• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

DANICA's DAY

UPDATE: I'll be live on SiriusXM 90 Wednesday at about 2:30 p.m. EDT to talk about the NASCAR tire testing at Phoenix International Raceway.


I covered last Thursday morning's Danica Patrick-to-NASCAR news conference for the Arizona Republic. Here's a link to that story, which was lengthy by local standards, and ran on sports Page One.

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2011/08/25/20110825danica-patrick-nascar-announcement-scottsdale.html

GoDaddy's offices are about a 15-minute drive from my Scottsdale home. The event, postponed one day and moved from the downtown baseball field, wasn't the best organized I've ever attended. The formal announcement was very scripted and I would say nothing new was learned. There wasn't anything special or overly welcoming or friendly or relationship-building about it. I had an individual interview with Danica afterwards in a corporate conference room. I knew it was an extremely busy time for her, partly due to the postponement, as she had to travel to California for IndyCar obligations later that day.

Still, I was somewhat struck by the impression that she didn't seem as happy as one might have expected on such a big occasion. In fact, that was the second question I asked her: "Is this a happy day for you?" She appeared a little surprised by that and answered: "Yeah, sure, of course it's a happy day." OK -- I'm just saying she didn't look it.

Since she had earlier said there was no news on returning to the Indy 500 next May, I asked if there had been any conversations with Indianapolis Motor Speedway management about scheduling considerations that might make that a bit easier for her. DP said no but reminded me: "Anything can happen."

As the TV people like to say, stay tuned.

I have some more from Danica that I'm saving for future use in the Republic. A few minutes after I was done talking to Patrick, I discussed it all with Rick Benjamin and Chocolate Myers on SiriusXM. There really wasn't any "news" but my overall impression was really more a reminder of what I've observed for years: Danica is very guarded and doesn't go off-script very often. In that sense, she and her media manipulator sponsor are a good match. Sometimes, that reflects poorly on many segments of the celebrity-crazed/journalistically-challenged media world.


FAST LINES: Mark Armijo and I will be covering tire testing at Phoenix International Raceway this Monday and Tuesday. See our stories in the Republic or AzCentral.com . . . Despite what you might have read elsewhere, no paddock in major motorsports is more fan friendly than NHRA's. The Big Go -- the U.S. Nationals -- is this weekend, with plenty of interesting on-track and trackside things to see and do and hours of TV coverage. As I say every year, even if you are not a drag racing fan, you really should check this out . . . Remember Joe Heitzler, who as CART's president made the worst decision in modern motorsports history (even topping Tony George's IRL) and ran a race post-Sept. 11, 2001 weekend when the rest of the American sports industry respectfully paused? Given that disgraceful bit of professional history, take a look at his truly amazing comments on ethics:
http://annenberg.usc.edu/News%20and%20Events/News/101111AnnenbergSports.aspx




[ more after Labor Day . . . ]

Sunday, August 21, 2011

NOVEMBER? NO WAY, BERNIE

UPDATE: I will be covering Thursday morning's Danica Patrick news conference for a Friday story in the Arizona Republic (or AzCentral.com). I'll be on live on NASCAR SiriusXM 90 after the Danica newser, sometime between 1-3 p.m. EDT. And I'll be on SiriusXM 208's post-Belgian Grand Prix show Sunday, about 10 a.m. EDT


It's this clear-cut: If the U.S. Grand Prix is officially scheduled for Nov. 18, 2012, it will officially prove the Formula One industry isn't serious about making its series a success in America.

Nov. 18? That would be a bigger joke than anything David Letterman lets out.

But that's the latest word regarding a date at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Tex.

Notice to all interested parties: Nov. 18 almost certainly will be the date of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase finale in Homestead, Fla. It requires about two functioning brain cells to know the national media attention will be focused on NASCAR. If F1 doesn't realize that, it's forever proof of the often-cited "arrogance" of Bernie Ecclestone & Co.

There are two possible issues at play here:

1. The track developers need more time to finish construction to even a minimal GP-caliber level, never mind the announced "master plan" that includes all sorts of upscale facilities. IF that's the case, the organizers should request a delay until 2013. While that would be a big hit from a PR standpoint -- following in F1's U.S. fiascos in Phoenix and Dallas, Indy's 2005 tire debacle and rigged finish (Michael Schumacher letting off the throttle in the closing yards to allow teammate Rubens Barrichello to win in 2002), and the embarrassing abort of the so-called American team last year -- well, as the old (but true) saying goes, you only get one chance to make a good impression. If CotA can't do that in 2012, it would be far better to wait.

