Gary Nastase photo
Elon Werner, who directs the publicity and communications for drag racing’s biggest star John Force and Force’s championship team, today was announced as winner of the 2014 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations.
The Chapman Award is considered by many in the industry as the highest honor in racing public relations. It is named in memory of Chapman, the legendary PR executive and innovator, who worked with Babe Ruth and was named Indy Car racing’s “most influential man” of the 1980s. Chapman died in 1996 at age 80.
The announcement and presentation were made at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway before Sunday’s NHRA national event by Michael Knight, chairman of the selection committee, and one of Chapman’s closest friends. The award is determined by a vote of national media members, most of who knew Chapman, and is authorized by the Chapman family. PR representatives from all forms of motorsports are eligible for consideration.
Werner not only works directly with the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion, but also Force’s rising-star driver daughters. Ashley Force Hood twice won the U.S. Nationals before stepping aside to start a family. Courtney Force has won eight Funny Car races while Brittany Force was last year’s top NHRA rookie in the Top Fuel class. Robert Hight, Force’s son-in-law, was the 2009 Funny Car titlist.
“Elon’s work in developing successful relationships with the media is reminiscent of Jim Chapman and so this honor is most appropriate,” said Knight, the longtime journalist/publicist and award rights-holder.
“Jim set the ultimate standard of professionalism, class and dignity. He knew that building good one-on-one professional relationships with journalists was important in good times and absolutely essential in bad times. That’s too often missing today in a communications age where an E-mail or text message or over-reliance on social media is incorrectly considered ‘relationship-building.’ Jim was a true ‘people person’ and knew nothing could replace a handshake, a face-to-face conversation, or the sound of another person’s voice.
“John Force has been NHRA’s greatest cheerleader for decades, working to create new fans and new customers for his sponsors. Elon has done more than coordinate the numerous interview requests for John. Just as importantly, he’s provided wise guidance to Ashley, Courtney, Brittany and Robert, as they have followed John’s example. Elon’s outreach to motorsports-oriented reporters, and well as to those in the mainstream media, has helped produce a vast amount of news coverage for the sport, Force and his team, and their corporate partners.”
Werner worked for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks before joining the Texas Motorplex as PR manager in 1993. He eventually became that track’s general manager. After positions with several Dallas-based sports agencies and coordinating media for a number of motorsports clients, he became John Force Racing’s PR director in 2007.
Furthering a successful partnership that began at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, Serving Orphans Worldwide (SOW) has invited Pro Stock driver Erica Enders-Stevens to fill a seat on its Board of Directors.
"After being introduced to Richard Baker and Serving Orphans Worldwide earlier this year in Indianapolis and learning the significant impact they have on kids around the world, I was honored when they asked me to serve on the Board of Directors," Enders-Stevens said. "This charity has really touched me and Richie (Stevens, husband and fellow driver). We've been able to learn so much from them and how they help kids.
"It's very humbling to be chosen to represent such a great endeavor as SOW. They already do so much and I only hope this opportunity brings more attention to their efforts. The best part is the Board of Directors and their affiliates cover all the administrative costs so 100 percent of the funds raised go directly to the orphans and orphanages."
SOW's Chief Operating Officer Richard Baker knew almost immediately after meeting the Pro Stock superstar that he wanted to appoint Enders-Stevens to an open position on his board.
"It was very obvious to me and the rest of the staff that Erica and Richie were very touched when they visited our office in Bristol," Baker said. "Erica immediately expressed her passion for helping children but never had been exposed to a ministry that was currently involved with orphans. Once she saw the reality of what we were doing, you could tell she was deeply touched.
"From that moment I was considering her for the board because I knew she would clearly be doing this out of the kindness of her heart, not because she was expected to do it."
With the common goal of spreading the word about SOW's efforts, Baker feels Ender-Stevens motorsports background can help bring a new perspective to the organization as it tries to reach a wider audience.
"Since she is race car driver and from such a different background as the rest of the board," Baker said, "I think she can bring a different element to the table. We're trying to make the board more diversified to reach a wider population. With her having the opportunity to travel around the country and race, Erica is the perfect ambassador to help spread the word of SOW.
"We're all very excited about having Erica join us and we know this will be a great fit."
Two-time NHRA world champion Cruz Pedregon is stepping up to put the word and the “Lights Out on Bullying."
"If there are three things I want to support in life, it's helping kids, helping animals and to stop bullying," said Pedregon. "Growing up, I was bullied a good amount, mostly for not being in a gang. It got so bad at one point that my father had to pull me out of school."
Pedregon took to the power of social media asking his fans of possible places to help support. He came across Chris “Lights Out” Lytle, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) legend and Indianapolis firefighter. Lytle is an advocate for anti-bullying and is passionate about teaching children how to handle bullying situations. He is more than just a mixed martial artist; he is a father of four children – one of whom has autism, and Lytle hopes he can help all children learn to stand up for themselves and others.
In his new book, Lights Out on Bullying (published by WestBow Press), Lytle illustrates, in story form, his mission to prevent children from peers’ hurtful actions through kindness and compassion.
“My book is about teaching kids that just because you are bigger than others, (it) does not mean that you pick on them,” Lytle said. “As the bigger person, it actually feels good to help others. The right thing to do is help others when they need it.”
"It's very exciting to team up with such a competitor like Cruz Pedregon. He is very passionate about what he does and it is great to see he is using he race car to promote helping others."
As Pedregon looks into an upcoming offseason, he also accepted an offer from Lytle that he could not refuse. “Chris offered the team and myself to come workout and train with him this offseason at his gym (Indy Boxing and Grappling) so we are going to be tough and ready to go for the 2015 season,” he said.
(Above) Bud Evans, right, with fellow Safety Safari members, from left, Rick Rickman, Chic Cannon, and Bud Coons. (Below) P.J. and Bernie Partridge.
The NHRA family lost a couple of its longest and biggest supporters last weekend with the passing of former NHRA Safety Safari member Bud Evans and Phillis Jean “P.J.” Partridge, wife of former NHRA division director and vice president Bernie Partridge.
Evans, who died Oct. 3 at 86, was a member of NHRA’s famed Drag Safari that toured the country in the mid-1950s to help car clubs set up and learn how to stage drag races. Within the small trailer that they towed around the country was timing equipment, a PA system, field telephones, a one-cylinder generator, and miles of stainless-steel wire to bring all the electronic equipment to life.
Evans was a full-time member of the 1955 Safari — along with field director Bud Coons, lead tech inspector Chic Cannon, and photographer Eric Rickman — handling race control and announcing duties. A former lake racer, he always was the regular announcer at Colton Raceway in California.
Partridge, known to her close friends as “Peej,” was the strong woman behind the strong man, at Bernie’s side through his meteoric rise within the NHRA ranks, from racer to division director and ultimately to vice president in charge of all field operations before he retired in 1989.
Before it was brought into NHRA headquarters in Glendora, Calif., the Partridges ran NHRA’s field office in Upland, Calif., while NHRA was still located in North Hollywood, and P.J. helped run the operation with a firm hand.
Bernie died in April 2012 after a long illness and was joined by his loving wife just two years after, as she succumbed to a brain tumor Oct. 5 at her home in Hawaii.
The Partridges are survived by two sons, Bernie Jr. and Jim, and predeceased by two others — John, who died just days before his father, and Gary, who passed away in 2011.