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Sunday, May 27, 2012

A CHANCE FOR INDYCAR

Last week I explained key Business of Racing reasons why the Indianapolis 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Monaco Grand Prix needed great races. In that battle, Indy easily won.

OK. Now what will the IndyCar series do with it?

The first of several tests comes this weekend, as ABC televises the reborn Detroit Grand Prix. Will the record number of lead changes and celebrity mainstream media star Dario Franchitti's win move the needle to an improved ratings number?

It had better. Although Detroit most likely will be another follow-the-leader, not pass-the-leader, temporary road course parade.

But that is just one test. Will Indy give IndyCar a bounce that lasts the rest of the season? Just what are the series' plans -- and capabilities -- to take advantage of this opportunity? How will this gift be used to increase ticket sales, sponsorships, general media coverage (no, I'm not talking about the Indianapolis media cheerleaders) and build a TV audience that is at least acceptable instead of embarrassing?

The industry is waiting for those answers. And results.


Here's a link to my story in last Friday's Arizona Republic, which also was posted on the USA Today website. It's the unhappy and disturbing story of IndyCar crewman Eric Scheumann, injured when hit by JR Hildebrand's car last October at Kentucky Speedway. Paul Tracy sent me a kind text in praise of this article. The Indianapolis media cheerleaders won't report this but the so-called "real" fans should be concerned about what they learn here:
http://www.usatoday.com/USCP/PNI/Sports/2012-05-25-PNI0525spt-Indy-safetyART_ST_U.htm

P.S. -- Memo to Beaux Barfield: You had one week to get back to me on my request for an interview for the above story. That's part of your job. Not the most important part, but absolutely part of it. You didn't -- and that is UNPROFESSIONAL. As is, as I've unfortunately come to expect, the ICS so-called "PR" department. Wake up, Randy Bernard. Stop wasting time on nonsense like a race in China and fix your internal issues. It's a people business. You don't have the right people.


I got four awards in the 2011 American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association's annual journalism contest. The results were announced Saturday in Indianapolis.

Last year's controversial blog posting "Untenable" got a second-place award in the web log category. My CompetitionPlus.com "Drags, Dollars & Sense" column won first place in the online column writing category. That was for a controversial July 2011 offering advocating that drag strips improve their appearance to create individual identity, such as Fenway Park enjoys. The long piece Mark Armijo and I did for the Arizona Republic on the history of Arizona racers in the Indianapolis 500 took second place in the newspaper feature category. A column I did for National Speed Sport News on the repaving of Phoenix International Raceway took second in the newspaper column category. Thank you to all who helped make this success possible and to my readers for taking the time to read what I write.

Congratulations to Mark Armijo who won the newspaper newswriting category for his Republic story on Jeff Gordon's win at PIR.


Congratulations to my friend Paul Page, 2011 winner of the Bob Russo Founders Award for dedication to auto racing. The award was presented to Page by Russo Award Chairman Bill Marvel during the AARWBA Indy breakfast. Russo, the late racing journalist/publicist/historian, founded AARWBA in 1955. He died in 1999 at age 71. The Russo Award is presented for “profound interest, tireless efforts and undying dedication to auto racing as exemplified by Russo throughout his lifelong career.”

Previous Russo Award winners include: 2005 – Michael Knight; 2006 – Wally Parks; 2007 – Chris Economaki; 2008 – Bob Jenkins; 2009 – Shav Glick; 2010 -- Bill York; 2011 -- Bill Marvel. A permanent plaque with all winners’ names is on display in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway media center. The award is sponsored by Collene and Gary Campbell, the sister and brother-in-law of the late Mickey Thompson.



