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Memo: It’s Called Racing, Not Branding

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, July 8 2011

Dale Earnhardt Jr. thinks the key to good racing is good racing. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Let’s see what’s in the old Friday Morning Memo today:

Rather quietly last week, NASCAR met with its race teams and some media to explain a series of marketing studies and initiatives designed to increase the sport’s fanbase.

The explanation of the initiatives included all the latest business-speak buzz terms.

A piece in the SportsBusiness Journal summarized: ” Among their immediate plans for action, they said they would develop a youth-specific website and continue to integrate action sports athletes who appeal to 18- to 34-year-olds. NASCAR also will design the sport’s first Spanish-language promotions for upcoming races in Chicago, Phoenix and Miami; hire a director of digital and social media; work with tracks to improve Internet connectivity at races; and add staff to the Industry Services team to help drivers develop a brand strategy.”

Reaction from drivers who attended the meetings ranged from luke-warm but willing to be a good soldier, to not really into it.

Jeff Gordon sounded like he was in the former camp.

Absolutely, he said, everybody in NASCAR needs to take a hard look at the product. “I think a lot of what they are saying makes a lot of sense and (he is) looking forward to seeing some get implemented,” Gordon said.

But, Gordon also said that more demands on drivers’ time could cause problems. “The

Jeff Gordon says drivers can only do so much promotion. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

key to me on that was letting us know early. I think that we can find ways to fit important things into the schedule to give back to the fans but we’ve got to do it efficiently and we’ve got to do it in advance,” Gordon said.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. also agreed the sport needs a boost. He did not seem to favor an approach which would focus on turning drivers into action heroes.

“Things need to evolve,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “This sport has always evolved. Look at cars in the ‘70s, the ‘80s and the ‘90s. That always needs to change and be changing. We need to flow with the technology. But, I think we need to stay concerned and focused on the competition side – what happens on the race track. That is what we sell. We don’t sell personalities. It is cool to have personalities and it is great when drivers have good personalities but the fans show up to see a race. We need to make sure we put on a race.

“So, we need to focus on that and anything else we can do to improve their experience which I think NASCAR is focusing on as far as the pre-race. What they buy when they buy the ticket. What they get; what they see and what they experience is real important too. But, what it all comes down to, if the race itself is not as good as it should be, that’s what we need to stay focused on.”

Well said by a guy who has a knack for nailing common sense.

Race fans, old school and new, are tired of being viewed as little more than the targets of marketing campaigns. They very much notice that thanking sponsors and “partners” takes precedent over talking about actual racing in post-race interviews.

Sponsorship and marketing have become a part of racing. For the better, I think as they have improved many aspects of the sport. Respectful advertising most certainly has a place in the sport.

But the business aspect of the sport should not overwhelm the competitive aspect of it. Racing should be he horse and branding the cart it pulls. Not the other way around.

Memo to self: Time to amp up those ad sales for the website.

Two wrecks, two reactions

I’m a Mark Martin guy. Even though he ripped me a new one a couple years back, I like the guy to the point of holding him up as the best that auto racing has to offer. To me,

Danica Patrick should give the pointing finger a rest. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Mark Martin is what racing is so seldom about these day but could be/should be/used to be about on a more regular basis.

It’s not just his driving skills and accomplishments which make him praise-worthy. I like his whole approach to racing. I like his sense of fair play, respectfulness, perspective.

Take the weekend of racing in Daytona last weekend. There were two incidents which were handled two different ways by two different drivers. Both, to me, said plenty about the people involved.

One occurred in the Sprint Cup race and involved Martin.

Late in the race and with shots to win, Martin and Joey Logano came together on the track and a wreck resulted. Logano survived and went on to a good finish. But Martin’s car was toasted.

Replays showed that the wreck was one of those of undeterminable cause. Both drivers could have blamed the other. Except neither did. Martin, in fact, issued a bit of a mea culpa but certainly, certainly did not have to.

The other incident occurred in the Nationwide race on Friday. Heading to the finish line on the final lap, Danica Patrick as involved in a big wreck. A racing wreck where, again, blame is tough to assess.