2. It's just the latest example of Ecclestone and F1 taking the money at the expense of what's right for the host track. Let's just be polite and say Austin was a "surprising" site for a new F1-style track. But the CotA leaders have made their case and I've come to understand the merits of the location. From Day 1, though, that meant accepting the realities of Texas' weather -- HOT in June -- the expected date to create logistically logical back-to-back events with Montreal. That was the trade-off and everyone should have agreed to the up-and-down sides from the first negotiating session. It should have been baked into the contract cake.

Assuming the November date is Ecclestone's command not CotA's true wish, here's a perfectly legitimate question: For all of the billions of dollars that make up the F1 economy, are we to believe there aren't enough for some basic market research? Does Ecclestone and his bunch have any concept at all that football is almost the state religion of Texas? It starts with unbelievably popular high school games Friday night, Big Time college action on Saturday, and the almighty NFL on Sunday, including teams based in Dallas and Houston.

Only those truly arrogant -- or haven't bothered to do a modest amount of homework -- would think it smart to attempt to launch a first-time event featuring athletes very, very, very few Americas have ever heard of -- against football in Texas.

And then, again, there is NASCAR's Cup championship concluding contest that same day.

I've reached a point where I am sick of the talking points that routinely come from F1's movers-and-shakers about how important it is to them to build their sport in the massive American market. IF that's TRUE, gentlemen, PROVE IT!

As a former official in two series (CART and IROC), I have first-hand knowledge of how difficult scheduling can be. F1's calendar is the toughest to piece together, because of the worldwide travel, and differing local needs/conflicts in each country. But the time has come, once and for all, for Ecclestone and the team owners and sponsors to decide what's MOST IMPORTANT to them. IF that is the United States, then DO WHAT MUST BE DONE! In terms of scheduling, that means clearing out a date in late April or early May. That would take care of the temperature problem and create a link to all the other events (Indianapolis, Charlotte, etc.) that make May America's Race Month.

(Second on their list, as I've said before, is to bring back the old rule that allowed teams to run a third car, usually for a "guest" driver from the host circuit's country. Find a non-NASCAR weekend and you'd have a much better chance of landing a Jeff Gordon or Kyle Busch.)

But Nov. 18? That's crap. While this is difficult to calculate, I would estimate that date would cut the national media coverage for Austin by 50 percent. If Bernie and Boys are happy to have a regional event, well, good for them. If they really want what they say they want -- an event of national American importance -- then don't go down this road. That would really be stupid.

And/or arrogant.

And definitely prove, for all time, that the Business of Formula One power brokers aren't serious about making Grand Prix racing a serious sport in the United States of America.


FAST LINES: Congratulations to my friend Jon Asher, who was surprised to learn he was the Grand Marshall at the recent Auto-Plus Night Under Fire drag races at Ohio's Summit Motorsports Park. Congrats also to the Bader family for doing this. Jon's contributions to the straight-line sport, as a writer, columnist, photographer and various other roles makes the honor well deserved . . . Congratulations also to Jayski.com, named one of Time magazine's top websites. The story said Jayski "remains the delightfully fannish creation of one obsessive NASCAR enthusiast, Jay Adamczyk. It squeezes the world of America's favorite form of racing into one site, filling it to capacity with news bites, rumors, links and other vital information" . . . Congratulations to Daytona International Speedway for winning the Golden Image Award from the Florida Public Relations Association for its 2010 Daytona repave PR program . . . Another week, another newspaper cut: Jeff Wolf is no longer with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.




The appeals panel Brian Barnhart selected to decide who finished 1-2-3 at New Hampshire is a perfect example of the screwed-up thinking that has gotten IndyCar into such terrible trouble. First, Barnhart chose two former/current executives from that eternal example of officiating excellence -- USAC. Now, ladies and gentlemen, let's take an educated guess: Sanctioning body execs aren't going to rule against the decision of a sanctioning body. The third panelist is the promoter of the disputed New Hamp race. I've known Jerry Gappens for many years and like him, but this is a flat-out PR no-brainer: A promoter can NEVER be in a position where he helps determine the outcome of any race at his track. It's that simple. To fall back on Bill France Jr.'s long-standing philosophy, is a promoter really going to vote in favor of letting his paying customers leave the property without seeing/knowing who won? Here's my wild guess: NO! Plus, Jerry gave interviews after the controverial finish that signaled he was OK with what Barnhart did. Suggestion for Randy Bernard: Never mind falsely building up hopes for races that have zero chance of happening, and instead of wasting that time and energy, use it to clean up the huge mess in your office.

