptable. Gossip, rumors and speculation are not.

I put Kornheiser right there with the likes of Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace. They speak loudly, but say little.

Anyway, back to my point about Johnson.

A very legitimate argument can be made that Johnson should have either said "no" to the PTI interview, or, immediately have taken on the intellectually-empty Kornheiser. If these options weren't discussed with Johnson, they should have been. If sponsor Lowe's objected, fine. If Hendrick thought it wasn't a good idea, OK. If Johnson decided, "That's not me," his choice.

But think about it.

The rap against Johnson is he's too vanilla. What if, in defense of his team and his teammate -- and let's remember that this season Earnhardt's No. 88 is in the same building as Johnson's 48 -- Johnson had come right out of the box at the start of the interview and taken on Mr. No Nothing? Challenged him directly, not rudely, but aggressively.

Junior Nation would have been thrilled. It says here that, overnight, Johnson's fan base would have grown significantly. By stepping out of character, this one time -- and I say again it would have been completely justifiable in defense of his team and his teammate -- Johnson's image and popularity would have turned faster than his Chevy into turn three at Daytona.

Humor can be an effective way to deflect controversy. That's what Cranky Korny attempted to do. Johnson went along with it. I wish he hadn't. It was the perfect circumstance to show some anger; a different side of his personality. It would have been a huge win for Jimmie and for the NASCAR industry, trying as it is to sell tickets and regain TV viewership. Mark it down as Opportunity Lost.

I'm not one to moan about Johnson's historic championship run. I believe in celebrating excellence, not complaining about it. But I wish this was one "pass" Johnson hadn't made.

FAST LINES: ESPN, which oh-so-desperately needed to start the season with a quality production, ended the Daytona Nationwide race on three flats. Marty Reid called the wrong winner -- a mortal sin in his line of work. And, no Marty, Brad Keselowski is not the "defending" Nationwide champion. A new NASCAR rule doesn't allow him to "defend." The network lost the audio in victory lane -- we didn't heard a word of Tony Stewart's "live" interview. And Jamie Little talked to crashed-out Keselowski BEFORE he went to the infield medical center for a mandatory exam. It is ALWAYS MORE IMPORTANT for a driver -- even one who seems OK -- to be seen by the doctors before being heard from by TV. NASCAR officials should enforce that policy -- no exceptions . . . Proving again the power of the NFL, next year's Daytona 500 has been moved back one week, to Feb. 26. The track and NASCAR are anticipating an 18-game NFL regular season and a mid-February Super Bowl . . . The black Budweiser car doesn't look good. Red is right . . . Rookie mistake: A Terrible Towel and sunglasses cost Trevor Bayne's sponsors Big Time TV exposure in Daytona's victory lane . . . From the standpoint of family, good that Tony George has returned to the Hulman & Co. board. From a business standpoint, it's more of the same thinking -- All four new directors are Indiana people. It's a big, wide world out there beyond Indiana and all the Hulman ventures would benefit from a wider perspective. When will they ever learn? . . . The "creative" concept of those singing NAPA commercials has long outlived its shelf life . . . Last week I noted the prospectus for the Williams Formula One team's public offering listed many "risks." Here's an example torn from today's headlines: Political unrest in Bahrain, which is supposed to host a major pre-season test, as well as the series opener . . . Interesting news on the credential front: NASCAR, in addition to allowing drivers' children into the garage area, has relaxed the dress code to OK shorts, open-toed shoes, sleeveless blouses and skirts/dresses. NHRA, marking its 60th anniversary, is offering a free 2011 hard card to past national event winning drivers in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Pro Stock Truck and Top Eliminator.

Mark Armijo and I will have full coverage of NASCAR in Phoenix all this week in the Arizona Republic. Below is a link to my Sunday season scene-setter. Thursday, I'll have a story on Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick Motorsports. Sunday, my now-traditional Newsmaker Q&A will be with Kyle Busch. If you can't get the Republic, read us at http://azcentral.com/ .

