• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Monday, December 15, 2014

2014

The circumstances of life sometime make it necessary to ride the bike and patch the tire at the same time. A tricky balancing act, to be sure.

I'm one of those people who have always felt self-satisfaction in taking on a variety of challenges -- usually several at a time -- be it in business or personal matters. For me, 2014 will always stand as a year of great personal challenge, far more than I knew on January 1. I will start 2015 with most of those challenges yet to be brought to conclusion. But I continue to remember the examples of some special people I am blessed to call "friend." Alex Zanardi, Jack Beckman, Bob Margolis, among others.

Even though we are here at a time of great divisiveness, I think we all agree one of motorsports' great allures is the absolute need to overcome challenge in order to succeed. That applies to drivers, owners, designers, engineers, mechanics, marketers, publicists, track operators, sanction officials and even the fans. For me, it has and continues to be, a source of strength.

I think the sport and the industry, in generally, have asked too much of its fans too often -- the best examples are in the IndyCar and sports car series -- and I make a direct connection between "fan" and what he/she really is.

Our customer.

Customer service, and consumer relations, are two of the hottest of hot-button issues for me. It's sad that there has been such a fall-off -- no where else more obvious than the airline travel experience -- that the paying customers have been so beaten-down that much of the time they just accept the unacceptable as "they way it is." No. I refuse to do so.

It's our money that keeps these enterprises in business, that make jobs possible for their employees. Never, ever, forget that. Reputations can be made or lost (ask Bill Cosby) in an instant given the instant communications possible with social media and other non-traditional communications tools. 

I believe customer service is at an all-time low. I personally discovered this this year with Mayo Clinic. Despite its Big reputation (and I have no doubt many have benefitted from care there), what my experience here in Scottsdale was that, unless you are prepared to help them maximize revenue (no matter what your insurance coverage and I'm not talking about outright declining a test), there is a second-class level of attention. Almost nine months after an important diagnostic test, the results still have not been formally reported to me, but, hey, I'm only the patient/customer. The person charged with reviewing how my case was handled, Jon Nordrum,  apparently conveniently skipped-over this important detail. At least as he reported his findings to me. Mountainside Fitness is the worst business of the year and CEO Tom Hatten gets my award as the year's worst CEO since in my Constitutionally-protected opinion he seemingly has zero grasp about the bad customer service happening in his Scottsdale location (at least.) Core Concepts' Dylan King deserves the "honor" as the year's worst sales person because his attitude as experienced by me is he's doing a customer a favor by being there, not that the customer is doing him a favor by spending his/her money with Mountainside. Danielle Hawks is the year's worst location manager because of her unprofessional and insensitive demeanor and because she doesn't know the first thing in business is to get the money out of a willing customer's hand ASAP. By her own actions as demonstrated to me she's proven she has no qualification for such a job. Mountainside Fitness' Robyn Klawitter is the year's worst VP because she reversed a professional promise to a customer (me) less than 72 hours after making it. 

Because of their own actions, none deserve a penny of my business.

Mayo and Mountainside Fitness certainly weren't the only entities to fall into decline. Sears and McDonald's are others on that list. I think chances of Sprint renewing its Cup series entitlement aren't too favorable given management changes and telecom industry market conditions. Government lost standing, too, at least in general, as did a certain segment of the public's ability to thumb-its-nose at the established legal process by breaking the law with impunity. The PRI show, apparently ignorant of CART history, invited Andrew Craig to be a panelist at an industry seminar. And just how many ESPN hosts were suspended in the last 12 months?

At least regarding a story that came out of sports competition, the year's best/worst example of media-in-decline was Tony Stewart's involvement in a fatal sprint car accident. I'm convinced, at least in the early hours, some media mouths reacted not knowing the difference between sprint car and Sprint Cup. We saw, again, that too often in the media, opinion, ego and agenda are more important than the FACTS.

It's all part of the dehumanization of American society, where wonderous technical innovations and machines have led to a new generation -- and an older generation reprogrammed -- to not bother to actually TALK to others. At least in motorsports, there is no worse offender than the Global Warming-esque PR theory and bureauracy that is NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications. At least for the two Phoenix International Raceway events, NIMC came into the market without knowing or bothering to find out what was going on with the local media. I don't think NIMC realizes yet how much coverage of the November PIR races declined, at least in terms of quantity, compared to previous race weeks. No one, it seems, is paying attention. What could be more fundamental? What say you, Brian France?

Elsewhere, at least in sports, the paying customers did get their money's worth. No single athlete in a team sport is alone responsible for victory, but San Francisco Giants' pitcher Madison Bumgarner came as close as you can get in the World Series. Kevin Harvick was a worthy NASCAR Cup champion because he was fast all season, led a ton of laps and poles, and won the last two races. And Derek Jeter capped what Bob Costas called "a charmed baseball life" with a game-winning bottom-of-the-ninth RBI single in his last Yankee Stadium game. "It wasn't just what he did. It was the way he did it. From the beginning to the very end,"  said Costas. What a wonderful role model for bad-behavior players that, these days, infect even high-school sports. I can't wait to hear the excuse from whoever doesn't vote for Jeter for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Whoever that is will embarrass himself.

