• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, February 24, 2013

HEADLINES and HYPE

DOES THE NATIONAL MEDIA KNOW WHO THIS IS?: Courtney Force in victory lane at Pomona. (Photo courtesy of Ron Lewis.)


I'm not going to do what so many "journalists" do these days -- write about what I don't know about. I'm just home from the NHRA Arizona Nationals and haven't yet watched a tape of the Daytona 500. So I'm not going to comment on The Great American Race.

For now, I'll just stand on this story from Sunday's Arizona Republic. ESPN already has used John Force's first quote :
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/20130223courtney-force-gets-win-danica-patrick-gets-press.html

Here's a link to my story on the Force racing dynasty from last Friday:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/20130220fear-courage-will-force-daughters-stare-down-danger-nhra.html

And, if you're hoping Ashley Force Hood will be back driving anytime soon, read this on CompetitionPlus.com:
http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/news/24267-force-hood-has-no-secret-plan-for-return-



It's NASCAR week in Phoenix. Mark Armijo and I will have the Arizona Republic's coverage starting Tuesday. That's AzCentral.com on the web. I'll have notebook every day starting then, plus a Kurt Busch feature on Thursday. Look for one of my infamous Q&As Sunday -- with Danica Patrick. Yes, I'll Tweet as time permits and legitimate news demands. @SpinDoctor500 .


FAST LINES: Good move by NHRA to return to a print version of its media guide after online only last year. Take note, Indianapolis Motor Speedway . . . Will someone in ESPN management please tell Tony Kornheiser to shut the bleep up about auto racing? Cranky Korny puts his foot in his mouth every time he talks motorsports. Last week he said Danica Patrick had to drive "four laps" to win the Daytona 500 pole. Legit question: How many other sports does he yap about without knowledge? . . . The Adam Carolla and Juliet Huddy segments on The O'Reilly Factor are so vacuous they'd be just right on Around the Horn . . . I wrote here at the time that CNN's Candy Crowley should have been suspended from all political coverage through the end of the election after her unprofessional and biased performance as a presidential debate moderator. Well, last week, one of the Commission on Presidential Debates co-chairs, Frank Fahrenkopf, finaly admitted selecting Crowley was a "mistake." 

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, February 17, 2013

BUSY WEEKS

What a busy couple of weeks these are going to be!

While most of the racing world will be focused on Daytona and the start of the NASCAR season, a scheduling decision beyond my control (and approval) means I'll be watching NHRA's Mello Yello series Arizona Nationals at Firebird Raceway this weekend. Then, next weekend, NASCAR comes to Phoenix International Raceway for Cup, Nationwide and the first U.S. Mexico series events. That will be 12 straight days I'll be in the paper.

I'll be covering for the Arizona Republic (that's AzCentral.com) along with Mark Armijo. And, yes, I'm sure I'll be doing a little Twittering -- but only as time and REAL news allows and calls for. For those so inclined, that's @SpinDoctor500 .

I'll have an NHRA notebook this Thursday and a Brittany Force feature Friday before the on-site racing coverage begins. PIR week I'll be doing notebooks starting Tuesday and a Thursday Kurt Busch feature. Mark will have feats beginning Tuesday before we head to the track.


See Unconventional Wisdom above for what I consider to be a total media disgrace at Daytona. (Rapidly approaching cable TV level, which made Marco Rubio reaching for a water bottle into a disqualifier for high office.) This is what "reporting" has dumped into and apparently, based on recent hiring/staffing decisions, what media Powers-That-Be want.

While a lot of space and airtime has been wasted on this, Dale Jr.'s new potato chips and so forth, what quite possibly might be the most significant NASCAR story in at least a decade has been covered but, too often, not placed into necessary context. That's the new, so-called "Gen-6" car. THAT was the elephant in the room -- what will happen with NASCAR if this car doesn't stir the passions of fans? -- in the interview area.

It should be obvious to those paying attention (and it seems many are not) that NASCAR is Betting Big on this car. Brian France has set the bar high, saying he's looking for more lead changes and more "Wow moments." What happens if that doesn't happen? If the TV ratings and ticket sales and overall water-cooler buzz don't reflect a re-energized fan base and a wider public interest? I would think the NASCAR chairman's next move might be drastic, including on the staff front.

It's a huge story impacting stock car racing's short, medium and long-term future. Where are those stories?


