Sunday, October 31, 2010


There's no question the most significant story of the last racing weekend was the death of Jim Hunter. The many tributes to NASCAR's vice president of communications (including naming the Talladega press box in his memory) are all manifestly deserved. It cannot be argued that Hunter will forever be remembered as one of the most important people in the history of NASCAR and I feel sure he will be honored in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. He was a most trusted confident of Bill France Sr. and Jr. and that carried down to following generations of France family members. Jim Hunter was old-school in the best tradition and one of the reasons NASCAR grew into a national sport. I knew Jim for about three decades. On a couple of occasions we were on opposite ends of the motorsports political arena but, unfailingly, our conversations were polite and respectful. In fact, just days after a brief NASCAR-CART turf battle when I was CART's communications director, Jim generously hosted me at a Talladega Cup race. He was a gentleman in the Jim Chapman tradition. Of course, Hunter began his career in journalism, a key factor in his PR successes. Jim always understood the "story" and his example of one-on-one communications with reporters is, very sadly, something that largely is a thing of the past. Phoenix International Raceway President Bryan Sperber recalled Hunter -- author of a book with David Pearson that I read decades ago -- as a wonderful "storyteller" and that is one of the best salutes offered in the aftermath of Hunter's death, from cancer. I will have reason to share more about Hunter in upcoming weeks. For now, I say -- Thank You Jim. Hail and Farewell. And, God Bless.

Saturday was a Halloween Eve Horrow Show at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. I was there for the NHRA Nationals, and I have never, ever, seen such a bizarre day at any racetrack ever. Crash-after-crash, oildown-after-oildown, incident-after-incident resulted in hours-long delays in both qualifying sessions. Pro quals were to wrap around 4:30 p.m. but were still running at 9. I felt sorry for Jeff Wolf, writer-on-deadline, for the Las Vegas Review-Journal!

In a sense, this is the downside to strong car counts, because some of the machines were held together with spit and gum. I respect anyone who wants to be a racer, but . . . There was a lack of professionalism in some cases, and a lack of respect for the sport as a whole. I thought the crowd was very good Saturday and excellent Sunday, but . . . while, there definitely was some GREAT racing (Matt Hagan vs. John Force, 1-2 in Funny Car points, in the finals is one example -- Force won), I don't think four-second bursts of terrific racing can overcome long, terribly long, delays as far as cultivating repeat customers is concerned.

Some well-funded racers had issues, too. Robert Hight got sideways on his last run and failed to qualify. On that same run, Jeff Diehl turned sideways, the throttle stuck, and he had a huge accident. Happily, he walked away. Every drag racing expert I asked, ranging from NHRA "voice" Bob Frey to senior VP of competition Graham Light, said they had never experienced a day like it. I sure haven't, including the most wacko days I've ever spent at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was Example One why drag racing can't have live TV.

This isn't a rip on NHRA, although I continue to believe dropping the fines and point penalties for oildowns was a mistake, and a decision that MUST be reversed. No question NHRA's Safety Safari did the best they could to get the track ready under most trying circumstances. I would say, however, NHRA must make a very careful, round-by-round review -- and not allow regional competitors to return, the ones who have proven they simply can't or won't put a reasonably prepared machine on the track. It was more than lack of budget. There were some who exhibited lazy work, and the result of that lack of work ethic was a terribly embarrassing national event. LVMS said Sunday ticket holders can come back free for this weekend's Lucas finals.

I talked with Light about this late Sunday afternoon. A couple of times he rightful pointed to the stands and said, "Those are the most important people here." He said he did send a couple of teams home. Don't be surprised at some response from NHRA before Pomona. In fact, from a PR standpoint, I'd say there is no choice.

I'm glad none of the accidents ended in injury. Taken as a whole, it was the worst racing event I've ever attended in my life.

P.S. -- Summit Racing Pro Stock team owner Ken Black made his racetrack return following a stroke . . . Nicely done: Video tribute to Jeff Byrd during pre-race ceremonies.