Finally: I'm not comfortable asking for help because I figure I should be capable enough to handle things myself. Necessity forced me to do otherwise in 2014, however, so I owe some special thank yous to some who provided that help when needed. The list includes: Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, and his assistant, Lisa Brown. The IMS infield medical center staff. Media center staffer Tim Sullivan. U.S. Air. Jennifer Jepson, previously of Phoenix International Raceway, now with the Fiesta Bowl. And to PIR for the honor of including me on its list of 50 storied legends and being asked to write three stories for Phoenix at 50: A Half-Century of Racing commemorative book.

And, as always, thanks to you, loyal readers, for using some of your valuable time to consume the information presented in this spec of cyberspace. 

[ more a week or so before the Rolex 24 . . . ]

Monday, November 17, 2014

THINK BASEBALL WHEN PONDERING NASCAR 2014

To explain the NASCAR season, I first have to talk about baseball.

Bud Selig's long tenure as Commissioner of Baseball (I've always thought that, and Heavyweight Champion of the World, are the two most impressive titles in all of sports), will officially come to an end in a matter of weeks. But Selig's time effectively concluded with the World Series, determined by one run in Game 7.

And the Series featured a traditional winning team in the San Francisco Giants and a small market Cinderella Kansas City Royals. (The last thing I did before leaving the Philadelphia Daily News in 1980, for CART, was cover the Phillies winning the WS over the Royals.) No doubt Selig enjoyed the matchup, which short of Yankees vs. Dodgers or Red Sox vs. Cubs, was about as good as it could get for what Selig's tenure was all about. (Except for smaller market team translating to down TV ratings.)

By the way, let's note that WS competition was exactly the sort of "Wow" and "Game 7" type moments Brian France has been saying he wants for NASCAR.

Anyway, Selig's commissionership was certainly controversial. Even more importantly, though, it was CONSEQUENTIAL. Think about it: Wild card teams, play-in games, inter-league play, revenue sharing, drug testing, cancellation of a World Series due to a players' association strike followed by a long period of labor peace, refusal to reinstate Pete Rose, Congressional hearings, steroids, Barry Bonds, massive player contracts, doing away with separate league presidents and umpires, moving Milwaukee and Houston to different leagues, selling the MLB-run Montreal franchise to owners in Washington, D.C., new stadiums, rich TV deals, instant replay, a former team owner becoming President of the United States, having the post-Sept. 11, 2001 Series fall into November, specifying the playing of God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch, pitching domination, slow pace of play, All-Star Game determining WS home-field advantage, Alex Rodriguez suspension, successful enough to hand-pick his successor. Baseball is a fundamentally different sport as Selig leaves than it was when he entered.

Whether that's good or bad is up to you, the fan -- and history -- to decide. My point is Selig became one of the Top 10 most influential people in baseball history. He was CONSEQUENTIAL. And will, unquestionably, have his own place in Cooperstown.

Which brings me to France, the NASCAR chairman.

Even if France left the stock car sport today, his time as CEO, starting in September 2003, mirrors Selig's as controversial, historic and consequential. 

Among the things to consider: Creation of the Chase format and its evolution to this season's "elimination" format, management restructuring, pressure for more side-by-side racing and exciting finishes, TV contracts which guarantee NASCAR's financial stability for a decade, digital and social media expansions, the Winston-to-Nextel-to-Sprint, Busch-to-Nationwide-to-Xfinity, Craftsman-to-Camping World series sponsorships for the three national series, relocation of the Cup championship celebration from New York City to Las Vegas, offices in Los Angeles, New York and Charlotte, broadening the mandate of the research and development center, Car of Tomorrow to the current Gen-6 vehicle, double-wide restarts, green-white-checker finishes, steering the sport through the 2008 national economic crisis, diversity programs, penalty structure, handling of the 2013 Richmond race manipulation mess, drug testing, creation of the Hall of Fame, retooling of the souvenir business, industry growth initiative. 

All is not perfect. The formation of the Race Team Alliance, born of escalating costs and continuous rules tinkering, tells us that.

Both Selig and France benefitted from good timing as the creation of Fox Sports 1 and 2 and NBCSports cable network increased demand for content to fill those thousands of hours of airtime. And that jacked-up the price from what either sport would otherwise have been able to demand.

Most could agree nothing has been more discussed and debated than the Chase. France's attempt to bolster NASCAR's season-ending stretch to better compete against college and especially pro football was copied by NHRA, the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup, and others. He took it to perhaps its ultimate extreme this season by boiling the marathon 36-race championship season (and a couple of meaningless exhibitions, which should be done away with) down to a Final 4 and highest-finisher at Homestead being crowned as Cup titlist.

