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:
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:
Q&A with Lesa France Kennedy:
Whatever happened to "Boys, have at it"?
Dillon brothers race with pressue of No. 3:
"Promises, Promises" is the title of my latest CompetitionPlus.com column, looking at the history of Coca-Cola's NHRA title sponsorship:
[ more next Monday . . . ]