Sunday, June 12, 2011


There's a chapter in Mario Andretti's 1970 book, What's It Like Out There?, titled: "Problems of Publicity."

Mario discovered that decades ago and JR Hildebrand and Dario Franchitti found out for themselves last week at publicity-obsessed Texas Motor Speedway.

Hildebrand injured his left knee in a pre-practice obstacle-course type of event. According to the reports I read, it was lightly covered -- not worth the risk -- and no doubt only the fact that the near-Indy 500 winner got hurt generated attention. Noteable to me was the decision by Hildebrand's Panther team to provide minimal detail -- a stark contrast to the way Denny Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing acted when Hamlin injured his knee in a basketball game before the 2010 Cup season.

Franchitti, meanwhile, won the first of the twin IndyCar events at Texas. (I was CART's communications director the last time there were twins, in 1981, at Atlanta.) But Franchitti lost -- and maybe lost the series title -- because of the desperation decision for a random draw for starting order for the second show. Sometimes, this question must be asked: What's more important? A publicity stunt or the integrity of the sporting competition? I guess we know how Randy (We'll race at Phoenix even though I've never spoken to the track president) Bernard and Eddie Gossage would answer. Will Power, Franchitti's main championship rival, drew third and won. Franchitti drew 28th and did his best to finish seventh. Not exactly a "fair" fight based on performance results.

Elsewhere, on the stunt front, the Le Mans organizers extended an invitation for a DeltaWing car to run in next year's 24 hours. (See below.) Of course, that was before two near-fatal accidents and other incidents that exposed the dangers of multi-class races with cars of vastly different speed capabilities, with at least some amateur (paying) out-of-their-league drivers that the pros must deal with.

I hope Tuesday's Tony Stewart-Lewis Hamilton seat-switching exercise goes without drama.

It's a law of nature: A vacumn will always be filled. That's essentially was happened last week when the Le Mans organizers announced an invitation had been extended for a version of the DeltaWing car to compete unclassified in next year's 24-hour classic. Given all the attention and favorable media commentary on the DeltaWing, it was only a matter of time the creation rejected by IndyCar and Brian Barnhart would be embraced elsewhere. The project is sure to get plenty of nice coverage from a smitted media and the fact that American racing hero Dan Gurney's All American Racers is providing the manufacturing capability is a further guarantee. Right now, all of this basically exists on paper, but the desperate-for-attention American Le Mans Series no doubt will enjoy a little rub-off benefit. But, it's legitimate to ask: Might the ACO (the Le Mans organizers) reconsider and radically change eligibility based on speed differences after last week's huge accidents?

Just when I think the modern media can't get any more ridiculous, something happens that proves me wrong. Last Friday, it was the release of over 20,000 E-mails from Sarah Palin's time as governor of Alaska. Media organizations that don't spend meaningful time or budget to cover stories of international and nationwide importance -- heard much about the crisis in Japan lately? -- dispatched crews to Juneau in a celebrity-crazed and agenda-driven search for "news." CNN sent its "special investigations" crew. (!) How stupid did it get? There was the scene of a TV sound man pointing his pole microphone at a push cart carrying six 50-pound boxes of printouts, trying to get sound from the wheels! It's difficult to believe it will ever get any more embarrassing than that, but sadly, I'm sure it will.

Here's a link to my June "Drags, Dollars & Sense" column on What would some of NHRA's top players do if they controlled drag racing for one day?:

It should always be in the driver's hands:

[ more next Monday . . . ]