Winning, we were all told, was now the emphasis and would be rewarded. Yet winless Ryan Newman had a chance to claim the Cup at Homestead. Don't doubt for a second France and NASCAR dodged a bullet on that one. Kevin Harvick's superb winning drive at Homestead not only clinched the championship but all four finalists ran competitively for most of the race. Which was about as good as it could get for the NASCAR Powers-That-Be.

I predict a rule change will come, maybe not for 2015 as it obviously would be a slap at Newman, but it will come, to where all Final 4 drivers must have at least one points-paying victory during the season. That would have put Jeff Gordon in, and eliminated Newman coming out of Phoenix, and avoided a week of national mainstream media sniping at the prospect of a winless Cup champion which would defy the basic common sense of the American sporting public. And have no doubt France knows, if not publicly admits, that what the national media influencers say is important. To be prosperous in the long run, NASCAR must make new fans, and a key process in that is attracting attention via non-racing and non-sports media.

Virtually everyone agreed France's new system ramped-up intensity. And that helped lead to the post-Charlotte and post-Texas brawls. Which fed into the changing short-attention span American society's taste for conflict and instant gratification. It is very worthwhile to ponder the impression that leaves with America-At-Large.

One thing NASCAR not only doesn't do well, it doesn't do at all, is understate its presentation. Baseball has understood for generations how attractive that can be but NASCAR goes to the other extreme. I'll never forget, years ago, during the original Chase rules, when California Speedway was the season's second race. An MRN voice said during the pre-race show that Cal was very important because, afterwards, there would only be 24 more races before the Chase. Only 24 more races! The breathless and absurb hype of the meaningless All-Star race (which ceased to be an "All-Star" event a few years ago when Kenny Wallace got in) and Sunday's Final 4 introductions perfectly illustrates the true and real mindset in the NASCAR executives offices, especially under the current management.

Like it or not, what we got in NASCAR 2014 was not only what Brian France wrought. It was what he wanted.

My caution, going forward, is: Be Careful What You Wish For.

[ the year's last blog here mid-December . . . ]



Friday, November 07, 2014

JON EDWARDS WINS 2014 JIM CHAPMAN AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN MOTORSPORTS PR


Jon Edwards, who has been media representative for four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon for almost 15 years, today was announced as winner of the 2014 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 Phoenix International Raceway by Michael Knight, chairman of the selection committee, and one of Chapman’s closest friends. The award is determined by a vote of national 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.

As has happened before, the selection committee chose two equally-deserving Chapman Award recipients this year. Elon Werner, of John Force Racing, was recognized last weekend at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway before the NHRA national event.

“Jeff Gordon is one of the most media friendly athletes in all of sports and Jon Edwards has played an essential role in making that happen,” said Knight, the longtime journalist/publicist and award rights-holder. “Jim Chapman would approve of the committee’s choice because Jon’s open approach in working with the media parallels what Jim did with his own roster of legendary clients, including Babe Ruth.

 “Jim set the ultimate standard of professionalism, class and dignity. 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 or over-reliance on social media 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.

 “Jeff’s cooperation with the media has not only benefitted him, his team and corporate sponsors, it has benefitted NASCAR and all of motorsports. It’s very appropriate to recognize Jon’s many important contributions to this aspect of Jeff’s successful career.”

Edwards began as a PR/marketing assistant at North Carolina Motor Speedway while attending the University of North Carolina in the early 1990s. He joined Performance PR Plus, DuPont Motorsports’ agency, in 1994, managing PR in several series and trackside hospitality. In 1999, he was with driver Ricky Craven’s NASCAR team, then began working with Gordon in mid-2000 and became an employee of Jeff Gordon, Inc. in 2011. Edwards received NASCAR’s most valuable PR representative award in 2003 and 2007.

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.

“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.”

 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
2013 -- Anne Fornoro
2014 -- Jon Edwards and Elon Werner

[ more next week . . . ]

Sunday, November 02, 2014

ELON WERNER WINS 2014 JIM CHAPMAN AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN MOTORSPORTS PR


Elon Werner, who directs the publicity and communications for drag racing’s biggest  star John Force and Force’s championship team, today was announced as winner of the 2014 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 The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway before Sunday’s NHRA national event by Michael Knight, chairman of the selection committee, and one of Chapman’s closest friends. The award is determined by a vote of national 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.

Werner not only works directly with the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion, but also Force’s rising-star driver daughters. Ashley Force Hood twice won the U.S. Nationals before stepping aside to start a family. Courtney Force has won eight Funny Car races while Brittany Force was last year’s top NHRA rookie in the Top Fuel class. Robert Hight, Force’s son-in-law, was the 2009 Funny Car titlist.

“Elon’s work in developing successful relationships with the media is reminiscent of Jim Chapman and so this honor is most appropriate,” said Knight, the longtime journalist/publicist and award rights-holder.

“Jim set the ultimate standard of professionalism, class and dignity. 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 or over-reliance on social media 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.