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2011/02/19/20110219nascar-sprint-cup-jimmie-johnson-daytona-500.html

Please note I'll also be covering the PIR events for National Speed Sport News. I'll do the Cup, Nationwide and Truck race reports, a weekend notebook, and column. See next week's NSSN and also check out http://www.nationalspeedsportnews.com/ .

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, February 13, 2011

THE STARE THAT TOLD THE STORY

THE INTIMIDATOR AND THE LION: Dale and Nigel, Michigan, 1993. (Photo by Dan R. Boyd.)


This is one of those years full of historic anniversaries. It's the 50th year since John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as president. Ronald Reagan was sworn-in 30 years ago. Alan Shepard became America's first man in space a half-century past. It will be 10 years since Alex Zanardi lost his legs in that terrible Champ Car crash. And, of course, this Sept. 11 will be 10 years after the terrorist attacks.

This week is all about the 10th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's death on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

I've shared my personal memories of Earnhardt several times over the years in a number of forums. I had the chance to interact directly with Dale when I was PR director for the IROC series and, then, when working with Nigel Mansell as Nigel and Dale had a mutual admiration society going. The above image captures the first time they met, in July 1993 at Michigan International Speedway, as Dale was getting ready for IROC practice. This photo, autographed by both, hangs on my office wall. The multiple interactions between the two I had the chance to witness were fascinating and the source of wonderful memories.

This is sometimes forgotten by long-time fans -- and unknown by newer ones -- but Earnhardt's first nickname was "Ironhead." As Dale's talents progressed and his win totals grew and his Cup championships added-up and his reputation blossomed, though, he became "The Intimator." That's how he'll forever be remembered.

Here's an example of that mindset that I can share, as told to me by Zanardi, right after the 1997 IROC at Daytona.

Zanardi drew the pole position and Earnhardt pulled the outside front-row spot. In those two days before the race, several people from the NASCAR arena told Alex to hold his ground. I remember taking Zanardi and Jimmy Vasser to the infield studio for ESPN2's old rpm2night show and Jimmy Spencer came over and said, "Are you those Indy Car guys? Don't take any bleep from Earnhardt!" Except, he didn't say "bleep."

As the cars went down the back straightaway on the pace lap and drivers did what they typically do -- weave back-and-forth to warm up the tires -- Zanardi told me he reached up to adjust his rear-view mirror. In the midst of that motion, Alex said he looked to his right and saw this:

Earnhardt -- remember, he worn an open-face helmet -- had his head turned left. He was looking right at Zanardi. And Dale gave Alex "The Intimidator" stare all the way down to turn three.

That's a true story -- and the stuff of legend.


I broke the story last Wednesday of the repaving and reconstruction details at Phoenix International Raceway. The story dominated sports Page 1 of the Arizona Republic. Here's a link:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2011/02/08/20110208phoenix-international-raceway-set-makeover.html

No, despite what one of the Indianapolis media cheerleading members wrote, I do not at all expect there to be an IndyCar race at PIR in 2012. (Or a return of the Copper World Classic, unless there's a significant improvement in the Arizona economy. There's still going to be plenty of infrastructure improvement work to be done.) A phone call to PIR President Bryan Sperber is all it would take for any "journalist" to accurately report to his readers. As far as I'm concerned, it is a great disservice to remaining open-wheel fans here in the Valley to keep pumping them up about a possible race, when there is no realistic prospect of that happening anytime soon. The end result is fans are disappointed -- again. PIR is not to blame because it's not the one floating this balloon. Those who have done that have been IndyCar officials and the Indianapolis media cheerleaders. STOP!


The Williams Formula One team will have a public stock floatation later this year (not registered under the U.S. Securities Act and so not generally available to be offered or sold here). I scanned through the lengthy prospectus (didn't have time for an in-depth reading) and, under the category of "risk" associated with this offering, this jumped out at me:

"With the Bribery Act 2010 expected to come into force in the United Kingdom in 2011, sponsors may decide to restrict or curtail altogether the level of hospitality at Grands Prix that they offer to third parties. This in turn may reduce some of the benefits of sponsoring a Formula One Team and may lead to existing sponsors not renewing their existing sponsor partnership contracts at the end of their term, and may make it more difficult for Williams to attract new sponsors in the future."