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, August 14, 2011

ACT of G O D BAD TIMING for B of R

This man-made act of G O D -- Global Obama Depression -- couldn't come at a worse time for the Business of Racing.

Other than Carl Edwards -- and, eventually, probably Danica -- I don't know anyone involved in the industry who is smiling these days. With very good reason.

The stock market plunge, debt crisis, America's credit rating downgrade and international financial troubles have happened at a crucial period in the motorsports biz year. Think about it:

Teams are trying to finalize their sponsors for 2012. Roush Fenway and Richard Childress are among the leading Sprint Cup series players with significant budget gaps they are trying to fill with firm sponsor contracts. The list in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck tours is too long to start here, but keep in mind Todd Bodine's Truck champion Germain team has been parked for weeks now.

NASCAR's Chase is about to begin. Lots of tickets to sell -- with increased competition for the already squeezed-like-lemons entertainment dollar coming from college and pro football and baseball's playoffs and World Series.

Ditto NHRA's Countdown. Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and bike championships to be determined -- in front of how many empty grandstand seats? Too often, these tickets are priced way too expensively.

IndyCar team owners have been trying to calculate for months how they are going to pay for new chassis, lease new engines, and pay more for tires next season. The already weak sponsorship market in this series just became an even tougher sell. Notice the different bodywork kits are a "no go" for next season -- a clear-cut money issue. I can tell you in Gasoline Alley at Indianapolis in the days leading up to last May's Indy 500, the top topic was -- other than double-wide restarts -- where the money was going to come from for the new toys. Expect fewer cars on the grid in '12.

Grand-Am has new bodywork coming in Daytona Prototype. Will old stuff have to be grandfathered-in for the Jan. 28-29 50th anniversary Rolex 24?

Courtney Force is to make her Funny Car debut late in the Countdown to prep for a full campaign in '12. Does Father John have the budget locked-in yet?

The American Le Mans Series DESPERATELY needs headliner P1 prototype class entries. Who has cash to campaign those cars in a series that bet-the-house on interest in "Green" racing?

Nashville, Gateway and Memphis are out-of-biz tracks. More to come? Yes, it's likely.

There is supposed to be a Formula One race next year at under-construction Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Tex. A very capital-intensive project and event.

I can't help but wonder how much the net worth of racing's top team owners has declined in the last two weeks.

G O D could wind up to be a far-bigger, much-more-important and far-reaching story than who wins the Chase.


Media Headline Duh! of the Week: "Danica Patrick's exodus to NASCAR would likely hurt IndyCar"


I both laughed and shook my head at all the chatroom agony over the announcement that ABC will continue to televise the Indy 500 through 2018 and, in that same period, will be the IndyCar series' only broadcast ("over-the-air") TV outlet. Once again, the chatroomers got all stirred-up by RUMORS and GOSSIP and SPECULATION -- never any troublesome FACTS -- that NBC was in line to bump the much criticized network of "Always Bad Coverage." Seems no one ever stopped to think that some of those spreading this talk were in line to benefit professionally and financially from such a change. It gets to a point where one wonders when the Kool-Aid drinkers will put two and two together and figure out the difference between PUNDITRY and REPORTING. The Indy-to-NBC non-story takes its place in line behind IndyCars-to-Phoenix, Jimmie Johnson driving at Indy, several Big NASCAR Names in the Las Vegas challenge, and plenty of other examples of bogus, space-filling, airtime-consuming non-journalism wishful-thinking and cheerleading. Serious and legitimate question for and about fans: When will they ever learn?


Something different -- What's RIGHT about racing:
http://valvoline.com/racing/behind-closed-garage-doors/2900

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, August 07, 2011

LIGHT-WEIGHTS

Here's a true test of your knowledge: Who are the following and what do they have in common?

