Friday, September 14, 2018

10 YEARS LATER: REMEMBERING THE END OF RACING's SPONSORSHIP BOOM

By MICHAEL KNIGHT

Monday, Sept. 15, 2008 was a bad day for motorsports.

A very bad day.

That’s when the cash well that fuels drag – and all other types of racing -- officially went dry. At least for the foreseeable future.

The fundamental underpinnings of Wall Street were so shaken by the collapse of Lehmen Bros., bailout of AIG and overall lack of confidence in the system, well, you’d have thought 1,000 dragsters had zoomed past the New York Stock Exchange.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett called it an “economic Pearl Harbor.”  

Others said it was the financial world’s Sept. 11.

In a number symbolically significant to every racer, the New York Post reported that, in the aftermath, the market was “500 trades away from Armageddon.”
So here’s the new reality: Brian France, Tony George and Tom Compton are no longer the most important men in racing. Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke are.

The Treasury secretary and Federal Reserve chairman have been injecting more money into the markets than nitro into Tony Schumacher’s engine in an attempt to keep the economic wheels turning. While the health of the speed industry is far from their highest priority, the success – or failure – of Paulson’s and Bernanke’s efforts will determine whether throttles stay flat, or flat-line.
Team owners – whose own net worths likely have plunged like cliff divers in Acapulco -- have discovered just hanging on to existing sponsors is tougher than beating Schumacher for the Powerade championship. Kenny Bernstein will toast his 30th consecutive season with Budweiser in 2009, but I understand the actual scope of that great promotional opportunity is on hold, pending a budget review as InBev takes over Anheuser-Busch.

As for signing new sponsors? To quote Al Michaels: Do you believe in miracles?

“The economy stinks,” five-time Top Fuel champion and businessman Joe Amato said recently. “People are cutting back all around. I don’t care if you have a good story or not, it’s hard to get people to throw millions of dollars at sponsorship . . . I know people who have parked (their race cars) because they can’t afford the gas and the hotel bills. Forget what it costs to run the car.”
While we’ve been down this road before, Gary Scelzi said of his decision to stop after Pomona: “With the economy in the state that it is, business being off in these tough times . . . I feel it is in my best interest . . . to go back to work at Scelzi Enterprises.”

The economic downturn comes as competitors continue to struggle with issues ranging from safety to the price of nitro. Plus, those accustomed to winning Wallys in Top Fuel and Funny Car will have to spend against Alan Johnson and His Highness Sheikh Khalid Bin Hamad Al Thani’s Qatar petro-dollars.

Al-Anabi Racing could do to NHRA what Toyota did in NASCAR. Overnight, it became more expensive for everyone else to compete.

Now, there’s even greater pressure on NHRA and the agencies it hired earlier this year to sell sponsorships and generate national media attention. More than before, they need to produce additional revenues for the teams, and make the series increasingly valuable to corporate customers.

And Full Throttle, which takes over from Powerade, better live up to its promise to more aggressively activate its title role and promote drag racing with, well, energy. 

Follow Michael Knight on Twitter: @SpinDoctor500

(as published on DragRacingOnline.com, October 2008.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

THE 12th ANNIVERSARY BLOG

40th INDY 500: Making remarks about the current state of motorsports PR not being in the tradition of Jim Chapman, Indianapolis Motor Speedway media center, May 25, 2018. (Dan R. Boyd photo.) 


When I first posted here in 2006,12 years ago this week, I wrote that I hoped this would be a "Great Adventure" (which is what Paul Newman called Nigel Mansell's 1993 arrival in CART as world Formula One champion) and that we'd learn together. I also said my goal was to combine the knowledge and experience gained from journalism and various roles (mainly media/public relations) at the highest levels of motorsports to offer insights and perspectives not found elsewhere. I thought that could be useful to those who worked within the industry (which has been my primary audience) and to open-minded fans who wanted to better understand their favorite sport. As I have said countless times, you can't be a fan in-the-know without understanding the Business and Politics of Racing.

That is still my wish.

However, personal issues and higher priorities have forced me to write only occasionally these past couple of years. I apologize to those who regularly took the time to come here. Everyone's time is valuable so I considered it a compliment from those who weekly read what I offered, agree or disagree.

