• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

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 . . . ]