• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, July 14, 2013

NO COMPARISON

(Technical problems solved. I've edited this Tuesday to reflect usual format.)

UP FRONT: Let's get this straight: Courtney Force's "appearance" in the ESPN the Magazine Body Issue does not equate to Danica Patrick's pictorials. We can begin with the fact that Patrick first posed for FHM in April 2003 -- while a Formula Atlantic driver -- two years before her IndyCar debut. To go for that "exposure" was an early marketing decision by Team Danica. She, of course, has gone on to do several Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues. That was Danica's choice and Courtney made her choice. I will point out that Courtney currently has three Funny Car victories -- two this season -- and is a legitimate championship contender come NHRA's Countdown. I have yet to hear a knowledgeable person claim Courtney isn't a real "racer." I have heard that said of Danica, who is a mid-fielder in NASCAR. The chatroom yap about this detracting from the notion of taking female drivers seriously is nonsense. Let me repeat: Courtney is a THREE-TIME RACE WINNER in perhaps the most brutish cars (along with sprint cars) in all of racing. And female drivers of earlier times didn't have as many options for such publicity because the times, the available opportunities -- and sponsor attitudes -- were very different. When Playboy wanted to do a major feature article on Nigel Mansell in 1993, we had to sound-out the team's sponsors if they were OK with that. (They were.) I'm sure John Force Racing did the same before Courtney made her call. I know Courtney was asked to do this last year and she declined, saying she wanted to establish her driving credentials and accomplishments before wading in to such a public media project. I respect that a TON. (If she had posed while still a sportsman driver, my opinion would be different.) So, having worked on the sponsorship, marketing, management, PR and media sides of the Business of Racing, let me repeat for the benefit of the superficially-minded: Courtney vs. Danica does not equate. And the talking point of nudity vs. scant clothing is a distinction without a difference in this context. Look at the pictures or don't look at them, as you wish. But the arguments against I've read and heard are thinly considered and don't add up to much of substance.

In a related matter, well, the times sure have changed in other ways, too. In the early 1990s when Ed Hinton wrote a long, back-of-the-magazine pre-Indy 500 Sports Illustrated feature on the Andrettis, I worked directly with the SI promotions department to have advance copies sent to national media and I (then Newman/Haas Racing PR director) did a mass distribution in the IMS media center. I expected the same for the ESPN mag. It sure would have helped NHRA's cause with the otherwise completely uninterested national media. Honestly, all involved, I just 100 percent flat-out do not get not doing this. A true head-shaker and, frankly, a huge disappointment to me.

FAST LINES: In last week's seventh anniversary blog, I wrote Mark Miles had one of the most difficult jobs in the sports industry, working out plans for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's renovation. Miles since announced his new management structure, with Jeff Belskus now assigned "development of the master facilities plan to bring some $100 million in improvements . . . It’s a huge job and tremendously important as we work on improving our fan experience and upgrading IMS." The task is to create the modern conveniences fans expect but not strip away the Brickyard's historical aura. Some very, VERY difficult decisions are forthcoming. They could be make-or-break decisions . . . In the The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same Dept.: It took 24 years for IndyCar to return to Pocono International Raceway but apparently the traditional traffic mess didn't miss a beat. Pocono President Brandon Igdalsky was forced to issue an apology to fans who, he admitted, "expressed their disappointment, almost immediately, via social media posts, phone calls and through e-mails." Igdalsky said he was meeting with local and state officials to determine the reason for what he called a "breakdown." Sounds a lot like what I wrote in the Philadelphia Daily News back in the 1970s! . . . I hope this was just an unfortunate typo: In the July 8 AutoWeek is an RM Auctions ad for an upcoming event in Monterey and offering a 1974 McLaren Indy Car. According to the ad the car is "Winner of the 1979 Indianapolis 500." That would be a NO! Rick Mears won the '79 I500 in a Penske PC-6, not a McLaren. I sure hope they meant the 1974 race, won by McLaren's Johnny Rutherford . . . The SCCA Runoffs -- the national championship races -- will rotate from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in 2014, to Daytona in 2015, and Mid-Ohio in 2016. Yes, travel costs for competitors to the West Coast are a consideration, but this decision represents a rare good move by the SCCA. I must say, though, I'm sorry the Runoffs are leaving Elkhart Lake, which in many ways is the near-ideal setting for this amazing competition.

[ more next Monday . . . ]