Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Two weeks ago I posted Part One of my lengthy interview with DeLana Harvick. Kevin's wife is very involved in the management of Kevin Harvick Inc., their Craftsman Truck and Busch Series teams. Ron Hornaday Jr. won this year's Truck title in the Harvick's Camping World Chevrolet Silverado. DeLana began her formal racing career as two-time Busch champion Randy LaJoie's public relations person.

Here's the conclusion of our conversation: (Championship photo of Kevin and DeLana courtesy of KHI/CIA.)

Q. What about the perception some people have that KHI is basically a Richard Childress team?
A. Obviously, there’s going to be some information that transfers because Kevin’s in both cars. He can’t be involved in RCR and not have some knowledge that he brings back. But that really couldn’t be further from the truth because we do everything (except engines) in-house. I’m proud we have our own body shop, we have our own paint shop, everything else is done in-house. I think that’s probably the biggest misconception, that we’re just a satellite team for RCR. Although Richard’s been very helpful, especially with advice, we’re pretty proud of what we’ve done on our own.

Q. Do you give your drivers PR advice?
A. Absolutely. If there’s an article that comes out, and I think there was one (where) Ron wasn’t happy with how a quote came out. He called me pretty upset and I talked through it with him. PR is my first love and I think that’s what I do best. I think that’s helpful to Kevin, and certainly, with newcomers like Cale Gale. I try to introduce him to all the players in the sport because it’s my hope he’s going to be around a long time. With a new kid coming from Mobile, Ala., who races a late model, he doesn’t understand the day-to-day duties the guys in NASCAR, the time that is needed to do these things. We’ve got him going to schools, to hospitals, just to get him used to being in public and around people and speaking.

I feel like I do have an influence over our drivers. Obviously, Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte, they don’t need advice from me. I think that’s what I get excited about, the kids coming up, like Cale Gale, I feel like I can be a benefit.

Q. What about when Kevin is in a controversial situation, like with Juan Pablo Montoya at Watkins Glen?
A. As a wife, I’m watching my husband having a pretty heated discussion with someone else. On the same token, I’m watching Kevin kind of through a PR person’s eyes, and I see the passion. Just a couple of years ago, he would have had him in a choak-hold, or done something a little more abrupt. I’ve seen Kevin grow so much. I think a lot of that has to do with KHI and owning his own team.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong, if you’re mad about something, tell somebody, you don’t have to be so politically correct that you’re vanilla. I never want to see that, even for my own drivers. I think, obviously, there’s a line you can’t cross, but I was happy to see that he was so passionate. That cost us a lot of points that day and we were coming down to the wire of the Chase and every point matters. If that had happened, and he wasn’t passionate about it, I don’t think I would have been as happy with him because the passion is what I love so much about Kevin.

Q. Teresa Earnhardt took a lot of criticism for not reaching an agreement to keep Dale Jr. at DEI. As a female team owner, and a PR person, what was your reaction to the media coverage and fan reaction?
A. The hard part about this sport is you have to make decisions on a daily basis and sometimes they’re not popular decisions, whether they're budget-driven, or personnel-driven. It’s unfortunate because the sport has grown to the point that, sometimes, these things plays out in the media.

The part I think everyone has to remember is, there’s always another side to the story. Obviously, we see the outcome of these situations. When you’re not there, on a day-to-day basis, and you don’t know everything that has transpired, it’s hard for me to accept people making opinions about that because they’re not informed. They're fed little bits of what the people involved want to feed them.

I hope I’ve matured a little bit, even in my personal life, where I realize there’s so much more to a situation than the final outcome. I think I put those pieces in play when determining how I feel about a situation. Whether it’s KHI related, or even my personal life. I just know, typically, there’s three sides to every story.

Q. You are the only wife who wears a fire-resistant uniform during the race. Why?
A. When we lost Dale (Earnhardt) and Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin, there was a big safety push in NASCAR. As a wife, I asked Kevin, ‘What are you doing to be safer?’ I became really interested in the safety aspect. We were talking about this one night and he said, ‘What are you doing to be safe?’ I never really thought about that. There’s a lot of moving parts and pieces that go on on pit road and I’m actually pretty astonished that more people don’t do it on their own, but they’re not required to wear some fire-safety protection. The pit boxes have gotten to be such monstrosities that, if something were to happen quickly, I couldn’t get out of harm’s way. I’m pretty much stuck.

