Sunday, November 14, 2010



Jim Hunter, NASCAR’s vice president of corporate communications who died Oct. 30, today was announced as winner of the 2010 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations.

The Chapman Award is considered by many in the industry as the highest honor in racing public relations. It is named in memory of Chapman, the legendary PR executive and innovator, who worked with Babe Ruth and was named Indy Car racing’s “most influential man” of the 1980s. Chapman died in 1996 at age 80.

The announcement was made before today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway by Michael Knight, chairman of the selection committee, and one of Chapman’s closest friends. The award is determined by vote of media members, most of whom knew Chapman, and is authorized by the Chapman family. PR representatives from all forms of motorsports are eligible for consideration.

Knight said the committee selected Hunter for the honor a few weeks before his death.

“We had hoped to make this presentation in December, as part of NASCAR’s Champion’s Week celebration in Las Vegas,” said Knight, the longtime journalist/publicist.

“In several important ways, Jim Hunter’s career mirrored that of Jim Chapman’s. Most importantly, both deeply believed in the ‘old-school’ approach to working with the media – that it was essential to build one-on-one relationships with journalists. That’s too often missing today, but both Jims understood the value of actually talking to people and getting to know them, and that having those professional relationships best served their clients.”

Hunter’s career as a journalist and PR professional spanned portions of six decades. He was the Columbia Record sports editor, writer at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and author of several books. He began in PR in the 1960s with Dodge’s racing programs before stints as PR director at both Darlington Raceway and Talladega Superspeedway. He joined NASCAR as vice president of administration in 1983. In 1993, Hunter was named president of Darlington Raceway and corporate VP of International Speedway Corp. He returned to NASCAR as VP of corporate communications in 2001. He died of cancer at age 71.

Chapman started as sports editor or managing editor of several Southern newspapers before joining the New York Times. He served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. He entered the PR business in 1946, as regional PR director for Ford Motor Co. in Detroit.

Soon thereafter, Chapman hired Ruth as consultant to the automaker’s sponsorship of American Legion Junior Baseball. They traveled together for more than two years for personal appearances and became close friends. Chapman was one of only three friends at Ruth’s bedside when he died in August 1948.

In 1950, Chapman left Ford to start his own PR firm. One of his first clients was Avis founder Warren Avis. Chapman devoted much of his time to financial PR, which he once called his “favorite form of PR,” and helped companies get recognition among analysts and even gain admission to the New York and American stock exchanges.

Chapman’s first venture into motorsports was in 1951, when he joined with NASCAR founder Bill France to promote the Motor City 250. The race was part of Detroit’s 250th birthday celebration, a Chapman client. In 1967, Chapman entered Indy Car racing with client Ozzie Olson’s Olsonite sponsorship of Dan Gurney’s team, which later featured Bobby Unser as driver.
“Jim was one of the most innovative and imaginative PR men ever to grace a pit lane,” said Gurney. “Jim practically invented most of what is now considered routine sponsor PR work. He was the first, as far as I know, who thought of putting up a sponsor hospitality tent alongside a racetrack (at the old Riverside Raceway), filling it with extravagant race car ice-sculptures, beautiful food and beautiful people from the business, sports and movie industries. He started an ‘open house’ tradition in Ozzie’s hotel suite in Indianapolis, where journalists could rub shoulders with John Wayne or (astronaut) Scott Carpenter.”

Chapman also coordinated Olsonite’s sponsorship of the Driver of the Year award, orchestrating an annual luncheon at New York City’s famed ‘21’ Club.

Chapman’s greatest professional acclaim came from 1981-1992, as director of CART series sponsor PPG Industries’ program. Chapman was instrumental in raising PPG’s prize fund from $250,000 to more than $3.75 million at the time of his retirement in February 1993. The all-female PPG Pace Car Driving Team was another Chapman innovation, as were the PPG Editor’s Days, when he brought business and feature writers to the tracks for lunch, pace car rides, and driver interviews.

Indy Car Racing magazine named Chapman the sports’s “most influential” man of the 1980s, saying he turned “a public relations assignment into an art form.” After his retirement, Chapman continued to consult PPG, and agreed to Mario Andretti’s personal request that he serve as honorary chairman of Andretti’s “Arrivederci, Mario” farewell tour in 1994.

“The true honor of the award is not the plaque,” said Knight. “The true honor is having your name forever associated with that of the great James P. Chapman.”


1991 – Michael Knight
1992 – Tom Blattler
1993-94 – Deke Houlgate and Hank Ives
1995 – Kathi Lauterbach
1996 – Marc Spiegel
1997 – Mike Zizzo
1998 – Tamy Valkosky
1999-2003 – (Award not presented)
2004 – Doug Stokes
2005 – Susan Arnold
2006 – Kevin Kennedy
2007 – Dave Densmore and Bob Carlson
2008 – Judy Stropus
2009 – (Award not presented)

In a terrible, terrible decision by World Racing Group, World of Outlaws PR director Tony Veneziano was let go after the Outlaws' season. Tony's assistance to the media -- me included -- was always rapid and reliable. I would recommend him to anyone.

Here are links to some of my Arizona Republic stories from the past week, on NASCAR at PIR:

* Wednesday notebook -- Keselowski gets Penske to open up

* Thursday notebook -- Change, conflict, controversy good for PIR business

* Thursday feature -- Danica's first Valley race in five years

* Friday notebook -- Economy doesn't keep Bodine down

* Friday -- 5 Q&As with NASCAR fan Sen. Jon Kyl

* Saturday notebook -- Chevy to Indy could give Danica more options

* Saturday -- Bowyer wins Truck race; Bodine takes title

* Sunday notebook -- PIR likely to undergo dramatic change

* Sunday Newsmaker Q&A -- NASCAR President Mike Helton

* Sunday -- Carl Edwards wins Nationwide series race

The American Media, Nov. 11, 2010: On Veterans Day, the New York Stock Exchange paused for a moment of silence and the playing of taps before the opening bell. Fox News showed it live. CNBC thought it was a good time to show commercials.

[ more next Monday . . . ]