• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, August 26, 2012

MOSELLE's WAY WAS THE RIGHT WAY

As motorsports has become more political, more corporate, more cut-throat, more impersonal, it has struck me hard how much the likes of Lee Moselle are missed.

Moselle was a classic example of what I'll call a Gentleman Promoter. Not "gentleman" as in a pay-as-you-go "gentleman" driver, but a solid, successful businessman who happened to stage major racing events. And did so with class and humanity.

Moselle, a lawyer by trade, became executive director of SCRAMP -- Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula. That's the group that organizes and promotes events at Laguna Seca Raceway, which used to be part of Fort Ord, and now is officially titled Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Moselle was the kind of man who would offer to pick you up at the airport, show you around the beautiful Monterey-Carmel area, take you to lunch/dinner, and get you back to your hotel or the airport. He would not have thought otherwise. I first met Lee in 1982 when I was CART's communications director and the series signed to make its Laguna debut in 1983. I made my first visit for a site inspection in the fall of 1982. Lee was such a nice guy I almost hated to tell him his small media work facility wasn't up to series' standard. I think he already knew that and built a new media center for our race.

Moselle was one of those old-school people who grasped the value of one-on-one relationships. When the CART race was scheduled, he immediately reached out to series sponsor PPG's Jim Chapman. When the time came for Chapman to make hotel reservations for the large PPG group, he couldn't get what he needed. Chapman telephoned Moselle, who promised to take care of it. Lee drove over to the downtown Hyatt, sat down with the GM and explained, "This is our series sponsor." Chapman got all the rooms he required. It was no surprise Chapman and Moselle quickly bonded on both a personal and professional level. Chapman supported Laguna in every way he could and Moselle returned all the favors.

Moselle spent race weekends and test days not in his office, but down in the pits and paddock, visible and easily accessible. He made it a point to go see drivers, owners and sponsors and ask if all was well. Because he was so connected and respected within his community, many was the time Lee was able to obtain hard-to-get golf tee-times and dinner reservations for racers. Lee used to host a cocktail party on Friday night of race weekends, in part because he believed such hospitality was correct and proper, but it also gave him a chance to allow the SCRAMP Board as well as local government and business leaders to mingle with the drivers. Lee would mail out formal invitations a few weeks ahead of time but he never had to go around and ask the Big Names to attend -- they gladly did so, because of the courtesy he showed them.

Lee was honored as CART's Race Organizer of the Year and always would make it a point to stand up at sometimes-stormy CART promoter/sponsor meetings and say something nice and point out the positives. On one such occasion, he hand-wrote a simple note complimenting presentations Kirk Russell and I made to the big group, and passed it around from person-to-person. I sure did appreciate it! A few years later I had changed jobs, and Lee asked for my help in starting the big publicity push for his event. I happily assigned budget and a Mario Andretti appearance day I controlled to this purpose and Mario spent a day in San Francisco singing the praises of Laguna Seca to media and fans.

Lee died a number of years ago. No disrespect to anyone else, but Laguna Seca has never seemed the same to me. He's one of those people I'll always feel blessed I got to know and call "friend." Especially in this modern era of the Business of Racing, where the trackside atmosphere all-too-often is impersonal and uncaring, Moselle's way would be a good one to follow.


Let me see if I've got this straight: Because Tony Stewart threw his helmet and Danica Patrick pointed, Bristol was a "great" race. Moments of entertainment, OK, but absolutely not a "great" race. This is what passes for "informed media commentary" these days: ESPN Empty Suit Jonathan Coachman said Stewart's helmet throw "was one of the best things I've seen in a long time." Which is why he's one of the emptiest of the ESPN Empty Suits.



