Sunday, April 17, 2011


They say everything's bigger in Texas. Well, for sure, there was a lot of big talk during last Tuesday's news conference to announce more details of the facility being built in Austin for a 2012 Formula One event. The place is now officially named "Circuit of the Americas" and a 10-year contract for a MotoGP event, starting in 2013, was also revealed.

I watched most (the streaming video cut out a few times) of the conference. The scale of the site -- said to be 1,000 acres with the 3.4-mile road course taking 350 acres -- the cost -- pegged at $250 million by one speaker and $400 million by another -- employees -- 1,300 at the peak -- and usage -- said to be planned for 365 days-a-year for racing, concerts, business meeting, educational purposes, etc. -- certainly are Texas-sized.

We're told there will be meeting rooms, a conference center, banquet hall, trauma center, centerpiece tower and a park that will generate business year-round. The projection is 120,000 race-day spectators with 300,000 over a weekend. It was said the F1 round will create "the largest gathering of corporate leaders in the United States." And, over 10-15 years, "$3-4 billion" added to the local economy.

We shall see. The project was widely "greeted" with skepticism throughout the motorsports industry when first revealed. It sure seemed to take a lot of political maneuvering to get going with the construction, which now is said to be "on schedule."

I've been around long enough to have covered the U.S. GP at Watkins Glen for many years and was on the CART staff when negotiations shifted Long Beach from F1 to the PPG Cup series. Since then, of course, we've seen Phoenix and Dallas and Indianapolis come-and-go and countless rumors about Central Park in New York City. Take Phil Hill and Dan Gurney and Mario Andretti off the list and American drivers haven't been world-wide headliners. And, most recently, was the massive embarrassment of the still-born so-called U.S. F1 team. It's still worth saying "shame on you" to those involved in that one.

From a PR standpoint, the Austin news event had moments of disorganization -- "Where are the jackets? Where are the jackets?" -- with speakers unnecessarily bouncing back-and-forth to create a cluttered presentation. And, in recalling how Speed Channel cheerleaded for that bogus U.S. F1 effort, it was troubling to observe history possibly repeating itself.

Speed F1 caller Bob Varsha was brought in as MC and it was, well, perhaps unfortunate that Varsha compared the "buzz" around Austin to Adelaide, Australia -- which, as we know, no longer hosts the Grand Prix tour. It was perhaps even more unfortunate, given the many reports that Melbourne will leave the schedule due to high costs, that Varsha said, "The Aussies were great friends." Note past-tense "were." As in likely not successful enough from a business standpoint to continue.

All in all, it all sounded great. I always cheer for Big Thinkers. From the standpoint of America's credibility in the international motorsports world, however, Austin had best not be all hat and no cattle.

FAST LINES: I again guested for most of a half-hour Sunday a.m. on Rick Benjamin's Sirius XM Satellite Radio show after the Chinese Grand Prix. As a follow-up to what I wrote about being on with Rick the previous week after the Malaysian GP, this show Rick is doing is new and will be live post-race after this season's Formula One events. Rick has asked me to be a semi-regular guest. I also was interviewed by the Austin American-Statesman last year about the proposed new U.S. Grand Prix site . . . STP's aggressive return to big-time racing sponsorship, announced last week, is welcome news to many old-time fans and participants. Can't help but notice, however, the involvements will be in NASCAR, drag racing and World of Outlaws. I'm one of those who will forever associate the brand with the Indy 500 -- Andy Granatelli, the Novi, turbine, and wins by Mario Andretti and Gordon Johncock. No Indy sponsorship included this time, though . . . I see one of the Indianapolis media cheerleaders has again speculated on the possibility of an IndyCar race at Phoenix International Raceway. Too bad it was just lazy guessing with no real first-hand reporting involved. I've covered this pie-in-the-sky subject point-blank several times both in this blog and in the Arizona Republic but, you see, I was doing actual journalism . . . Excellent news -- Tony Veneziano, who did a very good job as the World of Outlaws publicist, will join JR Thompson Co. May 2 to work on motorsports and non-racing projects . . . It's not a one-size-fits-all solution, but good for ESPN management to more clearly define its policy on announcers as product endorsers. Now it's time for Speed to step up to the ethics plate -- start by hiring an Ombudsman and ending the OK for announcers to sell sponsorship on their network-logo clothing . . . Any so-called "publicist" who allows his/her driver to do TV interviews with his/her uniform pulled down -- losing valuable visibility for sponsors -- is not doing his/her job. Period. End of story. Shame on the team owners and sponsor managers who aren't paying attention.

Two items from Tony Stewart's pre-Talladega news conference, as provided by Chevy's excellent NASCAR PR duo:

IS THIS TYPE OF RACING MORE MENTALLY DRAINING THAT SOME OTHERS? “It is still more mentally draining to deal with you guys (the media) than it is to drive the cars here.”

WHAT DID YOU TELL THE JOURNALISM STUDENTS AT ALABAMA THIS WEEK? “I gave them the list of the hit-list media and I’m sure they will be interviewing you guys soon. (Smile.) Not that you guys didn’t know that already.”

[ more next Monday . . . ]