• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, October 27, 2013

MINDLESS

Brad Keselowski's tenure as Sprint Cup champion has been disappointing, at best, and unsatisfactory, which is my true opinion. And I'm talking off-track. You all know of his various comments and controversies this season but Brad locked-up the Tin Ear of the Year Award on Friday at Martinsville by questioning NASCAR's (at least one year too late) decision to mandate imPACT baseline concussion testing for 2014. Just hours after legendary NFL quarterback Brett Favre admitted to memory loss, Not So Special K said he was concerned, "Because doctors don’t understand our sport.  They never have and they never will.  Doctors aren’t risk takers.  We are.  That’s what makes our sport what it is and when you get doctors involved, you water down our sport.  I’m trying to be open-minded to the possibility that they can help us, but past experience says no.”  He added, "I don't like doctors in our sport."

Hey, Brad, anyone who has ever known a surgeon (I have, more than one) would say they ARE risk takers. Like racers, they are confident enough to accept the risk.  Oh, and I can think of many dozens of racers who DO like doctors in the sport and -- in IndyCar and Formula One -- with the decision-making power to keep drivers out of races. Alex Zanardi, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, the list goes on and on and on . . .

Let's remember it was only last year that Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed Chase races because of the effects of (at least one) concussion. As surprising as Keselowski's diss was, Junior's support of the rule was no surprise: "If you care about your wellbeing and your health and quality of life it’s a smart move to embrace.”


It never seems to end. Kevin Harvick did a promotional visit in my area the other week to hype the Nov. 10 AdvoCare 500k at Phoenix International Raceway. Maybe his PR rep talked to some other media there, but not to me or Mark Armijo, both there interviewing Harvick and I wrote an Arizona Republic story the next day. Quick: Someone PLEASE explain to me how you can be a "PR" person but not talk to the media! Here's another hint: Media should be contacted in advance and asked if any stats, photos, info, whatever was needed. And they should be thanked afterwards. Since Harvick has rotating primary sponsors, the first question I asked him was what sponsor would be featured on his car at PIR. He said he appreciated that I asked. I used that ID in my story the next day. But I guess that wasn't important to the sponsor PR person. 

(Our coverage of NASCAR at PIR begins Sunday, Nov. 3 with my Arizona Republic / AzCentral.com story on "why are fans fans?" Mark and I will be daily starting Tuesday, Nov. 5. and I'll have more on the Keselowski concussions controversy. No doubt some Twitter updates along the way, too.)


It was fantastic that A.J. Foyt attended the announcement at Auto Club Speedway that Anne Fornoro had won the 2013 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports PR. A.J., of course, knew Jim and Jim respected Foyt a great deal. 


I was glad to hear Scott Dixon say in his post-Fontana news conference that he was willing to get out into the public and promote the IndyCar series as its new champion. Dixon admitted he'd grown more comfortable in the role since his 2003 and even 2008 titles. But the real issue is what can the series, team, sponsors and marketing partners do with him? Ryan Hunter-Reay was willing and able to do whatever asked of him as last year's champion, but IC's greatly diminished standing among mainstream media decision makers didn't allow for the opportunities he'd have wished for. It's another test and challenge for CEO Mark Miles and staff.


I'm not much into predictions, but based on experience (and common sense), I'll say this: The fact that IndyCar is jamming so many races back-to-back in 2014 will hurt the quality of the racing. This isn't NASCAR, where teams have the manpower and cars and resources for such a stretch. Those mechanics will have their tongues hanging out of their heads as the championship is to be decided. Human error and mechanic failures will increase.



I have to acknowledge Tim McCarver, calling his last World Series before retirement. When I was at the Philadelphia Daily News in the late 1970s, Tim was Steve Carlton's designated catcher. Carlton was infamous for not speaking with the media so McCarver was the go-to guy for quotes after those games. And, plenty of other times -- good and bad, too. I wasn't the regular beat writer, just a periodic visitor to the clubhouse, but no matter, McCarver was always nice to me and answered my questions with respect. His insight into the game from the booth has well served both the casual and avid fan and Tim's career has taken him to assignments I bet he never thought possible, such as co-hosting the Olympics with Paula Zahn on CBS. Thanks, Tim. Enjoy whatever is next. 


Those on Twitter ( @SpinDoctor500 ) saw this first last week: Of Einstein, NHRA and ESPN. My new CompetitionPlus.com column --
http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/editorials/26835-michael-knight-improving-fan-experience-mandatory-for-nhra

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Saturday, October 19, 2013

ANNE FORNORO WINS 2013 JIM CHAPMAN AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN MOTORSPORTS PUBLIC RELATIONS



Anne Fornoro, who has worked with racing legend A.J. Foyt for almost three decades, today was announced as winner of the 2013 Jim Chapman Award
for excellence in motorsports public relations.