FAST LINES: Entertainment media reports say NBC is developing a NASCAR-themed family drama, The Crew, for the next TV season. NASCAR's cooperation is being sought, including use of logos, etc. To me, the timing doesn't seem too good for such a project, although I understand NASCAR would like the exposure and some revenue. But no one should think this would be the next Days of Thunder. If the TV show bombs, it will be just another talking point on how NASCAR's popularity has gone downhill . . . Congratulations to Paul Page, who recently received the Sagamore of the Wabash, the state of Indiana's highest honor . . . How far have standards of conduct fallen? Look no further than Jon Stewart calling the President of the U.S. "dude" to his face. This lowering of the bar hurts all of us . . . Please look for my NASCAR story in this Sunday's Arizona Republic. Mark Armijo and I will have coverage of the Phoenix International Raceway events all next week. If you're not in the state to buy the paper, check us out on .

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Grand-Am -- remember, now owned by the same holding company that owns NASCAR -- released a 12-race 2011 schedule last week. It was most noteable for what was NOT on the calendar.

Remember the buzz when G-A tested at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in fall 2009? Word was the series would give it a go at the Brickyard. But it didn't happen in 2010 and IMS isn't on the '11 sked.

I say because of the business split between International Speedway Corp. (let's just say ISC is closely aligned with NASCAR) and the IndyCar organization.

All ISC-owned tracks are gone from the '11 IndyCar schedule.

Back on Feb. 6, 2007, after Indy drivers and machines tested on the Daytona road course, I wrote here it "was at least as much about business and politics as it was competition." I said then what was in it for the France family was a G-A race at IMS. I noted such an event "would strike a piercing blow to the rival American Le Mans Series."

But with issues over promotion and sanctioning fee increases, ISC and what is no longer to be called IRL went in different directions. How deep the emotional divide? Watch to see if IMS entertains a new approach from ALMS . . .

It also needs to be observed that Utah's Miller Motorsports Park has no G-A or ALMS dates next year. When I visited MMP last year, shortly after owner Larry Miller's death, I was told by track officials all appropriate arrangements had been made for the track's future. Now, I have to wonder . . .

This also means G-A is ending its season at Mid-Ohio. I say, "Ouch!" Not exactly the big media/marketing area one might wish for to determine champions. I'm going to figure the awards banquet won't be at the Holiday Inn in Mansfield, Ohio.

Tony George, in one of his rare public comments about his ouster from IMS and the Hulman family businesses, admitted he didn't react quickly enough to the economy by cutting expenses. The same can't be said of ISC. Last week, it closed the Daytona 500 Experience and largely completed a corporate reorganization that basically eliminated one whole layer of bureauracy.

FAST LINES: I think I figured out why Al-Anabi is shutting down its Funny Car program and shifting Del Worsham to Top Fuel with Larry Dixon: Toyota must have recalled Worsham's Funny Car, probably something about unintended de-acceleration . . . As if ESPN didn't have enough issues relating to its ratings-challenged NASCAR productions: Two NASCAR know-nothings were assigned to guest host NASCAR Now last week. Fans were left with a former pro wresting mouth to lead a big breaking news story of Kasey Kahne's departure from Richard Petty Motorsports. Following, I suppose, in that proud tradition of racing experts Whit Watson, Kenny Mayne and Rece Davis as rpm2night anchors. Yet, it's been reported that network execs are perplexed why fans aren't watching . . . Shamefully, Speed has been promoting that its announcers will again be in Halloween costumes for the Truck race at Talladega. Too bad no one in executive authority considers this: It's TALLADEGA. How would anyone think Speed microphone holders would have the CREDIBILITY to SERIOUSLY report on the CONSEQUENCES of a Big One wreck that resulted in injury or death? That would be impossible. Fortunately, I'll be at the NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas and won't be watching . . . It's only six points between Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin with four races to go. Will THAT boost the TV ratings?
Last week I noted that MSNBC has a new slogan: "Lean Forward." I suggested "Bend Over" would be more appropriate. Wishing to be of further help, I have some additional suggestions:

* MSNBC: Our Hosts Are Off Their Meds!

* MSNBC: Where America Is Always Wrong

* MSNBC: Rev. Jeremiah Wright's Favorite Network

* MSNBC: All Together Now -- Tax and Spend! Tax and Spend!! Tax and Spend!!!

