• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, January 27, 2013

I DON'T CARE WHO DANICA IS DATING

I don't care who Danica Patrick is dating.

I would only care she's dating a fellow Sprint Cup rookie driver if there was clear evidence it was affecting competition. The media and chatroom stir-it-up types are playing to the American public's lowered bar of civility (one just got hired for that reason) and seemingly are unfamiliar with the concept of PROFESSIONALISM.

Apparently, because of short attention spans or maybe because it doesn't fit the pre-determined storyline, they forget/ignore that Jack Roush parked Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for two races in 2010 when he was involved in accidents in five of his first 12 Nationwide series races. With all that Roush and Stenhouse have riding on putting Ricky in the team that won the Daytona 500 last year, what would make anyone think Jack would tolerate love-sick driving or that Ricky -- or Danica -- aren't smart enough to understand everything that's at stake here. Any on-track nonsense could destroy their racing and marketing credibility and end a couple of careers just like that. Let's give them credit for knowing that, until they show otherwise.

As I also said Saturday on SiriusXM's Press Pass show with Rick Benjamin and Jerry Bonkowski, isn't it logical to believe that Stenhouse will be more competitive, certainly early in the season? I don't expect we're looking at a situation where Ricky and Danica will be battling side-by-side for the lead.

And, once again, I'm embarrassed for the media. Those already predicting that a dating relationship will overshadow everything else in NASCAR -- including the sanction's bet-the-house move to a new car for competition and business reasons -- again play to a sad, declining standard. IF all else is overshadowed, it most likely will be because the media decides to do that -- not because the facts will justify such coverage. 


What a weird year this will be in American sports car racing. The long past-due common-sense move to reunify Grand-Am and ALMS in 2014 unfortunately creates an awkward year of lame-duck split tours in '13. That opened last weekend with the Rolex 24 at Daytona, won by Scott Pruett, Juan Pablo Montoya, Memo Rojas and Charlie Kimball. (Pruett proving again he's America's most underappreciated champion driver. How about a Driver of the Year vote, panelists?!)

I'm a sports car racing fan -- especially true endurance sports car racing -- so I'm delighted that this merger (in favor of NASCAR-owned Grand-Am) is happening. But it means '13 is essentially a get-through-it season. I'm concerned with what has been outlined for '14 in terms of class structures -- possibly as many as five. TOO MANY! Grand-Am's beauty was an easy-to-understand two class system and I doubt everyone directly involved in ALMS has a real grasp on its complex and puzzling class structure.

I'm sure the world economic situation and impact on automakers is dictating the rules for '14 and '15. Eventually, though, it's got to get back to a two -- three at most -- class structure with the highest emphasis placed on a strong and competitive prototype class. Prototypes -- not GT -- historically have made this type of racing. As I've said before, it would be like trying to promote drag racing without the crowd-pleasing nitro Top Fuel and Funny Cars.


For those who complain corporate sponsorship has turned too many race drivers into vanilla personalities, consider the case of golfing great Phil Mickelson. With federal and California state taxes going up -- taking more than 60 percent of Mickelson's earnings -- he said he was considering "drastic changes." (Most figured that meant he'd move to Nevada, Florida or another state without an income tax. Some thought he'd move out of the country.) But negative publicity for being "insensitive" meant the multi-millionaire faced bad PR and pushback from some of his own sponsors. Predictably, Mickelson's apologized.


This is how the PR game is played these days: Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o retained  celebrity spinner Matthew Hiltzik for counsel in the girlfriend-who-didn't-exist saga. Hiltzik then booked Te'o's first on-camera TV interview with Katie Couric on her daytime syndicated show. Hiltzik also happens to be Couric's spokesman. Just coincidence, of course!


The question -- Will Jeff Gordon ever race in the Indy 500? -- hasn't been asked much in recent years. With good reason: Jeff's made it clear that's a no. But, at Barrett-Jackson, I couldn't help but ask if he'd ever race a sprint car again. I guess it was on my mind as the 2013 National Sprint Car Hall of Fame class was recently announced, and I'm a voter on that committee. Jeff's answer didn't surprise me, but for the record, here it is:
"No. I always joke around, talking about wanting to drive one again, because they’re so much fun to drive. Tony (Stewart) and Kasey (Kahne) tell me how awesome the cars are today. I certainly would like to, but, competitively, no, because when I do something I want to feel like I’ve got a shot to win. If I don’t do it all the time, I don’t feel like I’d be competitive to win."


A reminder I'm now on Twitter at @SpinDoctor500 . See last week's blog for an explanation of how I will, and won't, be using Twitter.