The Chapman Award is considered by many in the industry as the highest honor in racing public relations. It is named in memory of Chapman, the legendary PR executive and innovator, who worked with Babe Ruth and was named Indy Car racing’s “most influential man” of the 1980s. Chapman died in 1996 at age 80.

The announcement and presentation were made at Auto Club Speedway by Michael Knight, chairman of the selection committee, and one of Chapman’s closest friends. The award is determined by a vote of media members, most of who knew Chapman, and is authorized by the Chapman family. PR representatives from all forms of motorsports are eligible for consideration.

“Anne actually knew Jim, so her receiving this award is especially meaningful,” said Knight, the longtime journalist/publicist and award rights-holder. “Jim once said to me that every time he saw Anne she was smiling, and Jim liked that.

“Anne’s approach to working with the media is ‘old-school’ in the best sense.  She’s made A.J. more accessible.  Anne’s annual media guide is one of the most comprehensive in all of motorsports, filled with information that makes it -- and her -- a valuable resource for journalists around the world.”

Fornoro, of Newton, N.J., began her motorsports career at National Speed Sport News where she worked with legendary editor Chris Economaki.  Fornoro joined the U.S. Tobacco Co. in 1984, working in the promotions division before moving to the company’s motorsports division and its wide range of programs. However, she is most closely associated with Foyt, whose team she has worked with since 1985. In 2000, she formed her own company, A-Line Communications, with Foyt’s teams in IndyCar and NASCAR as her sole clients.
Fornoro is the daughter of the late midget racer Russ Klar and is married to nine-time NEMA midget champion Drew Fornoro. Her father-in-law, the late Nick Fornoro, was a driver and CART’s official starter at the same time Chapman directed PPG Industries’ series title sponsorship.
Established in 1991 by media and publicists within the CART series, the Chapman Award originally focused on achievement in CART. After a hiatus of several years, the award was resumed in 2004, with eligibility expanded to anyone working in racing PR.
Chapman started as sports editor or managing editor of several Southern newspapers before joining the New York Times. He served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. He entered the PR business in 1946, as regional PR director for Ford Motor Co. in Detroit.

Soon thereafter, Chapman hired Ruth as consultant to the automaker’s sponsorship of American Legion Junior Baseball. They traveled together for more than two years for personal appearances and became close friends. Chapman was one of only three friends at Ruth’s bedside when he died in August 1948 and then officially announced Ruth’s death to the press corps that had maintained an around-the-clock vigil at New York’s Memorial Hospital.

Chapman proudly showcased several photos of Ruth in his office.  One was inscribed: "To a pal that is a pal." Chapman also displayed a framed letter, written on Ruth's personal stationery from Memorial Hospital, dated July 13, 1948, inviting him to the July 26 premier of the film, The Babe Ruth Story. That letter read, in part, "That evening would not be complete without your being my guest.  To you, Jimmy, I say you must be with me that evening."

In 1950, Chapman left Ford to start his own PR firm. One of his first clients was Avis founder Warren Avis. Chapman devoted much of his time to financial PR, which he once called his “favorite form of PR,” and helped companies get recognition among analysts and even gain admission to the New York and American stock exchanges.

Chapman’s first venture into motorsports was in 1951, when he joined with NASCAR founder Bill France to promote the Motor City 250. The race was part of Detroit’s 250th birthday celebration, a Chapman client. In 1967, Chapman entered Indy Car racing with client Ozzie Olson’s Olsonite sponsorship of Dan Gurney’s team, which later featured Bobby Unser as driver.

“Jim was one of the most innovative and imaginative PR men ever to grace a pit lane,” said Gurney. “Jim practically invented most of what is now considered routine sponsor PR work. He was the first, as far as I know, who thought of putting up a sponsor hospitality tent alongside a racetrack (at the old Riverside International Raceway), filling it with extravagant race car ice-sculptures, beautiful food and beautiful people from the business, sports and movie industries. He started an ‘open house’ tradition in Ozzie’s hotel suite in Indianapolis, where journalists could rub shoulders with John Wayne or (astronaut) Scott Carpenter.”

Chapman also directed Olsonite’s sponsorship of the Driver of the Year award. He orchestrated all the details, including the media panel voting, and an annual luncheon at New York City’s famed ‘21’ Club. That gathering was considered so prestigious it was routinely attended by leaders of all the major U.S. sanctioning organizations regardless of what series the Driver of the Year competed in.

