TORONTO ON - JULY 16: Ryan Briscoe driver of the #6 Team Penske Dallara Honda stands in the pits during practice for the IZOD IndyCar Series Honda Indy Toronto on July 16 2010 in the streets of Toronto Canada. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
A quick spin through the post-race comments from IZOD IndyCar team PR releases seemed to indicate that the Honda Indy Toronto was all unicorns, rainbows, baby seals and sponsor mentions, mixed with an occasional allusion to a "learning experience."
Very scarce were direct references to what Versus Tour de France commentator Phil Liggett would call the "argy bargy" of the carbon-shredding, wheel-banging, tire-barrier-stuffing 85 lap race. Drivers Ryan Briscoe, Graham Rahal, Tomas Scheckter, Dan Wheldon, Takuma Sato, Mario Moraes and Alex Tagliani, among others, all had their share of paint trading during the course of the race.
But to read the official post-race quotes, everything was more mellow than a lazy afternoon spent listening to James Taylor and Carol King while sipping Chardonnay.
"The MonaVie car was really good during the race. We made some changes in the morning warm-up and it definitely helped. I think we had a good race pace, but unfortunately what happened at the end of the race wasn't what we were hoping for," Scheckter said in the official Dreyer & Reinbold Racing post-race press release. "We were running in the top-8 and we certainly had a top-6 car, but Alex Tagliani and I were fighting for the same real estate and got together. It's a shame, but overall we learned a lot this weekend."
Now does that qualify as a great spin or meaningless drivel?
No reporter in their right mind would print something so obviously bland and sponsor-serving, which is the whole point of trackside public relations; to serve as a bridge to the media and help generate content. Whitewashing, while common, does little to promote the team, driver, series or sponsor, because it is as likely to be ignored like a bowl of day-old oatmeal sitting on the counter top in summer heat when it crosses the news wire.
Scheckter's Twitter feed presented a more interesting viewpoint:
Had a lot of fun out there today. pity we got together with tag was not my intention at all on other hand karmas a bitch
i saw tag took out matos and viso right infront of me. he took me out last year. u carry on like for too long its gonna come back your way.
Technically, there's no reason Scheckter's official comments had to be any less biting, other than the fact that it usually makes a PR rep uncomfortable to publish something so provocative. When a driver's career hangs in the balance of their race-to-race performance, as Scheckter currently does, it's all personal.
For his part, Tagliani fired back on his own Twitter feed:
Just wondering one thing, why did everyone call him Thomas Wrecker
The back and forth ended with another salvo from Scheckter to Tagliani:
stop crying like a girl. U look silly. Come speak to me face to face edmonton.
Nice. Shaq-tastic. And just what the series needs.
The promoter in Edmonton should be on the phone rightfrickingnow getting banners and billboards printed up with the tale of the tape between the two veteran drivers, with the added home-field advantage of promoting Tags' Canadian-based FAAZT Racing team. No love lost, but plenty of tickets still to be sold.
Unfortunately, with Graham Rahal not on the entry list for the Honda Edmonton Indy; his own steel cage death match with Penske's Ryan Briscoe will have to wait for the Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course August 8. That does leave enough time to draw up a plan to split the pay-per-view revenue and call up UFC promoter Dana White.
Briscoe: wish Rahal could have tried making a clean move instead of punting me! Guess he doesn't care about championships being a part-timer..
Rahal: everyone say what you want. i made tons of clean moves today! @RyanBriscoe6 tough race, that's what you get for blocking and braking early!
Rahal: @RyanBriscoe6 my style isn't to hit people, I hope everyone knows that. I had a run, was all the way to the right, and you blocked!
Rahal: @RyanBriscoe6 just watched the video on SpeedTV. Go watch it! Then tell me who was at fault! Inside of the track is for faster cars ;)
*(Author note: see effective use of emoticon; a clear signal Rahal knows the Internet is Serious Business)
Briscoe: I didn't get the chance to see @GrahamRahal post race but will talk to him in Edmonton. He quite simply screwed up today and can't man up.
Rahal: To end this once and for all if I were rough driving and Briscoe wasn't blocking, Barnhardt would have given me a penalty. End of discussion
Apparently in his battle of tweets, Rahal ended up confusing himself. He had already admitted to deliberately slamming Briscoe in his own post-race comments:
I was a lot quicker than Ryan and I had a really good run down the back straight. I got on Push to Pass right out of the corner and he just blocked me. He blocked me all the way into the braking zone and he broke on the inside and I wasn't expecting him too so I just punted him. He was against the wall and I was waiting for him to move out. Then he hit the brakes before he ever moved. That's what happened and I hate hitting anybody; that's not my style. But seriously, if you've got a run on someone like that and they're blocking you, that's what's going to happen.
The IZOD IndyCar series has often been rightly criticized by fans and media for failing to promote their drivers. While the situation has improved a bit with IZOD's cross-platform marketing involvement and driver-centric commercials; the fact remains that expressions of anger and outbursts of personality are fantastic tools for fans and sponsors alike.
Not only does trash-talk make people pay attention; it gives the races a legitimate sub-plot that delves deeper into the psyche of the drivers and well beyond the predictable red tires vs. primaries drivel that peppers the pre-race broadcasts. Twitter provides fans not only with an insider view, it allows for interaction with the drivers at an unprecedented personal level.
And that is indeed the key to effective public relations.- to make the public pay attention.