“John Force has been NHRA’s greatest cheerleader for decades, working to create new fans and new customers for his sponsors. Elon has done more than coordinate the numerous interview requests for John. Just as importantly, he’s provided wise guidance to Ashley, Courtney, Brittany and Robert, as they have followed John’s example. Elon’s outreach to motorsports-oriented reporters, and well as to those in the mainstream media, has helped produce a vast amount of news coverage for the sport, Force and his team, and their corporate partners.” 

Werner worked for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks before joining the Texas Motorplex as PR manager in 1993. He eventually became that track’s general manager. After positions with several Dallas-based sports agencies and coordinating media for a number of motorsports clients, he became John Force Racing’s PR director in 2007.

Significant national media placements have included Courtney Force’s ESPN The Magazine cover, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, CBS Sunday Morning, National Public Radio and virtually every major motorsports publication. Werner also has built JFR’s social media presence.

With longtime Force publicist Dave Densmore the 2007 Chapman Award winner, this is the first time that the honor has been earned by two people from the same racing organization.

Knight also announced that, as has happened before, the selection committee has chosen two equally-deserving Chapman Award recipients this year. Announcement and presentation of that person will be made next weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.

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.

“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.”
  
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
2013 -- Anne Fornoro
2014 -- Elon Werner and TBA.
[ second Chapman Award announcement here Friday . . . ]

Sunday, October 26, 2014

NASCAR's WORRY; KENSETH's IMAGE CHANGE

Now that NASCAR is deep into its new Chase, and as we see winless Ryan Newman unspectacular-but-steady and Matt Kenseth hanging-in-there (both would advance to the Homestead finale as of now), it's time for me to repeat what I said long ago:

If this "elimination" system produces a champion who went the entire 36-race season without a victory, NASCAR will get ripped Big Time in the national media, and there will be a whole lot of unsatisfied fans. At a minimum.

However, if Kevin Harvick is to be believed, the NASCAR suits need not worry about a second Cup for Kenseth. After their wreck and beating-and-banging Sunday at Martinsville, Harvick said:
“Yeah, he (Kenseth) won’t win this championship.  If we don’t, he won’t.” 
Kenseth has been one of racing's most uncontroversial drivers his entire NASCAR career. Man, has that changed in the last three weeks! Kinda late in life to be changing his image!

On the Business of Racing front, NASCAR and baseball are alike in two respects. Both the Chase and World Series TV numbers have been down. And both sports have long-term TV contracts, worth billions, to keep them secure.

News from Wall St. last week worth noting: Both Coca-Cola and McDonald's, two important NASCAR sponsors, reported bad quarterly results. Stock analysts immediately began predicting management changes. One CNBC head said it could be 20 years before he'd buy Coke stock! McDonald's year-to-year same-store sales and overall numbers have been downsliding for quite a while and the company hasn't been able to successfully launch a new product or shake its "unhealthy" image. In an unfortunate bit of timing (or maybe it was intentional), this was the week CBS' Sunday Morning show chose to run its soft and fuzzy Politically Correct feature on McD's CEO. 

[ announcement of recipient of 2014 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports PR here Sunday, Nov. 2; also @SpinDoctor500 ]

Sunday, October 19, 2014

UPSETS

The NASCAR Talking Points compare the new Chase format to that of the NCAA basketball tournament. Of course, a key aspect of that incredibly popular tourney is upsets, as smaller, less famous names beat the Big Guys.

In that sense, I guess you could say there is a comparison. Ticket-sellers/TV draws Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch are out after Talladega. (They won't admit it, but I bet the NASCAR Powers-That-Be and the next four race promoters are disappointed.)  Also Kasey Kahne. I was glad to see Jimmie and Junior race so aggressively, but typical 'Dega, they plummeted at the end. It was the second week in-a-row Johnson's finishing position was surprising as he was in position for a top-5, at least. Powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports has had many great days but this time lost three of its four Chase drivers. Only Jeff Gordon, who might have driven the most conservative race of his career, advances -- and by just three points. Busch and Junior were the only Chase contenders eliminated due to a crash and I am glad there weren't more.

The Talladega TV ratings will be a key indicator of how the elimination-style Chase is catching on -- or not -- with the public. Just the 'Dega name and reputation for wild racing and The Big One can attract casual viewers, and those who did so saw Junior leading a lot, and Danica Patrick up-front in the closing laps. Add those elements to the G-W-C finish and it's reasonable to think NASCAR might get a bump this week. If not, well . . . 

I doubt many Chase brackets included the Toyota drivers advancing, and even if one did, the logical pick would have been Busch. So Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin moving on can be called an upset. Maybe Ryan Newman, too, who is winless in his first season with Richard Childress. 

I wrote on Twitter (@SpinDoctor500) before the Chase started that this format would favor those who have shown speed all season, since winning is so important. Using that logic, I said Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Gordon would be the Final Four. We'll see, but for the next three weeks, they are part of the Elite Eight.


A P.S. to last week's posting: I made two obvious omissions when writing about people who don't have the luxury of "I don't want to." One is my friend Bob Margolis, whose own fierce determination to fight back from multiple health issues is wonderous. The other is my friend Alex Zanardi. I'm not sure it's possible to put together adequate words to describe what Alex has accomplished. Truly, absolutely, an inspiration to me and I'm sure millions worldwide. Thanks to both.

