• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, July 31, 2011

INDY: WAIT 'TIL NEXT YEAR!

What 'til next year!

That's the perception that seemed to trickle-out of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last week regarding the Brickyard 400.

There was a time when IMS officials would have been deeply concerned about such a perception. Of course, that was when Speedway "publicists" actually thought it was important to have on-going and strong working relationships with the national media. Today? Well, I'll put it this way: I doubt anyone there today even knows both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times thought it important enough to send writers to the Speedway's old off-season media party.

Outside of the fantasy bubble that exists in Indianapolis, supported by media cheerleaders, the BY400 had as much pre-race energy as a decade-old AAA battery and as much excitement as a scoreless soccer match.

What was upcoming? The Four Hundred or the Snore Hundred?

It only took 23 laps of boring Kasey Kahne up-front, no lead changes, "action" for ESPN to cut away to interview U.S. World Cup soccer goalie Hope Solo in the pit studio -- under the green flag!

The hometown Indianapolis Colts completely blew-away their IMS neighbors Saturday by signing Peyton Manning to a $90 million, five-year contract. Which was the bigger local story? No contest!

How far the Brickyard has dropped from the incredible 1994 debut (I was there) could be measured by this: Budweiser, Army, DuPont and Valvoline were among sponsors who didn't have primary ID on cars. That would have been unthinkable not that long ago. And it should make the Kool-Aid drinkers nuts that longtime Indy 500 entrant/sponsor John Menard took his money to NASCAR and watched his son win the Brickyard. That's a Business of Racing message of another sort.

Come 2012, there will be a name change due to title sponsorship from Crown Royal. The entire event format changes to a so-called "super" weekend with the debut of the Rolex sports car series Friday on the road course and the Nationwide series Saturday. NASCAR pinched that longtime date from nearby Lucas Raceway Park, which meant the short track's companion Truck race will disappear, too.

Congratulations to Paul Menard and team for good driving, good fuel mileage, and the right pit call. And to Jeff Gordon for an incredible charge in the closing laps.

At Indy, however, it's: Wait 'til next year! Questions: Is it too late? And will IMS be handing out Chicago Cubs' caps?


In my fifth anniversary blog a few weeks ago, I explained how the poison of the IRL-CART split and the technology allowing "brave" chatroomers to make anonymous personal attacks has led to the near-destruction of honest, legitimate, fact-based debate.

Liberal writer/commentator Juan Williams has authored a new book -- Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate. I hope to read it soon. You might remember the national outrage last year when ultra-liberal (and paid for by your taxes) National Public Radio fired Williams. In support of his book, Williams wrote an op-ed last week for USA Today. His opening words are worth reprinting here as a follow-up to what I wrote:

"These are the terms of debate in America: Speak your mind and you face being stigmatized, scorned and, in my case, fired."

Perfectly true. Extremely alarming. But definitely true. How sad.


On NASCAR: It was inevitable staff changes would come when the entire concept, organizational structure and philosophy of "PR" changed. But I was sorry to learn that Denise Maloof has departed NASCAR. She was excellent to work with and very helpful. In my experience, she also knew how to say "thank you" for coverage. That doesn't happen very often these days.


Spelling out the formula for F-O-R-M-U-L-A O-N-E success in Austin, Tex., next year:
http://valvoline.com/racing/behind-closed-garage-doors/2899

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, July 24, 2011

BIZ BRIEFS

UPDATE: I'll be on The Checkered Flag right after Sunday's Hungary Grand Prix on SiriusXM Channel 208. The race will air live on Sirius. Rick Benjamin is host and I should be on around 10 a.m. EDT.


Some Business of Racing items for your consideration, delayed by other recent pressing news:

* You won't read this in the Indianapolis media, but a real, true, key reason California Speedway sought to bring IndyCars back in 2012 was its naming rights deal with Auto Club. When that 2008 sponsorship, reported by the B of R experts at ESPN.com (so be cautious here) at the time to be for 10 years/$50 million, the track had two NASCAR Sprint Cup dates. Now down to one Cup weekend, the value of the AC sponsorship isn't what it was. So adding another racing weekend was essential to protect the revenue from AC, not so much a huge endorsement of IC. If the track still had two Cup dates, do you think IC would be back? Not likely . . .

* A track news release, however, does tell us "Tickets to highly anticipated event to go on sale to the public Sept. 12, 2011." (Bold emphasis mine.) Will more grandstand seats be occupied or empty? Gentlemen, start your hype engines.

