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Monday, July 10, 2017

THE 11th ANNIVERSARY BLOG

AT THE MIKE: Making introductory remarks before presenting 2017 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations to ESPN's Andy Hall in IMS Media Center last May. (Photo: Dan R. Boyd).

I certainly wasn't smart enough to have fully imagined the extent of the communications revolution on its way when this blog debuted 11 years ago today, July 10, 2006. The whole thing has been "The Great Adventure" I described, in ways good and bad.

At least, back then, facts were generally accepted as just that -- FACTS -- and while it was fair to disagree with a story, nobody was calling it "FAKE news." In IndyCar and Champ Car, which had not yet reunified, the specialist media writers had taken sides and mostly wrote what was good about "their" series or blasting the other with negatives. Nobody was truly happy with this approach to "journalism" -- most especially, the few non-partisan reader fans still around. Reminds me of the way CNN "reports" on President Trump.

As for there being such a thing as an alternative set of facts, well, NASCAR has been doing that for decades!

Seriously, a Big Problem is the elimination of layers of editors and fact-checkers, combined with too many front-line biased reporters feeling pressure they must have the news first, has led to more-and-more mistakes. With strong opinion having all-but overtaken solid factual reporting as the media's Coin of the Realm, it's understandable so many news consumers have trouble making out the difference between the two. 

Perhaps the most shocking new media business reality these days is the sanctioning bodies outright paying for coverage. That, for the unknowing, is what NASCAR.com is and it certainly isn't alone. Since, in the wake of FoxSports.com firing its writers and editors and turning the site into a promotional video catalog to promote its on-air personalities (in an unrelated move, Fox Sports President Jamie Horowitz was himself fired soon thereafter, leaving the whole division a smoldering mess), it has been implied to me that change is coming to NASCAR.com, I'd like to see the Charlotte and Daytona Beach Powers-That-Be take a page from MLB.com, which is the gold standard location for baseball news. Credit goes to the generally unloved former commissioner, Bud Selig, who enjoyed reading the baseball writers on a daily basis and considered it free promotion for his sport. Here's a praise-worthy disclaimer routinely found at the end of MLB.com articles, which are penned with editorial independence, and I'd like a NASCAR version of this applied to that sanction's site. Although, no doubt, it would be a tough sell with Brian France:

"This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs." 

Every public opinion survey I've seen rates trust and confidence in the media very low. The narrow motorsports media, as well as the sports media community at-large, seriously err when they think this doesn't apply to them. I was in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway media center for 10 days leading up to what was my 39th Indy 500, and I can say some of the nonsense that went on there was unacceptable. Well, I guess acceptable given what sadly are apparently the new standards, but I can also say it wasn't that many years ago when the attitude and antics of the self-anointed Media Biggies would have been more than unacceptable. It simply would not have been tolerated. The qualifications to be issued an I500 press pass would have been adjudged to be absent. Journalists have given way to Big Ego Personalities . . . Sigh, I fear it will only get worse . . . 

The most damaging negative to the whole social media whirlwind was spot-on explained by San Jose Mercury-News columnist Mark Purdy, in writing why he is about to leave the profession. This is straight from that column:

"I won’t lie. The changes in my profession, given the advent of 24/7 online journalism, have also been a challenge to manage. It’s become pretty weird out there. There seems to be a diminishing demand for step-back perspective and primarily an appetite for whatever has been hot in the past five minutes or what might be hot in the next five minutes — with all of it downloaded instantly onto mobile apps.

"Nothing wrong with that. But it’s been an adjustment and I’m not sure for the better. A good example was my recent strange experience after a Warriors’ playoff victory.

"During a televised post-game news conference, I engaged in a back-and-forth with Draymond Green that I regarded as a productive professional exchange. I asked Green how he was keeping his temper under control against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Green somehow took the question as an insult. and chastised me. I responded by politely pressing him for an answer. Green finally offered a sincere one with insight. It allowed me to write a better column. That has happened to me and other writers many, many times over the years with various players in various sports.