[ more next week . . . ]

Sunday, October 12, 2014

'I DON'T WANT TO' HEAR THIS

I suspect I'm not the only one who reaches a certain stage in life where something you've seen or heard or read or been told and tolerated for years suddenly reaches the point where you just have to say: ENOUGH!

It finally struck me recently how often I've read or heard or been told this year: "I don't want to." Variations include "I don't want to be bothered," "I'm not motivated enough, "It's too much hassle," and so forth. I clearly make a distinction between this from the legitimate "I can't" with accompanying valid reason.

Well, some of us -- me included -- don't have the luxury to "don't want to" even once in 365 days.  That's not a complaint or a request for sympathy, just a statement of fact. (Understanding, consideration and respect for the situation is different and appreciated.) But what has hit home with me is that I cannot tolerate this whining any longer. The more I am exposed to this attitude, the more I find it can deflate me personally, given my own situation. That is, if I allow it to. And I'm not going to allow it to any more because I'm just going to reject it by tuning-it-out as much as humanly possible. And that's for my own good.

On the business front, I don't know if Brian France's elimination-format Chase, or Mark Miles' start-end sooner IndyCar season, or Daytona's $400 million "re-imagining" rebuild, just to name a few examples, will be successful. But at least they are trying to move forward. I don't think it was an option for anyone involved on those fronts to sit in a Board of Directors meeting and say, "I don't want to."

I doubt very many people blessed with wealth, health, happiness and family who could very easily say "don't want to" to virtually anything, actually do that. Maybe spoiled-brat trust-fund kids, but that's about it.

And while different people have different situations, and while I usually don't mention this sort of thing because I deeply believe in personal privacy, I doubt Fox Sports' Steve Byrnes or NASCAR.com's Holly Cain have the luxury of "don't want it." Both of their battles with cancer are public knowledge. I know Steve and Holly, they are solid professionals, and valued guests on my old radio show. I'm certainly not the world's best pray-er but I am for them and others not in public view dealing with what they must deal with.

Back in June, I was in a medical facility, prepping for some fun. There was a woman, I'm guessing 10 years younger than I am, in another prep area. She kept repeating the "don't want to" line as a nurse and tech attempted to do what was necessary. I feel for this woman's plight but "don't want to" sure wasn't going to help her get better.

Fighting off the negative emotions (and that is very different from the informed/experienced criticisms sometimes published here), putting energy into positive actions, is the only way to overcome life's Big Time challenges. Part of that, for me anyway, is to stay-in-the-game to the extent reasonably possible. This could easily have been the year when I ended my various projects, including writing, or looked to turn over the Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations to someone else. That would have been the easy thing for me to do, and possibly, the wisest. But that, at least for me, would have been to give up. It's healthy -- if sometimes a strain -- for me to remain engaged, active, informed, mind-and-body making the effort. It's healthy for me to take on challenges, as best I can, even when I come up short of what I expect of myself. And, perhaps above all, it's a matter of pride, satisfaction, accomplishment, responsibility and self-respect.

There's a famous line from Apollo 13 as NASA's Mission Control team works to get the three astronauts on a crippled spacecraft home alive: "Failure is not an option."

In my real-world life, "I don't want to" is not an option. And something I'm not going to deal with  any longer. Not argue about, just not take in, lest I be mentally brought down in its wake.

[ more next week . . . ]    


Sunday, October 05, 2014

WORD WISE

Regular readers know I am increasingly troubled by what passes for public/media relations these days. That's especially true of the conjured-up theory brought to reality and known as NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications, where the human relationships (and success) fostered by Bill France Sr. (I knew him slightly), Bill France Jr. and Jim Hunter (both I had extensive dealings with as a journalist, sponsor rep and series official) have been flushed for the sake of marketing opportunities and corporate partnership contrivance.

So it was sad, but not surprising, when last week's news of Ben Blake's death brought not a word of official comment from the stock car sanction (at least, none that I saw) that so greatly benefitted from Blake's healthy journalistic skepticism and wonderful writing skill. I think that's likely because the leaders of IMC have no personal or institutional knowledge of Ben's insightful and important coverage over the decades -- and are so busy counting Tweets and tracking what's Trending so as not to be bothered to learn about Blake's powerful contributions in growing and better educating the NASCAR public. It's yet another example of the humanity being sucked out of the sport and industry and I guarantee you 100 percent the consequences will ultimately be unhappy ones. There will be no reason for Brian France to scratch his head in upcoming years, wondering Why the Bad?, because what's on the horizon if the current dehumanizing road remains traveled is clear right here and now.

Journalism is changing, too, and in many ways that's not a good thing, either. There's too much personalization in the reporting, too much emphasis on getting-it-first rather than getting-it-right,  not enough shoe-leather digging. There are exceptions, of course, but that group is steadily declining.