Speaking of class, and doing the right thing: Or, in this case, not the right thing. I recently read in Golf Week that British Open winner Ernie Els gets to keep the Claret Jug trophy for one year. But if he wants a permanent Jug, he has to ask the Royal & Ancient Golf Club to order him a replica -- at his expense. That's said to be up to $15,000. A world-class athlete wins a world-class event but has to PAY for the trophy? Ridiculous! When PPG sponsored the CART series, it presented championship Cups to both the driver and team owner. But I know from first-hand experience that when Newman/Haas Racing was champion, Jim Chapman ordered a second owners' Cup -- at PPG's expense -- so that both Carl Haas and Paul Newman had their own. Chapman wouldn't have considered anything else the "right way" to do things. Class.


I've noted here in recent weeks the Wind Tunnel format changes. Now, John Daly, of The Daly Planet, has put his authoritative voice to the subject (a MUST read):
http://dalyplanet.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-untimely-death-of-wind-tunnel.html


NASCAR reinstated Aaron Fike. Read new NASCAR.com writer Holly Cain's excellent and inspirational (I'm sure we all hope it stays that way) story:
http://www.nascar.com/news/120821/afike-sobriety-road-to-recovery/index.html

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, August 19, 2012

CHANGING OF THE GUARD CAUSES WORRY

The news this year has been a lot about who gives us the news.

Fox politely steered Dick Berggren into retirement after honorable service on the NASCAR pit lanes. Bob Jenkins announced in May he'll retire from race broadcasting after the Sept. 15 IndyCar season finale in California. And, last week, I got onto a story that went to the top of the charts in the NHRA world.

Wednesday night, my exclusive report that Paul Page will not return to the anchor post on ESPN2's NHRA coverage in 2013 was posted on CompetitionPlus.com. Here's the link:
http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/news/22119-source-paul-page-out-in-nhra-booth-for-2013

Friday morning, ESPN issued a predictable statement:

“Paul Page will pursue other opportunities after the 2012 season and will not return to the ESPN NHRA anchor position in 2013. He has been a tremendous presence on our motorsports coverage, most recently NHRA, for decades and we wish him the very best in the future. We have not finalized our plans for 2013 and we don’t expect to make any NHRA commentator announcements until after the 2012 season.”

(On another ESPN front, read this from Friday's Arizona Republic:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/heatindex/articles/20120816espn-has-lost-nauseated-viewer.html . The validity of this column was proven again Sunday when ESPN actually wasted precious TV time by asking NASCAR drivers about a SportsCenter drummed-up "issue" -- if they wanted Tim Tebow or Mark Sanchez as the New York Jets' quarterback. What a disgrace!)

From my own years of experience I was not surprised at what followed my Page exclusive. When a Big Story like this is published, sources come out of the woodwork to tell you stuff. Not that I believe it all. But I now am in possession of more information -- and perspective -- since I wrote the Page story. I was pleased with how comprehensive that first report was -- almost 1,000 words -- and let the record show for the new generation of "journalists" and "PR" people that I actually picked up the telephone and called the four people who needed to be called. I didn't E-mail them, or Tweet, or not bother to ask at all or just repeat Internet rumors. That's rare these days. Even more rare than the way Kirk Russell eats his steaks.

So, there's more to this important story, and right now I plan to share that in my September CompetitionPlus.com column.

The Page story is a reminder of how dramatically the dynamics of racing TV are changing. David Hill, who as boss of Fox Sports brought NASCAR onto the network and gave Darrell Waltrip the stage to become what DW has become, has moved on to other duties. How that might change NASCAR on Fox is yet to be known. NASCAR bought back its digital rights from Turner, effective next January, which will alter what people have become accustomed to on NASCAR.com. Speed's production has been on a roller-coaster since last December and those pesky fan telephone calls on Wind Tunnel have been punted over to the Internet "extra" program. (I'm still trying to figure out the channel's disjointed dress code, where some people have to wear jackets while others wear sponsor ID shirts and at least one flip-flops.) When I asked a network TV producer about what might come out of the next round of NASCAR TV rights negotiations it was eye-opening to be told the landscape is evolving so rapidly who knows what online entities like YouTube might do.