I felt like it was only fair when I’m asking Kevin to do everything he possibly could to be safe in the car. Turnabout is fair play and I should do everything I can do to be safe on pit road and I felt that was a good solution.
Bobby Labonte recently joined the ranks of drivers who get into the PR-marketing business. His company is called Breaking Limits, LLC. I find this interesting because I was part of a brief, and not very serious, attempt by Mario Andretti's then-manager back in 1987 to trade on Andretti's name by offering to provide such services. Several companies were "pitched." I remember a few corporate representatives came to me, privately, and expressed concern that their business would always play second fiddle to Andretti's own sponsors. The idea never really went anywhere, partially for this reason.

In 1988, Al Holbert had a similar idea. We were deep into planning a partnership when Al was killed in a private plane crash.

I couldn't help but notice this language in Labonte's news announcement (emphasis mine):

"Breaking Limits mission is to go above and beyond expectations for every partner with business professionals that have the integrity, morals and values that Labonte encompasses."

Wonder if a copy of the release reached Chip Williams?
Wire reports last week said Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson compared his Democratic rivals to NASCAR drivers. (!)

"It's like they're all in training for the NASCAR, you know, nothing but a left turn, just steady as she goes, all the way around," Thompson was quoted as saying.

Thompson, a former Tennessee senator, wasn't knocking NASCAR or its fans, traditionally a friendly audience. Meanwhile, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani campaigned at the Cup finale at Homestead.
Here's a link to my column in last Friday's Arizona Republic. It's a look at the state-of-play among the four Nextel Cup series automakers:
If you didn't see this article in the October Esquire, "A plan to rescue sports journalism from the same sorry fate that has befallen the regular news," here's a link:
AARWBA will offer an audio-visual tribute to Bill France Jr., Wally Parks and Shav Glick at the 38th All-America Team ceremony. That's Saturday, January 12, at the downtown Indianapolis Hyatt. I'm the dinner chairman. A new element of the evening will be a pre-reception news conference, featuring brief announcements from various team, sponsor and industry representatives. Officially, that will be the Shav Glick Newsmakers Forum. For more information on the dinner, go to http://aarwba.org/, or E-mail me.

Thank you to Judy Stropus, of Don Schumacher Racing, who organized a group of NHRA team/sponsor PR representatives to jointly sponsor the November AARWBA newsletter. Their message is a "thank you" and "happy holidays" to AARWBA media members.

Others, in other series, please take note.

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Is there too much hype in NASCAR?

I asked Brian France that exact question during my extended one-on-one exclusive interview with him Friday of NASCAR weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. His answer:

"There’s always too much hype when the competition on the field or on the track doesn’t fulfill it. It’s OK to have hype but it’s even better to have a great race or a great baseball game that matches the hype."

I don't know how anyone could disagree with France's answer.

The truth is, the 2007 Nextel Cup campaign was not a great season. So that means, yes, there was too much hype.

It was a Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports blowout. In achieving its 31st manufacturers' championship, Chevy won 26 of the 36 races. Led by Jimmie Johnson's 10 victories and second consecutive Cup, Hendrick visited victory lane 18 times. Jeff Gordon was second in points with six wins. Kyle Busch and Casey Mears combined for two more.

I realize some of you will find this strange, coming from me, but there IS such a thing as too much hype. Here are my two favorite examples from the season past:

1. At California Speedway, in February, an MRN announcer told us the race was important because "after today, there will only be 24 more races until the Chase." ONLY 24!

2. At New Hampshire, in September, an ABC announcer told us an upcoming series of gas-and-tire service was "critical, because it's the first pit stops in the Chase." ONLY ABOUT 50 MORE TO GO!

Please . . .

I've been asked several times what I'd do to "fix" NASCAR's two-year TV ratings/attendance/media coverage/popularity slide. My advice:

Give it a rest, guys!