Since Twitter has made everyone an opinionist -- please note I didn't say "journalist" -- there is a ton more out there in the cyberworld for those who wish to digest it. Going back to my Philadelphia Daily News days I have never had a desire to write just for the sake of writing. I want to write when I think I have something important or useful to communicate. Honestly, I have had a few blog posts semi-ready to publish in 2018, but as I had to admit to myself they didn't fit my standard, I deleted them. These included two from the Indianapolis 500, which was my 40th time at the "Greatest Spectacle," and as I told friends privately and said publicly in accepting the Angelo Angelopolous Award for sportsmanship (photo below) and presenting the Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports PR (to USAC's Dick Jordan), I expect it was the concluding chapter in my own I500 story.

That last sentence deserves an explanation. My intent is to do so here in the upcoming weeks. But, as I'm on a countdown to another Great Adventure of the life kind, I don't expect to write much more than that. I do want to do my traditional end-of-year column, although it will have to happen sooner than usual.

I've been called many things over the decades (!) and I'll save some of you the trouble and call myself out here and now as something of a hypocrite. I was an early critic, and late adopter, of Twitter. My casual surveys of the T scene led me to think it was unserious and, thus, a waste of my time. A big problem I had with it, based on my formal journalism education and professional experience, had to do with context: How can you possibly put any meaningful information into proper context in 180 characters? Near impossible, I felt.

Eventually, I was guided by some people I respect, and shown how Twitter can be a communications tool. Not a full tool box, but a tool. And that's the mindset I try to lock-into. Given my inability to write blogs to whatever length I feel necessary, I use Twitter as a way to express a basic point. I'm not much into breaking news these days, but I was able to use Twitter to get out there first the true news that ISM Raceway in Phoenix would not host IndyCar in 2019. I'm able to use it to share quick thoughts and viewpoints, photos, and to provide links to my Arizona Republic stories and articles written by others that I believe are worth your attention.

In short (pun intended), Twitter has become the best way I have to contribute to the much-more-vast conversation in the areas in which I am engaged the most: Motorsports, sports-in-general, politics, Wall St./business, media, and medicine/science. I have been doing that on a regular basis this year and intend to continue to do so in the months ahead. If you are interested, I'm @SpinDoctor500

As far as the 2018 racing scene is concerned, the only things that have energized my interest are: Courtney Force winning races and leading the NHRA Funny Car points; Ferrari and S. Vettel taking the fight to Mercedes-Benz and L.  Hamilton in Formula One; IMSA seemingly on the right course with its DPi class, which now includes Acura Team Penske, J.P. Montoya and H. Castroneves; and the Grand Reopening of ISM Raceway in November after a $178 million transformation that will make it second only to Daytona as the USA track with the best/nicest spectator, corporate hospitality and competitor facilities.

NASCAR has deeper problems than most of those not directly involved realize. With Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch it's only true national stars as the series awaits breakthroughs from Elliott, Bowman, Suarez, Wallace, Byron, etc., the sanction's strength comes from its multi-billion dollar TV contracts. The lack of household and media-known starpower is at the core of IndyCar's failures at Phoenix and Watkins Glen. And, for those of you believing NBC taking over the full TV package next year will be IC's savior, you might look at how the network dumbed-down the Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby and Olympics with its choice of so-called "talent." Watch out for the new "shoulder" programming on cable at the Indy 500. I laid down a marker on this with Mark Miles in May. He admitted to not having approval rights on announcers but can "consult" so we'll see what he allows to happen.

My overall interest in NHRA has faded significantly. Believe it or not -- and believe it because I couldn't possibly dream of making this up -- the new PR rep for one of its major multi-car teams took me off her news release distribution list because of criticism from me and offered to reinstate me only if I promised no more criticism. Yes, you read that right, a media relations director specifically demanded a journalist give up his First Amendment rights. The World of Outlaws has had tragedy, rain, and no one who knows how to professional beat the publicity drum.

Thanks for hanging in there with me. Hopefully, we'll "talk" again soon.


THANK YOU: With my individual and the permanent Angelo Angelopolous Award, which is displayed in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway media center. The Angelo dates back to 1963 -- so I guess you can consider it an Indy "tradition" -- and is "Presented to the 500 Mile Race Participant Who Best Exemplifies the Creed of Sportsmanship." Angelopolous was an Indianapolis News writer who loved sportsmanship in sports. As I joked (?) in accepting, there must be at least 500 IMS Yellow Shirts (past and present) who went into shock at the news of me receiving an award for "sportsmanship." Regardless, having my name added to some truly great ones on the permanent award was a humbling and nice way to exit the Speedway. (Dan R. Boyd photo.)