Good luck to Brett Jewkes, who will become NASCAR's first Chief Communications Officer on April 13. He's well qualified. Here's one of those little details I can't help but remember: While at Taylor, it was Jewkes who, along with the agency's Brand Counsel Group, who did a comprehensive strategic review for NASCAR of its and industry communications practices early last year. Kind of reminds me of how Dick Cheney came to be chosen by George W. Bush as his vice president -- Cheney led Bush's VP candidate search.


Here's a link to my February "Drags, Dollars & Sense" column in CompetitionPlus.com. It's part two of my series on activation:
http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/editorials/16687-drags-dollars-a-sense-nhra-misses-its-activation



I'm honored to have called Tom Carnegie a friend. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway's legendary chief PA announcer died Friday at age 91. Tom's distinctive voice was heard at 61 Indy 500s, from 1946-2006. (I hope IMS management will be wise enough to include some of Tom's classic calls as part of this May's 100th anniversary race.) Among the fascinating facts about Tom's career produced by historian Donald Davidson: The single-lap track record when Tom debuted in '46 was Ralph Hepburn’s 134.449 mph. Fifty years later, Arie Luyendyk recorded a 237.498 mph lap. Tom announced both. In my many dealings with Tom over many years, the one thing that stands out to me the most: Anytime Tom said he'd like to talk to a driver, I never heard one of them say "no" or ask if it could be done later. Any and every driver I know of would immediately come to Tom and his microphone. Many considered it an honor and, for all, it was a sign of respect. God Bless, Tom, and thank you.

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, February 06, 2011

A DISTRACTION, NOT A REALITY

Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth. Reagan will always be remembered for his eternal optimism and skill as "The Great Communicator." As I have noted numerous times -- whatever one's political views -- there is much positive to learn from Reagan's life and the way he led as president.

Last week also marked the 40th anniversary of Apollo 14. That was the third lunar landing and commanded by Alan Shepard, who in 1961, became the first American in space. I was fortunate to grow up in the age of the Great Space Race and have had the thrill of being included in a VIP group tour of the NASA headquarters in Houston, even getting into the Shuttle simulator and the now-closed flight control room where all the big decisions were made during the Apollo missions. My middle name is Alan. You can figure out why.

The enduring examples of Reagan and Shepard are inspirational: Anything is possible in America, even in the face of great challenge. Remember, Reagan survived an assassination attempt in the early months of his presidency. Shepard was grounded for years by an inner-ear problem, but determined to walk on the moon, he had it corrected by an experimental and risky surgery.

I mention this because, even though Grand-Am put on an interesting Rolex 24 the other week, for the majority of people the racing season gets serious this weekend as NASCAR gets going at Daytona. That is welcome. I must admit, however, this year I see it differently. This year, I see it not really in terms of competition or entertainment, but as a distraction to what is happening in the country and around the world.

Given the respect I have for American heroes like Reagan and Shepard, it's difficult to admit this, but I will: I'm not optimistic.

Please don't be misled by lazy journalists who pick-off the low-hanging fruit news item that the percentage of unemployed went down in last week's government report. If they actually bothered to look deeper so they might understand, the news would have been this was the result of an increasing number of people who are no longer actively seeking work and, thus, not counted in the labor pool.

What I came to realize the other week at the Barrett-Jackson classic car auction here in Scottsdale is there are two economies: For those people who can afford to play in that arena, times are good and getting better. That's reflected in Wall Street bonuses and the rising stock market. They, however, are a tiny fraction of America. Now, two economies isn't new, but this time around it carries with it incredibly serious consequences.

