• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, January 29, 2012

ALL EYES ON INDY

ONE MORE: A final look from the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction in Scottsdale -- this 1957 Indy 500 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser convertible pace car replica caught my eye.


The Big Question this week is: How will Indianapolis do?

Indy, of course, has hosted major sporting events for many years, the NCAA basketball tournament up there with the Indianapolis 500 and the early years of the NASCAR Brickyard 400.

But nothing -- NOTHING -- will be like hosting the Super Bowl, which Indy is doing for the first time.

The NFL championship game has become an unofficial national holiday and much more than a sporting event. The Super Bowl is more than a game -- it's a business networking and marketing showcase, a debut for specially produced TV commercials, a celebrity and CEO magnet, and a media spectacle unlike anything else in America. With all due respect to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, none of its events ever has or ever will reach across all these societal and cultural expanses the way the SB does. On-site attendance aside, the Super Bowl blows away the I500 in terms of national importance and sporting and corporate and media magnitude.

I'm wondering how the city will present itself to the rest of the country? As the narrow-minded and provincial "Racing Capital of the World" that helped get IMS and the I500 into so much trouble? Or as a more open-thinking town with a perspective that recognizes there is a world out there beyond the borders of Indiana?

Yes, pay attention to the Xs and Os coverage of the Patriots and Giants. But, for my purposes, I'll be following much more closely how the national media reports on Indy itself. This is especially true given the teams come with the traveling New York and Boston media corps and their East Coast bias and elitism. What will they say about the city? What, if any, coverage will come to the Speedway and the IndyCar series still trying to recover from Dan Wheldon's fatal crash? Will that be brought up and sensationalized? Will the Hulman-George family itself come in for any critical coverage from the national press types in their attempt to explain to the left and right coasts why the Big Game is in -- INDIANAPOLIS! ? -- instead of Miami or New Orleans or another of the media's favorite warm-weather playground locations. (Don't dismiss this possibility: In today's media world, anything is possible.)

(Are the IMS and ICS PR departments ready -- just in case?)

And, of course, what will the weather be like and how will the city handle a big snow storm? I hope the organizers consulted with Roger Penske and borrowed from his storm plan when he chaired Detroit's Super Bowl host committee a few years ago.

For those of us who have spent so much time in Indianapolis over the years, the Big Story this week could well be how the city does, even moreso than the Patriots and Giants.


As someone who was around at the very beginning of Pocono International Raceway, I have to acknowledge the death of Pocono's founder, Dr. Joseph Mattioli. I lived in Philadelphia back when the track hosted its first 500 mile Indy Car race, the Schaffer 500, in 1971, won by Mark Donohue. I went on to cover countless Pocono events for the Philadelphia Daily News and was also there for the first USAC stock car race, the debut of NASCAR, Formula 5000 and IMSA on the infield road course and the ill-fated World Series of Auto Racing on the three-quarter mile oval for USAC midgets and sprints. I spent a ton of time around Doc Mattioli in those days, when the facility always seemed to be on the brink of financial collapse and various political controversies, and was on the opposite side when I worked for CART and Doc Joe filed a lawsuit against CART. Of all the ups-and-downs and good times and disagreements I had with him -- and there are many stories I could tell -- this much can be said for sure: There would be no Pocono Raceway without the Doc. My best thoughts are with his wife of over 60 years, Rose, and their family.


FAST LINES: Congratulations to my friend Al Pearce, the longtime NASCAR writer, named to the 2012 Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and Museum class . . . The World of Outlaws has its third different PR coordinator in three years, with Shawn Miller the new guy at the races . . . Never doubt how much horsepower NASCAR can bring to any situation. Its attorney for the on-going Jeremy Mayfield drug suspension lawsuit is David Boies, who represented Al Gore in front of the Supreme Court in the disputed 2000 presidential election . . . Benny Phillips, who died last week and covered NASCAR for something like three decades for media outlets including the High Point Enterprise, Stock Car Racing magazine and MotorWeek Illustrated, was a very nice man in my professional dealings with him. When, as a PR rep, I was able to assist him with some information or arrangements (such as at the first Brickyard 400 in 1994), he always gave me the impression he appreciated the help -- and that's rare in today's media centers. God Bless.

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, January 22, 2012

'24' MEMORIES

SHOW STOPPER: It was only a show car, but Courtney Force's new Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car was the centerpiece of the impressive Traxxas display at last week's Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction in Scottsdale. Courtney wasn't there and overall racer participation seemed down, perhaps due to scheduling conflicts with NHRA testing and NASCAR's Hall of Fame induction ceremony and fan festival. Rick Hendrick, Roger Penske, Mario Andretti and Brad Keselowski were visitors.