Friday, May 25, 2018

HINCH, KNIGHT RECEIVE TRADITIONAL INDY 500 AWARDS


Driver James Hinchcliffe and longtime publicist/journalist Michael Knight were honored with traditional Indy 500 awards Friday in a ceremony at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway media center.
 Hinchcliffe was announced as recipient of the Jigger Award, presented by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association, to an Indy 500 competitor who experiences misfortune/bad luck. Hinchcliffe, who survived near-fatal injuries in a 2015 practice session accident at IMS only to return a year later and win the pole position, didn’t qualify for Sunday’s 102d running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

The award is named for Jigger Sirois, who missed being the pole winner in 1969 when his crew waved-off a qualifying run which would have been the only one completed before rain prevented any more track activity. Under rules then in effect, Sirois would have been on the pole, but never did qualify for the race. Sirois accepted the award for Hinchcliffe.
Knight accepted the Angelo Angelopolous Award, given since 1963 “to the 500 Mile Race Participant Who Best Exemplifies the Creed of Good Sportsmanship.” Angelopolous was an Indianapolis News writer who loved the 500 and fair play and sportsman-like acts.

Knight covered the race for the Philadelphia Daily News before a quarter-century career as a publicist for CART and numerous drivers and teams, including the Newman/Haas, Treadway, Robby Gordon and Sam Schmidt teams and drivers such as Mario and Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Arie Luyendyk and Gordon. In recent years he’s reported for the Arizona Republic. He is a lifetime member of the 500 Oldtimers and is attending his 40th Indy 500, which he said will likely be his last.

Dr. JERRY PUNCH WINS BOB RUSSO FOUNDERS AWARD

Dr. Jerry Punch, who combined careers in broadcasting and medicine to become one of the most respected people in all of motorsports, was honored Friday with the Bob Russo Founders Award for dedication to auto racing.
The award was presented to Dr. Punch by Russo Award Chairman Paul Page, the 2012 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.”
Dr. Punch, who will be a pit reporter for ABC's Indy 500 race telecast, was a driver and mechanic on the Carolinas short-track circuit and in 1975 began substituting for NASCAR Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett as track announcer at Hickory (N.C.) Speedway. He joined the Motor Racing Network radio team at the 1980 Daytona 500 and started with ESPN in 1984 as a pit reporter for NASCAR telecasts.  
   
Over the years, Punch has also served as host and play-by-play voice not only in numerous racing series, but college football and basketball as well.
Dr. Punch received his medical degree from Wake Forest University in 1979 and worked 14 years as emergency room services director at a Florida hospital. In 1988, he revived Rusty Wallace, who was not breathing after a crash during practice at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. A few months later, Punch joined the rescue effort to save driver Don Marmor, who crashed in an ARCA race.
Among Punch's many honors are the U.S. Air Force Outstanding Performance Award, 1990 NASCAR Team Player of the Year and the Lindsey Nelson Broadcasting Award.
 
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; 2017 -- Holly Cain. 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.
                                                                

   

DICK JORDAN WINS 2018 JIM CHAPMAN AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN MOTORSPORTS PR


LEGENDS BOTH: Babe Ruth and Jim Chapman

Dick Jordan, who has served the U.S. Auto Club in public/media relations and publicity capacities for almost 50 years and a member of the National Sprint Car and Midget Halls of Fame, Friday was announced as winner of the 2018 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, many of who knew Chapman, and is authorized by the Chapman family. PR representatives from all forms of motorsports are eligible for consideration.

"Dick has been a friendly and reliably helpful presence at USAC races for almost a half-century," said Knight. "Dick knew Mr. Chapman and so he well understands the meaning of this high honor.

“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.

Jordan attended races with his parents in the early 1950s and saw his first Indy 500 in 1956. He was hired by USAC in December 1968 and has worked for the sanctioning organization continuously since, publicizing its drivers, series and races, developing relationships with journalists around the country, maintaining extensive statistics, writing race reports and mentoring young racers in how to deal effectively with the media.

Now USAC's vice president of communications, Jordan's schedule has routinely had him at more than 100 races a year. It's believed he has witnessed more USAC events than anyone. He has been called "USAC's greatest champion" as defined as "someone who fights for a cause."

The permanent Jim Chapman Award, currently displayed in the IMS media center, is cast in bronze and 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, who died earlier this year. “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.

To allow those in the media and industry not at IMS to see the permanent Chapman Award, Knight announced it will be relocated to the new ISM Raceway media center in Phoenix this November, and be displayed there throughout the 2019 season.

