• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, July 15, 2012

THIS and THAT . . .

Regular readers here weren't surprised by last week's official announcement that the U.S. Army is ending its NASCAR team sponsorship. As I've written here more than once in the last year, it was a matter of WHEN, not IF. In a time of great national financial concern, and planned significant cuts to the military budget, political support in Washington, D.C. for taxpaper-funded racing promotion eroded. Remember this come November: Elections matter. The current administration has revealed plans to reduce the Army's troop strength levels, so of course, recruiting funds are going to go down. In a way not totally dissimilar from how the tobacco companies got out of racing because of political pressure, the Army deal is going away. (Signals are Don Schumacher Racing's NHRA sponsorship will continue, at least for now, a rare "win" for NHRA over NASCAR. The cost is lower and the demo apparently more suitable.) One question to ponder: What sponsor category will be next to feel the heat from the politically correct crowd? Fast food? Soda? Cookies? Candy? Don't laugh! I bet if McDonald's tried to promote Happy Meals on its stock car, the criticism would follow fast. And the move to get sodas out of schools -- plus what the mayor of New York City wants as far as restricting serving sizes -- well, nothing is beyond possible given the current political environment. Take note, NASCAR lobbyists and team owners.

I understand the issue of privacy and the legal implications of protecting it. But -- NASCAR needs to find a way to amend its drug testing policy to go public with the banned substance when the test comes back positive. In the court of public opinion, it makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD if the positive was caused by an illegal substance or improper use of a legal medication or product. How about giving the person involved the option of signing a legal release authorizing NASCAR to reveal the specific substance?

How to explain those surprising (at least to me) up TNT NASCAR ratings? I can only think of one thing: JUNIOR! If anyone has a better explanation, please let me know.

So, how do you fans like the new Wind Tunnel format? What's been billed as a "viewer participation" show all these years has been recast more in the mold of Fox News Channel's surprise hit The Five. Dave Despain has one (or more) co-hosts (often fellow Speed Channel talking heads), and except for a few online comments or questions, that pesky "viewer participation" stuff has been shoved over to the half-hour post-show Internet extra.

Managing expectations is a little-discussed yet absolutely essential part of the job for the leader of any organization. IndyCar sure has had a lot of problems with this in the past, putting out word of "a major announcement coming" many times, only for nothing to happen or the "news" be more sparkler than skyrocket. With way-too-much talk in recent weeks (too much in terms of the reality of the situation) about a return to Michigan International Speedway and/or Road America, Randy Bernard told the press gaggle pre-Toronto those two venues were off the table for the immediate future. In my view those fan expectations should have been better managed -- actually, never allowed to get elevated in the first place. And for all the talk Randy "hopes" for 19 or more races going forward, well, I "hope" to be the first human to walk on Mars, too. See next two items.

If those who keep asking why IndyCar doesn't return to one-time CART stronghold Portland would do a little homework, they'd realize the answer. Local business/community leader (and all-around good guy) Bill Hildick, who was chairman of the Portland Rose Festival's auto racing committee (and later a candidate for CART CEO but lost out to Andrew Craig), retired many years ago. The local political environment has drastically changed (ultra-liberal "green" mentality), race co-sponsor G.I. Joe's went bankrupt and was liquidated, and a friend of mine who resides in the area and knows the local scene and facility says he doubts one gallon of paint has been put on the track since the last Champ Car event there in 2007!

How are ticket sales going for the 500-mile IndyCar season finale Sept. 15 at Fontana's Auto Club Speedway? Just wondering . . .

I understand the enthusiasm of legitimate IndyCar fans, but all the cries for more races and aero kits reminds me of Daryl Hannah's line in the movie Wall Street: Playing the role of Darien Taylor, an interior decorator, she called herself a "great spender of other people's money." It's easy to tell team owners what they should buy and how many races they should run and what tracks should host the series and what companies should be sponsors when you don't have to pay the bill!

Common sense. Attention to detail. Supervisory oversight. As I've pointed out here numerous times, those basics are all-too-often missing with sponsor managers (who, among other things, are accepting of so-called PR people who don't even come to the media center to talk to reporters.) I was reminded of this last week when the story hit that the U.S. Olympic team uniforms, provided by Ralph Lauren, were made in China. While the politicians are looking to score cheap points by blaming the company, I blame those at the U.S. Olympic Committee whose responsibilities include uniforms. Let's name the names: Who wasn't paying attention? Who signed a contract that didn't specify the uniforms be Made in America? Just like in NASCAR and other series, there was a shocking lack of common sense, attention to detail, and oversight.

Last weekend was nostalgic for me as the Philadelphia Daily News (my old paper) and Philadelphia Inquirer moved from their longtime building at 400 N. Broad St. to the old historic downtown Strawbridge's building. And, in a $ign of the Time$, the Daily News and Inquirer staffs now work in the same newsroom. When I worked at the Daily News, Philly was the most competitive newspaper city in the country, with four dailies.

[ more next Monday . . . ]