Esteban Guerrieri, Josef Newgarden, Jorge Goncalvez, Gustavo Yacaman, Victor Carbone, David Ostella, Stefan Wilson, Anders Krohn, Victor Garcia, Duarte Ferreira.

Did you guess right? Winner gets a phone call from Randy Bernard to tell you IndyCar will be racing in Phoenix. Runner-up gets a call from Andrew Craig to tell you about CART's Hawaiian SuperPrix.

You give up? Don't worry -- very understandable.

Those are drivers in IndyCar's 2011 Firestone Indy Lights. Lots of household names and ticket sellers there! No disrespect intended to those guys -- all real racers are appreciated here -- but as a group they symbolize the problems that have plagued this tour since Tony George decided he needed a development/support series.

For as long as my motorsports memory has been active -- which is about five decades -- the need for sound driver development programs has been in the conversation. For a variety of reasons -- economics, rules, horsepower, mix of host tracks, quality of management and officiating -- some have been better than others. By "better" I mean "successful."

What the Indy Racing League (now IndyCar) has given us, by factual record, has been the worst. I'd go so far as to call it a flop, as defined by producing drivers who have gone on to win in higher leagues, and certainly as compared with other series.

Here are the champions and their subsequent histories: 2002 -- A.J. Foyt IV (out of racing). 2003 -- Mark Taylor (bombed out of brief stint with Panther). 2004 -- Thiago Medeiros (touted as a potential superstar, crashed in practice at California Speedway, finished 31st in one Indy 500 start, and eventually disappeared from the scene). 2005 -- Wade Cunningham (kicking around trying to make something happen). 2006 -- Jay Howard -- (ditto). 2007 -- Alex Lloyd (part-time IC competitor). 2008 -- Raphael Matos (trying to keep a full-time IC ride). 2009 -- JR Hildebrand (you know his story). 2010 -- J.K. Vernay (TBD).

A pretty thin record book, there.

The Bosch Super Vee series, which was contested from 1971-1990, really didn't have the engine horsepower needed to provide a full training ground for Indy. But taking a look at the list of some of its champions showed it served a most useful purpose:

Bertil Roos (highly respected racing school operator); Elliott Forbes-Robinson (sports car winner); Bob Lazier (CART rookie of the year); Geoff Brabham (IMSA champion, longtime CART driver, IROC race winner); Al Unser Jr. (double I500 winner); Michael Andretti (CART champion); Arie Luyendyk (two I500 wins); Didier Theys (sports car winner).

The most legendary of the training tours was, of course, Formula Atlantic. It had a great run from 1974-2009. No explanation is needed when listing some of its graduates: Michael Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan, Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve, Tom Gloy, Johnny O'Connor, Richie Hearn, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Barron, Buddy Rice, Jon Fogarty, AJ Allmendinger, Simon Pagenaud and Matos.

CART's minor league, first known as the American Racing Series, was started by Pat Patrick and went from 1986-2001. Competitiors who went on to bigger and better things included: Theys, Jon Beekhuis, Mike Groff, Paul Tracy, Bryan Herta, Robbie Buhl, Greg Moore, Tony Kanaan, Oriol Servia, Cristiano da Matta, Scott Dixon and Townsend Bell.

Point made. Something for Bernard to ponder before his next news conference about the "Road to Indy."


FAST LINES: For the record, first place prize money when Jeff Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 was $613,000. Paul Menard's listed earnings for this year's running totaled $373,575. Yes, in the interest of fairness, PPG added $200,000 to the winner's check in the early years, and NASCAR has reduced purses 10 percent to give track operators relief in this economy. Still . . . Thanks to Mike Kerchner, http://www.nationalspeedsportnews.com/ keeps going, giving all of us a chance to read some of our NSSN favorites. I take a look a couple of times a week . . . Want max media coverage for a "major new category sponsorship" announcement? Don't do it at Friday, 6 p.m., at Mid-Ohio, as ALMS did . . . Formula One is on its traditional summer hiatus but I'll return to the post-race The Checkered Flag show with host Rick Benjamin in Sirius XM 94/208 after the Aug. 28 Grand Prix of Belgium at Spa.


Is the drag racing industry doing all it can to maximize the fan experience? Read about it in my August "Drags, Dollars & Sense" column on CompetitionPlus.com:
http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/editorials/18533-drags-dollars-a-sense-is-it-time-for-a-fan-experience-upgrade

[ more next Monday . . . ]