NHRA doesn’t need any more John Forces.
Don’t go smokin’ your tires in a rush to run me over, Force fans, because I mean that in a good way.
From a Business of Racing perspective, Big John is a huge positive for the straight-line sport. He’s special. He’s unique. He seems bigger than life. He’s one of a kind.
And that’s my point.
The 15-time Funny Car champion already occupies the available space in the public/media/corporate marketplace reserved for successful, oversized -- sometimes outrageous -- personalities. That works for Castrol, Auto Club, Brand Source and now Traxxas and so they’ve pledged themselves (and their sponsorship money) to Team Force. They don’t need a Force clone to help them sell their products and services.
That’s the massive mistake I see being made by too many young drivers -- trying to be like someone else instead of themselves -- thinking that’s how to attract attention and sponsors. That’s as wrong as crossing the centerline to block the other car.
“There’s only one John Force,” says Jack Beckman. “If you’re trying to copy him, it won’t come across, because the original is out here.”
“You’re not going to impress anyone by being John Force,” counsels Kenny Bernstein. “They’ve already seen him.”
“You have to know your place and not try to be John Force,” adds Ron Capps. “You can’t fool the fans.”
“Trying to copy somebody else is not going to give you long-term success,” advises Melanie Troxel.
These days, it seems like everyone feels they have to get noticed. New-fangled communication tools like YouTube and Twitter and Facebook have made it possible for people to become famous -- if oh-so-briefly and in a dumbed-down sense -- for doing not much more than pressing the “send” button. As a gruff old veteran of the corporate PR wars (with no connection to motorsports) said to me not long ago, “That’s fine if all you care about is the sizzle. Me, I want the steak. So do most of my clients.”
The modern media world is a highly fragmented one, thanks to cable TV and the Internet and social media outlets. A sporting arena like drag racing best lends itself to those who carve-out their own individual niche and get noticed by fans and sponsors that way.
That’s what Capps has done, finding his spot as a very professional competitor and thoughtful spokesman on all NHRA issues.
“A lot of them (rookie racers) coming up are too hard-headed to listen,” the NAPA Dodge Charger driver told me. “We had the Snake (Don Prudhomme) and the Mongoose (Tom McEwen) and (Don) Garlits and they carried this sport for a long time. John Force has carried it for a long time. The same guys that complain about him having too much TV time are the same ones who stop in front of the TV and watch his interviews. We all do. He’s wide open.
“The ones who will listen, I tell them what the late (broadcaster) Steve Evans told me my rookie year in Top Fuel, the best advice I’ve ever had: ‘When you get out of the car, I want you to explain to that person sitting at home, with a beer in their hand, what it felt like in that car. They know who your sponsor is -- if you can get it in, fine.’
“It’s the same now -- take the people through what it was like in the car because they don’t get to go four seconds at 330 mph. Now you have guys who make a few good runs and then get on the PA and start, ‘We’re going to come after these guys -- watch out Force and Capps.’”
Beckman has found his niche, too, as an interesting interview subject, drag racing instructor, and cancer survivor.
“You have to be sincere,” said Capps’ Don Schumacher Racing Valvoline Dodge teammate. “What I’ve learned is you cannot please all of the people all of the time. And there’s nothing I can do about that. What you have to do is be out there and interacting with the people so they see you care.
“What is your personality? Take advantage of the things that make you you.”
Now-retired Bernstein had his elevated space as a six-time champion, the first-to-300 mph “King of Speed,” and sharp businessman.
“Be yourself,” he advised. “You don’t have to invent something. If you want to be a raving maniac, be one. If you want to be humble, be one. But don’t try to reinvent yourself into someone else. If you come across right, the public will pick that up, they’ll figure that out.”
Troxel connects as the quiet, smart, attractive girl-next-door type who happens to live life in the fast lane.
“You want to find something people are interested in watching, but you’ve got to be authentic to yourself,” she explained to me. “The fans want to get to know you, who you are. You have to find a way to let people inside so they know who you are.”
There are plenty of phonies out there -- look no further than Hollywood, Washington, D.C. and Wall Street. I’ve seen many of them come and go during my four-plus decades as a publicist and journalist. Sooner or later, though, they are exposed. And that’s a good thing. If you’re a young racer seeking to get noticed by a team owner, a sponsor and the fans, work hard and show you can get the job done -- on and off the track.
There are many personality niches to be filled in drag racing. Find yours. There’s nothing wrong about asking for advice or hiring a real PR professional to set you in the right direction.
But don’t try to be something -- or someone -- you’re not.
NHRA doesn’t need any more John Forces.
Neither do sponsors.
They need something -- and someone -- new. That just might be you.
|< Prev||Next >|