This weekend is the 50th anniversary running of what is now known as the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Whether the R24 or the 12 Hours of Sebring is America's most important sports car race can be debated, but I can't help but have special feelings for Daytona, because in a 24-month span I experienced both extreme ends of the endurance event's emotional roller-coaster.

In 1989, I worked the event with the Andrettis, in what was an emotional farewell for many of us. My friend Al Holbert, the Le Mans and Daytona winner, had been killed in a private airplane crash the previous September. Many of Al's guys gathered one more time to run a pair of Porsche 962s. Ours fell out in the evening, while the other car, which had John Andretti as one of its drivers, went on to win.

In 1990, I was a part of the Castrol Jaguar XJR-12 two-car team. We were running 1-2 after just two hours and stayed that way through the end. Davy Jones, Jan Lammers and Andy Wallace were the winners, with Martin Brundle, Price Cobb and John Nielsen the runners-up.

It was a fantastic experience to get to go to Daytona's victory lane. I remember that, from the time I got up to when I got back to bed, I was up for 39 straight hours (excepting short naps on a lounge chair outside the team motorhome.) I have a nice plaque from the team on my office wall thanking me for my contribution to this achievement.

Team owner, the late Tom Walkinshaw, enjoyed it immensely when, on the elevator ride up to the media box, I told the drivers that the most important part of their job was done, but there was still more work to do: Please take a deep breath and reach for whatever remaining energy they had, to interact well with the media. They did, with Jones the man in the media spotlight.

The next year, Mario, Michael and Jeff Andretti were back in a Porsche. After an electrical problem dropped our Porsche well behind after just one hour, some hard-driving by Michael throughout the night meant we took the overall lead at sunrise. Alas, there were mechanical woes, which dropped us from contention. With Mario behind the wheel, the engine blew right in front of our pits -- with just 15 minutes to go!

That's the Rolex 24. I'll be watching -- and feeling -- for all the competitors this weekend.



They say everything is bigger in Texas. Apparently, including ticket pricing at Circuit of the Americas. Just announced is the Formula One track's plans for sale of 15-year personal seat licenses ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 per seat, "depending on proximity to the start/finish line and amenities." Reminder: a PSL just gives you the right to spend more money to actually buy a ticket. Call me skeptical about a plan for a project that has been troubled for months. I assume management did its research, but if this is successful in this economy, I'll gladly offer to buy Bernie Ecclestone a 10-gallon hat.

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, January 15, 2012

AND SO IT (2012) BEGINS

JIM CHAPMAN AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN MOTORSPORTS PUBLIC RELATIONS: Bill York (left) accepts from Paul Page at January 7 AARWBA All-America Team ceremony in Indianapolis. (Photo courtesy of Dan R. Boyd.)


The season officially starts for me this week at the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction, a short drive from my home in Scottsdale.

Yes, I know, Barrett-Jackson is all about the cars. For most, that is. For me -- while I enjoy looking at the machines as much as anyone -- it's about the people. I've found you never know who you'll see at this festive automotive carnival. Last year, for example, I was walking toward the main auction area when who comes over from my left but NASCAR President Mike Helton. Another day, outside behind the stage, who comes walking by but NHRA Top Fuel great Joe Amato. Rick Hendrick, Melanie Troxel, Rusty Wallace, Linda Vaughn, Jim McGee and Ray Evernham were other racers I encountered in my "laps" around the auction site.

I look forward to seeing whoever I'll see this week. And, yes, the cars.

The metrics most-often quoted to judge the "success" of Barrett-Jackson are: How much is spent on the vehicles up for auction? And, what's the total attendance? I have a different measure: How many people are actually spending at the countless vender booths, where you can find everything from vintage gas pumps to auto art to neon signs to outdoor furniture to jewelry to financial advice. We know the "one percenters" are doing well enough to bid-up for the cars. Are the "99 percenters" doing OK enough to buy the other stuff?


I wasn't able to attend the AARWBA ceremony in Indianapolis earlier this month to present the 2011 Jim Chapman Award for Excellence in Motorsports Public Relations to Bill York. Paul Page did the honors in my absence, and read the following letter from me:

Good evening, everyone.

Jim Chapman was, above all else, a true gentlemen. So I’m sure Jim would agree with me that 2 things we don’t say often enough these days are: “Thank You” and “I’m sorry.”