"The difference was, because this is 2017, the exchange with Green was broadcast live and subsequently shared online in a video clip, accompanied by blog posts or Twitter memes about Green 'getting into it with a reporter.' The clip suddenly became the story. It drew more internet traffic than my eventual piece about how Green was not allowing any tantrums to sidetrack the Warriors’ championship path as had occurred a year earlier. In other words, the process of reporting to help form a perspective . . . had actually superseded the perspective itself."


In other words, too many people cared more about the heat than the light. And that's more than sad. It's a very poor reflection of where we are as a culture and as a society. This worries me more than I can convey in this spec of cyberspace.

On this 11th anniversary, and with great appreciation and thanks to those who have used their valuable time over these years to read what is posted here, a few words of explanation are owed to you: Personal and health issues have led to higher priorities for me and, thus, fewer blogs. And, especially with so much content already available, I simply refuse to write when I don't have something of substance to say and can't put what I consider to be the imperative of a full and proper effort into presenting that information to you. Going forward, I will provide new offerings here as I can, using the above as my guide.

This isn't to say I'm not still following the industry closely. So, here are a few quick observations:

* NHRA and it's TV boss, Ken Adelson, owe an apology for opening last Sunday's Route 66 Nationals with this: "Our Lady of Blessed Acceleration, don't fail me now." Using a religious icon to hype your race is nothing less than outrageous. Count me among the offended.

* It's a Gimmicks' World. Often, stupid gimmicks. Like NBC interviewing the NASCAR winner once on the track, second in victory lane, third on its post-race show set. Ridiculous and accomplishes nothing other than feeding an ego or two. The same questions are asked and nothing new is learned. And then there's Larry Mac: "America's Crew Chief." Oh, please . . . 

* Political Correctness has taken over the broadcast booth. They can't even be honest enough to say track action has been delayed by rain. No, the delay is because of "weather." Note to the microphone holders: Bright sunshine and 80 degrees is ALSO weather! And when a driver makes a mistake, it's just that -- a MISTAKE -- not a "tough break."  A legitimate tough break is when someone spins right in front of another driver and the second one has no time or space to avoid a crash.

* How important are sponsors? NBCSN waited all of FOUR MINUTES on its Iowa Speedway IndyCar qualifying show before a puff interview with the head of the race sponsor corn growers association. The producer gave real news the backseat.

* This is so obvious and yet it continues: People with ZERO media experience, usually marketing or sales executives, being placed in overall charge and supervision of PR/media relations departments. The fact these people don't know anything about PR and media is apparent by the frequent lack-of-successful results from the staff they hire or retain. One such series exec, who has never thanked me for my extensive and high-profile coverage, hassled me not long ago about something I was doing but which he knew nothing about -- something that was fully approved by his boss, who actually wrote me a thank you note for what I did. Still waiting for an apology . . . 

* With corporate pressure for maximum Return on Investment, it's incredible the lack of attention sponsor managers pay to how they are being represented with the media. Too often, very poorly. The days of the great sponsor managers I worked with -- Jim Melvin, Ron Winter, Barry Bronson, Mike Hargrave -- seem to be gone.

That said, and in conclusion, the overall state of PR/media relations continues to decline. For every bright spot that comes along, like Amy Walsh at Hendrick Motorsports, there seems to be multiple setbacks. I was especially distressed to hear this regarding departure interviews with Dale Earnhardt Jr., that requests "even (from) all of the media members who regularly cover our sport and with whom we have great relationships" won't be honored.

That's exactly how you turn friends into, well, something else. Junior won't be the loser here. The NASCAR Industry will be the loser. And I say that as the person who ran PR for the Mario Andretti, Arie Luyendyk and Joe Amato retirements and (Nigel) Mansell Mania. I have the hands-on experience to know of what I write.