Chapman’s greatest professional acclaim came from 1981-1992, as director of CART series sponsor PPG Industries’ program. Chapman was instrumental in raising PPG’s prize fund from $250,000 to more than $3.75 million at the time of his retirement in February 1993. The all-female PPG Pace Car Driving Team was another Chapman innovation, as were the PPG Editors’ Days, when he brought business and feature writers to the tracks for lunch, pace car rides, and driver interviews.

In 1982, Chapman negotiated a landmark sponsorship for PPG with then- Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Joe Cloutier, which formally made the Indy 500 a points-paying event in the PPG Indy Car World Series, an arrangement that continued through the 1995 season. “That was one of the most satisfying moments of my career,” Chapman recalled. “Roger Penske, among others, told me it was the best thing that had ever happened to CART.” In addition to a major contribution to the prize fund, PPG later became sponsor of the $100,000 Indy 500 pole award, and paid a special winner’s bonus in the early years of NASCAR’s Brickyard 400.
“With Jim, when he says ‘jump,’ we just ask ‘how high?,” Indy 500 winner and PPG Cup champion Al Unser Jr. said on behalf of his fellow drivers. “And we do it right then.”

Indy Car Racing magazine named Chapman the sport’s “most influential” man of the 1980s, saying he turned “a public relations assignment into an art form.” After his retirement, Chapman continued to consult PPG, and agreed to Mario Andretti’s personal request that he serve as honorary chairman of Andretti’s “Arrivederci, Mario” farewell tour in 1994.

Chapman's professional achievements earned him vast recognition.  The mayors of Detroit and Long Beach, Calif., presented him proclamations and the key to each city.  In 1993, Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh named him Sagamore of the Wabash, the state's highest honor. He served as president and/or director of more than 30 Michigan and Detroit-area civic and charitable organizations.  Chapman became active in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and represented the Detroit Urban League and United Negro College Fund in several controversial situations.  He admitted to shedding "buckets of tears of joy" when Willy T. Ribbs became the first African-American driver to qualify for the Indy 500 in 1991.

“Jim set the ultimate standard of professionalism, class and dignity,” said Knight. “He knew that building good one-on-one professional relationships with journalists was important in good times and absolutely essential in bad times. That’s too often missing today in a communications age where an E-mail or text message is incorrectly considered ‘relationship-building.’ Jim was a true ‘people person’ and knew nothing could replace a handshake, a face-to-face conversation, or the sound of another person’s voice.”

“The true honor of this award is not the plaque,” Knight concluded. “The true honor is having your name forever associated with that of the great James P. Chapman.”

PREVIOUS JIM CHAPMAN AWARD HONOREES:
1991 – Michael Knight
1992 – Tom Blattler
1993-94 – Deke Houlgate and Hank Ives
1995 – Kathi Lauterbach
1996 – Marc Spiegel
1997 – Mike Zizzo
1998 – Tamy Valkosky
1999 -- Carol Wilkins
2000-2003 – (Award not presented)
2004 – Doug Stokes
2005 – Susan Arnold
2006 – Kevin Kennedy
2007 – Dave Densmore and Bob Carlson
2008 – Judy Stropus
2009 –  (Award not presented)
2010 -- Jim Hunter
2011 -- Bill York
2012 -- Judy Kouba Dominick and Nancy Wager


Sunday, October 13, 2013

DIXON MIGHT BE YEAR's BEST RACER

If Helio Castroneves doesn't win the (final) "Izod" IndyCar series championship this Saturday night in the MavTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway, it will be the fourth consecutive year a Roger Penske team driver has blown the title near season's end. But if Scott Dixon takes the trophy -- and even if he doesn't -- Dixon deserves very serious Driver of the Year consideration.

Even the NASCAR-centric media voters should take a long, deep look at Dixon. (Along with Donny Schatz, who has 22 World of Outlaws feature wins -- and, yes -- Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson.)

Right from the year's first race, on the streets of St. Pete, Dixon has been maximizing what he had to work with. He went from 20th on the grid to fifth at the end there. Let's remember Honda was clearly behind Chevrolet early on and certainly at Indianapolis. But Dixon, sometimes starting deep in the field, was turning in solid points results. Not that it was widely noticed by the national media "experts." So when he was able to start winning at Pocono and Toronto, those early gritty points runs suddenly took on even more significance.

I doubt many people would have thought Dixon, coming out of Indy, would come to the finale in position as championship leader. But that's what he is. No matter the result in California, to me, he has the look of maybe the season's best RACER.