* MSNBC: When We're Not Watching Ourselves, We're Listening to NPR

* MSNBC: Coming Soon -- Woody Paige on Sports!

* MSNBC: If you liked 'Network,' You'll Love Us!

Or, my No. 1 pick:

* MSNBC: We're Obama's Monica!

P.S. -- The back-and-forth in the cable news wars took another twist with Fox News Channel debuting its new promo spots. The tagline? "Move Forward." While MSNBC's feature images of Jimmy Carter, the Clintons and Barack Obama, Fox's showcase Ronald Reagan.

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, October 17, 2010


I'm one of those people who, because of life experience, tends to be more wary than welcoming of surprises. But two phone calls last week were the happy exception to my personal rule.

The first call came from sprint car Hall of Famer Casey Luna. It was followed, a few hours later, by one from Bob Baker. Bob is the executive director of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum, in Knoxville, Iowa. The Hall is right on the property of the track where the great Knoxville Nationals are staged each summer. That's the Indy, Daytona, Super Bowl of sprint car racing.

After some conversation and an E-mail exchange, Baker invited me to join the national induction committee to nominate and vote on candidates for the Hall. Following some due diligence, I accepted.

There are 72 committee members, 18 in each of four geographic regions. Bob said there was an opening in the western region and asked me to fill it.

It is, of course, an honor. Sprint cars found their way into my racing consciousness at an early age. I'm old enough to have enjoyed the glory days of the "Gary (Bettenhausen) and Larry (Dickson) Show" in USAC's mighty sprint division. Pancho Carter on the high banks was thrilling. When I worked in Philadelphia, I enjoyed the skills of the late Dick Tobias. I'm glad to say I knew Jan Opperman a little and will always be glad he had a shot at Indianapolis. Ditto Greg Weld. When Robin Miller gave his top-10 list of sprint car drivers a few months ago on Wind Tunnel, I wrote him to say I was disappointed he didn't include Greg. Now being an Arizona resident, I still am saddened by the demise of Manzanita, where so many young names got famous. I was there, along with Mark Armijo and Jamie Reynolds, for the World of Outlaws last run at Manzy last year and shared a few words of remembrance with Steve Kinser before the heats.

One thing I've long known and respected about sprint car drivers -- given the high horsepower and brutish nature of the machines and many of the tracks: They are BRAVE people.

The Outlaws are concluding a terrific season that has showcased the closest championship fight in history, with Jason Meyers, Kinser, Joey Saldana and Donny Schatz. Kinser had neck surgery before the year's first green flag and Saldana has come through a hand injury and a concussion. In my opinion, the Outlaws are not just the "Greatest Show on Dirt." They are the best show in American motorsports.

Anyway, it's most rewarding to be asked. As I promised Bob Baker, I'll give it my best consideration, as the process to pick 2011 Hall inductees begins. I know it will be a challenge. To learn more about the Hall, go to .