 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

2018 -- Dick Jordan




Tuesday, May 22, 2018

AWARD ANNOUNCEMENTS FRIDAY

This is where you will find the full news releases on the winners of the Jim Chapman, Bob Russo, Jigger and Angelo Angelopolous Awards. These will be announced Friday, 10:15 a.m. EDT, in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway media center.

Thank you.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

LOOKING DOWN THE LONG and WINDING ROAD

BUSINESS IS GOOD.

That's a -- if not the -- Big Headline to come out of last weekend's Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway, which I attended for the first time since 1991. It was, as usual, the start of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar series. Unofficially, and with all due respect to the Chili Bowl, it signals to most the real beginning of the American motorsports season.

I've been a sports car fan from my earliest days as a racing fan. The Shelby Cobras, original Ford GTs and various Jim Hall Chaparrals will always remain among my favorites. I'm not sure anything, however, will top the Porsche 962 turned-out in Lowenbrau colors as driven and fielded by my dear friend Al Holbert.

This gathering of international racing elite, as appropriate, brought thoughts of Dan Gurney to all. Scott Pruett raced his last and exits as America's greatest sports car driver and a true gentleman. IMSA and Daytona played the Fernando Alonso card much as Indy did last year and it must be said Fernando was kind -- even generous -- with his time to the media.

As has been the case with the various sanctioning organizations over the decades, though, the cars (right or wrong) took the spotlight. Although I personally find the large stability fins to ruin the look (Mazda the worst), IMSA clearly appears to be on the right track with its DPi class. It's going to be a huge story to see if the Lords of Le Mans grasp this and embrace the formula. Daytona saw the formal debut of the two Acuras as fielded by none other than Roger Penske (an original sports car-er himself), Mazda's partnership with Joest, Year 2 of Cadillac plus Nissan.

To repeat one of my strongest-held beliefs, to be successful, IMSA needs a robust Prototype class. Endurance racing without Prototypes would be like an NHRA event without nitro cars. It looks to be in a positive mode.

I found Rolex to be impressive in positioning its event sponsorship, which included strategic placement of the classic gold-face public clocks, and a very nice media reception. One disappointment was to not observe such from WeatherTech, which clearly needs a Jim Chapman.

In the immediate aftermath of Donald Trump's election as POTUS, former motorsports marketer and now McLaren boss Zak Brown offered an opinion that Trump represented a headwind for those seeking sponsorship at a major level. Given the historic rise in the U.S. stock markets, less regulation, the tax cut legislation and improved consumer confidence, I asked Brown for an updated analysis. He said he had been at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland a few days earlier.

"Commercially, the world seems to be in a pretty good place," he said. "Companies are doing well. People are bullish. Everyone I talk to, I ask, 'How's business?' They go, 'Business is pretty good.' You're not seeing the layoffs like before. You can have a great, booming sport that people want to sponsor, but if the world's 2008 again . . .

"Everything is bullish. Companies are happy. Earnings are good. It's a good environment.

"The Trump stuff, some people tend to laugh it off a bit in Europe. But, in general, people see America is getting stronger and the world sees that as a good thing.

"People are bullish on the world economy. It has its issues in certain parts of the world. Comparing to 2008, no matter what was going on, people weren't spending money. People are starting to spend money."

I spent 20-some minutes talking with Penske in his trackside office Friday morning. He told me his team has seen increased interest from sponsors. He said IMSA has "really stepped-up its game" with more manufacturer participation. I had not been to Daytona since the $400 million "rising" project, so Joie Chitwood III, International Speedway Corp. chief operating officer, kindly and proudly took me on a private tour. Quite Amazing. Yes, it really is the first and only motorsports stadium. The guest relations staff -- save for one punk kid and a security officer -- were the best trained and most courteous I've ever encountered.

ISC is now completing its $178 million renovation of ISM Raceway (Phoenix). My antenna picked up a signal that a sponsorship announcement for Scott Dixon's IndyCar is forthcoming. So a lot of the "smart money" (I'm afraid of jinxing it) seems bullish on the Business of Racing. At least in some series.

As one who has lived through many of these cycles, I'm thinking it would be nice to wind-down my time during good times. I don't have a specific timeframe in mind. The Rolex 24 was one step in that direction. God willing, May will be my 40th Indy 500, and that might be a good number on which to stop. I'd like to see the modernized Phoenix oval unveiled. We will see how this story unfolds because I, myself, don't know the final chapter.  

