Last week's announcement, via media teleconference, that NASCAR and its TV partners have agreed to earlier and more uniform starting times for 2010 Sprint Cup races was a welcome sign that the Powers-That-Be are listening to "real fans" -- as well as reading the ratings. (The memory of last February's rain-shortened season-starting-dud of a Daytona "500" remains strong after the Fox-mandated, ticket-buying public insulting, 3:42 p.m. EST green flag.)
NASCAR's release included this: "In making the decision . . . NASCAR consulted its Fan Council, comprised of 12,000 avid fans who serve as a sounding board on important topics."
Good. Now it's time to take the next step.
In August, the hottest action was not found on any NASCAR, NHRA or IRL track. It was in countless political Town Hall meetings, as American citizens exercised their Constitutional right to assemble and be heard by their so-called "representatives" in Washington, D.C. (Except in places like where I am, Scottsdale, Ariz., where our Democrat Congressman Harry Mitchell was afraid to come out in public and only connected with voters via a teleconference.)
I say NASCAR, as well as IRL and NHRA, should have their own Town Halls -- with "real fans" -- before the year is over.
NASCAR should have two -- Texas and Homestead make sense from a logistical and geographic standpoint. I bet SPEED would provide its stage for Brian France, Mike Helton and Jim Hunter. Some car owners, drivers and sponsor reps also should participate. NHRA could do this at Pomona before its Full Throttle finale, and ESPN2 has the platform for its pre-race show to offer Tom Compton, Graham Light and Jerry Archambeault. Whatever IndyCar Series fans who might still be out there could be invited to the Brickyard Crossing in the next few weeks to interact with whoever will, by then, be running the show at the League and the Speedway. I realize it might be tough to get top-name drivers to attend, since an American has not won a series race since Ryan Hunter-Reay at Watkins Glen -- in July of LAST year.
Such Town Halls would make good business sense and certainly would be a PR hit with those who actually spend money on tickets, concessions and souvenirs. I'm sure they would generate a nice slice of positive media coverage, too.
The only two unknowns are: 1) Who will man-up to the challenge? 2) Who will make excuses not to hear from the customers?
In a year of weak-tea pit reporting being passed-off as bourbon, add Chris Neville's interview with Roger Penske during Saturday's Grand-Am finale at Homestead. Twice, while talking to Penske, SPEED's Neville said he "hoped" Roger's Rolex Series team would return in 2010. Hey, Chris, why didn't you ASK Roger -- yes or no -- if he was coming back? (!) Fans deserve better, and it's long-past time for the sanctioning organizations to demand it from their TV "partners."
Interview request: I would dearly love to talk with the Pepsi person responsible for making successful the sponsorship of last weekend's Pepsi 500 at Auto Club (California) Speedway. As part of the track's new policy to charge journalists for media-center meals (and, I say again, providing food is a courtesy, not an obligation), the options available to non-payers were the coffee pot and bottled water. PR Kindergarten should have taught someone, anyone, that comp Pepsi for reporters covering the Pepsi 500 was so obvious as to not even need to be mentioned. I'd call this dumb, but I don't want to insult dumb people . . . That sound I heard Sunday wasn't engines revving, but PR giants like Jim Chapman, Jack Duffy, Bill Dredge and Dick Ralstin -- who understood real PR centered around developing good one-on-one relationships with journos -- calling down from heaven, "Don't do it!"
Here's a link to my new "All Business" column in the October Drag Racing Online.com:
Gil de Ferran did his second retirement the same way as his first. Saturday, at Laguna Seca, he started on pole and won the ALMS finale in his self-owned Acura. In 2003, that's how Gil wrapped his IndyCar career -- pole and win at Texas Motor Speedway. It doesn't matter if you're a NASCAR or NHRA fan, you should listen to the smart things Mr. Gil said on The Race Reporters last week. Here's the show link:
The American Media, October 7, 2009: Today -- produced by NBC's NEWS division, had its "journalists" dress-up in 1970s style. Why? To mark the 35th anniversary of People magazine.
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.
November 4 -- Mark Kent (GM Racing manager). Panelists: Bob Pockrass, Greg Zyla. Plus, Dave (The King) Wilson.
[ Bryan Sperber news nugget Thursday . . . ]