• 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 . . . ]