The departure of respected people like Berggren, Jenkins and Page marks the end of an era and that is not a good thing, in my view. Those three bring an air of authority and credibility and -- even in the Twitter age -- that's important.

IndyCar's NBC Sports Network's anchor position looms as very troubling. Producer Terry Lingner is pushing hard for Kevin Lee to follow Jenkins. What a terrible mistake that would be -- and haven't we had enough of those to last the rest of the century from everyone and everything associated with open-wheel racing? (!) Lee simply does not have the journalistic chops to sit in that chair. He's widely viewed as an IndyCar, Hulman-George family and Randy Bernard cheerleader and while the hard-core fan viewers might like that, I think we've clearly established there are not enough of them to produce a rating sufficient for teams to sell the needed level of sponsorship. If the goal is to drive away the casual viewer even more than has already happened, go ahead, hire a cheerleader. Might as well hire the Dallas Cowboys' cheerleaders if that's what you want. No one can question that Bob Costas doesn't love baseball or Al Michaels the NFL, but they sure don't pretend that there are no problems or controversies in those sports when they call the action.

Lee ignored a fundamental of journalism on his Indianapolis radio show last year. When Bernard ripped Phoenix International Raceway President Bryan Sperber on-air for supposedly not responding to IndyCar, Lee swallowed whole and picked-up Bernard's batton. He never bothered to invite Sperber on the show to get his side of the story. I was the one who exposed in the Arizona Republic that Bernard later admitted he had never called or tried to contact Sperber and came to Phoenix earlier this year to apologize to Sperber in person. Lee never owned up to any of this or apologized for his lack of journalism or the disservice he did to listeners. That's not what the IndyCar sport -- or industry -- needs in its TV anchor chair.

Not when solid pros like Page and Rick Benjamin are available.

The times, they are changing. And not necessarily for the better. That worries me -- a lot.


One racing series is aggressively charting its course for the future. Another seems to be spinning its wheels. Read my August CompetitionPlus.com column:
http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/editorials/22095-michael-knight-anyone-have-a-plan-to-grow-the-sport

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

EXCLUSIVE: PAUL PAGE OUT of NHRA TV BOOTH IN 2013

I have been doing the basic reporting on this story for the last couple of days. It was written Wednesday and posted Wednesday night at CompetitionPlus.com:
http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/news/22119-source-paul-page-out-in-nhra-booth-for-2013

Sunday, August 12, 2012

MAKING a BAD SITUATION WORSE

Crisis Management and Crisis PR have become very significant subsets of the overall communications industry. There are some major PR agency players in New York City and Washington, D.C. making Big Money because of their expertise in this area as well as many independent experts.

Sometimes their fee is deserved. Sometimes not.

But, the point is, the capability is there -- so why so often don't auto racers get that? Just as IndyCar completely mismanaged its situation after Dan Wheldon's fatal accident -- the series' "Run Silent, Run Deep" approach left a huge void which was filled with tons of negative media stories -- AJ Allmendinger has made his own situation much worse in the aftermath of his NASCAR suspension for a positive substance-abuse test.

The information AJA allowed to go out on his behalf wasn't consistent or well-considered. AJA finally decided to grant a series of one-on-one interviews last week. Big Mistake. With the media as-a-whole already unhappy and growing more suspicious by the day, it sure wasn't the time to play favorites. The ONLY way to go was one big group news conference and for the driver to sit there and answer every question. (That could have been followed with a couple of very carefully chosen one-on-ones.) And, I can tell you from personal experience, in this situation it's an absolute MUST to know in advance exactly how all likely questions will be answered. If you want to consider that rehearsing, so be it. (Yes, I admit, I've done it with drivers, team owners and sponsor reps.) I saw AJA's TV sit-downs and he sure didn't come across to me as someone who had thought it all out first.

I certainly don't always agree with Kyle Petty, but what KP said last week was 1,000 percent accurate:

"I hope that every PR rep in the country who has anything to do with a major athlete looks at how this situation was handled by AJ’s camp and does exactly the opposite the next time this happens.”