Not every race is a "great" race. Not every lap is "critical." Not every driver is a "champion." Not every driver who spins or crashes does "a great job" saving the car. Not every driver is "driving his brains out." Not every event is "exciting." Not every speedway has a "huge" crowd.

I've learned this: Relentless, baseless hype eventually will EXHAUST the public. No one can keep up with it all. No one believes it all. The credibility factor eventually comes into play.

I hope, in 2008, at least for a little while after the 50th anniversary Daytona 500 "Great American Race," NASCAR and Humpy Wheeler and Eddie Gossage and Fox and ESPN and SPEED and MRN and everyone else involved will take a step back. Study the way CBS televised the recent New England Patriots-Indianapolis Colts game -- just let the action tell it's own story.

For that to have any chance of happening, of course, the Car of Tomorrow needs to produce great racing. Fans didn't like what they saw in the second Bristol and Talladega races. If Daytona is an entertainment dud, I know the hype machine will be fed nitro.

If you didn't read my Q&A with France, click the first link below. The second one is my Arizona Republic column of last Friday, which includes even more questions-and-answers with him. (His future plans? Status of diversity program? Criticism of TV coverage?) The third is my Republic story on open-wheel drivers coming to NASCAR, which has Brian's comments on that trend:



I made this point during my XM Satellite Radio interview with Claire B. Lang at PIR:

“The Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team made the National League playoffs this year. They did not sell out all of their home playoff games which is really incredible for the National League Championship Series. All the reserve tickets at PIR (Phoenix International Raceway) for Sunday’s Checker 500 kilometer race are sold out. What does that tell you about the strength of NASCAR even with some of the issues going on in the day? Very impressive.”
In case you missed it, please take a look at my latest "Business of Racing" video commentary on 1320tv.com. I look back on the sad 2007 NHRA season, and look ahead to the two big issues of 2008:


Thanks to popular California radio personality Joe Benson for the nomination in AutoWriters.com's search for the 100 top automotive blogs, as mentioned in AW.c's November newsletter.

Congratulations to Barry Bronson, Valvoline communications director, elected last week as secretary of ASE (National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence).

I've noticed, for a while, that AP's NASCAR boxscores list winning average speeds in kilometers per hour as well as mph. The Homestead results sheet went a step further, though, showing Matt Kenseth's first-place purse not only in dollars, but also euros. (!) For the record, AP calculated Kenseth's $359,941 converted to euro245,700.

USA Today's Monday odds on the Dancing With the Stars contenders put Helio Castroneves at 8-to-1. The story also called him "the Formula One race car driver . . . "

It was sad to receive news of Bob Holbert's death last week at age 84. Bob was a four-time SCCA national champion and U.S. Road Racing Championship titlist. He stopped racing in 1964 and saw son Al's successful career, which included three Le Mans victories. Al was one of my closest friends -- he recruited me to do the PR for the Quaker State Porsche CART team he ran in 1988 -- and Al died in a private airplane crash in September that year. The Holbert's showroom, in Warrington, Pa., is America's oldest authorized Porsche dealership. Porsche Cars North America President Peter Schwarzenbauer said that Bob "helped establish the Porsche brand in America" and called him "a true American Porsche pioneer.” Indeed.

It's Thanksgiving week, so in that spirit, I'll refrain from naming names of the terrible "PR" people I dealt with (or, in some cases, tried to deal with) in my coverage at PIR. I will say this: There was no legitimate excuse -- none -- for Kyle Busch's boorish behavior upon exiting his hauler after the Cup race. As Busch's handler yelled to reporters, "He doesn't want to talk!," the PR rep (who, apparently, had not thought to educate Kyle beforehand the media would need his comments no-matter-what since he had won the weekend's first two races) stood by and did nothing.

I am thankful, however, to Jim Hunter, Ramsey Poston and Owen Kearns (NASCAR), Judy Dominick (Chevrolet), Bill Janitz (Interstate Batteries/JJ Yeley) and Steve Van Houten (Ford hospitality).

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


DeLana Harvick is one of the more impressive people I've met in the more than four decades I've been in-and-around professional sports.

