Sunday, October 04, 2009


I will consider it a great pleasure to welcome Gil de Ferran (left, photo courtesy of Dan R. Boyd) to The Race Reporters on Wednesday, 7 p.m., on the Power Up Channel. (Click on show logo in right-hand column to listen.)

I had the joy of working with Mr. Gil for two years in CART. He's one of the smartest -- and nicest -- people I've ever met. Ten years ago, I wrote a column calling him "The Most Interesting Man in Motorsports." It was true then, when we talked about issues ranging from world affairs to U.S. politics to gun control to movies to TV production and ratings. And, it's true now, as he prepares to retire from driving for the second time.

I'll let you in on a secret: Even when he captured consecutive CART championships in 1997 and 1998, Alex Zanardi thought de Ferran was Honda's true favorite son.

After winning two PPG Cups and the 2003 Indianapolis 500, and increasingly concerned about the IRL's pack racing format, de Ferran retired. The record shows that, at that last event, at Texas Motor Speedway, he took the pole and race victory. A brief stint as an ABC/ESPN commentator followed but then Honda offered the opportunity to Gil to be sporting director of its Formula One team. One of Gil's key hires was Rubens Barrichello, now contending for the world championship for Ross Brawn, who took over the Honda team this season.

He returned last year as owner-driver to help develop Acura's ALMS P1 class car. With four wins this season, he has an outside shot at the championship in Saturday's finale at Laguna Seca. Since I passionately believe that, once a driver retires, he should never get back in a car, I'll be happy when the checkered flag waves. I'm hoping the story will end the same way it did at Texas six years ago.

Mike Harris and Gordon Kirby, who have covered all of Gil's career in America, will join me for the journalists' roundtable. They'll stay on as we talk with Gil in two segments in the show's second half-hour.

Let me say this once again: Hiding behind an E-mail is no substitute for the personal communication of a telephone call. Especially when it comes to media relations.

I'm not going to get into specifics, but I had two bad experiences last week. In one, the response to a long-scheduled but botched interview was a weak E from an experienced publicist. Only when I called him out on that did I get a phone call. In the other case, a lesser experienced person admitted to a bad bit of mis-scheduling, but at least she called right away when she realized the problem. It was a major hassle, took a lot of effort, but we worked out a solution.

To showbiz and society publicists, getting on the New York Post's Page Six is like going to Mecca. How to do that? Some tips that apply elsewhere, too:

Mike Kerchner, National Speed Sport News senior editor, commented on the Juan Pablo Montoya satellite TV fiasco on TRR. I give the last word to what was in Chris Economaki's notebook last week (and I agree):

"Drivers tend to stick around when television is involved. Montoya didn’t. But when it comes to print media, it is common for drivers — and their public relations representatives — not to show up, to be late and to not return phone calls."

The American Media: September 23, 2009: The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner headline caption with a photo of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's speech in Hong Kong -- "A Broad in Asia." (The paper printed an apology.)

The American Media, October 2, 2009: The NBC/MSNBC and CNN coverage of Chicago's failed bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. It represented cheerleading at its worst and lazily not bothering to educate themselves about the byzantine machinations of International Olympic Committee politics. Just a couple of hours before the IOC eliminated Chicago on the first ballot, Natalie Morales said on MSNBC from Copenhagen, "It's Chicago's to lose." She added, "It's Chicago's time" and rattled on about President Obama's "rock star" appearance at the IOC meeting and how IOC members "rushed" to meet Obama. (Based on media reports, I thought the world loved U.S. now that George W. Bush is out of office and Obama is in.) A perfect example of why all the surveys show the public's greatly diminished confidence and trust in what the media reports.

Upcoming The Race Reporters guests:
(Show is live Wednesdays at 7 p.m. EDT, downloadable, and available on-demand at no cost. Click on TRR page logo in upper right-hand column.)

October 14 -- Bryan Sperber (president, Phoenix International Raceway). Panelists: Terry Blount, Ron Lemasters Jr.

October 21 -- Antron Brown. Panelists: Larry Henry, Bobby Bennett, Corinne Economaki.

October 28 -- A.J. Allmendinger. Panelists: Dave Kallmann, Lewis Franck. Plus, Paul Page.

[ Gil de Ferran news nugget Thursday . . . ]