* Proving my point above about the value of track naming deals, good for Forrest Lucas for telling it like it is and calling out the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its meaningless by-rote PR statement after NASCAR transferred Lucas Raceway Park's Nationwide event to IMS for 2012. Here's what Lucas told Susan Wade for a CompetitionPlus.com story:

Lucas shrugged off comments by IMS president Jeff Belskus that referred to "our friends at Lucas Oil" and pledged support for the neighbor racetrack. Belskus said, "Our friends at Lucas Oil are important to us, and we've supported them for a long time. We're going to continue to support them and try to continue to find ways to work with them."

Responded Lucas, "He didn't say anything one way or another. He didn't admit to anything, any wrongdoing. He avoided everything -- just said some pretty words and that was it.

"There's nothing he can do to support us. He has his agenda, and we have our agenda. He doesn't have anything to do with NHRA one way or another. He doesn't have anything to do with the track one way or another. The only thing we had in common was these two races," Lucas said. "I see no common connection of any kind where he can support us at all in any way, not that he ever did."

No surprise to anyone who knows anything about the B of R, but Lucas said he plans to renegotiate his naming rights deal with Raceway Park's owner, NHRA. (That's what Cal Speedway likely faced with the Auto Club.) Here's the link to the full story:
http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/news/18295-lucas-to-nhra-we-need-to-talk-

* IMS' Nationwide/Grand-Am announcement came on the same day Raceway Park had previously scheduled a media event. That triggered this terse E to media from track senior communications manager Scott R. Smith:

"Due to a conflict outside of our control, the 11 a. m. Kroger SpeedFest event press conference scheduled at Lucas Oil Raceway for July 6th has been cancelled. Sorry for any confusion."

No matter the difficult circumstances, nothing like some good faith communications coordination among PR "pros" . . .

* Virginia International Raceway issued one of the most bizarre media alerts I've ever seen -- two sentences to cancel a major pro racing weekend. Here it is, in full:

"No AMA Pro Racing event will take place at VIR in 2011.

"If circumstances are conducive in 2012, VIR looks forward to renewing its relationship with AMA Pro Racing."

No details, no explanation. No surprise, this set off a media back-and-forth with AMA Pro, forcing VIR to follow-up with more substance. Not the way to handle a bad situation from a media, public, sponsor, manufacturer or competitor relations standpoint.

* Congratulations to my friend, Dennis Bickmeier, new president of Richmond International Raceway. Dennis did a great job as media director at Cal Speedway -- glad to see a PR guy make it big!

* At last, ESPN got something right about its under-considered/over-produced NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage, moving Allen Bestwick into the booth play-by-play role, replacing the miscast Marty Reid. Production management should have known (or bothered to learn) to do this right from the start of its new NASCAR contract. Bestwick in the booth was obvious to countless fans but beyond the immediate comprehension of Those Who Live on a Different Planet in Bristol, Conn. Bestwick's credibility with the audience will help compensate for other shortcomings, of which there are several, starting with the adds-nothing-to-the-viewers-knowledge Brad Daugherty.

* My B of R political antenna tells me it's just a matter of time before military sponsorships end. The Pentagon budget is going to take a hit in the next few years, no matter how federal budget negotiations are resolved, and political wrangling will make motorsports sponsorships a fairly easy target. This is a matter of when, not if.

* It's obvious Travis Pastrana has a lot to learn about NASCAR. For example, if he wants his car to get through inspection, he should stop talking about driving in the Las Vegas IndyCar finale.

* Finally, a lot has been written and said in the last week about Steve Williams, let go as Tiger Woods' caddie. Everyone is free to make his/her call on Stevie and how important he was in Woods' success. Let me recount my personal experience with Williams. In April 2008, I sent him an E-mail, requesting an interview about his interest in racing. He called me -- from Augusta National early Masters' week -- and could not have been more cooperative. If you'd like to go back and read what came from that bit of enterprise reporting, here are two links:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/04/10/20080410tigerdriver.html

http://valvoline.com/racing/behind-closed-garage-doors/2456


If you missed my conversation about the Business of Drag Racing with Joe Castello on last Tuesday's WFO Radio, use this link and click on the show archives. I talk about my two most recent "Drags, Dollars & Sense" columns on CompetitionPlus.com. My part of the conversation begins about 41:30 and runs about 25 minutes):
http://archives.wforadio.com/archive/20110719-joecastello-tues.mp3

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, July 17, 2011

THE TRAFFICGATE SCANDAL

UPDATE 1: I'll be on The Checkered Flag right after Sunday's German Grand Prix on SiriusXM Channel 208. This is one of those weeks when the race will be live on Sirius but delayed on TV. Rick Benjamin is host and I should be on around 10 a.m. EDT.

