Sunday, October 28, 2012


UPDATE: I'll guest on Larry Henry's Pit Pass USA Wednesday, 7 p.m. EDT, to talk about Randy Bernard's ouster and what's next for IndyCar.

I've been around long enough to remember when Goodyear cared about its racing public relations. I knew Dick Ralstin, who was the racing division's PR manager for 11 years, and some seasons worked as many as 40-50 events. Dick was a great person to know at the Indianapolis 500, as Chicago Tribune sportswriter Bob Markus found out when he covered his first Indy in 1968. Markus, a friend of mine and a very gifted writer, admits he didn't know his way around the Speedway and missed Bobby Unser's winner’s interview.  Dick came to the rescue and quickly arranged a one-on-one interview with Unser. Ralstin retired in 1987 and died several years ago.

Over the years, whether in a journalism or PR capacity, I knew and had a good working relationship with other Goodyear racing publicists. They incluced Phil Holmer, Dave Hederich, Bill King and Carole Swartz. Chuck Sinclair, a nice man, worked in corporate PR but wound up spending more time than he probably expected in open-wheel racing when Firestone came in and kicked butt. He's now retired. They all were quite professional to deal with.

I'm not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way, Goodyear decided racing media relations wasn't important any more. They've kicked it to the curb like a burned-up chunk of tread.

It's been noticeable for several years. And I noticed it again last week when G conducted a NASCAR tire test at Phoenix International Raceway.

While I did a phone interview with NASCAR competition VP Robin Pemberton, I didn't go to the track. It wasn't worth the hassle. As usual, G put severe media access restrictions on the test and -- candidly -- it wasn't worth my bother. And, as usual these days, there was zero communications from G with the local media.

Last year, when PIR was repaved and reconfigured, I did many stories on the project for the Arizona Republic. During the last race weekend on the old surface, I made it a point to discuss this with G racing boss Stu Grant. I know him from my CART days when G got its doors blown off by Firestone. The G talking point is the teams don't want to be bothered by media during these tests. I agree there's a bit of truth there, but . . .

G acts like a company unsure if it's capable of producing the tires needed for NASCAR competition. G gives the appearance of being scared of failure, not confident of success. Of course, when you take a look at the recent Kansas Speedway race, that just might be understandable. I noted the regular NASCAR media largely gave G a pass on that, but I'm not.

During that conversation with Grant, he mentioned the value to G of "technology transfer" stories (race tire development benefitting passenger vehicle tires). I told him I certainly understood that and would be willing to try to include such a storyline into my overall coverage. I never heard another word from G. In the pre-race tire testing, G made a major change in its plans in terms of the amount of drivers and days involved. When I pointed that out to G's so-called "media relations" man, well, let's just say dealing with him wasn't a happy professional experience. And if I hadn't contacted him, he never would have thought of, or bothered to, be in touch with me. Hey, it was only a GOODYEAR test. Why outreach to the local media?

Modern day NASCAR is a marketing organization. It might as well be renamed MASCAR, if you get my meaning. Since it seems that Firestone won't be involved in IndyCar within the next couple of years, I suggest NASCAR/MASCAR start negotiating with Firestone. The product is superior. As are the advertising, marketing, promotional and PR capabilities.

Anyone/everyone with any interest in, or involvement with, PR of any sort should read this:

FAST LINES: Jon Knapp, who died of cancer last week, was a solid PR pro and will be missed on the NHRA circuit where he and wife-PR partner Joanne repped the Summit Pro Stock team . . . Sadness also over the death of Bob Jenkins' wife, Pam. I know it's been a very difficult time for Bob on a number of fronts . . . And good guy Charlie Mitchell, the longtime racing columnist for Connecticut's The Hour -- a tough week . . . There are stories which fill space and then there are stories that help generate interest in an event and are read by non-racing fans. Please get next Sunday's (Nov. 4) Arizona Republic for what I believe will be a story deserving to go in the second category. If you're not in this area, go to sports.

[ more next Monday . . . ]