Sunday, March 22, 2015


A few things coming out of the NASCAR weekend  at Phoenix International Raceway:

Could Formula One help save Danica Patrick's NASCAR career?

I don't see any evidence the Patrick-(crew chief) Daniel Knost pairing is working. And, remember, this is the last year of Danica's contract with, which has new ownership, management and marketing objectives since former CEO Bob Parsons signed her last deal. Return On Investment may be declining, based on at least one yardstick (see my March 15 Arizona Republic story  ), and GoDaddy's ad campaign is no longer "Look at me!" But international is a new focus for GoDaddy, and that's where Gene Haas, her Cup team co-owner, comes in.

Haas will field his own Formula One team starting next season, his own play to build international market share for his Haas Automation machine tool business. I guess, if Haas wants to, he could give GoDaddy space on his F1 cars as part of an agreement to keep Patrick's Sprint Cup sponsorship going. It's something to watch for . . . 

The next step in NASCAR's slow-crawl toward a high (or, at least, higher) tech future will be seen on steering wheels. No, they won't be F1, or even IndyCar, ish, but more control buttons and a display screen to allow drivers to scroll through a menu of options is evolving. NASCAR will approve more of this.

It's more obvious than ever that NASCAR's Integrated Marketing Communications business model is less service to traditional media and all-in on social media. (Probably proven by last week's PRWeek award.) No more printed copies of media guides or weekly statistical update books. Fewer driver media center avails. Driver-media conference calls no longer a weekly staple. Someone is brought to the media center Sunday morning, but that's only a play to stir-up social media traffic and try to drive-up TV viewership. This dehumanization is sad, wrong, counter to what Bill France Jr. and Jim Hunter fostered, and at some point will have profoundly negative consequences for the sanction. I observed the Chief Communications Officer in PIR's media center but there was no effort to go around and actually TALK to journalists working away on their stories. There is no substitute -- NONE -- for the sound of a human voice, a face-to-face conversation, a handshake, a pat on the back, a personal thank you for coverage. That's all-but gone in today's NASCAR. A price will be paid.

The lack of real-life journalism experience among today's new crowd of team/sponsor "publicists" is costing their clients/employers coverage. They have no clue what journalists' needs are, how to "pitch" a story, develop meaningful story ideas, or build valuable one-on-one relationships with media. Too many think they are doing the job simply because they send out a few Tweets. One rep for an Xfinity series driver, who candidly, I had never heard of, wanted me to interview the driver (I appreciated the outreach) but offered no legitimate news reason why I should. I guess just because he's a race driver. There were about 100 of those at PIR.

And: Back when I was doing PR year-round, I had personal note cards, in boxes of 100, I used to send out hand-written "thank you" messages -- many to reporters for stories they had written. I went through about a box a year, or more. These days, forget notes, too many PRers don't even have the words "thank you" in their vocabs. 

Comforting to see that the Forum Folks are right on top of the up-to-the-minute news. In this case, about Sam Hornish and the Indy 500. I had it all Sunday, March 15 in the Arizona Republic:

Finally, no one at NASCAR or -- especially -- International Speedway Corp. should take the good crowd size at PIR to mean the long-overdue and much-needed facility improvements can continue to wait. Extra people with money to spend in the Valley of the Sun for Cactus League baseball, and near-90 degree weather, contributed to the positive attendance number. As I've written, and said March 13 on SiriusXM, PIR lags far behind the either upgraded or all-new sports venues throughout the Valley. It gives the impression to us locals that NASCAR and ISC take us for granted. 

POWER PLAYERS for the week of March 22: This week's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

  1. Roger Penske -- Daytona 500 winning team owner gets a victory at the track he built in Fontana, Calif., courtesy of Brad Keselowski. Now, Penske begins Verizon IndyCar series with powerhouse FOUR driver/car lineup. Could Penske sweep the season?

  2. Kevin Harvick -- Eight straight top-two finishes for the defending Sprint Cup champion, THE story and dominant force in NASCAR.

  3. Jim Campbell -- Chevrolet's U.S. motorsports VP gets first Sebring podium sweep and first overall win since Jim Hall's Chaparral did it 50 years ago. Plus Corvette C7.R takes first in GTLM class. Not doing too badly in NASCAR, either. 

  4. Mark Miles: -- Hulman & Co. CEO increases guaranteed Leader Circle payout to $1.25 million per eligible team. Now, he gives condensed IndyCar schedule another try, ending by Labor Day. A lot of teams and sponsors don't like it. What will the bottom line be in terms of TV audience, at-track attendance and sponsor activation?

  5. Matt Yocum -- Fox's Main Man on NASCAR pit roads, he provides professionalism and stability amidst a new (and weak) group of pit reporters. 

  6. Curt Cavin -- Indianapolis Star writer is a primary news source for IndyCar fans. His status is now increased with the series' new deal with USA Today.

  7Chris Berube -- Chevrolet's IndyCar program manager sees his engines and aero kits outpace Honda's in pre-season testing. 

  8. Jim France -- IMSA chairman reaches six-year extension of strategic alliance with Le Mans' Automobile Club l'Ouest. New Prototype regulations coming in 2017.

  9. Chip Ganassi -- Announces two-car Red Bull Global Rallycross Supercar team with sponsor Loenbro (energy services and construction) and drivers Brian Deegan and Steve Arpin.

10. Sebastien Bourdais -- A statement drive at Sebring, essentially lapping the field during his second-half stint behind the wheel of the winning DP-class Corvette. Now onto IndyCar opener in second year with KV team.

more next week . . . ]