Sunday, April 05, 2015


NASCAR's communications deep-thinkers decided to be Politically Correct last week and issued a statement saying the sanction was "disappointed" with Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

It backfired. Here's what comic Conan O'Brien said to his late-night TV audience:

"Do you hear that, Indiana? You're not progressive enough for NASCAR!"

So, NASCAR's own words were turned around and used in the mainstream media to mock the stock car organization, and negatively stereotype the sport and its fans. It was a self-inflicted wound. 

If Brian France really felt so strongly about the Hoosier state legislation, he should have had NASCAR's statement issued in his own name. 

I'm old enough to have been around to know this: In their time, if such an issue had arisen, Bill France Sr. and Jr. -- to the extent they would have commented at all -- would have expressed their support for state's rights and pride that NASCAR attracts fans who believe in traditional American values. Both knew a strong connection with apple-pie America was what helped build NASCAR's ticket-buying/TV-watching audience. It's right there in the history books. Look it up.

Let's be clear: What's being written in this blog has NOTHING to do with discrimination or the public policy questions raised by the legislation. That's a different issue. It's about messaging. It's about a business injecting itself, unnecessarily, into a state issue. It's one thing for Indiana-based Angie's List or the NCAA (with the Final Four going on) to comment, or Arkansas-headquartered Walmart to say as it wishes about that state's similar legislation. It's quite another for "outsider" NASCAR to do so. Will NASCAR now be issuing statements when the next Trayvon Martin, or Ferguson, Mo., situation happens?

Let's remember Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has also recently favored legislation creating the mechanism to fund $100 million in improvements to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That certainly benefits NASCAR, whose Brickyard 400 sure isn't the "must-see" it once was. 

(And one reason for that? NASCAR never held its official tire supplier, Goodyear, to account for the 2008 Brickyard 400 fiasco. When Michelin's bad product turned the 2005 IMS Formula One race into a joke, that company paid for tickets for the following year's Grand Prix for dissatisfied customers. NASCAR should have required something similar from Goodyear as a condition of the tire-provider contract. THAT would have been a meaningful, and tangible, act of support for its Indiana fans.) 

Now, let's ask this question: Did ANYONE at NASCAR actually read the ENTIRE piece of Hoosier legislation before deciding to insert itself into the debate? And the sanction's statement's real Achilles' heel was found in this sentence: "We will not embrace nor participate in exclusion or intolerance." (Emphasis added by me.) If that's the case, then why not CANCEL the Brickyard 400?

Or was this decision made after monitoring social media traffic -- that apparently is what counts at NASCAR these days -- or because the NFL -- America's undisputed most powerful sports entity -- did so? Do they think a PC statement will now make Keith Olbermann a NASCAR supporter?

At the start of the 2003 Iraq war, Bill France Jr. famously said: "NASCAR fans are the kind of people who go to war and win wars for America." He proved he knew exactly who his fans were.

Can today's NASCAR leaders say the same?

POWER PLAYERS for the week of April 5: 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. Richard Childress -- At week's start the industry, media and public have yet to hear directly from the NASCAR team owner about the tire-tampering penalites to Ryan Newman's No. 31 team. The latest leadership test for one of NASCAR's longest-tenured competitors is what he will do publicly -- and out of the public eye -- about this problem. It might be RC's greatest challenge since Dale Earnhardt's death. 

  2. Blake Irving  -- GoDaddy's CEO sees his stock price jump 31 percent on the first day of trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Investors valued the Internet services provider at almost $4 billion. Now, with Danica Patrick and her No. 10 Chevy present on Wall Street for the Big Day, will Irving sign her to a new contract as he rebrands the business?

  3. Michael Andretti -- How large a crowd -- with how much media and corporate support -- can his management team bring to the first IndyCar race near New Orleans? Meanwhile, his team faces the challenge of developing Honda into a competitive position vs. Chevrolet, on both the engine and aero kit fronts.

  4. Eddie Gossage -- Outspoken and publicity-hawk Texas Motor Speedway president hosts NASCAR. What pre-race "controversy" will make headlines?

  5Mark Miles -- CEO's decision to debut the Verizon IndyCar series in the New Orleans area marks another Big Test for his business plan. 

 6. Doug Boles -- Indianapolis Motor Speedway president bucks sacred tradition -- and creates a new and much-needed revenue source -- by booking The Rolling Stones for a July 4 IMS concert.

  7. Dave Moody -- SiriusXM NASCAR channel's afternoon "drive time" Main Man engaged callers about Indiana's controversial religious freedom legislation. At times, what was said was borderline out-of-bounds. Moody put himself way out on one side of the issue -- very rare for a motorsports' broadcaster to do regarding a non-racing topic -- and it wasn't the side the NASCAR mainstream media critics would have expected.

  8. Jon Edwards -- Jeff Gordon's veteran PR right-hand man helps set the tone -- and extent -- of the national and racing media's coverage of Gordon's final full-time season. A great opportunity, for sure, but very demanding.

  9. Ralph Sheheen -- Fox Sports broadcaster, public address announcer, MC and National Speed Sport News (Turn 3 Media LLC) president has evolved into one of motorsports' most versatile and familiar voices and media figures.

10. Dustin Long -- Long-time NASCAR writer, formerly with Landmark Newspapers, formerly MRN, now NBC Sports, impresses the industry and benefits fans with his low-key, hard-working, fact-based reporting style.

more next week . . . ]