Thank you for reading this and what else I've offered here the last 11 years. As for the future, as many of us believe, it's God Willing . . . 


Friday, May 26, 2017

ANDY HALL WINS 2017 JIM CHAPMAN AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN MOTORSPORTS PR

Andy Hall, a veteran publicist who has worked for NASCAR and IndyCar and currently ESPN, Friday was announced as winner of the 2017 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 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 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.

 "The respect Andy has earned with journalists covering many different racing series over many years makes him a very deserving recipient of an award named for Mr. Chapman," said Knight.

“Jim set the ultimate standard of professionalism, class and dignity. He knew that solid 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.”

The Chapman Award has three major purposes: 1. To honor Chapman's unmatched legacy; 2. To recognize current PR practitioners who work to Chapman's standard and in his spirit; 3. To provide inspiration for newer and future PR representatives.

Hall, a graduate of James Madison University, joined ESPN’s communications department in September 2006, just prior to the network’s return to live NASCAR race coverage that ran from 2007-2014. He was part of a team that received several prestigious communications industry awards for the network’s NASCAR launch campaign. In addition to NASCAR, Hall also has worked on PR for ESPN and ABC’s IndyCar series coverage, which continues today, and its current IHRA and former NHRA drag racing coverage.

After two years as a newspaper sportswriter in Virginia, Hall began his motorsports PR career in 1982 as a NASCAR PR assistant, first on the then-entitled Busch Series and national short track program. He was named director in 1994. In 1998, he joined the Indy Racing League, focusing on marketing and administration. He returned to PR in late 2000 and spent part of five seasons as head of communications for the former American Le Mans Series. From 2005 until he joined ESPN, he did contract PR work for clients including ESPN, BASS and Dodge. In addition to his work with ESPN’s motorsports coverage, Hall also works with SportsCenter, Outside the Lines, E:60 and ESPN news platforms and handles PR for the network’s golf coverage.

The permanent Jim Chapman Award, currently displayed in the IMS media center, features a classic photo of Jim wearing his favorite navy blue double-breasted blazer and the names of all the award recipients. The text under Jim’s photo reads:

 “James P. Chapman (1916-1996). A great man who deeply cared about country and church; family and friends. A legend in the public relations industry who set the ultimate standard of professionalism and excellence. A superstar who superstars like Babe Ruth wanted at their side. A pioneer in motorsports PR who practically invented most of what is now considered routine. A true 'People Person' who knew a mutually-respectful relationship with journalists was important in good times and essential in bad times. A mentor kind enough to help others achieve success. A gentleman who understood nothing could replace the sound of the human voice, a handshake, a face-to-face meeting, a shared meal, a hand-written note of thanks. 

“All who ever have, do, or will work in public relations stand on Mr. Chapman's shoulders.

“The true honor of the Jim Chapman Award is not a plaque. The true honor is having one's name forever associated with that of the great James P. Chapman. A committee of journalists adjudged those named here worthy of this high honor.”

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, who was born in Macon, Georgia, started as sports editor or managing editor of several Southern newspapers before joining the New York Times. 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 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 kept with him a money clip with a pockmarked silver dollar that Ruth used to carry during games for good luck. Chapman said Ruth had used the coin for target practice. He 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.
In its obituary, the New York Times wrote that Chapman "served as a father confessor to many top racing drivers." Two-time Indy 500 winner and PPG Cup champion Al Unser Jr. said on behalf of his fellow drivers, "With Jim, when he says ‘jump,’ we just ask ‘how high? 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 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

2015 -- Linda Vaughn (honorary)

2015 -- David Ferroni

2016 -- T.E. McHale and Dan Layton

2017 -- Andy Hall

HOLLY CAIN WINS BOB RUSSO AWARD FOR DEDICATION TO RACING


Holly Cain, who has been a respected motorsports journalist for more than 25 years and shown courage and provided inspiration in the face of personal adversity, Friday was honored with the Bob Russo Founders Award for dedication to auto racing.
Cain currently writes for NASCAR.com .