Here are links to two Arizona Republic stories. Last Friday's Q&A with Earnhardt, and Sunday's Cup season preview focused on the new car:

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/20130213qa-with-nascars-dale-earnhardt-jr.html?nclick_check=1

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/20130212nascars-newest-car-model-distinction.html

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, February 10, 2013

SCHEDULING HEADACHES

It sure can be frustrating to be a racing fan -- or journalist.

I believe I was the first one to point out in a national forum -- on Rick Benjamin's old SiriusXM Formula One show in late summer of 2011 -- that F1's return to the U.S. at Circuit of the Americas the following November was scheduled in direct conflict with NASCAR's Sprint Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. I said that, in terms of domestic media attention, it would be a "local" as opposed to the "national" event it rightly should have been. It was an easy prediction and, sure enough, that's exactly what happened -- no matter what you might have read elsewhere recently about CoTA's "massive" coverage. Big crowds, happily, yes. Big American news stories, sadly, no.

D-U-M-B!

The scale is different, but Arizona race goers are about to face a similar stupefying predictament.

NHRA's Arizona Nationals at Firebird Raceway go Feb. 24. That happens to be the same day NASCAR will put on a little event known as the Daytona 500. It's also one week before Cup and Nationwide drivers will be at Phoenix International Raceway.

Having worked for two series (CART and IROC), I don't need any lectures about the challenges of piecing together a schedule. I understand. But . . . 

The loser, at least in terms of media coverage for series and team sponsors, will be NHRA. That reality was as obvious as the Arizona sun from the moment NHRA released the Mello Yello calendar. Considering the importance many companies place on this market -- large and demographically diverse -- that Glendora would be willing to subtract from the publicity, promotional and marketing value of a Phoenix-area event is impossible to justify. 

Now, last year's on-site attendance at Firebird was impressive and an increase from 2011, so local interest has been demonstrated. Of course, those people didn't have to miss watching the Daytona 500 or face the financial challenge of buying tickets to races two consecutive weeks. Sure, some will DVR Daytona, but honestly, such a huge race -- featuring the official debut of Cup's new car -- is best and most enjoyably viewed live, not delayed.

As I've said many times, drag racing is an undercovered sport, and its participants deserve better. Better, certainly, than what they surely will get with the Arizona Nationals -- an event NHRA continues to treat like a second-hand step-child -- on the same day as the Daytona 500. With NHRA negotiating to obtain the Firebird lease, one can only hope that will soon change.


Two Arizona Republic stories coming from me this week. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be in the Valley to promote the March 3 Subway Fresh Fit 500k at Phoenix International Raceway. I'll do a Q&A with him scheduled to run Friday (Feb. 15). On Sunday (Feb. 17) will be my NASCAR preview, focusing on the new Sprint Cup car. (This would normally run the Sunday before PIR but NHRA is here.) I'll no doubt have a Twitter or two from my talk with Junior: @SpinDoctor500 . Those two stories will also be available at AzCentral.com .


Super Bowl Blackout P.S. -- CBS should have had a news division correspondent and producer on standby and ready to react when the lights went out. Ex-jock sideline announcers obviously didn't have the journalistic chops to report the breaking news -- and it showed. No excuse for the network, at a sporting event that is major national news, not to be ready for any such hard-news situation. And, on the PR front, while the NFL likes to control every aspect of the Super Bowl "message," a Superdome spokesman (who, one would assume, had the best knowledge of the facility and its operations) should have been quickly available to talk to the TV audience.


A good suggestion worth trying: A reader asked if I'd use my new Twitter capability to write blog-worthy items that happen between blogs. OK, that makes sense to me. I'll give it a go (on a limited basis, as the news demands) and thanks for the idea. @SpinDoctor500


[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, February 03, 2013

PARNELLI's STORY


Let me just say it straight: As a Matter of Fact, I am Parnelli Jones is one of the two or three best motorsports' books of the last decade.

And that's no surprise. I've admired writer Bones Bourcier's work for years and it's impossible for me to think anyone could have done a better job telling Parnelli's iconic story. Bourcier is one of those blessed souls who has a knack for something and has been able to be successful at it -- as Jones was.

Talk about the right man for the job: That's Bones Bourcier writing about Parnelli Jones. 

