Sunday, April 14, 2013

B & P of R

HIGH FLIER: Looks like Courtney Force got one of the last Blue Angels' VIP flights. The Navy last week canceled the Blues' performances for the rest of the year due to budget cuts. I arranged and was there when Jimmy Vasser and Alex Zanardi flew with the Blues in 1997 -- A Great Day -- and Great PR for all involved. (Photo courtesy of John Force Racing.)

As I've said for years, you can't claim to be an in-the-know racing fan without knowing something about the Business and Politics of Racing. Sure enough, B & P of R elements ran through a number of last week's major news stories:

Texas Motor Speedway's one-year title sponsorship with the National Rifle Association was a lock to be a hot potato from the moment it was announced. Not surprisingly, the media asked NASCAR drivers about it, with Brad Keselowski saying,"I really just wish Tony Stewart or someone would throw a helmet or a punch so it wouldn’t be a story." As timing would have it, the NRA 500 ran the same week the U.S. Senate took up new gun control legislation and thus was a major national news story. Sen. Christopher Murphy (D, Conn.) played to his liberal contributor base by writing a letter to News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, asking that Fox Sports not televise the race. One reason cited was the track's tradition is for the race winner to fire trophy six-shooters (blanks) in victory lane. The letter was, in its own way, as ridiculous as the one from PETA to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway calling for the Indy 500 winner not to drink milk. Apparently the good people of Connecticut, still understandably moved by the Sandy Hook school shootings, have elected themselves a senator not familiar with basic constitutional and commerce issues. Bottom line: You can say the letter was as appropriate for a Connecticut politician as the NRA deal and pistol tradition are for a Texas sporting event. But it does show us sponsorship can be a tricky, controversial, matter -- that problem didn't leave racing with the tobacco companies. The ever-increasingly politically correct NASCAR is reviewing its sponsorship policies.

On another NASCAR front, the pit stop contest that has been staged in Charlotte before the All-Star race was canceled due to lack of sponsorship. Now, I'm all for a chance for the crew members to have their moment, but the appropriate way to do that is the Carb Day contest before the Indy 500 or the old Unocal challenge that used to be held at Rockingham. Moving the competition into a sterile sports arena took away the essential racetrack atmosphere needed to make this make sense -- and feel right. I've said for years the All-Star race should be scrapped because its original purpose -- putting NASCAR into the national media during May when the Indy 500 used to dominate -- no longer exists. The pit stop contest was just more TV programming filler and never made sense in that setting. Bottom line: The modern economic reality is there are limits to how much NASCAR the public wants to watch . . . and how much sponsors are willing to pay. Best bet would be to renew the contest next year as part of a major race and at a big venue, like Daytona, Las Vegas or Texas. Better yet would be to let tracks bid for it and rotate it on a yearly basis. 

While Izod officials decline to discuss the status of the company's IndyCar series sponsorship after this season, they are all-too-happy to talk-up their new and aggressive promotions and sponsorships in golf. Sports Business News detailed that program last week. Bottom line: When the seemingly inevitable announcement comes, will the chatroomers call for an Izod boycott as they did so many of the companies that bailed-out on CART/Champ Car starting in the late 1990s due to lack of meaningful Return on Investment? (None were driven out of business.) Last week I asked a former open-wheel racing Big Time sponsorship manager if he knew of any major decision his employer made based on chatroom chatter. His answer: "No. There aren't enough of them to make a difference."  And, a former GM of a speedway that hosted NASCAR and CART pointed out to me anyone can be considered an "expert" on these forums simply by posting a lot. Too bad for Izod they didn't think to pull the plug last week, as the chatroomers were otherwise busy commenting on an inappropriate, anonymous post about a prominent national motorsports writer -- A fine example, indeed, of the Internet sewer.

Red Bull Formula One said there will no longer be team orders. Bottom line: See ya, Mark Webber. And, possibly, team principal Christian Horner, who obviously is not able to control his drivers. 

NASCAR published the format for the July 24 Mudsummer Classic Camping World Truck series race at Eldora Speedway's dirt track. It includes qualifying heats and a feature separated into segments. Bottom line: Cost saving rules for teams and a track with no SAFER barriers.

Twitter: @SpinDoctor500

[ more next Monday . . . ]