Here's the fundamental mistake sports broadcasters make: They think they are on-site to cover the game, race, match, etc. No. They are there to cover the NEWS. CBS wasn't ready to cover the news of the stadium blackout at this year's Super Bowl and NBCSN wasn't nimble enough to report on the spectator injuries at the Houston IndyCar race. They should have been prepared.


Should the NFL's Washington Redskins change the team's name? Candidly, that's a question for the politically correct crowd, but I expect in today's environment it eventually will happen. That's not the issue at issue here for this blog. The issue is media organizations who decide, on their own as a political statement, to refuse to call the team by its current legal-and-proper name. I'm not talking about what opinion columnists or commentators decide to do. I'm talking about media orgs -- supposedly in business to factually report the news -- deciding as a matter of policy to become part of the story and help influence the news. That is wrong and another very troubling sign for what now passes for "journalism."


I had several Es regarding what I wrote last week about sports car racing. Let me just add this: It's good the Powers-That-Be finally got together (read that: Money from Jim France to Don Panoz) to form one series. But, as we all saw in IndyCar, that does not translate to automatic success or regained popularity. Given all the to-be-expected transition issues, car rules unclarity, only 11 races per class, and too many classes (a necessary evil to maintain car counts and keep competitiors happy), I fully expect 2014 to be a fairly messy season. That's not negativity. I'm a longtime sports car fan and was part of the Castrol Jaguar team that finished 1-2 at Daytona in 1990. It is just a statement of historical fact.


It's good news anytime Dave Argabright writes something new. His latest book is Let's Go Racing, the story of ASA founder and president Rex Robbins. Go to DaveArgabright.com for more information. 

[ announcement of the winner of the 2013 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations here next week ]


Sunday, October 06, 2013

HOUSTON, THE MEDIA HAS A PROBLEM

The lack of fundamental reporting and interviewing skills on motorsports TV continues to cast doubt on those involved and the judgment of decision-makers. Let me cite three more examples:

1. NBCSN's Leigh Diffey talked-up all the "news" since the last IndyCar race and there was a graphic, too. But what wasn't mentioned or listed as "news" was official announcement that Izod is departing as series sponsor. No, that wasn't exactly a surprise, but surely by anyone's definition it was "news" since the last race. This leaves in-the-know viewers with the impression these presentations are dangerously close to continuing the old Versus philosophy of "hear no evil, see no evil." The mistake was compounded when Jon Beekhuis interviewed Roger Penske and didn't ask him if Izod was going to continue with his team as a sponsor. I've said before Jon is much better as a booth analyst and the Penske interview proved it again. It's all about CREDIBILITY.

2. Why wasn't THIS question asked during the Ganassi-to-Chevrolet IndyCar news conference? Will Chevy also power CGR's Grand-Am car(s)? The question should have been even more obvious since the linkage of CGR's NASCAR entries was emphasized in the announcement.

3. I guess announcers like Diffey, who say in the wake of a big accident that they won't "speculate" but then go right ahead and do just that, don't even realize the difference in doing or not doing it. And why didn't the NBCSN producer put a pit reporter and camera crew on a golf cart and down to the Dario Franchitti accident scene? The story was there, including what happened to spectators, not that James Hinchcliffe finished third.

Elsewhere from last week's news front:

* NBC Nightly News sensationalized the Franchitti accident, playing the "split from Ashley Judd" card, and the voice-over reporter saying the track had reinforced fences since Dan Wheldon's (not named) fatal crash two years ago. Of course, the Houston track didn't exist until this season, so there were not fences to be reinforced. What bothered me as much as anything about the report was it was done by a Los Angeles-based reporter, who knew nothing about the Houston race, except no doubt what he read off the Internet and wire reports. His "report" was nothing but an attempt to make the viewer think NBC was doing some actual, real REPORTING. It was not. And this is an all-too-common falsehood done across the TV networks, as budget cuts have eliminated field offices and bureaus. When the Pope visited South America some months ago, Fox News put out a report voiced by a reporter sitting in Los Angeles. Viewers, do not be fooled!

* Why hasn't this question been asked of United SportsCar officials? Instead of wasting all the time, effort and money trying to equalize the performance of Daytona Prototypes (Grand-Am) and P2 (ALMS) cars -- teams are STILL waiting for the rules (seems impossible to me) -- why didn't the series take a page from Tony George (yes, Tony George!), who bought IRL chassis for all Champ Car teams when the series combined. There are only a handful of P2 cars compared with the majority count of DPs. Seems to me it would have been easier and, in the end, cheaper to do it this way.

* In an effort to jump-start interest in Speed Weeks and, ultimately, the main event of the Daytona 500, Daytona International Speedway officials start SW with a race on the infield road course. SOUND FAMILIAR?

[ more next Monday . . . ]