FAST LINES: I laughed when Orlando Sentinel columnist George Diaz, in comparing IndyCar and NASCAR, wrote that the Izod-sponsored IC is the one wearing "Polo shirts vs. tank tops." While it points (again) to the not-paying-attention-to-the-details/not-working-to-develop-professional-relationships IndyCar PR department, it's also a serious pointing of the fingers to Izod, which, unlike what PPG or Winston did, doesn't have a serious and on-going PR presence focused on its entitlement . . . As expected, Jean Alesi and Simona de Silvestro were black-flagged within 10 laps at Indy because of the embarrassing lack of horsepower from the Lotus engine. Yet Indy's official boxscore listed their reason for retirement as "handling." Race results are important historical documents which should be HONEST more than politically correct . . . With Rusty Wallace going into the NASCAR Hall of Fame (congratulations!), I hope Miller will run the No. 2 later this season in a special Wallace/HoF graphics design . . . Smart move by NASCAR to add a media award to its HoF ceremony, named in honor of the first two recipients, broadcasters Ken Squier and Barney Hall . . . And best wishes to Dick Berggren, who I have known for many years, who ends his Fox pit-reporting career Sunday at Dover. Always well prepared for any assignment, Dick is a true pro -- not many like him left . . . I bet Darrell Waltrip's blood pressure went up when Wallace went into the Hall in his first year of eligibility, as DW had to wait until his third try . . . One of the least surprising things I've heard in a LONG time is that TV ratings for the NASCAR All-Star race were down double digits . . . With the name "Infineon Raceway" null and void as of June 1, the track temporarily will just call itself "Sonoma" while potential replacement naming rights are negotiated. I can't think of any other major track that went for any period of time without a formal and proper name . . . A PR Disgrace: The Health and Human Services Department awarded $20 million PR contract to agency Porter Novelli to promote ObamaCare -- which could be thrown out by the Supreme Court in June. You tax dollars at waste.

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, May 20, 2012

CHRISTMAS IN MAY

It's that time again: It's the most important weekend of the racing year -- and it's even more important this time around.

Formula One is showcased at the Monaco Grand Prix, it's most glamorous locale. Even a casual observer who sees a short video clip of the race on local TV immediately recognizes the site and the event. A Monaco victory is special -- consider neither Jimmy Clark or Mario Andretti ever won it -- and guarantees the winner worldwide prestige for the rest of his career. In what has been an interesting F1 season, with surprise wins by Mercedes and Williams, the folks paying the bills in Austin, Tex., surely could use for Monaco to come through with a sensational race amidst the spectacular setting and the beautiful people. That would help drive public and media interest in what has been a most troubled situation at Circuit of the Americas, set to host the world championship's return to the U.S. come November.

Over in Indianapolis, Randy Bernard and Co. surely need The Greatest Spectacle in Racing to be all of that -- and more. They need the thus-far disappointing new car-engine package to produce a boffo show. They need exciting competition, with dramatic passes and daring moves, right from the green flag. They need the advertising power of Honda and Chevrolet to promote the winner and jump-start the rest of the season. They need all of this to help overcome the still lingering loss of Dan Wheldon (the first time since 1946 winner George Robson was killed in a racing accident that those circumstances prevented the previous year's winner from defending) and the tepid TV ratings and overall media coverage. A yawner-of-an-Indy 500 -- or worst, a bad or tragic one -- will only serve to speed-up a series on the edge of a severe downward spiral. And I'm not sure IndyCar can survive another one of those.

Down in Charlotte, our NASCAR friends surely would welcome the big headlines a Dale Earnhardt Jr. (oh-so-close last year) or Jeff Gordon (who has to win races to have any hope to make the Chase) would generate. It's been a mixed Sprint Cup season to date, void of last season's first-time winners, and with Big Names like Junior, Gordon and Carl Edwards not steering into victory lane. As Fox's coverage has gone even more Over The Top with the verbose Waltrip brothers, the ratings haven't kept up 2011's positive bounce. With new broadcast rights negotiations on the horizon, that needs to change.

Whether your individual focus is on Monaco, Indy, Charlotte or your local short track, I hope you enjoy motorsports' Christmas Day. And, at the same time, understand its profound Business of Racing consequences going forward.


Please look for my pre-Indy 500 story in this Friday's (May 25) Arizona Republic. If you are not in the state to buy the paper, find it at AzCentral.com . It's on a topic you probably haven't read about elsewhere and, certainly, something that would not be touched by the Indianapolis media cheerleaders. There are some things going on that should be of concern to competitors and "caring" fans, alike.