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, January 20, 2013

OF BARRETT-JACKSON and TWITTER

Personal obligations limited my visit to the Barrett-Jackson collector car auction to just one afternoon/evening this year -- but what a time it was. I was there Saturday, traditionally the event's biggest day, and the crowds reminded me of what it used to be like around Gasoline Alley on Indianapolis 500 race morning. The longest sub-freezing stretch since 1988 in the Valley of the Sun happily ended and Scottsdale was back into the 70s for which it's popular this time of year.

I had the first-time experience of watching an auction take place from the stage. My main purpose in being on-site was to interview Jeff Gordon for pre-Subway Fresh Fit 500k at Phoenix International Raceway Arizona Republic stories. Jeff drove a real No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet onto the stage to auction, jointly, with a customed street version. I was standing behind and just off to the side of Jeff as he went to the auction block and got $350,000 to benefit Drive to End Hunger. Let me tell you, it's quite a sight looking out at the big crowd in the bidding area!

The original Batmobile was sold for $4.2 million -- Holy Bidding!

Barrett-Jackson is an amazing event and, to me, should be on the list with Indy, Daytona, Watkins Glen, Sebring and Pomona as "must" U.S. motorsports visits.



Computers weren't yet in the newsroom when I went to work for the Philadelphia Daily News in 1974. Other than typewriters (I still have one on my desk, unused, but a useful reminder of higher-standard if less technology advanced days), the machines we depended upon most were the wire service tickers. God help the clerk who let those machines run out of paper!

UPI was still a healthy competitor to AP back then. If four bells rang on a machine, you paid attention because that signaled "Urgent" news. Five bells meant a "Bulletin." It was end-of-the-world stuff if you heard 10 bells, a "Flash." I'm happy to say I never heard 10 bells.

Dispatches like that typically came in headline form, with details to follow. To me, Twitter -- used professionally and correctly -- is a modern-era version of a ringing wire machine, 140 characters to alert you to breaking important information, with more substance to come later and elsewhere. But Twitter, in too many wrong hands, has become a vast wasteland of garbage presented in word form. So-called journalists who need to be spending time actually REPORTING the FULL story instead divert too much time and attention to Tweeting for the sake of being "first." I've shouted out against that and will continue to do so.

Until now, I've refused to open a Twitter account, and still will steer far clear of Facebook. But, as of late last week, I'm at @SpinDoctor 500 . Whatever I put up will be breaking news I'm personally reporting or involved in, not nonsense. It will be only when there's something legitimate to let you know about. No personal messages, no crap, no non-stop T-ing just for the sake of the apparent ego satisfaction of T-ing. Messages will be occasional -- only when my news judgment tells me it's NECESSARY. Candidly, I'm not interested in receiving Tweets about somebody at the convenience store buying a soda and I absolutely, positively will not rely to such.

When I'm on-site at events, as I was last Saturday at Barrett-Jackson, I'll share breaking news. Ditto when I'm covering NHRA's Arizona Nationals and NASCAR at Phoenix International Raceway, for example. Interesting NEWS gained from my interviews and reporting will be headlined using Twitter, with details available later in the Arizona Republic, AzCentral.com, this blog, or elsewhere which I'll specify and encourage you to read. If I determine it's taking away from my old-fashioned reporting and interviewing and writing, I'll stop cold.

So, for those so inclined, I'm at @SpinDoctor 500 . I'm still skeptical, but with the encouragement and urging of people I respect and trust, I'm going to give it a try. We'll see how it goes. Consider a Tweet from me to be bells ringing on one of those old wire service machines. Thanks.


Parnelli Jones is an American original and an American motorsports icon. I have his new biography, As a matter of fact, I am Parnelli Jones, sitting on my desk and only urgent personal demands have kept me from reading it by now. (Since Bones Bourcier wrote it, I know it's great.) Parnelli, the 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner, was given what is called the Baby Borg trophy last week, the mini version of the Borg-Warner Trophy famous in Indy's victory lane. The mini Borg only went to winning drivers starting in 1988, which is why PJ didn't have one. A great gesture. But the PROBLEM is: How do those involved explain to the other still-with-us winning drivers -- a list which includes three Unsers, an Andretti, a Mears and some guy named Foyt -- why they don't get their very own Baby Borg? Believe you me, there's been enough mistakes out of Indy in the last couple of decades to create plenty of hard feelings, they don't need to make more. Someone would have to actually understand Big Picture PR issues to realize the new set of problems this might produce. 


And just what was the NEWS value in ESPN.com publishing Danica Patrick's divorce papers? It was all pretty standard stuff -- no tantalizing financial numbers revealed, no out-of-the-ordinary details exposed. In short, it was a nothing story, done for no reason other than to draw attention to a business trying to cash-in on the business of prying into Danica's private business. Congratulations, ESPN, on lowering the bar of sports reporting as celebrity reporting once again.