UPDATE 2: I was Joe Castello's guest Tuesday night on WFO Radio to talk the Business of Drag Racing and my two most recent "Drags, Dollars & Sense" columns on CompetitionPlus.com. (See link at bottom.) Why do all drag strips have to look alike? You can listen (my part of the conversation begins about 41:30 and runs about 25 minutes) by clicking on the show archives at http://archives.wforadio.com/archive/20110719-joecastello-tues.mp3



Many times, I have written and said in public forums -- most recently, at this year's pre-Indy 500 AARWBA breakfast -- that "thank you" are the two most under-utilized words in America's conversations.

Rating a very close second, however, are "I'm sorry."

Or, as an alternative, "I apologize."

For years I have believed that senior members of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp. family ownership and executive management should have issued a public apology for all the damage caused to the U.S. open-wheel racing industry and fan base by the $2 billion blunder that was the creation of the Indy Racing League. I'll quickly add I've also expressed the opinion that CART/Champ Car leaders also owed all an apology. (The chatroomers probably will ignore that last sentence.)

In the case of Kentucky Speedway, Speedway Motorsports Inc. and Bruton Smith, though, words aren't enough for the disgrace and fiasco of The Trafficgate Scandal. I will say I was personally disgusted with use of the pathetic "regret" in the track's initial comment to what happened at the inaugural Sprint Cup race. Forget inconvenience to the paying customers. Given the endangerment to public safety, that sentiment was like a party host trying to pass off weak tea as bourbon.

Let me comment on the words first. Then, let's talk about something no one else has -- action.

It doesn't matter that Kentucky GM Mark Simendinger later amended his comments, even admitting the track "blew it." What is most telling here is the all-important first instinct was to lowball the magnitude of the problem.

And since we are talking about the meaning -- and real-life consequences -- of words, shame on Smith -- and yes, those who laughed -- when he joked about people getting "home by Tuesday" in a pre-race yap session with the media. I've had it with all the "World According to Bruton" stories that come with the built-in excuse that Bruton is "good copy." No more. Until The Trafficgate Scandal is completely and fully explained, compensated for, and resolved, the ONLY questions at any and all future Smith press avails should be about Kentucky. Nothing else. Start with this one: Since there had been some traffic and parking problems at the track in previous years, when you added 40,000 more seats for the Cup race, doesn't common sense say you knew there was insufficient highway and parking capacity to handle that many people and vehicles?

In other words, in the matter of The Trafficgate Scandal: What did Bruton Smith know and when did he know it?

It was good that Allen Bestwick asked Simendinger journalistically-sound questions on NASCAR Now the following Monday. But it wasn't good this came with only 11 minutes left in the show. At a time in the Business of Racing when the fan experience ranks second only to safety in terms of importance, and the economy and competition from other entertainment options makes fan loyalty that much more fragile, this was NEWS No. 1 and should have been treated that way at the top of the hour, not buried near the end.

From an industry standpoint, reaction proved to me that things have changed and in pursuit of every available dollar, members of the "promoters' club" are no longer willing to give others any benefit of any doubt.

IMS -- which no doubt hated that Kentucky got a Cup date because that just gave the public another option past the Brickyard 400 -- quickly offered disaffected Kentucky fans a deal. But the most vocal and pro-active was the missive issued by Roger Curtis, president, Michigan International Speedway. Of course, let's understand there's a bit of ISC-SMI politics at play here, but Curtis let out a salvo that struck at The Trafficgate Scandal like a Cruise missle. Curtis' complete comments are widely available elsewhere, so here, I'll pull out the most damning words:

What happened at Kentucky "potentially, put all of us back several steps – maybe even years." The response "became an exercise in blame and unpreparedness – and race fans, corporate partners, media and drivers were caught in the middle. As a track promoter I am saddened and embarrassed about what happened."

"It is bad enough the racetrack went into the weekend knowing traffic was going to be worse than they had previously had with other series. But to think Bruton Smith made light of it with the media, and then pointed the finger at the State of Kentucky when posed with traffic questions is unfathomable."