She grew up in motorsports. DeLana's father, John Paul Linville, drove in NASCAR's Busch Series until 1995. "I was at the racetrack every weekend, so I didn't really do a lot of kid things," she explains. "I didn't do soccer or brownies or anything like that. I was always with my dad at the track."

What's of interest to readers of this blog is DeLana began her racing career as double Busch Series champion Randy LaJoie's public relations representative. "PR is my first love and I think that’s what I do best," she told me.

She married Kevin Harvick in February 2001, less than two weeks after Dale Earnhardt's death. Kevin was suddenly thrust into the national spotlight as owner Richard Childress' choice to take over the white and renumbered No. 29 Goodwrench Chevrolet. He won a thriller at Atlanta just over a week after their wedding.

Kevin Harvick Inc. fields teams in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck and Busch Series. Ron Hornaday Jr. will go for the Truck championship this Friday at Homestead in KHI's Camping World Chevrolet Silverado. KHI has about 80 employees and DeLana's office is in the 70,000 square-foot shop in Kernersville, N.C.

This is part one of our conversation.

Q. Why did you and Kevin decide to start your own team?
A. It started with the Truck. Kevin had never won a Truck race. So, in 2001, we decided to build a Truck, just to go out and race. We had a fifth-wheel trailer and guys who would just come in and help, no employees. The first time we ran we finished second and almost won. That was just more of a prodding, ‘We can do this. We can go out and run these races.’ Kevin finally won in a Truck we built.

It evolved into a full-time Truck team with full-time sponsorship. On the Busch side, someone came to us and said, ‘I’m interested in running some Busch races. Would you want to do that?’ We thought, ‘Yes, sounds like fun.’ That was the beginning of our Busch team. It just grew and evolved from there.

Q. Ron Hornaday Jr. told me you are the "boss." How do you describe your role within KHI?
A. I don’t have a typical 9-5 job. I think I do a pretty good job putting on different hats depending on what the situation calls for. I hope the employees view me as a good sounding board and someone who’s fair.

When you run your own business, sometimes your heart tells you to do one thing, but your head tells you to do another. That’s been the hardest part for me. Especially when it comes to having to let people go, or make tough decisions when it comes to budgets. Really understanding what it takes to run a successful business is not always necessarily what you want to do with your heart.

Q. Do you have a formal title?
A. I think I’m secretary. I think that means I’m the one who signs all the checks. I guess that’s a good title to have. If the trash needs to be emptied, I’ll empty the trash. If the toilet paper needs refilling, I’ll do that. If there’s a sponsor I need to go do hospitality for, I’ll do that. I think, sometimes, when you put formality into it, I don’t like that. I want people who want to be at KHI that are willing to do anything to make it successful and that’s part of what I hope to instill in people who come here is, you can’t do just one thing, and if you’re closed-minded on that, you’re probably not going to be what we need at KHI.

Q. Is this a seven-day-a-week job for you?
A. It depends on what part of the season. Sometimes I’m here from 8-to-8. There’s no one day that’s the same. Sometimes I choose to work from home, depending on what I’ve got lined up for the day. But, again, I never shut it off. My cell phone never goes off. I’m always in contact whether it’s E-mail or phone calls. You can’t step away from this, because if you do, you’re going to miss something.

Q. How did you learn the different aspects of running a racing business?
A. I can’t say I’ve completely learned. I’m learning every day. I think that’s the part that I’m so challenged by. It's not the typical desk job. I’m out on the shop floor listening to competition-related things, listening to marketing and public relations issues, and trying to come up with solutions for everything.

I think my background, being involved in racing from such an early age, I first and foremost was intrigued by the competition part. Then, as I graduated from college and started to work in the business side of the sport, I realized how much more was out there for me to learn. It’s challenging because I don’t do the same thing every day. I’m still learning and trying to get better and I think that’s what continues to drive me.

Q. Do you negotiate directly with Camping World, Dollar General and the other KHI sponsors?
I have a good group who does that but I am involved when it comes to budgets and expenses and portions of the program. That’s the part that I’m most uncomfortable with because, at the end of the day, I want to race to be competitive but the budget is the hard balance. When you’re a competitive person your initial reaction is, ‘I need everything.’ What you have to realize is, you are racing on a budget, and at the end of the day, we have to be successful on what we have coming in. The more support we have coming in, the better, but it’s always a business for the sponsor and it has to make sense for them as well.