IF -- and that is a huge IF -- Allmendinger is to have any hope to resume his career at a high level, he must do so with a completely different management team. In other words, people who actually know what they are doing.


Given her massive conflict-of-interest, why does ESPN production management allow Nicole Briscoe to comment on anything regarding Roger Penske? As she did Sunday at Watkins Glen. Her husband, Ryan, is trying to hang on to his Penske IndyCar ride. I don't think he'll be back with Penske next season, based on too many unforced errors, inconsistent performances, and especially not agreeing to take downforce out of his car on his last pit stop during the Indy 500 last May when he obviously needed to gain speed to try to win the most important race of the year to Penske.


Dodge announced its withdrawal from NASCAR last week but there was some good Business of Racing news for the stock car sanction. Sprint Nextel's stock has been on a huge roll lately and CEO Dan Hesse is getting rave reviews by analysts. This reflects well on NASCAR, at least indirectly, and is the kind of B of R knowledge you need to have to be an in-the-know racing fan.


NASCAR returns to Michigan this Sunday and then on to the used-to-be-must-watch Saturday night race in Bristol. With the All-TV-Ratings-Conquering Summer Olympics over, we'll find out if the somewhat surprising Sprint Cup ratings uptick earlier this season was fact or fiction. And it will provide more evidence on the effect of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s success. If that bump is real, it better show up now, because the NFL and college football seasons are about to start.


I was delighted to learn of STP's title sponsorship of the World of Outlaws starting next year. If the much-needed activation of the sponsorship comes together the way indicated, including with TV commercial support, it should give this under-appreciated series a meaningful boost. As long as this is not another Full Throttle, which has done precious little to out-reach its NHRA series entitlement, making me wonder why the Coca-Cola brand even bothers. (Or maybe it won't going forward.) But the Outlaws are having a classic season with the likes of Steve Kinser and Sammy Swindell in title contention. I consider myself an Outlaws' fan and am a voter for the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.

Some amazing stats from Saturday night's Knoxville Nationals, the season's biggest race. Kinser and Swindell failed to advance to the feature. It was the first time since 1975 that neither driver made the Big Show. For Kinser, it ended a streak of 34 consecutive years in the Nationals field. Donny Schatz won for the sixth time in the last seven years.


Interest in the Olympics -- due, in massive part, to the success of U.S. athletes as well as the American-friendly London venue and Yanks' fascination with the Royals -- was so huge it even gave a tremendous boost to the headed-downward Today show. In the world of the fierce morning TV news competition, the dirty little secret is ABC and CBS and CNN and Fox knew viewers who wanted Olympic news were going to tune to NBC. Producers were looking for alternative stories to tell. NHRA blew it again by not getting Courtney Force and Erica Enders booked after their historic double-female wins at Seattle. No, I'm not surprised.


The other week I received an E from Jaclyn Raineri, ID'd as "Community Manager, Social Media Marketing & Product Planning Volvo Cars of North America." This is someone I have never met or spoken with. It was about a Twitter chat with a Volvo product manager. First, if Jaclyn had bothered to do any homework, she'd have known I don't Twitter. Second, and what I consider to be outright rude, the message did not begin with "Hello" or "Hi" or use my name. This is how the E began:

"Hey,". (Bold, color and italic emphasis added by me.)

I immediately deleted it. Do the responsible management people at Volvo know this is how they are being represented? If not, WHY NOT? Add her to the long list of so-called "professionals" who desperately need to read my July CompetitionPlus.com column. As I've noted before, this is about NHRA, but applies throughout the automotive and motorsports industries. Here's that link:
http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/editorials/21813-michael-knight-nhra-should-still-reach-out-and-touch-someone

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, August 05, 2012

OFF THIS WEEK

Other priorities in other areas of my life means no time to blog this week. My apologies. I plan to be back in this space next Monday.