• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

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 . . . ]