The 24 holds a memorable place for me. As I've noted several times before, I was on the 1990 Castrol Jaguar team, which finished 1-2 in what was then the SunBank 24. I was up for 39 hours straight as we worked Davy Jones hard with interviews after the checkered flag. It was good to see friends after a long stretch, people who come together at marque events, including a recovering Gordon Kirby (whose new book on Wally Dallenbach, Steward of the Sport, will be out in May), Nigel Roebuck, Andrew Marriott, David Phillips, J.J. O'Malley and Steven Cole Smith. And, of course, DPi co-winner Christian Fittipaldi.

The 24 at night is a magnificent sight. The change in atmosphere in the pits and garage after the long night turns to Sunday morning is quite something. Crew fatigue sets in among those teams who had overnight problems. Adrenaline fuels those still in contention. You can see it. You can feel it.

It's special to me to say I was able to go to victory lane at Daytona in 1990. And, now, thanks to PR pros like Daytona's Andrew Booth and IMSA's Nate Siebens who went above and beyond to be welcoming and accommodate my limitations, it's special to say I experienced one more Rolex 24.

P.S. -- I Tweeted a number of news items and observations and photos from Daytona. Take a look @SpinDoctor500 .

[ more soon . . . ]

Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017

There goes another one.

Another year.

What do I make of 2017?

Well, the biggest laugh I had was when a Trump Administration official talked about having "alternative facts" on a certain issue. The kook-left news media, led by a fundamentally dishonest CNN, went bonkers. The Mainstream Media arrogantly think they -- and ONLY they -- are the possessors and guardians of The Truth. Let us remember the several wrong reports from the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, ABC, et al, which required corrections or retractions -- and then were immediately forgotten as the righteous keyboarders and microphone-holders pro-actively fought on against the 45th and legally elected President of the United States of America with, they tell themselves, God and Country on their side.

It says here that, as a matter of ethics, integrity and credibility, when media use Anonymous Sources as the basis for a story, and that story is proven to be untrue, that the originating media organization identify those lying and agenda-driven sources. Yes, the public has a right to know!

"Alternative facts?" Nothing new about this! As I Tweeted ( @SpinDoctor500 ) at the time, NASCAR has been feeding AF's to the media for decades! And, I will cheerily admit here and now, so did I back when I was seeding the motorsports public relations fields. Candidly, this is nothing more than taking the hard and real facts and presenting them in a different -- as in more favorable to the boss or client -- way. It's an attempt to Frame the Issue so the folks see things your way. Misbehaving children try this with their parents every day of the week!

It's quite remarkable -- and sad -- what a stinking sewer CNN has become. So much so it's fallen behind the woefully misbegotten MSNBC in some audience measurements. The CNN bunch are no longer journalists. They are political activists. If she were honest, Erin Burnett -- whose otherwise beautiful eyes drip rage, would open every show with: "Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. I hate Donald Trump."  White House beatman Jim Acosta easily wins the Ass of the Year Award, routinely acting for the cameras during press briefings, rudely interrupting other speakers, and injecting negative opinions into what are supposed to be "straight" news reports. Look no further than the background of CNN CEO Jeff Zucker to understand why the network has become "the most untrusted name in news." 

Here's an on-point example of how bias is planted in what supposedly is an "objective" report: ABC network TV news said the controversy over NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem was "ignited" -- that's the word used, "ignited" -- by President Trump. Factually wrong. It was set off by Colin Kaepernick, not Donald Trump.

Overall, I think White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders does a good job, unafraid to jab back when necessary. I have to admit, though, that sometimes I wish I had her job. I know exactly what I'd do to hold the media accountable and I'd have the situation much more firmly in professional line within six months. And doing so while understanding and respecting and facilitating the media's role within our great Constitutional Republic. 

Meanwhile, what is obvious to me, and very troubling, is the sports media think the overwhelmingly negative view of the press reflected in every public opinion poll doesn't apply to them. Oh, how mistaken they are!

One newspaper writer referred to NASCAR as an "insular oddity." I bet you can guess who was the one out-of-touch with reality on that one.

But, by far, the TV guy apparently watching from another planet was NBC football's Cris Collinsworth. Asked by Al Michaels to comment on the NFL-National Anthem controversy, Collinsworth said he wished President Trump would "apologize" to the players. If you want to see a guy existing within the bubble of his own overly-inflated ego, Collinsworth is your man!

The most important U.S. Business and Politics of Sports story, though, was the Bad News Central otherwise known as ESPN. Hundreds were laid-off, thousands of households cut the cable cord, and network President John Skipper resigned suddenly, citing substance addiction. What a mess. 

