“See my agent” is fast becoming the catch-phrase in the motoring world as driver after driver is taking a long, hard look at exploiting his goods and services in the best Madison Avenue tradition. And one of the companies that is taking advantage of the increasingly great marketing potential surrounding today’s racing drivers is the Mark McCormack group of corporations in general and its Motor Marketing International, in particular. H. Kent “Bud” Stanner is one of McCormack’s chief executives, and he has become a familiar figure on the circuits of North America with regular bi-weekly appearances in the wake of World Champion Jackie Stewart.
There are many who either fail to appreciate or entirely denigrate the current trend toward personal exploitation, but what they fail to (or won’t) understand is that the career of this generation’s front-line driver is precarious indeed. And few have either the know-how or the inclination to promote themselves into a solid retirement situation when their competitive days are over. Under the McCormack scheme of things a total management package is offered the individual, including financial planning, merchandising, licensing, marketing, publicity, and overall career planning. In our discussions with Stanner the direct fee issue was side-stepped, but it evidently is connected with and related to a person’s performance tied in to a forceful promotion programme aimed at putting the man’s identity before the public where it will do the most good, while, at the same time, naturally, increasing the take of McCormack’s varied enterprises.
Among the drivers who have signed on with the world-wide organisation, of which Stanner is a Vice-President, are Stewart, Mark Donohue, Graham Hill, Jo Siffert and, more recently, Peter Revson. MMI is also involved with the United States Auto Club in radio and TV promotion along with some areas of merchandising. Personalities in other sporting areas who have tied themselves into the far-flung McCormack empire are the skiier, Jean-Claude Killy, and the Australian tennis ace, Rod Laver. And a concerted effort is currently being made to put some added international prestige into the Grand Prix of Monaco. What that will entail heaven only knows!
Though there are many former driving stars who are reasonably content with their present lot, much more could have been done had their activities been properly and professionally directed when their star was at its zenith. One of the still active competitors who could have done with such a promotional arrangement is the 1968 Indianapolis 500 winner, Bobby Unser. Probably no one in the 50-year history of the fabled Brickyard has made less out of his 500-mile win, and one only has to recall how the pride of Pike’s Peak seemed to fade into oblivion almost immediately to appreciate what might have been.
It is an easy matter today for people to get their backs up when the “hard-sell” approach is used—no matter in what area. But we tend to forget that our day-to-day businessman is forever involved in self-promotion. It therefore seems unfair to put down a race driver for wanting to advance himself through the only means he has available— his present and highly transitory success.
The Sports Car Club of America, in its current scheme of trying to inject a continued professional element into its organisation, has recently announced that a permanent Public Relations Director has been appointed, following the trend established by the former Director of Professional Competition, Jim Kaser. Named to the important post of merchandising the SCCA image is Del Owens, former Editor of the US weekly motoring newspaper Autoweek.
Owens’ task will not be simple. The premier road-racing-oriented group in America seems to have been taking a series of retrograde steps during the past year or so. For example, there are those who will say with considerable enthusiasm that stagnation has set in in no uncertain terms. But progress is being made—each of the three pro series now has its own permanent Chief Steward—and Owens’ appointment will add considerable strength to the publicity side. The image of the club has never been in more need of improvement and some means must be found—and quickly—of reconciling the divergent views of the club racing element with the professional. At the moment neither wants to hear about the other, and part of Owens’ job will be to attempt to put some semblance of order into chaos.
His first important item will be the injection of some life into the Continental 5000 Series, sponsored by the makers of L & M cigarettes. Since inception it has taken a decided back seat to the more prestigious Can-Am and the almost defunct Trans-Am saloon schedule. The latter is on the brink of disaster, what with the departure of the factory teams and the trend among the major manufacturers to eliminate 5-litre power plans from their production schedule. Owens therefore will arrive at his desk in the new corporate headquarters in Denver, Colorado, with a full plate. One can only hope that he has the stamina to persevere.
Almost as soon as it began the highly-touted programme of televising the remaining Can-Am races has collapsed. The elimination of the bi-weekly telecasts can be directly attributed to the withdrawal of several class A sponsors and, though no one has named names, it is understood that Datsun wasn’t too enamoured of the project after viewing the first offerings.
The reaction of the public to the Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio races can best be described as mixed, though we did get an opportunity to view the latter and were not overly impressed. Part of our adverse reaction can, of course, be laid down to intimate involvement with the sport—somewhat like the case of a professional stage manager viewing a secondary school production of “Hamlet”. But no one could miss certain obvious deficiencies. Much better liaison should have been created between the various commentators—all of whom should have been professionals. After reading the early season manifesto of Arutunoff Enterprises, the prime contractor for the enormous undertaking, it came as somewhat of a shock to see announcers cutting each other off, overlapping commentaries and, worse still—contrary to what had been promised—the constant sight of Revson and the works McLaren lap after lap at Mid-Ohio.
We have always felt that the secret of a successful road-racing telecast was a knowledgeable producer—one who could select the various monitors with precision to give the viewers back home a complete picture of the goings-on. Admittedly, two events may not offer sufficient opportunity to pass a full and final judgment, but no one could avoid the feeling that more than one member of the production had not done his homework. If the Sports Car Club of America, in contracting with the Arutunoff group, were only concerned with bargain basement rates then they got what they paid for. So much needs to be done to get the Can-Am message across a 3,000-mile-wide continent. We know that the deal was completed with a minimum of delay, but it should have been masterminded by professionals.
Well founded yet unconfirmed rumour suggests some interesting changes on the USAC front. Apparently Lotus chief designer Maurice Phillipe has been approached to join the Vel’s Parnelli team to design and develop a car for next year’s series of oval races. The team has previously run very successfully cars called PJ Colts based on a Lola design and this year they won the Indianapolis 500 with Al Unser at the wheel and the recent Ontario 500 when the team’s number two, Joe Leonard, was the driver.
Further intrigue is added by the fact that Mario Andretti is suggested to be joining the team as number one driver. Andretti is known not to be unhappy with the McNamaras provided for him by STP and also is known to get on well with Phillipe. A split with Andy Granatelli and his STP Corporation has been rumoured for some time.
The Vel’s Parnelli team is a joint venture between former Indianapolis winner Parnelli Jones, who has a chain of Firestone tyre dealerships across the States, and Vel Miletich while sponsorship comes from the Johnny Lightning toy firm.—J. M.