Bourcier's "trick" for this effort is to include an "eyewitness" account after every chapter, adding a nice perspective and context, from the likes of  A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, Tony Stewart and others. (Mario Andretti penned the foreword and afterword.) Almost every book I read has pages or chapters which fail to keep me engaged. Not this one. Of course, credit for that rightly goes to Parnelli -- he's one of those rare people everyone knows simply by a first name -- whose road to becoming one of racing's all-time greats is a classic American success story. Grit, determination, talent, teaming up with the right people, and a little luck made him a winner in everything he raced. In a remarkably brief career -- which, thankfully, was his own choice.

One amazing fact I was reminded of in the book: Jones never spent a night in a hospital as a result of a racing accident. He came close after his car caught fire in the 1964 Indy 500 and he famously bailed-out on pit road. But, think about that, in racing's most dangerous era, Parnelli -- as tough a racer as there ever was -- avoided tragedy that got others, as recounted hard cover in a bit under 300 pages with marvelous photos from Jones' own collection. And, remember, Parnelli was doing this in risky sprinters and midgets, as well as Indy, NASCAR and USAC stockers and sports cars. And even in off-road competition.

Like most people, I guess, I best remember Parnelli at the Indy 500 -- especially his 1963 win (happy 50th anniversary!), 1964 bail-out, and near-miss in 1967 in the STP turbine. It's incredible to think he only ran Indy seven times and, no doubt, left a lot of great winning opportunities on the table there. He ran at the front in roadsters, rear-engine cars, and the turbine. But I also recall his heroic drives in sprint cars, on the dirt, in the Trans-Am series (still love those Grabber Orange Ford Mustangs!) when that was probably the best series in the country, as an Indy and championship-winning team owner, and his try to field a Formula One entry for Andretti. I respect Parnelli as one of the early drivers-as-media-celebrities, remembering him on Johnny Carson, magazine covers, in print ads and TV commercials. He not only could drive -- he could sell.

Here's one of my favorite quotes, especially considering Parnelli's aggressiveness behind the wheel:

"Sometimes it seems like A.J. is still in the middle of his old rivalries with Mario, Bobby Unser, and probably a few more guys. Foyt's a friend of mine, and I wish he'd see that life is a lot more enjoyable once you just let those things go.

"I've seen guys hurt, seen guys killed, seen some terrible things. We all have. And to me, once you've passed through that dangerous phase of a race driver's life, I think you ought to love life more. When you've survived the stuff we did, you ought to smell the roses every day and enjoy yourself."

A proper telling of racing history needed -- demanded -- Parnelli's bio.

A race fan -- or someone who simply appreciates the  wonderful telling of a Great American Life -- couldn't spend a better $39.95. Do something nice for yourself -- order at www.coastal181.com or 877-907-8181.


I first met Rusty Wallace in April 1980. We had dinner, along with several other media people, at a Benihana in Philadelphia a few days before a USAC stock car race at Trenton Speedway. I was at the Philadelphia Daily News then and Wallace had just gotten national attention by finishing second in a Winston Cup race at Atlanta, driving for Roger Penske. I think everyone at the table agreed that we couldn't help but like Rusty right away, and a very fun evening it was. Yes, that was back in the days when Rusty had that Big Red hair!

Later that year I left newspapering to become CART's first communications director, but the opportunities to be around Wallace remained. I'd catch-up with him at Daytona or Michigan or Indianapolis and he was often one of the all-star drivers I got to work with when I was PR director for the IROC series. Rusty has always -- and I mean ALWAYS -- been very friendly with me, very cooperative with requests for his time, and as recently as last November at Phoenix International Raceway gave me two great items for my Arizona Republic coverage: He said Danica wasn't ready for full-time Sprint Cup and predicted PIR was just the place for "Boys, Have At It" action to return. We'll see about his first comment, but with the infamous Jeff Gordon-Clint Bowyer crew brawl in the garage area, Rusty called it right on (and helped me look good by headlining that possibility in that day's paper.)

So, with Rusty about to enter the NASCAR Hall of Fame (watch it live Feb. 8 on Speed), I just have to take this opportunity to say congratulations. I'm glad I was around to see all of Wallace's NASCAR career. Even more, I'm glad I got to know him.


Interesting from AdWeek: What it costs to be on a NASCAR car --
http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/your-brand-here-146795


A Gordon Kirby must read: Scott Pruett on the future of the combined U.S. sports car series --
http://www.gordonkirby.com/categories/columns/theway/2013/the_way_it_is_no369.html


New @ Twitter: @SpinDoctor500

[ more next Monday . . . ]