• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

OF HOMESTEAD and AUSTIN

I don't think it was a coincidence that a TV spot promoting NASCAR's Chase finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway included these words: "The world will be watching."

I think that was a message from NASCAR to Bernie Ecclestone and Circuit of the Americas, in Austin, Tex., that scheduling Formula One's return to the U.S. on the same day the championship of America's most popular motorsports series was settled wasn't appreciated. Actually, I'll say it was DUMB -- a point I first made about 15 months ago on Rick Benjamin's radio show. As far as I know I was the first one to point out Austin's date was the same as Homestead's.

I noted how Speed walked the fine line between its Homestead programming vs. what was coming out of Austin. Actually, what was coming out of the network's Charlotte studio, since the three booth announcers weren't sent out to report on-site. Of course, Speed has lost the F1 rights to NBC Sports Network starting next season.

As welcome as F1's coming back was with Lewis Hamilton's victory , it was equally stupid scheduling. A major international sporting spectacle received worldwide news coverage but, here, it got the attention of a local event. That's the arrogance of Ecclestone and the Grand Prix crowd, which continues to say how important it is to build its U.S. audience. What happened Sunday -- and what's already scheduled to happen next year -- sure as hell isn't the way to do it on a sea-to-shining-sea scale.

And I say that as someone who was at the USGP in Watkins Glen going back to the late 1960s and covered the Big Race many times. I had an exclusive interview with Jackie Stewart there the Saturday morning of his last weekend as a driver -- just a few hours before his teammate was killed and Stewart's entry was withdrawn.

Congratulations to the Austin organizers for getting the controversial facility completed in time. I don't argue with those who gushed how impressive the crowds were all three days -- official total 265,499. CotA itself pumped out news releases touting just that. Of course, this came from the same communications team whose lack of racing know-how and near-complete lack of any relationships with mainstream American media reflected poorly on the organization's leaders and management. These same people some months ago hyped an F1 traveling display that was going to stop in key media markets -- including Phoenix. Yet, my repeated requests for specifics as to the when and where went unanswered. (A little embarrassing that a Pirelli-logo cowboy hat was put on Mario Andretti -- a Firestone spokesman -- on the podium. But I bet the good guys at F understand.)

Let me put it this way: No one in Austin has to worry about writing a Jim Chapman Award acceptance speech.

Nor do the majority of so-called "PR" people who claim to "work" within NASCAR. A list was kept of those who actually came over to say hello in the media center during the recent Phoenix International Raceway weekend. Ten fingers would not be needed to total it up. "Public/media relations," indeed. Some months ago I asked the most senior "publicist" at a Big Time team why his group didn't make the media center rounds and the embarrassing answer was because the team's drivers did a lot of sponsor hospitality visits. Too bad for this guy that I happen to have a pretty good idea of the number of such appearances done. The math -- and the excuse -- didn't add up. And even if they made 50 appearances, does that mean five minutes couldn't be found to engage in the courtesy and good business of some relationship building?

BS. NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications, please take note.

As for Sprint Cup, no doubt NASCAR is pleased with Brad Keselowski's championship. It puts a fresher, younger, more hip, out-there, social media player as the face of stock car racing.

NASCAR's Powers-That-Be must be going into the off-season with mixed emotions, however. The champion won for a manufacturer who is leaving the sport. The Chase TV numbers as well as those for the season are cause for concern. Fan dissatisfaction with the way ESPN presents the races is at an all-time high. (Brad Daugherty to Kid Rock at Homestead: "What's it been like working for ESPN?" "It's been great." Wow. What cutting-edge analysis and interviewing skill.) The alarm bells are ringing and warning lights flashing for the 2013 national economy in a sport driven by sponsorship dollars. I know there are high-level people who think -- maybe "hope" is a better word -- that the new '13 car and its more showroom look will create new fans. I'm not buying that. I think it might well energize existing fans, but make new ones . . . ???

To the winners and champions, enjoy an especially thankful Thanksgiving.

[ No blog next week. I'll wrap the year here the first week of December . . . ]

Sunday, November 11, 2012

DOMINICK & WAGER WIN 2012 JIM CHAPMAN AWARD

Judy Kouba Dominick and Nancy Wager, who represent Chevrolet in NASCAR, IndyCar, sports car racing and other series, today were announced as winners of the 2012 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations.