FAST LINES: The standards of American journalism were lowered yet again last week with the disturbing/provocative covers of Time and Newsweek. It's clear -- it's no longer about groundbreaking reporting, solid information, or good writing. The ONLY thing that counts now is getting noticed. Our society, as a whole, is damaged by this increasingly accepted mindset. How sad . . . MSNBC mouth Chris Matthews was a contestant on a celebrity edition of Jeopardy last week. Matthews, whose ego tells him every second of every day of every month of every year that he's the smartest person in any room he's in, finished last. Sarah Palin, enjoy a well deserved laugh . . . Sign of the Newspaper Times -- It's shared beats (Phillies, Sixers, etc.) at my old paper, the Philadelphia Daily News plus the Philadelphia Inquirer. They have the same ownership. NASCAR coverage will be split between writers from both . . . Eleven of my nominees made the final voting list of 24 for the next International Motorsports Hall of Fame class . . . Yet another example of how unimportant Indy 500 qualifying has become -- Last Friday's USA Today had three NASCAR stories; zero on Indy. This should have been yet another slap-in-the-face to the IMS and ICS PR departments (and the executives who are supposed to oversee them) to wake-up and get with it -- but then, they have had thousands of those already . . . "Nice" to see IndyCar race director Beaux Barfield had time for Twitter on pole day but not to respond in a timely manner to multiple requests for a phone interview . . . Last Friday's Wall Street Journal had a lengthy story on the ultra high-end residential real estate buying spree by Bernie Ecclestone's two daughters in London and California -- the numbers are staggering . . . John Daly is taking a time out from his The Daly Planet blog, a sign of his frustration with the Fox NASCAR TV production. I'm disappointed, but certainly easily understand where he's coming from. Darrell Waltrip calling out the fans (otherwise known as his CUSTOMERS), basically saying they don't know what they want, is one of the most significant Business of Racing stories of the season.

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, May 13, 2012

COMMENTS on the NEWS

A LEGEND PASSES: As a kid, I mail-ordered a "Cobra -- Powered by Ford" T-shirt and dreamed of owning one of Carroll Shelby's (above, left, with Edsel B. Ford II) legendary beautiful/brutish creations. I never did, but did have a Cobra Mustang. I admired Shelby, who died last week at 89, for many reasons. I consider his taking on and beating mighty Ferrari at Le Mans one of the five greatest American racing accomplishments -- EVER. Shelby's name came to symbolize American automotive performance, but I also was a fan of his annual chili cookoff and his status as a heart transplant survivor of two decades. I met Shelby through my friend, the late Bill Yeager, another heart transplant recipient. Carroll Shelby will forever be an American automotive and motorsports icon and I'm honored to say I knew him. Thanks, Shel, and God Bless.


With apologies to longtime readers who have seen these words before: This coming Saturday night is my least favorite and, to me, the most meaningless race of the year. I refer, of course, to NASCAR's Sprint All-Star contest. To restate my position: When this event was hatched by R.J. Reynolds' sports marketing crackerjacks in the mid-1980s, it made a ton of sense. It was a Big Money/Loose Rules exhibition designed to draw attention to NASCAR from a then-dominant Indianapolis 500. And, in those early years, it did have its moments, such as Darrell Waltrip blowing-up his motor at the checkered flag and Dale Earnhardt's now-legendary (so-called) "Pass In The Grass." But those days are long gone and the race's purpose long, Long, LONG ago ceased to exist, what with the boat anchor plunge of Indy, as NASCAR rocketed to the heights of American sports. This stopped being an "All-Star" race a few years ago, when Kenny Wallace was added, and the continuous format gimmicks have produced more laughs than quality competition. I say again -- There is NO REAL REASON to stage this show. I'd much rather see a open weekend created that could provide a rain date for another track and the prize money could easily be added to the end-of-season fund. I doubt this means much to the drivers anymore, either. No doubt Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Carl Edwards would rather have a points-paying Cup win this season -- ANY points-paying Cup win -- than the All-Star trophy. Time for this dinosaur of sports marketing to be remembered no where else but the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It's become all hype and no substance.


So, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch didn't like Darlington Raceway promoting last Saturday night's Sprint Cup race using last year's post-checkered flag tangle as the promotional point. I sympathize with them in the sense that's not what Harvick needs with Budweiser and certainly not what Busch needs with M&M's and Joe Gibbs Racing after what happened at Texas last fall. But, given the economy and today's anything-goes attitude when it comes to selling tickets, one could have easily guessed this is what Darlington was going to do. My suggestion, not just for Harvick and Busch, but for all drivers: If you are concerned about this kind of fallout, don't behave badly in the first place.