The award was presented to Cain by Russo Award Chairman Bill Marvel, Russo's longtime friend and 2011 honoree, in a ceremony in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's media center.
Russo, the much-admired and honored motorsports  journalist/publicist/historian, founded the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association in 1955. Russo helped racing gain early national media attention in the 1950s via his stories in Speed Age magazine. He consulted IMS owner Tony Hulman on the future direction of the sport when AAA stopped sanctioning races, which led to the formation of the U.S. Auto Club. Among Russo's successes in public relations were the legendary Mobil Economy Run and with NHRA and Riverside International Raceway. Russo was the Miller Brewing Co.'s media representative for its primary sponsorship of Danny Sullivan when he won the 1985 Indy 500. His historical research and archives benefitted the sport overall, including the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. He died in 1999 and age 71.

The Russo Award, as stated on the plaque, is presented "to an individual who has demonstrated profound interest, tireless efforts and undying dedication to auto racing as exemplified by Russo throughout his lifelong career.”
Cain's career includes award-winning tenures at the Tampa Tribune, Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Dallas Morning News. She also wrote for AOL Fanhouse and FoxSports.com and authored the book Rusty's Last Call, on driver Rusty Wallace's last NASCAR season. She has been a NASCAR.com senior writer since 2012.

Cain has earned numerous journalism honors, including awards from the Associated Press Sports Editors and Society of Professional Journalists.

Cain was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2014 and has written candidly about her experiences battling the disease. She also speaks to public groups and helps in cancer research fundraising activities. Despite her illness, Cain has continued with insightful motorsports coverage, and in 2015 won the NMPA's Spirit Award in recognition of her positive attitude and achievement in the face of adversity.
Cain is the first female to win the Russo Award on an individual basis.

Previous Russo Award winners include: 2005 – Michael Knight; 2006 – Wally Parks; 2007 – Chris Economaki; 2008 – Bob Jenkins; 2009 – Shav Glick; 2010 -- Bill York; 2011 -- Bill Marvel; 2012 -- Paul Page; 2013 -- The Hulman-George and France Families; 2014 -- Donald Davidson; 2015 -- Dick Jordan; 2016 -- Dan Luginbuhl. A permanent plaque with all winners’ names is on display in the Speedway media center.

The award is sponsored by Collene and Gary Campbell, the sister and brother-in-law of the late Mickey Thompson.

                                                               




 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

LINDA VAUGHN STATEMENT ON HER HEALTH & MISSING INDY 500

STATEMENT FROM LINDA VAUGHN, MISS HURST GOLDEN SHIFTER,  ON MISSING INDIANAPOLIS 500 FOR FIRST TIME IN OVER A HALF-CENTURY DUE TO ILLNESS:

     "I am so sorry to tell my racing family and wonderful fans that, due to illness, I will not be at Sunday's Indy 500. This is the first time I will miss the race in 55 years. I have so many great memories of the Speedway, especially the Hurst Oldsmobile pace car programs I did with James Garner, and it saddens me not to be there for more memories. Thanks to everyone who has been in touch with me, especially my best friend Nancy George, who came to California to be with me in the hospital. I will miss you all. May the Racing Angels be the wind  beneath your wings. God Speed."

Sunday, May 21, 2017

ALONSO ALLURE ISN'T MANSELL MANIA

Thank God someone told the truth.

Saturday evening, while driving from the Indianapolis International Airport (which offers no baggage assistance on weekends!) I heard Donald Davidson on a local radio station. He was asked if Fernando Alonso's participation in the 101st Indy 500 was as big as Nigel Mansell's arrival in 1993.

Davidson, the highly respected and unchallenged expert on all-things Indy history, complimented Alonso but correctly said Mansell Mania drew a lot more attention and was bigger for the I500 spectacle.