Though assess blame she did. Emphatically. She called out veteran Mike Wallace and was quite snarky in doing so. She told reporters Wallace was like a fish out of water. She did this despite the fact that replays show that it was a tip from behind from teammate Aric Almirola which got her sideways.

Almost all drivers play the blame game. Some do it more than others.

Patrick had a great weekend at Daytona. She, finally, looked like a real gosh darn NASCAR driver. Practiced well, qualified well, learned well and raced superbly. Four almost three hours, she showed that some day, she can and will win NASCAR races.

But then she dropped the turd into the churn with her post-race fingerpointing – something she honed to a skill in IndyCar.

It got old with open-wheel fans, it will get old with NASCAR fans.

As I heard it, I flashed back to Hall of Fame voting of a last month and a nice talk I had with Cotton Owens. The vote had been taken, but the results not announced. I told Owens I have voted for him. Owens said he was not sure whether he was worthy.

I think there is a place for quiet humility in racing.

Memo to self: This dang computer just will not write good stories.

Message sent

During Thursday’s open media session at Kentucky Speedway, some poor schlub got

Tony Stewart welcomes Kentucky media to Cup. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Tony-ized as Stewart laid down the law on asking questions.

A snipped of the process follows:

HOW DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’VE DONE SO FAR THIS YEAR?

Stewart: “Terrible.  We’ve had a terrible year.  Not been anything like what we’ve been used to by any means.”

WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?

“If I knew that, I would have fixed it, don’t you think?  You’re new to this racing stuff aren’t you?”

Welcome to Sprint Cup, kid. We’ve all been there.

Memo to self: Scratch that question about whether Stewart likes winning better than losing I was planning to ask next week.

And finally…

The voting for the second quarter Driver of the Year Award was held this week. Carl Edwards was top vote-getter from the 21 media members covering auto racing.

In the interest of transparency, here is how I voted:

1. Del Worsham – Top Fuel NHRA

2. Will Power – IndyCar

3. Kyle Busch – NASCAR (all three series)

4. Dario Franchitti – IndyCar

5. Carl Edwards – Cup and Nationwide

6. Ricky Taylor/Max Angelelli (Grand-Am)

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, July 8 2011
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • steven says:

    I’m not an Earnhardt fan but I agree with his racing comment. We have Logano fully sponsored in top notch equipment running around 20th every week and Danica in Nationwide racing against 15 fully sponsored cars and thinking she has exceptional talent. Only until she gets to the Sprint Cup will people see what a mediocre talent she is. 500 laps at Bristol against the big boys? hahaha… please

  • Cathy says:

    When Danica first came to Indycar, I tried to like her. I really did. I wanted her to do well. I thought it was a great thing to have her in the series. She stood up to the guys really well. But, after listening to her say “They have to learn to respect me” but not giving any of that respect in return to other drivers, she really started to grate on me. Then came the Go Daddy ads and the SI swimsuit editions and “my people are working on my brand”… “I won’t know where I will end up until my people put together the best deal”… Please. Now I am just tired of her and her “people” oversaturating the sport. Just go away already.

  • Sue Rarick says:

    My first major in college was advertising at the nations #1 school for it. What we were taught at that time was that the 18-34 demagraphics was called the pig in the snakes belly. The demagraphic was meant for the Baby Boomers. And the idea was to follow this massive group as it aged so that the most product could be sold. Unfortunately lesser schools taught the importance of the 18-34 demographic without mentioning it was basically a Baby boomer singularity.

    Time and time again, once the Boomers left that age group, the 18-34 marketing strategy has failed. Ask places like Atlantic City and Las Vegas how aiming for the young hip and trendy is working for them (not well at all). And to make matters worse. They have alienated the group that still has the most entertainment excess money. You guessed it, the Baby Boomers. It’s no suprise that as NASCAR moves more towards aiming at the 18-34 year olds they have seen their popularity drop. And now rather than admit they had an oops moment they are going to push forward and most likely see further declines. A good racing season or two will only delay the inevitable.