Q. Is Richard Childress a resource for you?
A. There’s always an open-door policy with Richard. He’s a good sounding board, but Kevin and I have taken this responsibility of running our teams on our own. We realized from the beginning we had to take baby steps. People assume we’re going to go Cup racing because that’s the next step. That’s not necessarily what we’re interested in. We’re racers. That’s what we do. But we want to have fun.

To me, Cup racing, owning Cup teams, is not necessarily the direction I see KHI going. I would go almost so far as to say that I would likely rule it out. The Cup series is so competitive and if you’re not a multi-car team, almost a powerhouse team, you’re going to struggle. Kevin and I don't necessarily have a life outside of KHI, but I know we wouldn’t have a life outside KHI if we had Cup teams. That’s not really interesting to us.

Coming soon, more with DeLana Harvick, including what she has to say about PR -- including the public image of her sometimes controversial husband.
Let's turn to NHRA for a moment: Please check out my "Business of Racing" video commentary on 1320tv.com. It looks back on 2007 and the two issues that will be foremost going into 2008. Here's the link:
Here are links most of my Arizona Republic stories from last weekend's NASCAR events at Phoenix International Raceway. Please note the first one, a transcript of my exclusive one-on-one conversation with NASCAR Chairman Brian France. Space in Sunday's paper didn't permit me to use it all, so there will be more of this interview in Friday's Republic. And, I'll have more from France in next week's blog:

Brian France Q&A:

The NASCAR Super Teams: http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/1107nascarteams.html

Open-wheel drivers to NASCAR:

JJ Yeley's Race Day:

Busch Series race preview (Carl Edwards):

Craftsman Truck race preview (Mike Skinner-Ron Hornaday Jr.):

Who/What to Watch for at PIR:

Thanks to Claire B. Lang for an enjoyable interview on XM Radio last weekend.

[ more Blogging the Chase next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


DANCING WITH HELIO: The IndyCar Series is pro-active about promoting double Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves in ABC's Dancing with the Stars. A package, with campaign-style sign, T-shirt and "Vote for Helio" letter, was distributed last week. Castroneves and dance partner Julianne Hough were in Indy last Friday to stump for votes. Viewers of the hit show vote for their favorite via a toll-free phone number (1-800-868-3409) or online at www.abc.com. It's good to see the series taking this publicity opportunity as seriously as Helio obviously is the dancing competition!

Despite the smell of nitro in the air, I usually find it refreshing to visit an NHRA Powerade Drag Racing Series event, and last weekend's Auto Club Finals in Pomona was no exception. As broadcaster Paul Page has said to me a few times, from a media and fan standpoint, the atmosphere at NHRA races is what it used to be in CART. For whatever reason, it seems easier to get access to any driver on short-notice, or set up a last-minute meeting, than in any other series.

A main purpose of my trip to Pomona was AARWBA's present-
ation of its Rick Mears
"Good Guy" Award to Gary Scelzi (right). AARWBA offers this honor, on an occasional basis, to show appreciation to a driver for longtime cooperation with the media. We did this Saturday in the Shav Glick Media Center, with a second present-
ation by AARWBA Western VP Susan Wade, during Sunday's pre-race ceremonies. Susan kindly posted video on her 1320tv.com site. To see my introduction, President Dusty Brandel's presentation and Gary's comments, use this link:


As usual, NHRA provided AARWBA with plenty of cooperation. President Tom Compton stopped by for the ceremony. Thanks to NHRA's Jerry Archambeault, Anthony Vestal, Michael Padian and Glen Cromwell to working with me to accomplish what needed to get done. Plus, of course, Judy Stropus of Don Schumacher Racing.

