A HUMBLING MOMENT: Receiving the Angelo Angelopolous Award, which dates to the early 1960s and is presented for sportsmanship at the Indianapolis 500, at my 40th I-500, May 2018. (Dan R. Boyd photo.)
A few months ago, Jack Arute referred to me on SiriusXM NASCAR radio as "the Godfather of motorsports PR."
Yes, it made me feel a little old. But there's an honor here, and I appreciate it.
Personal circumstances require me to write this annual year-in-review earlier than normal. Personal circumstances allowed me to write only occasionally this year, something I regret most sincerely. Writing this, another adventure awaits, only two days away. So, full disclosure, the honest truth is it's highly likely I will be able to write just occasionally again in 2019. As has been the case for more than a decade, I write not just to write and fill-up a spec of space on the Internet. I write when I feel I have something more-than-important to say. Something that it's worth the use of your valuable time to read. That will continue to guide me and what is or isn't posted here.
That said, I cannot allow 2018 to end without pointing out a terrible issue that continues to take hold within the motorsports industry. To be more than candid, it sickens me.
What will I remember most, business-wise, from this calendar year?
The full-fledged arrival of Fake PR.
You've heard a lot about Fake News in the last two years. No matter which side you are on in our deep and troubling and only-getting-worse-and-someday-will-explode Great Political Divide, the Truth is Fake News is real and comes from both the Left and the Right. The Left's is more well-practiced, more reactionary, more personally destructive, more ridiculous.
"CNN. The Most Trusted Name in News."
Yeah, right, we believe that when every anchor on the network begins a broadcast with anti-POTUS "news" with some, like Erin Burnett and dumb-as-they-come Don Lemon, visually dripping with hate. So CNN's slogan goes right to the top of Fake PR.
I see it in the racing world at nearly every turn. Before I go there, let me say the most enjoyable time I spent at a racetrack in 2018 was at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Ace PRer Andrew Booth was there for me throughout my stay and could not have been nicer, more helpful, or more professional. Ditto Nate Siebens of IMSA. I was glad to be there to witness Roger Penske's return to Big Time Sports Car racing, Christian Fittipaldi win one more time, and Scott Pruett bid farewell. Rolex smartly hosted a very nice media reception, otherwise known as a relationship builder. The race I enjoyed the most this year was the USAC Silver Crown 100 at Lucas Oil Raceway the Friday night before the Indianapolis 500. There was action all race long, especially in the middle part of the top 10, and the most enjoyable part was actually being able to see the drivers drive. It was elbows-up with the man behind the wheel making the difference. Great, wonderful stuff. What a pleasure to watch with USAC's Dick Jordan (who won the Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports PR earlier that day) and Speed Sport's Ralph Sheheen.
But all that week, earlier that day, and the next day and then Race Day, to spend hours in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway media center and, with only one exception, have no one from the Speedway communications team do any communicating, staying mostly in their glass office and restricted area, well, that is Fake PR.
When I've gone to NASCAR and IndyCar events and the fingers on one hand are enough to count the team and sponsor media reps who actually visit the media center, walk around and talk to people, meet and exchange contact information with new journalists on the scene, that is Fake PR.
When drivers come into the media room with only one thing in mind, to drive their own racing political agenda with two word or two sentence answers to routine questions, that's rude. It's also Fake PR. The people being paid to work with, and guide, these drivers who then just stand-off to the side and let them behave badly, including insulting reporters, that is absolutely Fake PR. When a media relations person says they will do something, such as checking a fact or confirming an obscure detail mined from an interview, and then they don't do what they promised to do, that is Fake PR. (And worse.)
And so it goes.
There is no question whatsoever as to the most damning and damaging episode of Fake PR I encountered in 2018. It will have consequences into 2019, at least . . .
At my local NHRA national event, at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, I had a conversation with the PRer for Don Schumacher Racing, the usually dominant team in drag racing, and one of racing's best and most successful organizations. Said person had been around for a short while but was in her first season with Shoe Racing. She had removed me from her news release distribution list (how does that benefit the team's sponsors?) in retaliation for some criticisms I had made in my old drag racing column or on social media.
This was her suggestion: In return for placing me back on the press release list, she wanted me to promise to refrain from any future criticism.
Let me spell this right out, Big, Bold and Plain: A paid publicist for one of the sport's most prominent teams -- Allison McCormick -- was asking a journalist to give up his Constitutional First Amendment rights. Later, when I recounted this experience to the NHRA on-site rep, she, Jenn Goethel, defended McCormick.
Dear reader, I'm not smart enough to make up such a bizarre occurrence. This is what we have come to: A PR rep trying to negotiate away a journalist's Constitutional First Amendment freedom. And, seemingly, be oblivious to it. And the sanction's person-on-the-scene speaking in defense of that obscenity of a suggestion.
The series' took a hit. The team's image took a big hit. The team's paying sponsors were ill-served. The PRers involved were exposed as unprofessional to a stunning degree, making one wonder how employers justify continuing to provide employment. Oh, they aren't paying attention ... ???
Indeed: 2018 was the Year of Fake PR. Everyone in the motorsports industry lost because of it. As best I am able to see, more lies ahead.
[ Follow Michael Knight on Twitter: @SpinDoctor500 ]