The Sports Car Club of America has sold itself to television! Commencing with the Watkins Glen race, the balance of the Canadian American Challenge Cup Series will be telecast live across the length and breadth of the North American continent. The so for unpriced contract was awarded to Arutunoff Enterprises Inc., of Tulsa, Oklahoma, which has subbed out the production and direction of the massive undertaking to the Andy Sidaris Company of Los Angeles. Charged with the responsibility for sales and distribution is an outfit called Show Biz Inc., of Nashville, Tennessee.
Commenting on the venture, A. Tracy Bird, Executive-Director of the 19,000-member SCCA, said: “This is a goal towards which the Sports Car Club of America has been working for a long time. We could have moved into television long before this but we were determined to have more than just another racing programme. Now, through the approach outlined by Arutunoff Enterprises, we will have a television series of which the SCCA, Johnson Wax, and the Can-Am competitors will be very proud.” The Club’s Director of Professional Racing, Hank Loudenback, added that now that the Series is a success at the ticket windows, he is confident that it will be “just as successful in the nation’s living rooms.” Unfortunately, both these points are rather moot.
Speaking for the prime contractor, Vice-President William H. Pryor describes his firm’s approach as “a brave new attempt,” adding that “with Arutunoff Enterprises, racing telecasts are not a subordinate project. It is our sole reason for existing. It is all we do and the project will get 100 per cent. of our efforts.”
Johnson Wax, sponsor of the Series, was the first company to commit itself to partial sponsorship of the almost bi-weekly 2-hour telecasts, but additional agreements are expected to be announced with Coca-Cola and Sears.
Included in the huge production crew, which is under Pryor’s supervision, as Executive-Producer, is CBS’ Jeff Scott, a long-time motor racing commentator. He and Tony Moy, of Page & Moy fame, will act as anchor men. Moy’s appointment resulted from a recommendation by Nick Syrrett. Stirling Moss will handle the “colour” material from the pit and paddock, while Charles Lucas, ex-constructor of Titan racing machinery, will work at key locations around the various courses to provide a detailed analysis of the cars in action. Sidaris’ Arnie Silverman, the veteran cameraman with credentials at Le Mans and elsewhere, will supervise the technical equipment and supporting track-side staff..
Both Pryor and Arutunoff are old SCCA competitors, having driven a 2-litre Abarth in this year’s 12 Hours of Sebring, and are willing to throw away the “book” on previous motorsport telecasts. Arutunoff says: “We must be willing to experiment, to innovate and be constantly determined to reach new levels of excellence. A quality of reporting far above anything ever achieved so far is essential. There must be a mood of involvement, tension and understanding of what is happening. The time has come to communicate the entire extraordinary story to the American public with all the colour and excitement of the real thing.” Brave words, and no doubt familiar to the hundreds of potential sponsors who have ever been approached to lend their names and financial support to motorsport broadcasting.
Throughout all the button-holing, the release of “confidential” bits of information, and lobbying, not a single word has been mentioned of the problem involved in transmitting frame after frame of racing cars bearing cigarette adverts. The US Federal Communications Commission legislated tobacco advertising out of radio and TV as and from January 1st of this year. Admittedly, the law wasn’t intended to be so sweeping as to exclude racing machinery with sponsors’ decals, nor track-side hoardings, but it’s interesting to review the stand taken so far by the Madison Avenue PR types on the appearance of such offensive material over the air waves. During the Winston 500 at Talledega, a NASCAR Grand National stock car race, no reference was allowed to the fact that the event was sponsored by the makers of Winston Cigarettes—in fact, the race was referred to by the commentators throughout as the Alabama 500. Then there was the Grand Prix of Monaco. The legal staff of ABC-TV ran scared and refused to permit the appearance on the screen of the Marlboro hoarding on the outside of the Tabac Turn (horrors, they’ll probably have to change that name too!).
The trouble is that the legislation is so loosely worded as to permit of a variety of interpretations. With so many tobacco firms involved in the sport in America, the networks must take it upon themselves to elicit a verdict from the FCC over what is journalism and what is advertising. If they don’t, and soon, the sight of McLarens’ chief competition, Jackie Stewart in the L & M Lola, will he forever barred from view.
The latest out of Ontario Motor Speedway is that two-time Indy 500 winner, Rodger Ward, has been given his cards. It is impossible to tell how much the former USAC great was responsible for coaxing fans past the turnstiles, but his departure is only another step in the revamping of management at the western superspeedway. And, while we’re at it, all is not going well with the preparations for next year’s World Championship GP. As we understand it, OMS authorities are not pleased with the demands being made by the car manufacturers, the reaction being that no one is worth that kind of money. Much will have to be done around the negotiation table before the race will become fact, but, if one is to believe present rumours, for two pennies the track would say: “Stuff it!”
Promoting motor racing in California, and especially in the Los Angeles area, is fraught with pitfalls. The customary approach is useless, with so many other forms of activity more readily available than by being forced to drive 60 or 70 miles under a blazing sun and accompanying smog. Unless leisure-type recreation receives the Hollywood touch, with brass bands, movie heroes, stunt flyers, and bosomy film starlets, it’s doomed to failure. “The Show Must Go On” is the catch-phrase, with the accent on “Show,” and OMS feels that unless the demands of the F1 constructors are not made more reasonable there won’t be a race of any description!—J.M.