NHRA's new Countdown championship format -- designed to create drama -- worked in Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle. Tony Schumacher and his amazing Don Schumacher Racing Army Top Fuel team did it again, winning the title (his fourth straight) on the last pass of the season. The same for Matt Smith on the bikes. Funny Car was basically decided the previous week at Las Vegas, when Tony Pedregon won, and his three rivals all lost in the first round. That's the downside to a two-race shootout, and I'm among those who think that's not enough racing to settle any title.

Plenty of Business of Racing news came out of Pomona, including:

Budweiser renewed its "official beer" partnership with NHRA, which now will go more than three decades. I'm told the deal is for two years, through 2009, which will match Bud's current sponsorship with Kenny and Brandon Bernstein.

NHRA made a contribution of $2,500 to Pasadena City College in honor of legendary Los Angeles Times sportswriter Shav Glick, who died Oct. 20 at age 87. The college foundation annually presents two $500 scholarships -- The Shav Glick Journalism Scholarship -- to outstanding journalism students who are active members of the college newspaper.

With Geico on notice it will have to wrap-up its sponsorship in what will become NASCAR's Nationwide Series, NHRA jumped on this and signed a multi-year marketing partnership. Geico will continue its sponsorship of Karen Stoffer's bike team.
Controversial questions are unusual on media teleconferences, but there was one last week. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was on the phone with reporters from Atlanta Motor Speedway during his first Hendrick test. Someone asked if Junior felt a responsibility to speak out on military-related issues, since the National Guard will be one of his sponsors next year, and the Navy backs his Busch Series team.

Earnhardt Jr.:

"I'm not in a position to blast opinions on anything like that. I mean, certainly when it comes to knowledge of those various and specific situations that you just spoke of, I'm not intelligent enough about them independently to be able to sit here and think that I would be able to tell a cameraman or a print reporter what I thought should be done.

"You know, what I enjoy doing, I do got some friends in Iraq. One of my buddies just went there recently. I just ask them what they need. They tell me. I try to mail it to them. You know, I think if there's one responsibility, obviously my job with my race team is to try to let young Americans and young adults know that that's an opportunity, to join the Guard, to join the Navy, that that's an opportunity, and try to give them all the information that they can have to make that decision.

"But I feel like, as a citizen of the United States, you know, being able to take some time out of my week to put together a care package to send to a couple of buddies of mine that they can disperse throughout their company and whatnot, that's probably the best thing. I remember being in military school. That was the coolest thing that could happen, when your parents sent you a box of stuff, new socks, candy bars, whatever.

"As ridiculous as that sounds to us, to just be able to walk up to the corner store and pick it up, it's really hard to get over there. You can get an iPod, but you can't download music. The things we take for granted.

"They tell me what the kind of things they wish they had or hadn't thought about bringing over with them, and I try to mail it to them. When we're all on our XM radio show we try to tell our listeners that that's a good exercise for them, too, is just to put a care package together. Takes five minutes. Makes a big, big difference to those guys, the morale over there."
Danica Patrick picked-up some useful publicity for a couple of companies she is endorsing during a New York City PR tour the other week. (Congratulations to whoever pushed the button for that Oct. 25 USA Today piece.) She's been in the IndyCar Series three years and already is being asked how much longer she'll race? Answer: 10 years. As best I could determine in reading about/listening to her, one of Danica's big things right now is trying to launch her own fashion line, plus more beauty-products endorsements.

Here's what I DIDN'T hear: What Danica is doing to make herself a better race car driver! To try to actually WIN a race, not just in the ICS, but anything. Seems to me she could be spending off-season time in various types of cars, keeping her skills sharp, and working to improve her aggression level on starts and restarts. Even if it means spending some of her own money to rent rides/tracks.

THAT would impress me a lot more than what diamond-studded watch she's wearing.
Best wishes to Robert Clarke, the president of Honda Performance Development, who will retire from Honda on June 30, 2008. Effective January 1, Robert will move into an executive advisory role at HPD, as Erik Berkman becomes HPD president. Berkman currently is Executive Engineer, Honda R&D Americas, Inc.

I'll be at Phoenix International Raceway Thursday-Sunday, covering for the Arizona Republic. Please check out the paper or http://azcentral.com/ . Here's a link to my column last Friday:

[ more Blogging the Chase next Tuesday . . . ]