As a general rule, I think it's a good idea to put a fresh pair of eyes on things, to provide often-needed context and perspective. I hoped that's what Car and Driver would do in its June issue. The mag had longtime journalist Peter Manso scope-out the Daytona 500. What is needed with a story like this, though, is rock-solid editing, because the writer isn't an expert on all the nuts-and-bolts of the subject matter. I've expressed concern in this space before about the editing at C&D and it's happened again. On just the first page of Manso's story, there are three factual errors: A reference to the following week's "500-mile race in Phoenix" (it's 500k), a statement that NASCAR is America's No. 2 sport "fractionally behind the NFL" (fractionally only in Brian France's dreams), and the inclusion of Tide on a list of major team sponsors (hasn't been for years). And that's just on the first page. There are more. Manso's epic ends with his apparent belief that Bristol never was remodeled because he writes about it being a "rough-and-tumble place(s) . . . where you can still rub paint . . . " These kind of mistakes undercut the credibility of the entire article -- and the entire magazine. I'll repeat a question I previously asked here of editor Eddie Alterman: Who is actually EDITING your magazine? (Which I have been reading since the early 1960s.)


In the early years of the Driver of the Year award -- especially when Jim Chapman ran the program -- there was no question that the honor meant just that: The recipient was Driver of the Year. No longer. So many other organizations have decided to anoint their own top driver that the award has been diluted and the title confused. Proof: When Ron Capps beat Robert Hight in the Funny Car final at Atlanta, Capps said he "tweeted when they gave Will Power the first quarter Driver of the Year thing. That’s a pretty stout group of guys voting for that thing — I mean it’s Mario Andretti, ‘Snake’ (Don Prudhomme) — and it irritated me that they didn’t give him that . . . " The problem is Andretti and Prudhomme didn't vote for the first-quarter DoY (a media panel did), those two racing legends are on the committee that determines Speed's version of the year's best. It would be in the best interests of the entire motorsports industry to return to the days of one clear and distinctive DoY award -- but I know that's not going to happen.


I hope all the open-wheel fan chatroomers who regularly bash NASCAR for its competition gimmicks will be intellectually honest enough to hold IndyCar to their same sacred standard. In what is, in effect, an admission that the new chassis-engine package isn't performing up to expectations, officials are permitting extra turbo boost which might add up to five MPH in lap speeds -- but only for the final day of practice and both qualifying days. Not the race, though, because of engine reliability issues. This is a showbiz gimmick -- and proves that the Powers-That-Be admit that SPEED DOES MATTER at Indianapolis, at least in terms of buzz, ticket sales and media coverage.


I became a race fan because, as a kid, I became a fan of Jimmy Clark and Colin Chapman. The Lotus Formula One and Indy 500 teams, to me, were icons of the sport. A personal hero of mine, Mario Andretti, won the 1978 world championship in a Lotus for Chapman. In 1984 I had the personal thrill of a behind-the-scenes tour of Lotus' base at Ketteringham Hall, in Norfolk in the U.K., when Budweiser Concorded me there on a one-day trip to scope-out their proposed CART team. I got to see everything there except upstairs -- I was told no one went up there because Chapman's ghost roamed those halls. (The sponsorship didn't happen and neither did the team.) I said to Gordon Kirby the other year it personally offended me to see the Lotus name and colors on a spec IndyCar, given Chapman's genius at innovation. The passing around of the legendary Lotus name to an assortment of F1 teams because of money and lawyers has been another offense. And, now, there's the current IndyCar engine mess. I would urge Chapman's heirs to publicly rebuke those responsible for the situation, which has disgraced the Chapman legacy. I would encourage fans of Chapman and Clark to do the same. I just did.


Dufus David Gregory, who has done all he can to dumb-down the standards at Meet The Press since taking over from the late Tim Russert, couldn't change the subject fast enough when legendary former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw said on the show the other week that the glitzy annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner is hurting the way the public views the credibility and legitimacy of the news media. "It's time to rethink that," said Brokaw, citing the black-tie event's emphasis on Hollywood celebrity guests and over-the-top partying with politicians and their operatives. "If there's ever an event that separates the press from the people they're supposed to be serving, symbolically, it is that one," said Brokaw. "That's another separation between what we're supposed to be doing and what the people expect us to be doing, and I think that the Washington press corps has to look at that . . . it's gone beyond what it needs to be." Gregory -- one of those who considers himself a media celebrity, having defended an on-air dance with Katie Couric with the explanation that "I think people like to see different sides of my personality" -- immediately changed subjects, guilty as he was of showboating at the dinner's podium. Brokaw's words are worthy of consideration by all journalists, whether they cover Washington or Daytona or Indianapolis or Pomona. Sure, we all -- me included -- enjoy a good time. But, with the economy these days, too many of our readers or listeners or viewers don't have that opportunity. As Brokaw noted: "I don’t think the big press event in Washington should be that kind of glittering event where the whole talk is about Cristal champagne, taking over the Italian Embassy, who had the best party, who got to meet the most people."

