NASCAR hires back veteran to spearhead its total PR overhaul

DAYTONA BEACH, FL: NASCAR's beleaguered PR operation has undergone

a complete overhaul, and has hired four new staffers, including the new

position of VP of corporate communications.



James Hunter, president of Darlington Raceway in Darlington, SC, and

former NASCAR VP of marketing and administration from 1981 to 1992, will

rejoin NASCAR to head the new team.



Hunter is widely believed to have been brought in to rebuild NASCAR's PR

and add credibility to the organization, which was recently accused of

fixing a race involving Dale Earnhardt Jr., son of the driver who died

in a race this February. NASCAR is also accused of hampering the

investigation into the death of the elder Earnhardt by reporting that

his seat belt had broken when, in fact, it was cut by rescue

workers.



Second in command will be Robert Copeland, NASCAR MD of PR. Copeland, a

former Ogilvy SVP and Edelman VP who has had his own consulting practice

for four years, replaces John Griffin, who led NASCAR's PR for six

years. Griffin has been reassigned to "special communications

projects."



New hires also include Bill Greene, former director of communications

for the House budget committee in Washington, DC, and Herbert Branham,

former Tampa Tribune assistant sports editor (PRWeek, June 25).



Greene will oversee the NASCAR Busch Series and Grand National

Division.



Branham will join longtime NASCAR PR staffer Danielle Humphrey on the

NASCAR Winston Cup series.



Hunter claimed the PR overhaul has been in the works for close to 10

months, before the fatal accident occurred, and is not yet over. The

staff, which had dwindled to four people, is now eight strong, and

Hunter said he is still looking to hire a PR manager for NASCAR's weekly

race series, as well as fill two entry-level positions.



"My PR message is that we want new people to join our fan club," said

Hunter. "To accomplish that, we've got to build a PR department for

today's and tomorrow's environment, and we're in the process of doing

that."



Copeland said the new PR team does not plan any major changes until the

end of the 2001 season, which is now half over. He said the PR goal is

to build NASCAR's reputation, but the team has not yet designed specific

campaigns. He did say, however, that NASCAR will go beyond motor sports

media and daily sports pages to put a human face on the sport, which it

accomplished in a recent Newsweek article about a driver's wife, and in

a Rolling Stone feature on Earnhardt Jr.



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