This weekend, God willing, I'll be in Indianapolis for the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association's http://aarwba.org 37th All-America Team dinner and awards ceremony. Among those who have confirmed their attendance are: John Force, Tony Schumacher, Sebastien Bourdais, Sam Hornish Jr., Jack Roush and Frank Kimmel. The winner of the Jerry Titus Memorial Trophy, which goes to the driver who received the most Team votes from AARWBA members, and the Jim Chapman Award, for excellence in motorsports public relations, will be revealed.
I'm only traveling from Arizona. Jorg Bergmeister, the Grand-Am's Rolex Series champion and ALMS' GT2 titlist, is coming from his home in Germany. Rinaldo Capello, co-champ of ALMS' premier LMP1 class, is flying in from his residence in Italy. Luis Diaz, Rolex Series runner-up, is heading in from Mexico City -- for the second consecutive time. (!)
Their presence, as Team members in the road racing class, voted the honor by members of the country's oldest and largest organization of motorsports media professionals, is significant for another reason.
As dinner co-chairman, I didn't want to put Bergmeister (right) and Diaz, who made the Team for his good work in Rolex but now is in ALMS, in the awkward position of sitting at the Grand-Am table vs. ALMS or vice versa. So, thanks to the cooperative spirit shown by both groups -- which demonstrates respect for the drivers and AARWBA -- we've been able to create a Road Racing Champions table. Co-hosted by G-A and ALMS, it will be positioned front-and-center in the Hyatt Regency's ballroom. I consider it an honor to have a seat at this table, joining not only Bergmeister and Diaz, but also Capello and Scott Pruett.
My congratulations to Grand-Am President Roger Edmondson and ALMS President Scott Atherton, and thanks to G-A's Adam Saal and counterpart Bob Dickinson, for working with me to make this happen. It is an important moment, one that deserves applause, appreciation and respect, and a true "win-win" deal. I predict this will be noticed throughout the motorsports industry.
Memo to others, including some who will be in the Hyatt ballroom: YES, it can be done!A few things happened during our hiatus that merit mention:
* The media advisory of Danica Patrick's December test for Andretti Green Racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway specified the following, and I quote: "Media will be allowed to be on site from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for photo/B-roll opportunities. Patrick will be available in a group interview session for 10 minutes at approximately 12:45 p.m. Media will be asked to exit the facility by 1 p.m. or at the start of the afternoon testing session." Ten minutes!!! It says here a rainout saved Dear Danica from an embarrassment -- or would it have been a wake-up call?
* I wonder if Tony Stewart and his representatives realize a new day just might have dawned Jan. 3 with the news that Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli was forced out by the company's Board. Nardelli, who walked with a $210 million severance package according to CNNMoney.com, was a super-fan of Stewart and the No. 20 Joe Gibbs team. It appeared to me Nardelli gave Stewart lots of leeway when it came to some of Tony's less-attractive public antics. Those of us who have gone through sponsor CEO changes know how dangerously wrong it is to assume the next CEO will continue to hero-worship a driver. Did anyone cashing a PR paycheck think to so-counsel Stewart?
* The naive thought Phoenix City Council's OK of a downtown Champ Car event meant the hostility of the pro-and-con groups was over. I hope they faced reality when Las Vegas and Phoenix race boss Jim Freudenberg gave this quote to Robin Miller when announcing VISA sponsorship (actually, by processing company First Data Independent Sales of Fresno by Cardservice International). "This is a significant deal. I wish I could tell you exactly how much it is because it's so much better than what Phoenix International Raceway gets for its NASCAR race." That shot -- no surprise to me -- is proof the controversy and negative undercurrent created by both sides continues and, I predict, will do so right-up-to-and-beyond the race's Dec. 2 date. The embarrassing hit parade of mistakes (on both sides) that has marked this event continued when the race's local PR rep, Denise Resnik & Associates, recently distributed a Phoenix media list showing Mark Armijo as the motorsports writer for the Arizona Republic. Mark left the racing beat almost two years ago! The race's kickoff media function is Wednesday evening.
