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Sunday, April 07, 2013

THE DANGEROUS EXPECTATIONS GAME

It's sure difficult to live up to expectations. 

But, then, it depends on how you play the expectations game. A presidential candidate can actually claim a "win" by losing but doing better than expected in a primary election. It's happened plenty of times -- Bill Clinton went a long way toward becoming No. 42 by besting the pundits' predictions in the 1992 New Hampshire primary.

For close to a quarter-century Indy Car racing has been looking for a CEO "savior" to lead it to the promised land. I -- and you -- are still waiting. It's absolutely a case of "here we go again" as Hulman & Co.'s new non-family boss, Mark Miles, contemplates who will run IndyCar. We've already tried lawyers, marketing gurus, car owners, mechanics, promoters, biz guys, family members and even a cowboy.

I'm saying it might be time for a different approach. How about Miles himself taking on the "savior" mantle and hiring some experienced, racing savvy administrators to handle the more routine and day-to-day matters? Some solid, if not rock-star spectacular, managers seems to make a lot of sense to me.

Meanwhile, a case study on raising expectations to unrealistic levels is in front of us in the form of NASCAR's Gen-6 Sprint Cup car.

Lay that square on Brian France. The NASCAR chairman talked-up this car as not only as good looking as Jennifer Aniston but also as results-oriented as Warren Buffet's investment advisor.

Going back to mid-season last year, France put the bar at metrics such as more side-by-side racing and more passing and more "Wow" moments. He had the sanction go all-in on Gen-6 with the media and public and that's why in an Arizona Republic story earlier this year about competition VP (and Gen-6 point man) Robin Pemberton, I wrote: "The person under the most stress to succeed in NASCAR this year might not be a driver."

The car and the drivers and crew chiefs trying to figure it out  haven't reached the France-established level. Not yet. We live in a society with little patience. A thrilling Texas and Talladega are looking more and more like a near "must" for NASCAR to keep its expectations game going.   I think the smartest thing I've heard this year came from Clint Bowyer during an interview I did with him in February. Let me quote the 5-Hour Energy Toyota driver.

“The thing is, society changes. It’s like in motorcycle racing: When I grew up, throwing the thing sideways was the biggest ‘wow’ factor you could get. Now, a double back-flip doesn’t even impress people.

“NASCAR might have had 100 passes back in the day, and that satisfied the fans. If there’s 1,000 passes today, that doesn’t necessarily capture the audience and keep them enthused. It’s hard to create what society asks for, no matter what you do.

“People grow to expect bigger and better and more, and that’s a difficult thing to deliver when racing at 200 mph.

“To me, that’s a ‘wow’ factor all it’s own.”

In talking about the stomp to Bristol ticket sales since the track was changed from NASCAR's beatin'-and-bangin' Coliseum to two lanes, Jimmie Johnson said:

"For the longest time we didn't think the racing was all that good from a competitor's standpoint. But, we had a sold-out event here with a long waiting list. They change it, drivers are happy, the track is very racy, but you can't sell out the spring race. Last year's race, we were all fighting for one lane which was at the top instead of the bottom. Somebody throws a helmet and it's considered a good race. So, I'm not sure racing and entertainment kind of go in the same piece."

Well said by both Bowyer and Johnson. I agree.

It's essential for racing's Powers-That-Be to consider how their words and actions will impact the expectations of fans, sponsors, drivers, owners, promoters and media BEFORE actually speaking or doing.

I'm not sure much of that is going on, though.


My new CompetitionPlus.com column is about what live TV means to NHRA and includes some revealing Business of Racing numbers:
http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/editorials/24661-michael-knight-what-live-tv-means-to-drag-racing


I'll have a notebook in this Friday's (April 12) Arizona Republic or find it at AzCentral.com or on Twitter: @SpinDoctor500

[ more next Monday . . . ]