A decade of war and a jobless economic "recovery" is leading to a deeper sense of frustration, outrage and anger in the country. No, don't point fingers at the Tea Party, because its members won't be the ones at the spearhead of what I believe probably will come. It's naive to think some form of what is happening in Egypt and elsewhere can't happen here. Remember, it was only weeks ago in "civilized" England that Prince Charles and his wife were caught in a riot where protesters were shouting, "Off with their heads!"

England, Greece, France, Egypt, Tunisia -- violence in the streets is spreading. With each passing day, it's becoming a less shocking sight, and with standards of what is proper being dumbed-down across-the-board, at some point, the perception will be that it's more acceptable. When that tipping point is reached, all bets are off.

I question if we, as a country and as a people, have the political will and individual strength of character to do what those of the Reagan and Shepard generations did. Mobilize to defeat the enemies to our way of life? Sorry, the "me" generation is too busy with the latest video game and, in general, just doing what it wants. They think wearing a ribbon somehow proves they "care" more than the people who actually go out and DO something about the great issues of the day. Go to the moon in 10 years? We haven't built new oil refineries or nuclear power generation plants for decades because the "not in my backyard" mindset blocks what is good for the nation. Personal and educational standards have plunged because of parents who don't act as responsible parents once did, and by sub-par teachers protected by unions and bureauracy. To me, the flash point is likely to be health care: What a spin-doctorish joke that President Obama's signature piece of legislation is known as the "Affordable Health Care Act." Affordable? Health insurance premiums are rocketing higher and faster than the Saturn V that got Apollo astronauts off the launch pad. An insurance industry representative, with a good reputation, told me that people in good health are getting hit with increases of at least 20 percent; those with claims pay 30-40 percent more. Personally, I'm convinced the insurance companies are stockpiling cash after passage of Obama Care. (And they won't refund it even if the Supreme Court strikes down the law.) What do you think will happen when maybe 100 million hard-working, decent, self-respecting, patriotic people can't afford a basic insurance plan?

NASCAR, unfortunately, saw a commercial and political-correctness opportunity to jump on the ethanol scam -- promoting use of American-grown corn -- just as food inflation has hit the family wallet. I'm sure you've paid more at the supermarket recently. The one happy spot in the economy has been low inflation -- that's ending -- with up oil prices and food costs.

The media elites are in line for plenty of blame, too. Let's see if I've got this straight: Bill O'Reilly had to take-off THREE days from his Fox News Channel show last week to "clear my head" in preparation for a pre-Super Bowl interview with the president? Oh, and we have to "Factor" in that grueling long trip from New York City to Washington, D.C. I'm sure his core audience, just trying to keep things together at home, really understand and sympathize with Bill's need to rest. Carrying around that kind of ego must be exhausting. Laura Ingraham grabbed the opportunity of O'Reilly's rest period to plug "Valentine's Day inscriptions" for anyone buying her Obama fiction book.

Sports media isn't exempt, either. As commented on here, the PTI co-hosts really showed how out-of-touch they were with their audience by taking last summer off. CBS' Jim Nance, trying to keep an audience for last weekend's Phoenix Open, repeatedly speculated on Saturday that the PGA tournament -- delayed by cold weather conditions -- might end on Sunday. This, despite the fact that the Open chairman had already announced a Monday finish. That was the worst bit of sports disinformation since Darrell Waltrip claimed fans weren't leaving Daytona International Speedway in the wake of last February's pothole fiasco.

To me, one of the most wonderful things about racing has always been the passion of the fans. But when I see chatroomers launch into personal attacks on Jimmie Johnson -- calling him a "chicken" because he respects his wife's don't-drive-the-Indy 500 wishes and honors a legally-binding contract with his NASCAR team -- well, that's another reason for pessimism of what our society has come to. Be disappointed, sure, fair enough. Go off on a personal attack without the facts, no, not worthy.

So, sorry, especially given the examples of the likes of Ronald Reagan and Alan Shepard, but I'm not optimistic.

Let the racing begin. For me, it will be a short-term distraction, not something that will change the reality of the world in which we live -- or the difficult rendezvous with destiny which surely lies just ahead.

[ more next Monday . . . ]