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Book Review: The Rod Campbell Story

"I'm Rod, An Incorrigible Optimist" is a 354-page selfie of a man who just kept moving ahead, answering his own doubts with action, and sweeping great crowds of people along to success with him as he won exactly on HIS terms.

By Doug Stokes

Fri, Aug 8, 2014 09:48 PM PST

Book Review

I’M ROD - An Incorrigible Optimist - My life in auto racing and public relations

Author Rod Campbell with Pete Lyons

Limited edition in hard cover: $115.00

An ebook version is now available online at $14.99 through Blurb Publishing

I couldn’t find it in a brief computer search … but I’m sure that someone, somewhere, sometime must have used the opening line that I’m going to lay on you. The thing is though … it could not have ever been used so aptly as I use it right here:

Horatio Alger, meet Rod Campbell

Of course, Mister Alger, all of the protagonists that you wrote about were just characters in novels - made up characters who invariably (and for the most part heroically) rose from low circumstances to become captains of industry and such. On the other hand, this guy, the one who this book is about, really did go from the never-ending hardscrabble prairies of Canada to the loftiest of board rooms, establishing one of the most widely-respected motorsports PR companies, making a fortune along the way, and writing the source code book for modern motorsports marketing and PR.

the cover of the book "I'm Rod - An Incorrigible Optimist"
Front cover of "I'm Rod - An Incorrigible Optimist"

This is the story (self-told and in great detail) of a nice guy with a great attitude, a seeming sixth sense about what good PR and clean marketing was all about, an open attitude, and a ready smile that always was more about the person he was smiling with than about himself.

Rod Campbell is the writer and the main character in this 354-page selfie of a man who just kept moving ahead, answering his own doubts with action, and sweeping great crowds of people along to success with him as he pure and simply refused to lose and won (at least 90 percent of the time) exactly on HIS terms. And in the process, Rod Campbell built not only a great company but even better than that, he built a reputation for honesty, value, and insight.

In effect, this book is a far better read than any of the Alger novels. The people and the places that Campbell interacts with, particularly from the motorsports side of the story are all quite recognizable. Campbell’s unboastful stories of working with the likes of Teddy Yip, Sir Stirling Moss, Chuck Jones, Bernie Ecclestone, Mo Nunn, Walter Wolf, Mark Donohue, Roger Penske, George Eaton, Brett Lunger, Michael Kranefuss, Nigel Mansell, Klaus Ludwig, Sir Jackie Stewart, his son-in-law Townsend Bell, and many others, are tales that you’ve likely not read elsewhere. And yet, each opens up the picture of a connected life that, in his own words, is that of an “incorrigible optimist”. By the way, that word “incorrigible” - it’s almost universally taken to be a negative trait. In Campbell’s lexicon, however, it means he was first, last, and always, determined (which is about the twelfth-down dictionary definition of the word).

Virtually every page of this book speaks to the term and defines it in action. And just to put a bit finer point on it: Campbell’s optimism here is never blind, in fact the best word for it might be “buoyant”. Rod Campbell’s behind-the-scenes work guiding the Ford Motor Company’s motorsports PR in the early 1980s is widely credited as one of the strongest reasons behind the Blue Oval’s racing resurgence. Campbell here talks candidly about those times, and in doing so, sketches out a simple methodology that’s easy to understand (from here). But, like all of the pro stuff that looks easy, it was a monumental achievement for Campbell and company.

On almost every page, in almost every chapter, Campbell talks about the sort of teams that he had built around his idea of what great marketing and intelligent public relations work really means. As this very personal story progresses, Campbell’s circle of connections, and how he made them, and how he made them work, becomes more and more tangible. And then there’s the family sections - direct, straight-from-the-shoulder personal reminiscences of his family and his life away from the PR front lines. Campbell (it is HIS book, right?) includes chapters illustrating his personal interests in art, fine food, and wine. Inside information that works to broaden and (pardon) give flavor to his story.

Throughout the book there are numerous friends, family, and business acquaintances whose personal (and we’ve used that word a whole bunch explaining this book) notes on the title character of this book are not only interesting but add nicely to the bold portrait of a guy who always seem to love (as well as profit from) what he’s doing. No, this book is not for everyone out there. For the young person who can ask the right questions and then find the courage to act on the answers, however, this book might be something they’ll want to take a look at. For his many friends and fans (and maybe more so his business competitors over the years) this is an unprecedented look into the way that one of the best in the business worked … and continues to do so to this day.

About The Author

Doug Stokes's profile picture

Doug Stokes

Doug has a long and wide-ranging history in the motoring business. He served five years as the Executive Director of the International Kart Federation, and was the PR guy for the Mickey Thompson's Off-Road Championship Gran Prix. He worked racing PR for both Honda and Suzuki and was a senior PR person on the first Los Angeles (Vintage) Grand Prix. He was also the first PR Manager for Perris Auto Speedway, and spent over 20 years as the VP of Communications at Irwindale Speedway. Stokes is the recipient of the American Autowriters and Broadcaster’s 2005 Chapman Award for Excellence in Public Relations and was honored in 2015 by the Motor Press Guild with their Dean Batchelor Lifetime Achievement Award. “… I’ve also been reviewing automobiles and books for over 20 years, and really enjoy my LA Car assignments.” he added.

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