"It appears the mentality at some other racetracks today is to see how much money they can make off a fan. Their line of thinking is to ban coolers, have fire sales on last-minute tickets, build, build, build without thinking, thinking, thinking, and blame others for their mistakes."

Speaking of Kentucky's make-good ticket offer, my best reading of the track's statement is that it applies to customers "unable to attend." What about the thousands of others who couldn't get to their seats in time? Friday, at New Hampshire, Smith arrogantly said he doesn't want to give refunds to any of these poor souls. That's the key word here: REFUND.

Smith is showing he doesn't have a tin ear, PR-wise. It's more like a concrete ear.

Now, let's talk about action.

NASCAR has made famous the description "actions detrimental to stock car racing" in assessing fines and penalties to teams and competitors. If The Trafficgate Scandal doesn't fit every possible definition and interpretation of "ADTSCR" then I don't know what does.

The FIA has, several times in the past, fined Grand Prix organizers for far less serious problems. NASCAR should follow that example. I would suggest calculating the average cost of all the additional seats built for the Cup race and fine SMI that amount. (Example: If 40,000 more seats were added, and the average cost was $40, that would be $1.6 million.) I'd be OK donating that among the NASCAR Foundation, the Red Cross, and other NASCAR-associated causes.

I realize that impacts SMI's public shareholders. I'd tell them to take out their anger on management.

In the matter of the Cup race at Kentucky Speedway, Speedway Motorsports and The Trafficgate Scandal, here's the bottom line: Greed was not good. Just as it wasn't when thousands of seats were added to the new Dallas Cowboys' stadium for the Super Bowl but weren't approved by the fire marshall.

What happened at Kentucky wasn't acceptable. Whatever price Smith, the track and SMI pay, they deserve. And, finally, any/all consideration of Smith for any Hall of Fame should be put on a very firm "hold."


Here's a link to my new July "Drags, Dollars & Sense" column on CompetitionPlus.com. Why can't drag racing have its own Yankee Stadium or Wrigley Field?:
http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/editorials/18275-drags-dollars-a-sense-drag-strips-need-distinction

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, July 10, 2011

5th ANNIVERSARY BLOG

This is the fifth anniversary of this blog. Back on July 10, 2006, in the first writing titled "The Great Adventure," I explained how I hoped this would be a journey of learning for all of us.

Now, almost 325 postings later, I take satisfaction in what I've learned from this effort. And, in what others have told me they've learned from reading my words.

The late Paul Newman -- I had the pleasure of working for him at Newman/Haas Racing -- gave me a tremendous bit of advice when he told me, "Know your audience." As I've said before, but it's worth repeating on this occasion, this blog is written from a Business of Racing perspective. It's written for those in the industry and is read primarily by sponsor/team/track/sanction PR and marketing representatives, corporate people, track presidents, TV types, journalists and sanctioning body executives. Of course, fans interested in learning about the B of R -- and, as I have said many times, these days, it's impossible to be an in-the-know fan (or journalist) without knowing something about the B of R -- are welcome. But the primary audience is for those within the motorsports industry and so I write to that audience. This is not a "fan" site and the difference is very important.

If you need an example how they are different, here's an obvious one: My name is on every blog. My decades of experience are outlined next to every blog and every reader is welcome to determine for themselves my qualifications. That's in polar-opposite contrast to the chatrooms, where "brave" posters with unknown B of R credentials are free to engage in personal attacks, protected behind their on-screen anonymity.

My friend Paul Page addressed this issue very directly in response to a question I asked for my May "Drags, Dollars & Sense" column on CompetitionPlus.com:

“I used to (read Internet comments.) A lot of us used to. When the Internet, when (the late) Mike Hollander had his Racing Information Systems and all that, I think a lot of us paid attention because it was people that we knew, out of the racing community, but then it became a fashion to get on there and flame everything and then people started making stuff up. Gary Gerould and I called it, the ‘Jon Beekhuis Rule’ because he kept reading all that stuff. He was a new guy in broadcasting (CART) and he’d come in totally depressed. Finally, his wife said, ‘You may not read any of those anymore.’ If we’d catch him reading them we’d say, ‘What happened to the Beekhuis Rule?’