I knew Ben best, and I'm sure many readers did, via his work in Racer magazine and Speedvision (Speed) .com. He had a natural gift to be able to quickly see past the superficial hype of most stories and concentrate on the underlying substance. For example, we sat in the media center at California Speedway the morning of a Cup race, and Ben was telling me why he questioned the long-term success of NASCAR at that track. This was years before ticket sales fell dramatically. Then we got to talking about the then-new idea of a NASCAR Hall of Fame. Ben was wondering why it was needed, how the concept seemingly came out of nowhere overnight, and that while Charlotte was the logical home there were already plenty of museums and shop tours to suck-up that available pool of fan money. He turned out to be right on both counts.

Another time I came upon him in the garage area at Daytona, a few days before the 500. NASCAR used to post bulletins on the side of its hauler and Ben was looking over the various documents. Something about the distribution of TV money didn't seem right to him. I don't think a big story ever came out of it but the point is Ben was doing his homework and checking out information that was there for any reporter to see, only he was one of the few (maybe the only one) to actually bother. 

Ben wasn't always right. He was deeply affected by Dale Earnhardt's death (Ben wrote Earnhardt's only authorized bio) and told me (and others) he thought it might lead to the end of NASCAR. Just the opposite, NASCAR went on an unprecedented growth run, which in many ways amazed Blake. He was anything but politically correct and would chastize fans who swallowed the NASCAR line whole by referring to them as "goobers."  He took heat for that, as he did for his regular appearances on the Pit Bull panel show, which was canceled for being too politically incorrect (or so many believe.)

While Ben was best known for his NASCAR coverage, he was wise about other series, too. I have a great memory of a detailed conversation with him over the fate of CART/Champ Car while enjoying a Ruth's Chris steak in Las Vegas the night before a Cup race.

Blake's passing sadly adds to the list of real old-school journalists we've lost, which includes the likes of Shav Glick, Gerald Martin, Roger Jaynes, Bill Simmons, Joe Dowdall, Beth Tuschak, David Poole, Leon Mandel and Chris Economaki. Yes, each had his/her own style and approach, but all knew how to get at a story and tell it. Al Pearce, thankfully, continues as one of the few of the old-guard still pounding out great -- and meaningful -- copy.

As I wrote on Twitter, NASCAR, its fans, and those who appreciate wonderful writing are poorer today.

Thanks, Ben, for telling it like it was. There are still some of us around who realize how important, and how good, that was for the NASCAR industry. Even though the Powers-That-Be probably didn't/don't understand that. God Bless.


The first Big Test of NASCAR's revamped Chase system produced mixed Business of Racing results. The initial "elimination" event drew a smaller ESPN TV audience than the year before -- Bad News. But at-track attendance at Dover was up. Yet, track President Denis McGlynn told my friend Bill Fleischman of the Philadelphia Daily News he's considering removing more grandstands after the big overbuild of the boom times. A few of McGlynn's quotes were quite revealing. Such as:  "It rubs against the grain to take down sections, but if people are taking shots at us (for smaller crowds) it has to be done." In other words, perception matters. And then there was this: "The race probably didn't live up to its pre-race billing . . ."  That is, NASCAR's hype about super-aggressive driving by those trying to remain in title contention. 


[ more next week . . . ]

Sunday, September 28, 2014

I REALLY DID NEED A 'LEGAL' PAD THIS WEEK

Grief and a family's deep emotions are not only understandable, but natural, following the loss of a son. With that said, Kevin Ward Jr.'s family should carefully consider the consequences of a civil action against Tony Stewart. I'm no lawyer, but given what was revealed by the district attorney regarding the illegal substance (federal and state law) found in Ward's system at a level the DA said would affect judgment, I can think of a long series of questions that would need to be asked of the family during the normal course of any legal process. They should be obvious so I won't list them here. Unless the family is going to dispute the DA's report and the state's test results, the legal part of this story should end NOW.

Two of the least impressive TV heads to yap about the Tony Stewart grand jury decision were Fox Sports 1 legal analyst Rob Becker and his NBC Sports Network counterpart, Jack Furlong.

Imagine you were a senior corporate executive of a NASCAR team sponsor -- perhaps one skeptical of the value of such a seven-or-eight figure sponsorship -- sitting at home watching your driver being interviewed in victory lane. Man, that corporate logo you paid for on the driver's uniform looks good and the national TV exposure is great. And then you see some guy in a NASCAR cap put a towel over your driver's shoulder, covering your logo, taking away that ID and effectively reducing your ROI. Would you be impressed with the self-anointed "sophisticated" and "sponsor friendly" NASCAR marketing organization?

When the late Jim Chapman ran PPG's CART series sponsorship with dignity and class, there is absolutely No Way he would have offended paying team sponsors by having or allowing a PPG-logo towel obscure another company's uniform ID. It would be the right thing to do for Sprint, Nationwide and Camping World to tell NASCAR they wish to follow Mr. Chapman's example. 