Let me be clear: I consider myself something of an Alonso fan, especially because of his charging starts in a subpar Ferrari, and I greatly respect the methodical and disciplined approach he's taken to the Brickyard. (Second and third qualifying laps were faster than his first.) And . . .  Full Disclosure: I was Newman/Haas Racing's PR rep and worked with Mansell in 1993 and 1994.

Ever since IndyCar announced Alonso's McLaren-Honda-Andretti entry, the attempt to peg the hype-factor gauge by cheerleading has not been the media's finest moment. Yes, Alonso's presence is great for the event. I'm glad he's here for what will be my 39th Indy 500. I hope he has a great race. In fact, I hope he wins, as I'll explain below. But the near-constant yap on prominent motorsports websites, by supposedly knowledgeable "expert" reporters (loved on the fan sites), and on apps and various publications and certainly in the 317 area code Hallelujah Media Chorus, is simply flat-out nonsense.

Here are some things you haven't been told:

Alonso's participation works perfectly for IndyCar CEO Mark Miles' years-long desire for higher-paying international races. Why do you think he blew the horn so loudly about Alonso and promptly went to Europe for a round of media interviews? To promote the international race agenda -- even though virtually all of his team owners (few as they are) continue to say they are opposed, that their sponsors want U.S. market races, not overseas.

All the stars aligned for Alonso to do Indy. That's not a criticism. It's a statement of fact. If Ron Dennis still ran McLaren, if McLaren had a major Formula One sponsor (which it hasn't since Vodafone ended its deal a few years ago), if the Honda F1 engine wasn't such an unreliable boat anchor, if Honda didn't have a competitive IndyCar engine and a willing partner entrant in Michael Andretti, if new McLaren boss Zak Brown wasn't American sports marketing tuned-in and looking to keep superstar Alonso happy, if all of those things didn't happen at the same time, there is no way Alonso would have been allowed to skip Monaco, Grand Prix's greatest sponsor hospitality showcase, to turn left at IMS.

And here are a few other reasons why Alonso Allure Isn't Mansell Mania:

1. Mansell came to Indy as the reigning world champion. Not his fault, but Alonso isn't.

2. Mansell came to Indy has, arguably, the most popular driver in the world. "The People's Champion" is how AutoWeek headlined him. Alonso is popular, but, not the same.

3. Mansell, due to back surgery, didn't have the benefit of a private pre-May test, or the rookie orientation program, or -- and note this since others appear not to remember -- simulators. If you don't think that's important, you don't know modern racing.

4. Mansell was committed to the full PPG Indy Car World Series schedule. Alonso is a one-off. And this is why I hope he wins -- so leadership will hear it from the rest of their race promoters, who won't have the Indy 500 winner to help sell tickets and do local media interviews. In a lot of ways a lot of people aren't thinking about, an Alonso win would serve IndyCar right. And not for the "right" reason.

5. IMS had to knock down a wall in its old media center to make room for the international journalists. No need in today's media center, built to spec for Bernie Ecclestone some years ago.

6. Andretti Autosport didn't have to issue special and very limited "restricted access" media passes. We did at Newman/Haas, so major media photographers could get the Mansell images they needed and their bosses demanded.

More reasons? Sure. But I hope, most respectfully, you get my point.

Go Fernando! But this ain't Mansell Mania. No way. Not even close.

[ more coming this week. Announcement of the 2017 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations coming here this Friday afternoon. ]



Sunday, March 26, 2017

OF F1's UGLY WINGS AND NASCAR's WESTERN SWING

The "new era" of Formula One opened at the Down Under Grand Prix while NASCAR's "Western Swing" ended with the Fontana 400 and I have a few comments on both.

First, F1:

Australia officially began the post-Bernie Ecclestone chapter of the GP Sport/Big Business. Liberty Media's purchase of the commercial rights was finalized some months ago and now it's all on that entity to re-energize F1's worldwide appeal after recent seasons of declining television audience. I would love to see this happen, as I became a race fan because of Jimmy Clark and Colin Chapman and Lotus, and the unmatched spectacle Grand Prix racing has been for decades at exotic locations like Monaco and classic circuits like Spa and Monza.