FAST LINES: I also have a vote for NHRA's Auto Club Road to the Future (rookie of the year) award. Honestly, that choice is easy this season . . . Good idea: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway put 33 winning cars on the front straight for a 100th anniversary race photo session (left). Bad idea: They did it on a TUESDAY. Why not on a weekend when the public could come out and enjoy the historic scene? (And maybe sell a few tickets) . . . I see a pattern in the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting -- David Pearson should have been in the first class, and Cale Yarborough should have been in the second class . . . To me, all the media hand-wringing about Darrell Waltrip not getting in was disrespectful to the chosen five. Even more out-of-line was all the campaigning for DW on Speed. Votes for honors such as the Hall of Fame should NOT be campaigns. I know it's a negative for me, as a voter for several racing honors, when someone overtly arm-twists for my vote. I said before the first NASCAR class was chosen that DW should go in the third year. It's true he's one of those who helped elevate NASCAR to the next level but it's also true he diminished his career with the very sad "Victory" retirement tour, during which he criticized his own sponsor, Kmart, and forced NASCAR to limit past champion provisional starts . . . I was disturbed by the way some involved with the Hall activities dressed. To me, it was a no-brainer suit-and-tie occasion -- minimum a sports jacket. The Hall, and what it represents, deserves a certain level of respect and that includes attire. It's a reflection of our society's dumbed-down standards some people came as they did. If NASCAR, which specifies attire for the Sprint Car awards, has to do the same for Hall activities, well, so be it . . . Now that ESPN is back into full gushing-over-Danica mode, I expect they'll nominate her for the NASCAR Hall . . . Good luck to my friend Herb Branham, new Grand-Am managing director of communications . . . Sub hosting on Wind Tunnel, Robin Miller asked what driver you'd pay to watch. My all-time list would include Jimmy Clark, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Jackie Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, John Force, Jan Opperman, Rick Mears, Bobby Unser, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon, Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Emerson Fittipaldi, Cale Yarborough, Parnelli Jones, Steve Kinser, Al Unser Jr., Michael Andretti, Gilles Villeneuve, Shirley Muldowney, Don Prudhomme, Bobby Allison and that's 25 who immediately come to mind. But, in any era, my No. 1 choice is clear: Alex Zanardi. You could see his passion even at 200-plus mph at Michigan. His 1996 "The Pass" of Bryan Herta on the last lap at Laguna Seca will always be the stuff of legend. It's very meaningful to me that Alex gave me the helmet he was wearing that day and it's on display in my office . . . MSNBC has a new slogan: "Lean Forward." A better choice for the nut job network would have been: "Bend Over" . . . Sad news of the death of long-time NASCAR writer Jack Flowers. I conducted plenty of business with Jack over the years and it was always pleasant and entertaining. And, my friend Beth Tuschak, the former USA Today and Detroit News racing writer. It was a great professional achievement for me to have the USAT cover story on its Memorial Day special racing section for three consecutive years (1991 -- the Andrettis; 1992 -- Paul Newman/Carl Haas; 1993 -- Nigel Mansell), all written by Beth. And Jeff Byrd, who I first met when he worked on the various RJR/Winston sponsorships. Thanks for all you did. God Bless.

Here's a link to my October "Drags, Dollars & Sense" column on Competition I offer a few suggestions for NHRA's 60th anniversary season in 2011:

What a disgrace -- but it tells us everything about today's media mentality. Read this AFP report on the media mob in Chile as the miners were rescued:

SAN JOSE MINE, Wednesday 13 October 2010 (AFP) - The joy of family members of the first miner to be rescued in Chile Wednesday turned suddenly to horror when hundreds of journalists trampled their humble tent in a mad rush to speak to them.

The chaos and jostling marred what had been a celebratory moment shared by the relatives of Florencio Avalos, the 31-year-old miner who was the first of the 33 to be winched to the surface.
Moments before Avalos stepped out of the rescue cage to hug his son and wife, and President Sebastian Pinera and other officials, the family had been surrounded in their tent on all sides by walls of cameras and journalists.

But when Avalos appeared on the television they were watching, to cheers, applause and horns throughout the camp where the miners' families were staying, the news workers rushed forward as one to capture the historic moment.

Avalos's father Alfonso, tears running down his face, said: "It's a huge joy. I'm so happy."

Then, as Alfonso hugged his wife Maria Silva, things turned ugly.

Reporters pushed and shoved to be the first to interview them, pulling on the hair of those in the way, throwing punches and almost knocking others to the ground.

The family retreated, and a frightened-looking Maria angrily hit out at journalists close to her with the Chilean flag bunched in her hand.

But the media mob, five-deep, kept advancing, crushing furniture and finally toppling the family's humble tent.

Two Chilean police officers watched from nearby but did not step in.

Finally, the media crowd dispersed.

I call on the executives of media organizations who had representatives on site to investigate. If any of their people were involved in this incident, they should be fired.

P.S. I -- From an image standpoint, I couldn't help but notice government officials made sure the miners were clean-shaven and had fresh clothes for their moment in the world spotlight. From a media standpoint, Chile closely stage-managed the rescue.

P.S. II -- MSNBC "Screwball" host Chris Matthews said that if the miners had been Tea Party believers, “they would have been killing each other after about two days." The twisted context here apparently was that the TP believes in self-reliance. This is what passes for "insight," "analysis" and "intelligent debate" on cable.

