Sunday, March 25, 2012


The IndyCar season began last weekend, after an off-season during which we learned that a track can be too good for racing (something I've never heard before having been in the sport for more than four decades), that Dallara's quality control systems aren't what they should be, that the car builder doesn't have the respect of its suppliers the way one would expect, that there are new rules and rules makers (and judges), and that the financial viability of many events isn't sound -- especially oval races.

The Big Talking Point for 2012 is engine manufacturer competition. Chevrolet won Round 1, in St. Pete, with Helio Castroneves.

One off-season news item that crackled my Business of Racing antenna had to do with a revision to the series' TEAM program. Others have written at length regarding the details of this deal, which pays $1.2 million to included teams. When Newman/Haas Racing announced it would not compete in '12, that left open two spots. Randy Bernard decided to establish some standards, including what a potential participant could bring to IndyCar in terms of sponsor activation and media exposure. I say that's entirely justified.

The problem is, some of Randy's teams don't have a clue how to get media coverage. The old-school art of "pitching" story ideas seems as foreign as Rubens Barrichello to a lot of people. Some don't even know the basics of writing a proper news release. Of particular irritation to me is the winning team whose new "publicist" constantly sends out useless non-news releases that always begin by saying the team is "proud" or "excited" to announce something or other. I got another one of these last Thursday during the run-up to St. Pete.

Clue I: It would be NEWS if the team WASN'T "proud" or "excited."

Clue II: Successful publicists know news releases are written for the media, not team owners or sponsors.

Stuff like this is a complete waste of the media's time. As soon as I see something like this, I press "delete." And I know I'm not the only one who does the same.

Note to Randy: Any "professional" IndyCar team that can't prove it has a publicist who has passed a basic Newswriting 101 course should not get one single cent.

Sorting out racing penalties is always a messy affair -- the 1981 Indianapolis 500 forever being the ultimate example -- but the outcome of Hendrick Motorsports' appeal of NASCAR penalties to its No. 48 at Daytona is instructive. Or, it should be.

Come this off-season, NASCAR should revise its National Stock Car Commission structure and policies. The three panelists, selected from an established list, are not announced in advance (fine with me) but as soon as I saw that John Capels and Leo Mehl were on the Hendrick case, it was no surprise at all that the original penalties were upheld. Beyond their other resume items, both are old-school/tradition-bound former sanctioning body executives. Of course they were going to side with NASCAR.

It's time to reduce the total number on the commission list. It's time to say no more than one member per hearing can be linked to any one group. (Examples: No more than one former sanctioning official, no more than one former driver, no more than one former team member, etc.) And, in all phases of the case, at least one of the "judges" should be made available to the media immediatley afterwards so the ticket-buying public can understand why the decision was made. That's called transparency -- and it's greatly needed in racing's messy penalty appeal process.

Meanwhile, see this week's "Unconventional Wisdom".

FAST LINES: ABC kicked-off its IndyCar coverage by telling the media it would focus on "story-telling." Hmmmm. See my Sept. 6, 2010 blog, which won an International Automotive Media Awards gold medal for commentary . . . If, like me, you need a one-stop reference book, then you need the National Speedway Directory. There's a listing for just about every track in the U.S. and Canada, plus sanctioning organizations, publications, schedules and museums. Go to order . . . Per what I wrote last week, NHRA has added 20 pounds to the Harley-Davidson bikes . . . As a follow-up to what I wrote last week, one of the top teams in all of American racing now has its PR people compile reports after each race detailing interviews, media contacts, etc. I'm surprised they are just starting to do this as I was routinely doing such reports for clients back in the 1980s. But I see this as welcome progress and will continue to press the decision-makers for more -- and better -- "service" to the media . . . I just received a letter from "Friends of Rick Hendricks" asking for my vote for the 10-time NASCAR Cup champion for the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Twice in the letter he is referred to as "Hendricks." Embarrassing.

[ more next Monday . . . ]