Perhaps the worst day in ESPN history came Monday, Sept. 25, when the network offered-up one Talking Head after another, and none of them agreed with President Trump's stance on the anthem controversy. ESPNers repeatedly outright rejected criticism of liberal bias. (One talking point was that Fox Sports was stirring this pot. Maybe. That doesn't make it not true.) I can only assume none of them bothered to watch the 6 p.m. SportsCenter or Pardon The Interruption, to cite only two examples. The Heads have become all-too predictable: Every perceived wrong somehow gets back to racism or sexism, they say. Whoever replaces Skipper will automatically become one of the top 2018 stories and two things I will be watching for are to see if he/she steers editorial content more toward the middle and allows journalists to be just that -- journalists -- not performers. Probably unlikely . . . but there's always hope?

Elsewhere, too many media people -- especially in NASCAR -- increasingly became slaves to social media. Unhappily, some of those who didn't play that game as aggressively as others were caught in the latest wave of media layoffs. The writers at FoxSports.com were wiped out and even NASCAR.com downsized. 

I couldn't help but think of my friend Leon Mandel, the late AutoWeek editor/publisher, when a current writer keyboarded about NASCAR's stage racing and playoff format: "I'll sacrifice some integrity for entertainment." This fellow is fortunate Mandel is no longer with us, otherwise, he would have been told to hit the road. Pronto.

Mandel was one who did know about the Business and Politics of Racing. I had many moments this year of shaking my head at those who pretended to know what they were talking/writing about when it came to BaPoR issues. Their knowledge base was exposed to be, well, not much. The Smithfield foods sponsorship moving from Richard Petty Motorsports to Stewart-Haas Racing, and Subway terminating its deal with Joe Gibbs Racing, were good examples of this. So was all the yap about how Fernando Alonso at the Indy 500 would boost the TV ratings. It did . . . in Spain. IndyCar sponsors don't care about TV ratings in Spain. They care the USA numbers were down -- again. Others claimed Alonso-at-Indy was the biggest story in racing. No, it wasn't. Liberty Media taking ownership of Formula One and ousting Bernie Ecclestone was No. 1, by miles. Alonso made for good copy but the F1 goings-on translated to billions of dollars across the industry.

Gimmicks increasingly became part of "news" coverage. The most disgraceful was NBC using its announcers -- mainly The Buffoon, who also cost Gibbs that sponsorship -- to rev-up grandstand fans by interviewing NASCAR winners at the start/finish line. The same questions were then again asked in victory lane. And again on the post-race show. Enough. Here's an idea: How about NBC hiring a real journalist and allowing that person to work as a real journalist, not a performer, on the race telecasts? 

Racing PR continued its downward slide. (One more congrats, though, to ESPN's Andy Hall for winning the Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations.) Count me among those disenchanted with how the Dale Earnhardt Jr. farewell was handled. To show how basic common sense is too often in the museum alongside a '57 Chevy, consider the PRers who don't even think to offer a seat to a journalist forced to use a cane and wear a back brace, as he interviews her/his driver.

The human element has all-but disappeared, and as I've said before, part of the blame belongs to the ill-conceived NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications structure. Talk about setting a bad example.

A Tweet or Text is now considered sufficient to establish a professional PRer-journalist "relationship." Texting reminds me of how Voice Mail was used in its early days. If someone really didn't want to speak to someone else, but had to provide a reply, the VM would intentionally be left during the lunch hour or after 5 p.m. when the other party likely wasn't at his/her desk. That's how it is with texting: Use that, instead of a phone call, if you really don't want to speak to the other. 

NASCAR gave us the dumbest word ever to enter racing lingo: "Encumbered.

One more thing: There are countless person-to-person acts of kindness within every racing series. I know that from first-hand experience. But it's crap when the TV Heads say, now as a cliche, how those in any garage area are a "family."  I tell you that also from first-hand experience. It's a hard and bitter truth when you empty your heart on behalf of another and, well . . . Response sent, of course, via Text. There is no humanity in a Text.

I'll end with this: Thank you for those who have offered encouragement this year as I worked through health and personal challenges. As I've said to all, I'm not seeking sympathy, because millions have it worse than I. I would like to think I'll post more frequently here in 2018, but I can't make specific promises. After missing NASCAR-at-Phoenix last November, plans are in the works for me to resume writing for the Arizona Republic. I have, however, discontinued my CompetitionPlus.com column.

I likely will have more to say about my future plans in the upcoming weeks. The first to know will be readers of this blog. Again and again and again, I say to you a most sincere Thank You.

[ more soon . . . ]




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 . . .