But, to be honest, I'm in full Wait-And-See Mode.

Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars no-doubt spent to create and develop the latest quicker cars, their appearance leaves me shaking my head and saying again: F1 still doesn't get it. Those horrid front wings have more elements than the table I had to memorize in my high school chemistry class. The aero shark fins and stabilizing boards and ridiculous T wings atop or aft of the engine covers may well help the cars turn, but to the public, they are a turn-off.

I'm all in favor of wider tires and tons of horsepower, but the cars look horrible, and the series' Technical Working Group and FIA can't act fast enough to knock some sense into the designers so there's a full field of sexy-looking machines. And I think it's fair to be alarmed at the comments from many drivers that this new aero package creates so much dirty air the trailing driver stalls-out and makes overtaking that much more difficult.

Sound familiar?

These regulations, to be fair, were in the works before Liberty. But that doesn't mean, as one of its first bold actions, new ownership shouldn't insist on something better. Much, MUCH better. The Liberty execs can talk all they want about more social media engagement and a bunch of week-long Super Bowl-like events in America -- good luck with that -- but that's all meaningless unless people like what they see. I don't.

However, Liberty did have one piece of good news. VERY good news. Because, anytime Ferrari wins, which Sebastian Vettel did over the Mercedes of world champion Lewis Hamilton, the unrivaled passion that unleashes and the headlines it generates are GOOD for F1.

As for NASCAR, let me pose this question to the Powers-That-Be in Daytona Beach.

Imagine, for a moment, if someone came along and re-opened the oval adjacent to Disney World and got a Cup date. Then imagine if three consecutive races were scheduled in Daytona, Orlando and Homestead-Miami. Does that sound like a ticket-selling winner?

Of course not. 

And neither is this Las Vegas-Phoenix-California stretch. For all the happy yap about fans being able to see a three-pack of racing, cold and hard reality says there are not that many who have the time or money to do so. Most people have to make a choice, and common sense says Vegas is going to cash-in more often than not. Why force fans in the same general geographic region to make such a choice? 

Yes, I know, having been employed by one racing series, and paid to represent another, I understand how difficult scheduling can be. But, surely, the Western Swing as currently done isn't doing anything to boost stock car racing's popularity. There's not a single media person from one of those markets covering all three events, as I'm sure, NASCAR had once hoped. The number of retirees in their RVs making that tour cannot possibly be enough to make a meaningful difference.

With Vegas getting its long-sought second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series date next year, it's time to again re-shuffle the schedule, into something that makes more early-season economic sense for those with thousands of grandstand seats to fill.

But this should be obvious: NASCAR needs to showcase very early in the season the kind of multi-groove racing we saw last weekend at Auto Club Speedway. Fontana needs to go sooner, not later, on a revised schedule.

P.S. -- In case you missed it, I think it's worth repeating the lead on my Arizona Republic story of a week ago, after Phoenix.


Before the NASCAR season started, who did seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson expect to be a week-in-week-out contender for wins and a Cup title?
“Kyle Larson,” Johnson told azcentral sports during a Valley visit just before the Daytona 500. “Now that he’s got a taste of winning, I think he’ll be tough.”

Sunday, January 29, 2017

THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS IN THE BIZ OF RACING

History will record January 22-29, 2017 as one of the most important weeks in the Business of Racing.

Consider:

Liberty Media concluded its (reported) $8 billion acquisition of Formula One. The first order of business? Relieve Bernie Ecclestone of his iron-fisted control of the sport's commercial activities. Only the Bill Frances, Sr. and Jr., stand on the same podium with Ecclestone for their one-man decades-long control of a series and building it to unthinkable riches and prestige.

