• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

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 . . . ]