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Any port in a storm.

I was reminded of that ancient adage the other day upon receipt of a news release on Richard Petty Motorsports' newest sponsor.

It's none other than Perky Jerky, described as an "ultra-premium" brand that combines the power of an energy drink with beef jerky. PJ now also is the official jerky of the Daytona 500 and all ISC tracks.

No disrespect to PJ, but this does show us -- again -- how the racing sponsorship scene has changed so dramatically. The motorsports industry -- as with the country -- is in an economic storm so, these days, no one can afford to be picky and is happy to make port with whatever sponsorship can be located. Yes, NASCAR's history includes Goody's as well as Goodyear and Goodwrench, but it was only a couple of years ago a business the size of PJ probably would have had enough budget for Trucks, not Cup.

Think about it: Even mighty Budweiser only signed-on for a partial season deal with Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress. Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick still haven't announced the sponsorship lineup for Gordon's iconic No. 24 in 2011. The Roger Penske Cup and Nationwide teams have sponsorship issues and reductions are on the table. So many Nationwide and Truck teams are so thinly sponsored that any day now I expect vastly reduced fields.

So, welcome, Perky Jerky. Your entry into NASCAR, however, is a clear $ign of the economic time$.

Book It: With a 12-for-12 record in the final round, and a Top Fuel championship all-but in his pocket, Larry Dixon is the Driver of the Year. Or, at least, he should be, if NASCAR-centric media voters are paying attention.

Randy Bernard doesn't want "Indy Racing League" used any more, correctly noting its negative heritage in the bitter and destructive CART/Champ Car-IRL split. I agree with him.

Now, how to banish "IRL" to the ashbin of history? Here's a useful place to start: His series' hometown Indianapolis Star, which continues to use "IRL" as boilerplate several places on its website -- including the "expert" section. Randy, you might pick up the phone, and ask them to trouble themselves to make the change.

Or, am I the only one to notice? If so, glad to be of service in pointing this out.

FAST LINES: It was important and proper for Jim Utter to point out last week on that NASCAR's TV numbers are down about a quarter from last year after three Chase races. A fact that should be a flashing red light to whoever NASCAR hires as its Chief Communications Officer . . . Since ESPN is in a cost-cutting mode, here's a suggestion: Trade Woody Paige to MSNBC, where he'd be most comfortable with the other nut jobs. Maybe some day I'll relate here how Paige's negativity and egomania, uninfluenced by any bothersome reporting or fact gathering, nearly triggered a sponsor revolt during the first version of CART's Denver street race . . . I can't wait for the day when ESPN gets back the rights for baseball's divisional post-season games. TBS = Terrible Baseball Storytelling. It was most obvious David Aldridge (an NBA guy who probably was fantasizing about the Miami Heat) didn't know what questions to ask -- or how to ask them -- to Roy Halladay after the Phillies' ace pitched a no-hitter against the Reds. After that performance, Aldridge should have gotten the hook for the rest of the series. He'd fit right in with the Versus IndyCar pit-road bunch or could do the Indy 500 winner's interview for ABC . . . And, for those who have asked, no, Jon Beekhuis vs. Jack Arute isn't in the same galaxy as the Bobby Unser vs. Sam Posey glory days in ABC's CART booth . . . The all-new National Speed Sport News website is worth checking out: Much easier on the eyes design and the centerpiece of publisher Corinne Economaki's aggressive digital strategy to deliver news, features and opinion 24/7. NSSN Mobile coming soon . . . Yeah, right: Disgraced former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer -- desperate to draw any following for his train-wreck of a new CNN show -- claims to be a NASCAR fan. I bet his only interest would be in filing suit for environmental damage at race sites. Go ahead on put a countdown clock on Spitzer's show -- and so-called "conservative" Kathleen Parker (anti-Sarah Palin) should feel humiliated by her role in what might be TV's version of Ishtar. CNN letting Paula Zahn go in this same time slot now looks like the dumbest TV move this side of ABC hiring foreign sympathizer Christiane Amanpour to host This Week. No surprise, ratings have tanked since both changes . . . I suspect CNN is a good candidate as Katie Couric's next career stop, in part because of the Spitzer-Parker disaster, and because there is no way CBS is going to offer anything close to her current $15 mil a year deal when Couric's contract ends next year. The going-rate for last-place anchors of a failed newscast is a lot less.