Mark Armijo (left), Judy, Nancy, me (Photo courtesy of Chevrolet.)

The Chapman Award is considered by many in the industry as the highest honor in racing public relations. It is named in memory of Chapman (top of page,  photo courtesy of Gary Gold and David Hutson), the legendary PR executive and innovator, who worked with Babe Ruth and was named Indy Car racing’s “most influential man” of the 1980s. Chapman died in 1996 at age 80.

The announcement and presentation were made at Phoenix International Raceway by Michael Knight, chairman of the selection committee, and one of Chapman’s closest friends. The award is determined by a vote of media members, most of whom knew Chapman, and is authorized by the Chapman family. PR representatives from all forms of motorsports are eligible for consideration.

"Judy and Nancy are truly deserving of this honor because their professionalism is in the example and spirit of Jim Chapman’s,” said Knight, the longtime journalist/publicist and award rights-holder.

“Like Jim, Judy and Nancy believe in the ‘old-school’ approach to working with the media – that it is essential to build one-on-one relationships with journalists. That’s too often missing today in a communications age where an E-mail or text message is incorrectly considered ‘relationship-building.’ Jim was a true ‘people person’ and knew nothing could replace a handshake, a face-to-face conversation, or the sound of another person’s voice.”

Established in 1991 by media and publicists within the CART series, the Chapman Award originally focused on achievement in CART. After a hiatus of several years, the award was resumed in 2004, with eligibility expanded to anyone working in racing PR.

Dominick and Wager both have over 25 years of experience in motorsports PR. Wager has represented Chevy as a trackside communications specialist since 1995 and Dominick since 2003. They frequently team-up at Sprint Cup events.

Dominick, of Sedalia, Colo. now residing in Winston-Salem, N.C., has worked in all three NASCAR national series, as well as IndyCar, sports car and drag racing, USAC, the World of Outlaws and AMA motorcycle racing. She was Tony Stewart’s personal management rep for more than six years.

Wager, of Laguna Niguel, Calif. now residing in Cary, N.C., has worked not only in NASCAR but also various off-road series, drag and powerboat racing, Supercross, Motocross and Arenacross, thrill shows and the Pike’s Peak Hill Climb. She was in sports marketing for the Adolph Coors Co.

Chapman started as sports editor or managing editor of several Southern newspapers before joining the New York Times. He served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. He entered the PR business in 1946, as regional PR director for Ford Motor Co. in Detroit.

Soon thereafter, Chapman hired Ruth as consultant to the automaker’s sponsorship of American Legion Junior Baseball. They traveled together for more than two years for personal appearances and became close friends. Chapman was one of only three friends at Ruth’s bedside when he died in August 1948 and then officially announced Ruth’s death to the press corps that had maintained an around-the-clock vigil at New York’s Memorial Hospital.

Chapman proudly showcased several photos of Ruth in his office. One was inscribed: "To a pal that is a pal." Chapman also displayed a framed letter, written on Ruth's personal stationary from Memorial Hospital, dated July 13, 1948, inviting him to the July 26 premier of the film, The Babe Ruth Story. That letter read, in part, "That evening would not be complete without your being my guest. To you, Jimmy, I say you must be with me that evening."

In 1950, Chapman left Ford to start his own PR firm. One of his first clients was Avis founder Warren Avis. Chapman devoted much of his time to financial PR, which he once called his “favorite form of PR,” and helped companies get recognition among analysts and even gain admission to the New York and American stock exchanges.

Chapman’s first venture into motorsports was in 1951, when he joined with NASCAR founder Bill France to promote the Motor City 250. The race was part of Detroit’s 250th birthday celebration, a Chapman client. In 1967, Chapman entered Indy Car racing with client Ozzie Olson’s Olsonite sponsorship of Dan Gurney’s team, which later featured Bobby Unser as driver.

“Jim was one of the most innovative and imaginative PR men ever to grace a pit lane,” said Gurney. “Jim practically invented most of what is now considered routine sponsor PR work. He was the first, as far as I know, who thought of putting up a sponsor hospitality tent alongside a racetrack (at the old Riverside International Raceway), filling it with extravagant race car ice-sculptures, beautiful food and beautiful people from the business, sports and movie industries. He started an ‘open house’ tradition in Ozzie’s hotel suite in Indianapolis, where journalists could rub shoulders with John Wayne or (astronaut) Scott Carpenter.”

