• 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 . . . ]