* Chris Schwartz, Susan Bradshaw Crowther, Adam Hoover and Jeremy Riffle took advantage of the holiday season to bulletin the media thusly: "We'd also like to take this opportunity to let you know that Philip Morris USA Inc. will return to sponsor the Team Penske entry in the 2007 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series, but will remove the Marlboro name from the cars, uniforms, support equipment and promotional materials visible to the public. This decision is consistent with Philip Morris USA's efforts to reduce the overall profile of its cigarette brand marketing. To that end, the official name of the racing team will be "Team Penske." Effective immediately, we would appreciate your referencing the Team by its official name, Team Penske as the Team will no longer be referred to as 'Marlboro Team Penske.' "
* Anheuser-Busch and NASCAR did a professional job in announcing Dec. 18 that the brewery will conclude its 26-year run as Busch Series sponsor after the 2007 season. (Disclosure: I played a small role in the company's transition from Budweiser to Busch backing for the tour in 1984.) This was properly positioned primarily as a "business" as opposed to "sports" story. What attracted the most attention was acknowledgement by NASCAR it will work together with new series TV partner ESPN in soliciting a fresh title patron. On the other hand, it's incredible to me the teams/sponsors/sanctions/tracks that don't understand you don't get good coverage during the holidays. (Hint: journalists, like everyone else, take time-off and are busy with other things!) On Dec. 20, Ganassi Racing revealed its new two-car Indy Pro Series team, via an IRL teleconference. Andretti Green made the same mistake in 2005 by confirming Marco Andretti to Indy Cars right before Christmas. Even more ridiculous was the Robert Yates-Ricky Rudd announcement on Dec. 21. That SHOULD have been positioned as the first BIG motorsports story of 2007! Publicists who bother to establish even a basic working relationship with reporters know lots of journos get very irritated by Christmas-time news conferences, or as the IRL and Champ Car have done in the past, ones during Daytona 500 week.
* I was glad to receive the news that Mike Mooney, who led the communications effort for Nextel's NASCAR series sponsorship, joined Millsport as vice president/account director. Mike's duties include client strategic direction and activation development, as well as building a communications capability for Millsport Motorsports. Clients include Sunoco, Tylenol and XM Satellite Radio. His new contact information is:
Vice President/Account Director
7575-A West Winds Blvd.
Concord, NC 28027
704.361.9499 (cell phone)
* I was reminded again over the holidays how cooperative -- and kind -- Fernandez Racing's Tamy Valkosky is in dealing with media requests. I wish a lot of the so-called "PR" representatives who patrol NASCAR garage areas -- and not just in Nextel Cup -- would take note. Far-too-many of them work with a mindset where their FIRST reaction is, "NO!" Not, "Let me see what I can do," or, "Let's see what's possible," and certainly not "Thanks for the opportunity," just a fast "NO!" The fact that sponsors put up with this attitude is a sad commentary on the state of the motorsports business.
* In catching up on some reading, I finally got to Sports Illustrated's Nov. 6 rare profile of NBA Commissioner David Stern. I can't imagine anyone involved in sports management, marketing or communications who should not read this article. In fact, I can think of several people who fancy themselves as international sports marketers who should read it twice.
* Time magazine named you -- yes, YOU! -- as Person of the Year. I recommend you list that on your resume.
* To understand why I cheer ESPN for having an Ombudsman -- George Solomon -- see his Jan. 7 column on ESPN.com. It's a straightforward, candid assessment of the network's hits-and-misses during 2006. As I've written here previously, SPEED Channel would do well to follow ESPN's example.
* Worth some thought -- Quote from American Idol judge Simon Cowell: "I have a saying: 'Create the hype, but don't ever believe it.' "
My thoughts are with two friends: AARWBA Midwest VP Ron Lemasters, whose mother died last Saturday night. And Bob Margolis of Yahoo! Sports, who had surgery the day after Christmas to remove an enlarged lymph node, and has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Bob shared this in an E-mail (and said it was OK to make public): “At this point, the doctors believe that we have a head start on the disease . . . The specific lymphoma I have is called diffuse B cell and it is very aggressive, so I expect that I will be treated accordingly. The prognosis for recovery is 100 percent. I expect the next 4-6 months of my life won’t be the most fun I’ve ever experienced, but then again, I’m up for the battle. I will beat this disease.” You can write Bob at Bob.Margolis@Yahoo.com .
[ blogging about the AARWBA ceremonies, and the 2006 Jim Chapman Public Relations Award winner, next Tuesday . . . ]