Chapman also directed Olsonite’s sponsorship of the Driver of the Year award. He orchestrated all the details, including the media panel voting, and an annual luncheon at New York City’s famed ‘21’ Club. That gathering was considered so prestigious it was routinely attended by leaders of all the major U.S. sanctioning organizations regardless of what series the Driver of the Year competed in.

Chapman’s greatest professional acclaim came from 1981-1992, as director of CART series sponsor PPG Industries’ program. Chapman was instrumental in raising PPG’s prize fund from $250,000 to more than $3.75 million at the time of his retirement in February 1993. The all-female PPG Pace Car Driving Team was another Chapman innovation, as were the PPG Editors’ Days, when he brought business and feature writers to the tracks for lunch, pace car rides, and driver interviews.

In 1982, Chapman negotiated a landmark sponsorship for PPG with then- Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Joe Cloutier, which formally made the Indy 500 a points-paying event in the PPG Indy Car World Series, an arrangement that last through the 1995 season. “That was one of the most satisfying moments of my career,” Chapman recalled. “Roger Penske, among others, told me it was the best thing that had ever happened to CART.” In addition to a major contribution to the prize fund, PPG later became sponsor of the $100,000 Indy 500 pole award, and paid a special winner’s bonus in the early years of NASCAR’s Brickyard 400.

“With Jim, when he says ‘jump,’ we just ask ‘how high?,” Indy 500 winner and PPG Cup champion Al Unser Jr. said on behalf of his fellow drivers. “And we do it right then.”

Indy Car Racing magazine named Chapman the sport’s “most influential” man of the 1980s, saying he turned “a public relations assignment into an art form.” After his retirement, Chapman continued to consult PPG, and agreed to Mario Andretti’s personal request that he serve as honorary chairman of Andretti’s “Arrivederci, Mario” farewell tour in 1994.

Chapman's professional achievements earned him vast recognition. The mayors of Detroit and Long Beach, Calif., presented him proclamations and the key to each city. In 1993, Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh named him Sagamore of the Wabash, the state's highest honor. He served as president and/or director of more than 30 Michigan and Detroit-area civic and charitable organizations. Chapman became active in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and represented the Detroit Urban League and United Negro College Fund in several controversial situations. He admitted to shedding "buckets of tears of joy" when Willy T. Ribbs became the first African-American driver to qualify for the Indy 500 in 1991.

“The true honor of this award is not the plaque,” said Knight. “The true honor is having your name forever associated with that of the great James P. Chapman.”

PREVIOUS JIM CHAPMAN AWARD HONOREES:
1991 -- Michael Knight
1992 – Tom Blattler
1993-94 – Deke Houlgate and Hank Ives
1995 – Kathi Lauterbach
1996 – Marc Spiegel
1997 – Mike Zizzo
1998 – Tamy Valkosky
1999 -- Carol Wilkins
2000-2003 – (Award not presented)
2004 – Doug Stokes
2005 – Susan Arnold
2006 – Kevin Kennedy
2007 – Dave Densmore and Bob Carlson
2008 – Judy Stropus
2009 – (Award not presented)
2010 -- Jim Hunter
2011 -- Bill York

I won't post links to all my Arizona Republic stories of the last week on NASCAR-at-Phoenix. Jayski kindly linked them and you can go into his daily listings for those. But here are a few of special interest:

"Boys, have at it" returns at PIR:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/20121111wild-race-blows-championship-open-keselowski.html

Jimmie Johnson hits the wall (and Roger Penske says he's not a bidder for IMS):

PIR second-in-line to Daytona for ISC funds:

Dillon brothers race with pressue of No. 3:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/20121107dillon-brothers-austin-ty-find-success-nascar-circuit-young-age.html


"Promises, Promises" is the title of my latest CompetitionPlus.com column, looking at the history of Coca-Cola's NHRA title sponsorship:
http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/editorials/22983-michael-knight-promises-promises

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, November 04, 2012

A BIG WEEK

I'll just state the obvious: This is a Big Week in our country and for the future of our nation. Locally, it's NASCAR week here in Phoenix, and a lot will happen to determine the 2012 champions in all three NASCAR national series.

Phoenix International Raceway's grandstands are sold-out for Sunday's AdvoCare 500 -- impressive in a still challenging economic environment. Please look for my stories starting Tuesday in the Arizona Republic and AzCentral.com . (See below for more.)