"If I get a letter, that’s serious. I pay attention to a letter. A phone call, a fan coming up to me at the track, it gives me several things. It takes anonymity away from them. They are probably being very sincere. It gives us a chance to have a conversation and point out why we do something someway. I had an event last year, not an NHRA event, and it was horrible. None of the scoring worked and, as the announcer I know, because people told me, I got creamed for the event. None of the things they were creaming me for were things that I did. The scoring didn’t work – I don’t put those numbers on the screen. The producer makes the decision on where the show is going to go. Many times those things that you are accused of actually come from somewhere else. A really good example in drag racing is I’m not the guy that puts a show on that’s supposed to be on at 11 at night on at 1:30 in the morning. That’s not in my best interest. But it happens. I tell the fans when I get that question, ‘Write the company. Give them a letter. Don’t do an E-mail. In today’s world, E-mails don’t have a lot of impact.’"


Another friend, Paul Tracy, recently told me of his journey into social media. In brief, he started posting as a way of outreaching to the fan base, in part because he was led to believe that group wanted his "inside" perspective -- and because of PT's well-earned reputation for non-politically correct talk. But as soon as he wrote something some didn't like, they responded with personal attacks. Paul quickly decided to say "see ya" -- at least for a bit -- and I don't blame him.

Having worked on both sides of the CART/IRL split, it's not unusual for me to be asked to reflect on that sad history. A few years ago I calculated it, in financial terms, to have been a $2 billion blunder. (Someone who knows more about the botton-line B of R than me told me I underestimated that by maybe $1B.) Even more costly and gut-wrenching, however, is this: It separated fans into two distinct, "Us vs. Them" sides (with a tiny sliver of people in the middle), that flamed passion into sometimes outright hate. This needs to be said because that ugly attitude didn't exist before the split. Period.

Reasonable -- fact-based -- debate became near-impossible and if you weren't gulping the Kool-Aid poured-out by either side, then you were the "enemy." Somewhere along that path, personal attacks -- not facts -- became the ammo. I've seen it. I've felt it. The passion of the fans is one of the things that makes racing great -- and keeps many of us in business -- but it's simply not acceptable for that passion to cross the line into personal attacks.

All too often, it became impossible to have an HONEST difference of opinion. All that mattered to too many was throwing the most toxic waste in the dump. And that was a tragic turn of events and, quite possibly, the worst thing and most lasting effect of the split. Happily, the advance of technology has brought with it experts in such things as filters and keyword searches capable of directly depositing such PA Es into spam/auto delete. Which, actually, is too polite a way to handle such garbage, in my Constitutionally-protected opinion.

How silly/sad/stupid has it gotten? When Tony Stewart said he wasn't interested in driving at the Indy 500 or going for the $5 million Las Vegas challenge, chatroomers attacked him as being something less than real racer. When I asked Jimmie Johnson in January about trying Indy, and he explained his wife's wishes that he didn't, he was blasted as being something less than a man and I was criticized for reporting what he said -- supposedly because I was/am "pro-CART" -- a know-nothing comment from someone who couldn't be bothered to check the FACTS.

As we say here in Arizona, some people don't know if they're on foot or horseback.


Paul Page referred to Mike Hollander, who was another great friend of mine and founder of RIS and the pioneer of Internet motorsports journalism. Mike died of cancer a few years ago. About four months before his death, we were talking about the Internet communications revolution and the horribly wrong turn it had taken in terms of bomb-throwing. Since Mike was my personal guru on all-things-computers, I asked him what would happen if anonymous posting could be eliminated and personal attacks banned.

"Those sites wouldn't exist any more," he replied.

Meanwhile, five years later, we try to keep 'em honest in the media (especially in Indianapolis) and in PR (especially in Indianapolis) and bring some attention to important Business of Racing news and trends and issues. That's who we are and what we do. For those who -- like me -- believe we can and should never stop gathering true facts, learning the lessons of history, and insisting on high standards of professionalism throughout the industry, "The Great Adventure" will continue next week.

Thank you.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

A PAUSE BEFORE 5

UPDATE: I'll be on The Checkered Flag right after Sunday's British Grand Prix on SiriusXM Channel 208. This is one of those weeks when the race will be live on Sirius but delayed on TV. Dave Ross will be hosting this week for Rick Benjamin.

Believe it or not, sometimes there are times when other matters take priority over writing about the motorsports industry. This has been such a week for me. I do offer, for your consideration, a new "It 11" list above. Meanwhile, please return next week for a special post on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of this blog. Thank you.