• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

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 . . . ]