For now, new CEO Chase Carey is best known for his prominent mustache, as Ecclestone was for his slight stature. I rolled my eyes at Carey's pronouncement that more U.S. street venues, such as New York City, Los Angeles or Las Vegas, are a priority and should be week-long Super Bowls for F1. Really?  A review of the long and unsuccessful (Long Beach being the one exception and gold standard) history of such ventures -- IndyCar's Boston fiasco last year being the most recent example and Whatever Happened to the Northern New Jersey deal? -- suggests otherwise. Unless Liberty Media is willing to dig very deep into its own pockets. Or find more tax revenue-hungry politician dupes.

NASCAR, now controlled by Brian France, announced its new "segments" race format. It's the sanction's latest attempt to improve the entertainment value of its racing and regain lost popularity. At least as measured by TV and at-track audience. Most significant was what was said to be the unprecedented collaboration with drivers, teams, OEMs, track operators and the $$$ Fox and NBC TV partners. A stark contrast to France Sr. and Jr.

NASCAR's new buzzword is "enhancements." As in the segments racing rules being competition "enchancements." I won't be using that in my stories as it sounds too much like something having to do with ED medications. An unfortunate choice of words by NASCAR IMC.

All of this happened at the annual Charlotte Motor Speedway media tour, no longer including a visit to CMS or anything specifically regarding CMS and no longer a "tour." To save money, drivers were brought to one location, instead if busing media to the various race team shops. And it was drivers only. No team owners. No crew chiefs. This in the days immediately after the "segments" announcement and driver-after-driver telling reporters it will be interesting to see what decisions crew chiefs make to try to gain those points. Not making crew chiefs available created a massive media void. Sure didn't make sense to me.

Various team sponsor announcemements were made. Nice, but no blockbusters. The BIG sponsor-related news was Nature's Bakery apparent backing-away from its primary deal for Danica Patrick's Stewart-Haas Racing (now) Ford. Danica without strong corporate funding? My, how things have changed. What domino's could this trigger? SHR's four-car lineup (including a not fully-funded No. 14 with Clint Bowyer in for Tony Stewart) couldn't exist without mega-rich Gene Haas, who can fill the funding shortfalls with Haas Automation. But for how long? Is it possible lack of NASCAR sponsorship could lead Patrick elsewhere, even back to IndyCar? 

Oh, in case you didn't pick up on this, NASCAR has officially retired the "Chase." Now it's the "playoffs." The reason for this change is so obvious it makes you wonder why it wasn't done years ago.

Carl Edwards to run for the U.S. Senate from Missouri? Hey, it makes as much sense as anything else I've read to try to explain his out-of-left-field decision to stop racing. And we thought it would be Jeff Burton who would become a senator. If it happens, I'd like to think Edwards could help speed up action in the slow-moving upper legislative chamber.

IMSA opened its new DPi era with the traditional Rolex 24 at Daytona. I'll congratulate the sanction on an excellent race with three exciting class finishes. The controversial non-call by Beaux Barfield gave IMSA the best outcome for its short-term national profile as it helped put Jeff Gordon into victory lane with the emotional Taylor family and Max Angelelli in his retirement drive in one of the new Cadillac DPi entries. That was the best story for mainstream media who often only care about IMSA for this one day a year and also the specialist racing media and, for sure, NASCAR fans. 

As I've said before, sports car racing must feature a robust Prototype class to be successful. Sorry, but I don't see the DPis, featuring a great sponsor ID billboard but untraditional and eyeball-unpleasing stability fins, satisfying that imperative. At least not right now. I continue to be disappointed overall in what IMSA, as the authority for the combined ALMS/Grand-Am series, has accomplished since the merger. I should say what IMSA -- and I'm talking Jim France, Ed Bennett and Scott Atherton -- have NOT accomplished. Yes, I know, it's not easy. Let's be clear and honest: No matter the hype you hear from various entities (including the participating OEMs), sports car racing (which I love) has a LONG way to go to even be an * on the USA sporting scene.