In a world where everyone has a cell phone camera, security cameras seemingly are everywhere, and TMZ is regarded as an important (and paying) news source, what I've counseled drivers both professionally and privately is more true -- and obvious -- than ever: Always assume someone is taking your picture, no matter what you're doing, anytime, anywhere. Quite something the reckless behavior of some in thinking this doesn't apply to them.


A telling sign of problems within the industry: It used to be common sense that prospective employers would ask the opinion of informed journalists before hiring someone for a PR/media relations job. And yet, at least three times this year, that wasn't done. Or, at least, the proper people weren't asked. Guilty parties include a major speedway and two series that like to consider themselves major. One person picked this way already is gone, another pretty much hasn't bothered to outreach to key media, and the third was recommended by a consultant who has no business consulting about anything media-related. Executives: Please bother to do your home work. 

Isn't it instructive -- and sad -- that the people who have no experience in, and haven't bothered to properly educate themselves about the Business of Racing, are the ones who criticize those who do and try to share that knowledge?

Considering the number of ESPN hosts who have been suspended in recent months, it is fair to ask when the senior network management who thought it was a good idea to hire these people in the first place are going to be held accountable, too.

Everyone has known for years that as long as Bernie, the FIA and team owners get their money, Formula One will race anywhere, no matter global issues or human concern. See the Middle East GPs. Now, on to Russia. At least the International Olympic Committee had the fig leaf excuse that Putin waited until after the Winter Games to extend his middle finger to the world. But what's the excuse for F1's team sponsors and manufacturers? Answer: It doesn't matter to them as long as their cash registers ring, too.

In many, many ways, including what it projects as its image vs. its business practices, NASCAR is very, very, well, I'll call it "inconsistent."


I've said for years, and repeat now, that it's impossible to be a good race fan without knowing something about the Business of Racing. So I shake my head when those callers to Sirius XM's NASCAR channel say Cup drivers should be banned from the (still) Nationwide and Truck series. Tell that to the TV networks who pay the rights fees and to the track operators who have to pay the purse. No-names don't sell in our celebrity-obsessed society, at least, not most of the time. And the days of corporations being willing to sponsor driver development programs just to be a part of NASCAR are over. TV and tracks and sponsors have to have the "names" and that's the bottom line in what too-often is a very silly debate.

It sure says a lot about the state of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Tudor United SportsCar series that so little was said about IMS not being on the 2015 schedule.

Have any series executives/officials anywhere bounced down and up and down again as much as IndyCar's Brian Barnhart and SportsCar's Mark Raffauf? Once upon a time, both were the president of their respective organizations!

What a sad commentary on our society that people can't listen or read and process the information simply as it is presented. Instead, too many hear or read based on what they want/don't want to accept based on their own biases.

Two words explain the downturn in Formula One's global TV audience: Ferrari uncompetitiveness.

Even the biggest dump on the Formula One schedule is arguably a nicer and more modern facility than just about anything you'll find in NASCAR, IndyCar, SportsCar or NHRA. Why? Bernie demands it! Maybe the rebuilt Daytona will change that.

I bet those Lewis Hamilton-Nico Rosberg technical debriefs are a million laughs!

A healthy skepticism is, well, healthy for a journalist. Cynicism is not. When the media bleeps like Jason Whitlock (yes, another ESPN trouble-maker) downplayed the significance of Derek Jeter's fabulous exit from baseball -- a game-winning walk-off bottom-of-the-ninth RBI single in his last game at Yankee Stadium and an RBI hit in his last game at Boston -- it showed (again) all that is wrong with today's Big Mouth & No Substance News Media. Whitlock and the rest simply proved to their audience that they know nothing about the historical and traditional underpinnings of baseball, the New York Yankees' franchise, Yankee Stadium, and their fans. On the other hand, Baltimore Orioles' Manager Buck Showwalter (Jeter's first Big League skipper) showed his respect by allowing Jeter to hit and not take an intentional walk last Thursday night. Ditto for the Boston Red Sox, who despite one of sports' most intense rivalries, sent Jeter out Sunday at Fenway Park with respect. Well done.

Scott Pruett comes as close as anyone I can think of to be a near-perfect IndyCar race director.

Donny Schatz is in the midst of a historically dominant STP World of Outlaws season. He scored his career-high 24th win this past weekend. Can't wait to see how many Driver of the Year votes he gets. The over/under is one.

[ more next week . . . ]

Sunday, September 21, 2014

PAUSE

Sorry, no blog this week. Hope to be back next week.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

LEADERSHIP

The "new" Chase is on. Whether or not it will be "new" and "improved" we'll find out over the next nine weeks.

But the real story, the important issue, this week is leadership. LEADERSHIP.

While there is zero doubt the National Football League is America's No. 1 sport and a true cash-generating marketing machine, we saw in the last few days that it isn't bulletproof. The NFL's $44 million man, Commissioner Roger Goodell, came under more intensive media and public fire for his handling -- or not handling -- of the Ray Rice domestic abuse case. Goodell  took to the big leather executive chair in the league's swank New York City Park Avenue offices with the agenda of even further protecting "The Shield's" PR image, always tightly controlled. He became the Enforcer-In-Chief, rolling out a series of new or more robust penalties for off-the-field misconduct. I happen to agree that much of that was needed as the athlete-as-role-model notion increasingly became fantasy.