As big as the news will be in the next several days, there were some major headlines last week.

SuperStorm Sandy topped them all. Looking at the TV images of the terrible destruction in New Jersey was especially tough for me. I grew up in Philadelphia but spent most of my childhood summers in the Atlantic City area. My grandparents owned a home right on the beach in Brigantine Island -- where the president did his photo-op last week -- but that house was completely taken out into the Atlantic Ocean in an early 1960s hurricane and never rebuilt. An aunt and uncle owned a home two blocks away from the beach and they kindly allowed us to stay with them for large parts of each summer. I've walked that Atlantic City boardwalk more times than I could possibly count, eating saltwater taffy and enjoying the shows and attractions (yes, including the Diving Horse) at the famed Steel Pier. The best cheese steak sandwich you could ever have came from a place just a couple of blocks away. Called the White House. Even Frank Sinatra would go there for his CS fix. I used to attend the TQ midget races staged each January in AC's convention hall (where Miss America was crowned for decades) and the Eastern Motorsports Press Association held its annual convention in town for many years.

Seeing what happened just 24 hours later, it's amazing NASCAR was able to race at Martinsville. But with the TV numbers plunging 20-plus points in the return of Dale Jr., that signals to me changes will be coming (again) to try to re-energize the Chase format.

Tim Wardrop, who was engineer when I managed Arie Luyendyk's (first) retirement race at Indianapolis in 1999, died. We won the pole that year and Arie was leading when he crashed trying to get around mirror-less and clueless Tyce Carlson. Tim was more than a very talented engineer -- he was a fascinating guy to be around.

Oh, and as you may have read, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp. Board of Directors decided to fire Randy Bernard after letting him twist in the wind for weeks. What horrendous PR we've seen in the last year: IndyCar's "run silent/run deep" disappearing act after Dan Wheldon's fatal accident which left a massive communications void which was filled by powerful and overwhelming negative voices. A.J. Allmendinger's completely botched public communications after his failed NASCAR drug test. And now the way Bernard's bouncing was handled by IMS Corp. However you feel about Bernard, there's NO EXCUSE for doing it this way. NONE.

I've read and heard some of the most ridiculous media yapping about this that could possibly be imagined. You have to give Bernard this: He was very successful in co-opting a large chunk of the Indianapolis-area media. It's sad there's no longer a powerful media watchdog like the old Editor & Publisher because I have no doubt such a publication would have had a field day objectively analyzing the way some people "reported" (cheerleading would be more accurate) on Bernard's tenure. Even those fans who continue to wear Indy's rose-colored glasses would have been well served by such a critical examination of a journalistic standards-lowering embarrassment. Now that Bernard is out and the coverage tone will/has changed in a dramatic -- far less favorable -- way, will media executives understand what's happened and make the moves that need to be made? Probably not . . .

IMS President Jeff Belskus is now in charge of the series and he made it clear in interviews last week that he is running the show and not limited by an "interim" title. I think it was good he made that point from a management stability standpoint, but -- caution -- by week's end it was starting to remind me of Al Haig's infamous "I'm in charge" press conference after President Reagan was shot in 1981.

IMS has begun a strategic business review and hired an outside consulting firm. Having been involved in two such strategic reviews involving major motorsports sponsors, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect. No doubt the recommendations will be: 1 -- Commit to a long-term business plan and budget; 2 -- Sell the business. So for everyone busy trying to suggest names for a new CEO, nothing is going to happen until the review process is completed, and the IMS Board decides how to act on it -- if at all.

Meanwhile, I did an extended interview on my friend Larry Henry's Pit Pass USA show about the latest IMS fiasco. It's right at the top of the show and here's a link:

Finally -- Given the recent developments in IndyCar, it just might be worth your while to go back and read (or re-read) my "Untenable" posting from a year ago:


Sometimes we need to forget about points, cars and gas mileage and focus on the PEOPLE. So here's a link to my long Sunday Republic story examining the evolution of the Jeff Gordon-Jimmie Johnson relationship. Would Jimmie have been as successful without Jeff? Gordon, Johnson and Rick Hendrick have their say:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/20121030jeff-gordon-jimmie-johnsons-relationship-shifts-gears.html


In a major Business of Racing "get," my traditional Newsmaker Q&A next Sunday in the Republic will be with ISC Chair Lesa France Kennedy.

[ come back this weekend for announcement regarding the 2012 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports PR ]