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, October 03, 2010


Things I'm thinking when not thinking about stories for next month's NASCAR weekend at Phoenix International Raceway . . .

* Congratulations to Dario Franchitti on winning the IndyCar title. But that new Izod trophy ranks as the most unappealing piece of championship hardware in American sports. It's so scary ugly it should have been unveiled at a Halloween party. The thing comes close to making my stomach turn. Wood? That's something you won't find on the Stanley Cup or Vince Lombardi Trophy. Didn't the ICS retain approval rights on the design? How could it possibly have OK'd it? This monstrosity should be withdrawn like the NASCAR wing.

* Proving again that Izod needs a Jim Chapman.

* Say what you will about NASCAR's TV partners, but it's impossible -- impossible -- to imagine any of them waiting 24 minutes to interview the championship-contending drivers at the start of the final race of the season. But that's what Versus did Saturday night. In as unprofessional a production decision as I can ever remember, the deadly-dull pre-race show went from Helio Castroneves to Scott Dixon to Indy Lights to support series to a series sponsor exec to a tech feature to rookies before we first heard from Dario Franchitti at about the 24-minute mark. Will Power wasn't interviewed until about 31 minutes in. The reason anyone might have had to watch was to see who would win the title and yet the misguided producers didn't put the championship rivals up-front? Grade it an F minus. I urge Randy Bernard to do a focus group of non-fans and have them watch the Versus pre-shows and see how many people are more interested in watching the race as a result. Here's what he'd find: The Versus pre-race shows are more effective than Ambien. If this is allowed to continue in 2011, well, just forget the whole thing . . .

* And, for a series that likes to promote its use of 100 percent fuel-grade ethanol, I can't help but notice how many people on TV say "gas."

* ESPN is reorganizing its communications structure in a cost-cutting move. Mark Mandel and George McNeilly are leaving instead of moving to Bristol, Conn., while Andy Hall will work from a home office. I could easily suggest egoist talking heads and arrogant production people who could go, wouldn't be missed, save budget, and would make the network a more legitimate news organization.

* Sprint needs a Jim Chapman.

* Honestly, now, is there anyone out there who really thought Richard Childress Racing's appeal had a chance?

* Nationwide needs a Jim Chapman.

* The Ryder Cup is the most overblown event in sports. Let's see -- The teams require clothing for evening social gatherings. They need different (and ugly) uniforms for the opening ceremony, day one, day two, day three, rain gear, the closing ceremonies. Please . . . And I think there was more talk about "rookies" than in the entire history of the Indianapolis 500.

* Camping World needs a Jim Chapman.

* Michael Waltrip's been praising Trevor Bayne all season as a phenom, but now, has let him go? There's got to be a most interesting back story here beyond what we've been told. No doubt Brad Daugherty will let us know.

* Full Throttle needs a Jim Chapman.

* Why is it I think there's more than meets-the-eye to the Al-Anabi shift out of Funny Car and to two Top Fuelers? The way it was the team had a chance to win twice at each event.

* Rolex needs a Jim Chapman.

* Raise your hand if you know what type of eco-fuel was used by each of the Petit Le Mans class winners. Bonus points if you know the names of the winning drivers. No, I didn't think so . . .

* Remember this the next time some local media outlet presents its "Best Of" list. In naming Danica Patrick the "Best Sports Babe," the Phoenix New Times described her as "the only woman seriously competing in professional motor sports these days . . ." Nice research. Ever heard of Ashley Force Hood, Melanie Troxel, or another Scottsdaler, Simona De Silvestro?

* Why are lawyers viewed as residing on the underbelly of American society? Two words say it all: Gloria Allred.

* I've said here several times that Rick Sanchez is a journalistic sleezebag and he proved it to the world last week and was fired by CNN.

[ more next Monday . . . ]