Let me begin, therefore, by saying “Thank You” to Dusty Brandel and AARWBA for allowing the 2011 Jim Chapman Award to be presented at tonight’s ceremony. And “I’m sorry” that another obligation makes it impossible for me to be with you. Even more than his many professional accomplishments, Jim valued his family above all else, so I am somewhat comforted by the knowledge that it’s a family matter that requires my absence.

Not only because I am chairman of the Jim Chapman Award selection committee -- but more importantly -- because Jim was my closest friend and had a profound influence on my life and career, it’s emotionally difficult for me not to be there for the presentation. Especially since this award, for Excellence in Motorsports Public Relations, has been earned by a wonderful friend of mine and someone who has worked for decades in the spirit and example of Mr. Chapman.

Thanks to Paul Page -- a valued member of the selection committee and one of Jim’s countless friends -- for reading this and making the official presentation.

Those of you who were blessed to know Jim need no explanation why this is important. To those of you who didn’t know Jim, you owe it to yourself to “Google” his name. To learn about Jim is to make yourself a better professional -- and a better person.

I will leave it to Paul to recount Jim’s numerous achievements. It is very appropriate, though, to remember that Jim was not only Babe Ruth’s PR representative, he was the Babe’s friend and confidant. Jim remains every bit the legend in the PR business -- and not just in motorsports PR -- that the Babe is in American sports.

The Chapman Award dates back to 1991 and Jim took great pride in it. Since 2004, any PR person in any type of motorsports has been eligible. The recipient is chosen by a national committee of journalists, almost all of whom knew Jim, so they best understand the high standards required of a Chapman Award winner. I thank the committee members for their thoughtful consideration -- they all agree, it’s an honor to participate in a process that honors Jim’s legacy as well as someone who works to the highest standards of professionalism as established by Mr. Chapman.

Jim was “old school” in the best tradition. He deeply believed in the value -- and joy -- of 1-on-1 relationship building. He knew having a good professional relationship with individual journalists was important in good times -- and essential in bad times. Jim worked before the age of electronic communications such as E-mail and Twitter, but even today, I know he would agree that pressing “send” is no substitute for the sound of a person’s voice, a handshake, a face-to-face conversation. In other words, the “human touch.” Jim was a true master at making everyone feel important and welcome. That is greatly missing in today’s so-called “modern” PR -- and everyone suffers as a result -- especially the client or employer.

Tonight’s recipient is the exception. For decades, he has been a true ambassador for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and a friend to journalists around the world. I will always be grateful to him, because, even when our jobs had us representing opposite sides in racing’s political battles, he always extended a hand of friendship.

Jim Chapman played a significant role in the history of the Indy 500 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He was friends with Tony Hulman, Mari Hulman George, Tony George and the rest of the Hulman-George family. I’m glad current IMS President and CEO Jeff Belskus also got to know Jim at the annual PPG dinner Jim hosted for IMS department executives. So the family knows what a great honor it is for a member of the IMS Corporate family to receive an award named for Jim Chapman.

To the man about to be honored as 2011 winner of the Jim Chapman Award for Excellence in Motorsports PR, I must say something more than “Congratulations.” I say that the true honor is not in the award Paul is about to present you. The true honor is having your name forever associated with that of the Great James P. Chapman.

Thank you and God Bless.


I'm a member of the nominating/voting committee for the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, located in Knoxville, Iowa. Congratulations to the following members of the 2012 Hall of Fame class: Johnny Anderson, Thad Dosher, Sam Hoffman, Chuck Hulse, Colby Scroggin, Bobby Ward, Harry Hosterman, Henry Meyer, Ron Shaver, Earl Padgett, Gary Sokola and W.H. (Bill) Vandewater. The induction ceremony will be June 2.



NHRA got a welcome and much-needed boost when DieHard took the inside back cover of Sports Illustrated to herald Matt Hagan's championship. But here are a few missing words I wish would have found their way into the copy: "Drag racing," "Funny Car," "8,000 horsepower," "nitro" and even "Full Throttle." All but "nitro" were in last week's USA Today full-page ad heralding the arrival of Courtney Force.


Here's a link to my January "Drags, Dollars & Sense" column on CompetitionPlus.com. It's about how the presidential election can impact the drag racing economy:
http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/editorials/19900-drags-dollars-a-sense-a-wait-and-see-season


I'm afraid, during the holidays, too many important people in the drag racing industry missed Jon Asher's superb column on CompetitionPlus.com about what must happen to ensure the sport's survival. It's one of the best columns anybody wrote about anything all year. Here's the link. Please don't just read it. Please THINK about it:
http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/editorials/19880-up-front-facing-up-to-a-very-tough-future

[ more next Monday . . . ]