But I've also had the unsettled feeling, right from the start, that Goodell wasn't really the rock-solid leader the image-makers wanted all of us to believe. We now know the NFL has been, well, less than aggressive, regarding the effects of concussions. Yes, there are new rules and medical evaluations, but given what we've seen in auto racing it's difficult for me to believe more hasn't been done on the football helmet front. (I know Bill Simpson and others have been working on it, but it's the NFL that will be the force to get it done.) The legal negotiations over a compensation fund for retired players left with brain damage has been a prolonged and twisted road, which has not reflected well on Goodell. There was the questionable handling of the New Orleans Saints' BountyGate affair. And I thought it outrageous that Goodell essentially kept Rush Limbaugh out of a potential St. Louis Rams' ownership role based on political correctness and pressure from liberal media and outside interest groups. I wrote here at that time that this wouldn't help the career of Goodell's wife, Jane Skinner, now no longer a Fox News anchor.

Sure, Goodell has brought in Billion$ to the NFL, but also a LOT of controversy. Experience tells me that, sooner or later, that will catch up with him.

I'm not an NBA fan but look at how much stronger Adam Silver, who had to step in to the Big Shoes of David Stern as commissioner, seems than Goodell for his leadership in the Donald Sterling affair.

We've even observed Rhodes Scholar Pat Haden, a very smart and overall good guy and now the athletic director at USC, get smacked down for coming from the press box to the sidelines to argue with game officials.

Executive leadership at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar series has been a hot-button issue for many years, perhaps going all the way back to Tony Hulman's death. I'm certainly not going to signal thumbs-up or thumbs-down yet to current CEO Mark Miles. It's obvious, though, that his decision to end the season by Labor Day is controversial. It will be legitimate to reassess this in another year. Most in the pit area will only talk about it off-the-record, but don't doubt many Many competitors, sponsors and track operators have serious doubts about the leadership in NHRA drag racing.

Which, of course, brings us to Brian France.

When Brian, son of Bill Jr. and grandson of Bill Sr. who both had the vision to make NASCAR Big League, innovated the Chase "playoffs" back in 2004, he drew more praise than criticism for this revolutionary new approach to the Cup championship. France separated the Chase from the regular season as a way to jump-start interest against college and pro football and the concept was copied by others, most noteably the PGA Tour with its four-tournament FedEx Cup.

Not long ago a very smart and accomplished sports marketing guy I know, one not directly affiliated with the NASCAR scene, told me the Game 7-type winner-(highest finisher)-takes-all format being used this season was a matter of when, not if. The system was sure to evolve. Just, for example, as baseball has with one and five-game playoff series. 

Adapting the playoff idea to stock car racing meant it almost certainly would eventually reach the point of a Game 7, which many consider the ultimate thrill in American sports. In NASCAR's case, that translates to the highest finisher at Homestead-Miami Speedway among four eligible drivers will claim the Sprint Cup championship. As my business contact said, it was inevitable. 

The potential challenge for France and the rest of the Daytona Beach brass is, now that they have gone this route, what's the next step in the evolution? Maybe it will work so well one won't be needed. But what happens if this doesn't work as hoped, in terms of higher TV audience, ticket sales, media coverage and marketing opportunities? I guess NASCAR could reverse itself and alter the title run to a best-of-three race series, but I'm strongly sure the media and public would see that as going backwards.

Honestly, we won't know for two or three years if France has painted himself into a corner.

I think the chances are good this will produce a bounce come November. I have to admit, though, I continue to have an uneasy feeling about Homestead. Can you begin to imagine the negative feelings from Junior Nation if someone spins out in front of Dale at Homestead or a tire blows? In other words, something out of Earnhardt's control that costs him the Cup? Such bad vibes might trigger an earthquake in Florida!

I think the most significant effects will be seen at the elimination events -- Dover, Talladega and Phoenix -- due to the make-or-break nature of the situation. But also because of the number of drivers who still will be championship eligible. Out here at Phoenix International Raceway, for example, eight drivers will start with a Cup chance. We've typically seen two-three with a realistic shot. Some people prefer one-on-one rivalries -- let's say Junior vs. Kyle Busch -- but the selling point for race promoters will be having a lot more drivers still in the mix. 

France has been rejiggering NASCAR in many ways the last few years, from his executive management team to the pressure he imposed for more side-by-side racing and exciting finishes supposedly to come from the new car. The results have been mixed, at best, while it's too soon to grade some of his other moves. NASCAR's health for the next decade has been secured with billions of TV dollars, perhaps due to good timing, because of the expansion of sports cable TV and those networks' need for content to fill all those hours.

As this version of the Chase unfolds, while fans' eyes will be on the drivers, the industry's eyes will be on Brian France. In NASCAR, as in life and sports and business, it's all about leadership.

[ more next week . . . ]