Monday, January 24, 2011


MY FAVORITE: Mainly for nostalgic reasons, my "best" pick at Barrett-Jackson was the 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Indianapolis 500 pace car model, because that was the year I attended my first I500. In the background is the version of the 2011 pace car.

Last week I wrote that the Big Events of 2011 will truly be Big in helping us evaluate the health of the Business of Racing. The first on my list was the 40th anniversary Barrett-Jackson collector car auction here in Scottsdale. I saw my friend Joe Amato, the NHRA Top Fuel legend, out at B-J Friday (he was a buyer) and Joe wasn't kidding when he said the event "is a happening."

Calling Barrett-Jackson a car show is like calling the Super Bowl a football game. Oh, yes, it's so much more. (The program book was a massive 338 pages.) It is quite something to walk the long vendor areas where everything from clothing, jewelry, furniture, photos, paintings and even financial planning services can be had. In the three days I was out there, I saw the big crowds at many of these booths, although it was impossible to determine if sales were up or down. The weather was Arizona Chamber of Commerce perfect.

I asked Amato about the state of the collector car business and he described sales as "about flat" from last year. Whatever the $$$ numbers, it was impossible not to be impressed with the crowds, and the enthusiasm.

I thought Ford and Bridgestone had the best display areas. The cars, of course, are the stars of the show, but in cruising around and seeing all there was to see, I was reminded again that the auto industry and motorsports are a PEOPLE business. Among those I saw and talked with were Mike Helton, Rick Hendrick, Rusty Wallace, Linda Vaughn and Jim McGee. On Wednesday, Lyn St. James hosted a panel discussion, headlined by Melanie Troxel. In perhaps a signal that the racing economy is getting slightly better, Melanie (now single and relocated to Atlanta) told me her team is committed to the full NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car schedule, even though the In-N-Out Burger sponsorship is limited to their markets. Melanie's team is switching to Toyota bodywork even though the automaker hasn't yet stepped-up with technical help -- which, along with marketing support, it should do.

The theme of the panel discussion was taking advantage of opportunities. And that reminded me of the two other Big Events I referenced last week -- the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500.

By all accounts I've read, the Big Daytona test last week was successful, and helped generate some useful buzz for NASCAR and the Feb. 20 race. Opportunity seized. On the other hand, last Thursday, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway unveiled its Camaro pace car at Barrett-Jackson. I would have been interested in that, but no phone call from the newly-recast IMS PR department to make sure I was aware of the event. Opportunity lost. Either the bean-counting going on in Indy is such they can't afford to make a phone call, or the "publicists" don't know how to get publicity. To me, this is yet another flashing red-light signal that the Speedway is racing toward the 100th anniversary running of the I500 in reverse gear.

Last Thursday was one of those very interesting days that people in the journalism business can experience. Early afternoon, and unexpectedly, I was provided with a copy of a lengthy letter sent by a Washington, D.C., law firm to the IRS. The letter, sent on behalf of an unnamed client, requested an IRS review of NHRA's status under the tax code. I was the first in the media to call NHRA for comment. Because of schedule conflicts, I couldn't write the full story, but editor Bobby Bennett did interview the lawyer, and mobilized Jon Asher and Stan Creekmore to contribute to this potentially huge story. Here's the link:

FAST LINES: If his new pairing with crew chief Alan Gustafson doesn't produce wins, maybe Jeff Gordon should audition to replace the retiring Regis Philbin. Live with Kelly and Jeff ? . . . Jeanne Zelasko. From Fox NASCAR and baseball coverage to Judge Joe Brown . . . For the first time in my 40 years as a National Speed Sport News subscriber, Chris Economaki's name isn't on the editor's notebook. Last week's column began with this: "With Ye Ed’s 90th birthday in the rearview mirror and an aching knee limiting travel, we are going to hand over more of the space in this column to our younger and more active contributors. We will continue to contribute news and insight to the Speed Sport Notebook, but our many capable in-the-field representatives will do the heavy lifting" . . . Maybe, just maybe, there is hope that Comcast will clean up the MSNBC mess, even though the spinners say new majority owner-to-be Comcast didn't make the call to remove Keith Obermann. I'm not buying that. But with Olbermann's protector, NBC Universal boss Jeff Zucker, out the door perhaps this was inevitable. However it happened, it's good news for journalism. Zucker's place in J's Hall of Shame is guaranteed, as he imposed his personal left-wing politics and the desire to get government contracts for GE, to replace journalism's time-honored standards. Olbermann's reckless and irresponsible rants did more to contribute to the inflamed tone in America's political discourse than anyone else -- he didn't allow a contrary voice on his show. Say what you will about Fox News, and I've expressed my criticisms here, those hosts do have guests with opposing views, even if sometimes they are props to boost the host's ego. One thing that troubled me the most in the Olbermann exit reporting was that Bob Costas has been a great cheerleader of O, and that will now always make me view Costas' own reporting in a very different light.

The sheriff of Arizona's Pima County broke every rule in the crisis communications book in his news conference hours after the shootings in Tucson. This guy's ego was clearly out of control in front of the national TV cameras, but he either ignored good advice from his public affairs officer, who didn't get good advice. There are ONLY THREE POINTS to address at a news conference in such a situation. THREE. I wonder how many racing team, sponsor, track and sanctioning body PR directors can name those THREE things? Not more than a handful, I bet.

[ more next Monday . . . ]