Not everything is glamorous in the PR biz. There are things that equate to blocking and tackling in football -- the basics. One is the need to regularly update distribution lists for media releases, invitations to events, and even Christmas cards (and I immediately delete the E-mail ones.) Recently, I've been amazed at the lack of attention to this necessity. It's more than changing one name to another as assignments rotate in news organizations. That's the easy part. But needed just as much is going over the complete list and asking: "Why isn't so-and-so on this list?" Yes, it takes time and focus, but that is part of what separates the solid professionals from the mail-it-in crowd. A lot of people in some of the biggest organizations need to bother themselves to do such basics. It's part of the job -- if you care about doing the job the right way!


It never ends -- the Hollywood crowd being so caught-up in their own importance as to be woefully out-of-touch with reality. Latest example: Julianne Moore won the Best Actress award at the Golden Globes for her role as Sarah Palin in the HBO movie Game Change. The producer praised Moore for being "brave" to take the part. BRAVE? And then Moore praised anti-Palinites Tina Fey and Katie Couric for their "significant contribution to the 2008 election." Right. (And I'm a Fey fan.) Then Diane Sawyer took it a step further and named Fey ABC News' Co-Person of the Week! These self-absorbed people are not to be taken seriously. 

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, January 13, 2013

2013

Let's hope '13 won't be unlucky. How good it will be, I don't know. At least the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Board of Directors didn't send out Mayan calendars as holidays gifts.

 
Jeff Gordon has said it to me several times. He's said it to many other people in countless interviews. He said it again regarding the Fiasco in Phoenix with Clint Bowyer:

"I race guys the way they race me."

Anytime and everytime I hear Gordon say that, my thought is always the same:

Fair enough!

That's the way it's going to be here this year.

More than ever, I'm determined to tell it the way I believe it to be, especially as it pertains to the quality and professionalism (or lack thereof) of racing PR. The anti-Jim Chapman types like Merrill Cain, Tiffany Zielke, Goodyear and the rest will be cited in this cyberspace.

And that's the way it's going to be.


Arizona racing fans are happy with the news that Art Bisch Sr. is among those elected to the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame's 2013 class. (Full disclosure: I'm a Hall voter.) Bisch won five championships in the 1950s and qualified for the 1958 Indy 500 before a fatal accident in Atlanta at age 31. Others in the class include Charles (Dutch) Baumann, Andy Linden, Brad Noffsinger, Lou Blaney, Jeff Bloom, C.W. Van Ranst, Harold (Red) Lempelius, Richard Hoffman, E.A. (Ernie) Moross, Edd Sheppard and Jean Lynch. Induction will be June 1 in Knoxville, Ia.


The off-season wailing among some in the IndyCar media community (as small as it is) tells us a lot about the problems that extend beyond the historical record of that series' management. 

1. Rubens Barrichello couldn't find sponsorship so is going to race stock cars in Brazil. Remember all that nonsense before last season that Rubens (a nice guy) might do for IndyCar what Nigel Mansell did for CART in 1993? I called that out right from the start. Yes, Rubens has a lot of Twitter followers but the only question that mattered was: How many of them are in IndyCar markets and thus potential ticket buyers? Cheerleading from the Randy Bernard crowd is all that was. 2. Ryan Briscoe doesn't (at least yet) have a ride. Penske Racing says it doesn't have sponsorship for his car -- what does THAT tell you when Penske is hurting for funding? But, as I also pointed out last year, Briscoe's fate is about more than sponsorship. It's about lack of mental toughness. I called this after his last pit stop in last May's Indy 500. It was obvious Briscoe didn't have enough outright speed to win so Penske, his radio contact, asked if he wanted to take downforce out of the car (try to go for it.) Briscoe said no, which I bet said a lot to Roger about how much his driver was willing to gamble to win the race that means more to the owner than any other. 3. Changes were made in the PR department. Here's a secret from deep within the PR world: Yes, it is a little about BS. But not phony, back-slapping BS. Just because someone decides to start wearing a sports coat doesn't transform them from long-time industry joker to serious professional.


As I've written here before, I like Fox News Channel's Martha MacCallum. It was announced late last year she had signed a new contract with FNC, which included this quote from CEO Roger Ailes: "Martha brings unique enthusiasm and talent to delivering the news and connects incredibly well with our viewers.”  Raise your hand if you get what's missing. Says a ton about the media these days.


NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman issued a formal, public apology to fans last week for hockey's latest labor dispute and lost games. I hope it was sincere and I know it was good PR. I said about five years ago IndyCar's leaders should have apologized to fans, sponsors, manufacturers, promoters and everyone in the industry for the massive mistake of split series. They never did. But, you know, it's never too late to do the right thing. 


Looking forward to seeing the great cars and interesting people this week at the Barrett-Jackson collector car auction, less than a half-hour from my home here in Scottsdale. You can see 39 hours of the happenings on Speed Channel.

[ more next Monday . . .