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, May 06, 2012

WHAT TO WATCH FOR IN MAY

May is Race Month in America.

History teaches us it will get pretty wild and crazy -- if not outright ridiculous. In that spirit, here are some things to watch for the next four weeks:

Amidst chatroom angst of less than a full Indianapolis 500 field, Robin Miller will peddle "33 Is Just a Number" T-shirts from the trunk of his car. Not as a profit-making venture, mind you, but as a tribute to his hero and the quote's author, Tony George.

Someone will ask Larry McReynolds what "Boogity, Boogity, Boogity" really means. "Well, I don't rightly know," Larry will answer. "But I tell you what: It sure sells a lot of T-shirts." Which, of course, is the point.

The Charlotte Motor Speedway PR spinners will try to hype-up the pointless NASCAR All-Star Race as the place where Sprint Cup drivers "will get revenge." You betcha.

The Indianapolis Star will interview Danica Patrick with a pre-determined storyline: "Do you miss not being at Indy?" DP will give a politically-correct answer even though she knows she won't be back in the 500 anytime soon. The Star and the chatroomers will give her meaningless comments great weight.

The World of Outlaws and NHRA -- especially the Funny Car class -- will continue to offer excellent -- and completely unpredictable -- racing entertainment. The mainstream media will continue to not notice.

Tony Kornheiser will predict Memorial Day weekend's two big winners: Parnelli Jones at Indy and Cale Yarborough at Charlotte.

Some pundits in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's media center will wait-out a rain delay by chatting about the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Tex. Someone will wander over and point out that the GP is scheduled for the same day as NASCAR's Chase is settled in Homestead, Fla. -- the first time the "experts" will realize this insane conflict exists.

The Austin promoters will ask Bernie Ecclestone to do a news conference with American journalists. "I'm a very busy man. My time is your money. That will be an extra $1 million," responds Bernie.

Sports Illustrated, ESPN and USA Today will offer lengthy, gushing and excuse-filled features on Danica's NASCAR adventure. Elsewhere, Courtney Force will be much more competitive and media friendly but will receive a tiny percentage of Danica's press.

The best Month of May coverage will come from Gordon Kirby, Steven Cole Smith, Al Pearce, Holly Cain and John Daly.

No matter the issue, controversy or problem, everything at Indy will be great, wonderful and fantastic, according to objective, hard-hitting "broadcast journalists" Dave Calabro, Kevin Lee and Mike King.

Fans will complain long and loud about the ESPN on ABC Indy 500 telecast but -- once again -- ESPN on ABC will ignore the opinions of its core viewership.

Fox will expect fans to sit through 600 miles at Charlotte and then not let viewers actually see their favorite driver take the checkered flag.

ESPN2's expert NHRA reporter Jamie Howe will be told to interview Allen Johnson and will ask him questions about Al-Anabi Racing, not knowing any better that the Pro Stock driver isn't Top Fuel team manager Alan Johnson.

Jamie Little, told to do a story on Lotus, will drive over to the botanical gardens adjacent to the Indianapolis Zoo.

Marlo Klain will say "there were more people at my wedding" than at Indy's No Bump Bump Day.

Bryan Herta's publicist will issue a "news" release heralding, in the first sentence, that the team is "proud" and "excited" to have qualified for Indy's 10th row.

Multiple NASCAR Internet writers will report "exclusively" that Jean Alesi is in intensive training to make his Sprint Cup debut in the 2013 Daytona 500.

Some Mensa member chatroomer will suggest that Steven Tyler sub for Jim Nabors at Indy.

During his Q&A with fans the day before the 500, someone will ask Roger Penske if he's going to fire Ryan Briscoe and replace him with Danica. Nicole Briscoe will not report this on NASCAR Now, but five ESPN.com writers will breathlessly chase after Danica at Charlotte to get her reaction.


This is an absolulte MUST READ column by John Daly from last week. (Amen!)
http://dalyplanet.blogspot.com/2012/05/spin-zone-tv-bait-and-switch.html


It's been five years since HD Partners announced a $100 million-plus deal to buy NHRA. What would drag racing be like today if that had happened? I imagine that in my May "Drags, Dollars & Sense" column on CompetitionPlus.com:
http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/editorials/21040-knight-oh-what-might-have-been

[ more next Monday . . . ]