• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

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 . . . ]