Nice to see the new Rolex all-auto racing theme TV spot, featuring sports car, land-speed record and F1 images. And a SPECTACULAR still-frame from the 1960s of Jackie Stewart's BRM four-wheels in the air!

The SCCA Runoffs -- an often wonderful and always underappreciated event in U.S. motorsports -- set Sonoma Raceway as its 2018 host. This year the amateur national championships will be decided at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.


Tickets for the July 15-16 FIA Formula E New York City ePrix went on sale, according to a news release. The Brooklyn Cruise Terminal was site of a photo-op. Stop me if you've heard this one before: A race on the streets of New York City. I'll believe it when I see it!

The Bottom Line results from this unbelievably newsworthy and historic week in the Business of Racing likely won't be known for years. But they will be worth watching and certainly most consequential.



No comment: Ryan Ellis, a Cup series driver as recently as last November, is now PR man for Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 32 GoFas Racing team.


What's the Big Controversy in Washington, D.C., about "alternative facts?" PR people have been presenting AFs to the media for decades! Trust me, I know!



With Motorsports 2017 officially underway, I'm going to make two points that I feel very strongly about, and will be a recurring theme for me throughout the year:

1. It's time for Public Relations People to Act Like "Public Relations" People. I attended the NASCAR awards in Las Vegas last December and watched so-called PR representatives walk past journalists who had written positive stories about their clients without saying a word. Others stayed in their seats, not bothering to get up and greet reporters who were just a few tables away. More apparently haven't bothered to update their media lists for years. There's one prominent NASCAR supplier who has been sending media material to a decreased reporter, to another who no longer covers the sport, but has yet to send Word 1 to the appropriate journo who has been writing for a decade. A partial ditto for a championship team in more than one series. There are plenty of PRers who don't bother to visit the media center on race weekends to say hello and introduce themselves to media types they don't know. Shame on the supervisors who allow their entities to be represented in such an unprofessional manner. ENOUGH. This year, I'll be naming names, as required.


2. Text LESS, TALK more: Yes, I understand, there is no putting this genie back in the bottle. But I will make this Common Courtesy/Common Sense point which I know, in my heart, the late + great PR legend and Gentleman Mr. James P. Chapman would be screaming from the mountaintop of manners: Texting is not the honest and sincere vehicle for anyone TRULY interested in what is going on in someone else's life. You can't hear the other person's voice with a text. The sound of that person's voice, it's strength or weakness, what is said or isn't said, is how you really find out what's going on. As Mr. Chapman knew, nothing will ever replace a face-to-face conversation, but a phone conversation is the next best/easiest option. (Skype would even be better.) I don't mind a text for anything routine, like a reminder of an appointment. But when someone sends a text "I hope you are feeling well" or "feeling better" or "doing OK," I don't consider that a sincere expression of honest concern. It might even be considered a lazy way to ask. It's obvious to me some people use a text as the modern version of voice mail. Back in the day, if you had to answer someone but really didn't want to speak with him/her, the trick was to call and leave a voice message at a time the other person wasn't likely to pick up. A text now can serve the same purpose. Bottom line: If you really CARE, CALL! 



John Haverlin, of PopularSpeed.com , recently wrote a very nice story about me and my career. Thank you to John and PS. Here's the link:

http://www.popularspeed.com/a-career-in-motorsports-journalism-and-pr/ 



This will be a HUGE week in Arizona racing. Official announcement and details of the $178 million Phoenix International Raceway rebuild on Monday. NASCAR testing at PIR Tuesday and Wednesday, marking the on-track return of Dale Earnhardt Jr., and debut of Daniel Suarez. Then NHRA nitro-class testing Thursday-through-Saturday at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. I'll have a couple of stories starting Tuesday in the Arizona Republic and AzCentral.com . More immediate newsworthy updates from me on Twitter: @SpinDoctor500 . Thank you.

[ more as I am able . . . ]