• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Latest example of ESPN compromising journalistic standards for commercial reasons. College Football Gameday hosts Rece Davis and Kirk Herbstreit have been named brand ambassadors for the Reese's candy brand.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

INDYCAR TITLE TEAM TOPS 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST


POWER PLAYERS for the week of August 30: This week's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

  1. Chip Ganassi, Scott Dixon, Mike Hull -- A come-from-behind 11th IndyCar championship for the Target team owner with American racing's most relentless driver and his calm, calculating race caller. 

  4. Don Schumacher -- NHRA's most successful team owner dismisses Countdown eligible driver Spencer Massey from his Top Fuel ride for undisclosed violation of team policy. This one week before the Big Go, the U.S. Nationals. Khalid alBalooshi gets the ride for Indy.

  5. Mark Miles -- IndyCar season is over but now Hulman Racing CEO must finalize 2016 schedule, get Honda renewed and settle its request to redesign part of its aero kit, replace racing boss Derrick Walker, etc., etc. etc.

  6. Donny Schatz -- World of Outlaws' career win No. 199 for U.S. dirt short-track racing's top star.

 7. Steve O'Donnell -- NASCAR's racing development chief goes back to low-downforce rules package for Southern 500 at Darlington Speedway.

  8. Jim Campbell -- Chevrolet's racing boss takes IndyCar engine manufacturers' title. 

 9. Courtney Force -- Winless this season, the NHRA Funny Car class needle-mover likely needs to win U.S. Nationals to qualify for the championship Countdown. 

10. Jeff Gordon -- His last Darlington start coincides with his need for a win to qualify for NASCAR's Chase in his farewell season.

more next week . . . ]

Monday, August 24, 2015

THE WEEK IN RACING BUSINESS

(What follows was written before Justin Wilson's accident at Pocono Sunday. It should be read in that context.)

Business of Racing stories crashed head-first into the news headlines last week. It proved yet again that one can't be considered an in-the-know racing fan -- or journalist (and there are more than a few pretending to know) -- without understanding at least a little about the Biz (and Politics) of the sport/industry.

Rob Kauffman set off tremors in the NASCAR garage area by withdrawing his financial support of Michael Waltrip Racing for a new alliance with Chip Ganassi Racing. As a result, MWR will cease operations as a full-time Sprint Cup team. Clint Bowyer is the highest-profile one looking for a place to work in 2016, but the harsh reality is a couple hundred jobs will be lost, and it's very questionable if all can be absorbed by the industry. NASCAR likely will need a few new "Start and Park" cars to have a 43-car field next year.

Kauffman's and Bowyer's quotes pre-Bristol were unusually revealing, with Kauffman saying MWR was not "viable." It calls into question how much primary sponsors Aaron's and 5-Hour Energy were paying the team and how much of it was being spent to make the cars competitive. Read Kauffman's ground-shaking quotes below in "Power Players." While not specifically named by Kauffman, Michael Waltrip's image surely has taken a huge hit, and it will be telling how Fox chooses to frame this story involving one of its "talent" when the network resumes NASCAR coverage next season.

Kauffman's words came against the backdrop of a significant stock market drop. Don't for a moment think a 2,000-point decline from the Dow's all-time high doesn't mean anything to the likes of Roger Penske and Rick Hendrick (a prolonged market slump will impact their auto dealerships) -- and their sponsors. While fans and race promoters cheer low gas prices, oil dipping below $40 a barrel could have negative consequences for the racing involvements of Mobil, Shell and Sunoco. 

Even a casual look at NASCAR's Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series teams shows how thinly many of the cars/trucks are sponsored. Chris Buescher almost won last Friday night's Xfinity race in a Mustang showcasing one of owner Jack Roush's businesses. Penske has, in effect, self-funded some of his cars via his truck leasing business. 

Over at IndyCar, some suspicions were confirmed with the settlement of Michael Andretti's legal dispute involving his race team and his sports marketing enterprise. A couple primary sponsors have apparently stiffed Andretti the last few years. He sued the New Orleans race owners for payment involving his promotion of that ill-fated event and his promotion of Milwaukee never met expectations. 

IndyCar is hurting for Big Time sponsors and one can't help but wonder about the future of teams like Sarah Fisher's going forward. And, while this has been a concern for several years, it's not too early to wonder if economic conditions will allow for a full 33-car field for next May's 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

John Force still doesn't have his NHRA operation fully funded. Formula One's back end of the grid is near desperate for a larger cut of the funds doled out by Bernie Ecclestone. For the second straight year McLaren isn't displaying a major sponsor. Ecclestone is saying Monza, a near-sacred sight for Grand Prix racing, might not be able to pay the fee he demands for a race date.

One positive was the announcement that Nature's Bakery (to be honest, I company I had never heard of, and I guess that's the point of the sponsorship) will be Danica Patrick's new primary sponsor and that she has a new multi-year contract with the Tony Stewart-Gene Haas team. I don't see any way Nature's Bakery will be paying what GoDaddy was and it's reasonable to think Danica's own $ guarantee won't be what it was.

All of the above are worth considering while you are watching the laps go by . . .


I've written before that, while I am not a golfer, I follow the golf industry because I see numerous elements that compare with motorsports. I've been asked a few times over the years about the relationship between individual media people and drivers or owners and how this might be reflected in the extent or tone of news coverage. It's worth noting that, while Arnold Palmer's accomplishments rightly make him one of America's top-five sporting icons, Arnie was smart enough to gain favor by often taking the golf writers to dinner.

Anyway, I came across this story about Jordan Spieth. It's long, but revealing for those interested in such things:

http://grantland.com/the-triangle/the-need-for-spieth-jordan-spieth-golf-pga-tour-bridgestone-invitational-the-masters-us-open-british-open-sports-media/


POWER PLAYERS for the week of August 23: This week's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

  1.  Juan Pablo Montoya, Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon -- Who will win the Verizon IndyCar series championship Sunday at Sonoma? This matters because the champ will be expected to do more media and present an upbeat "face" for the series.

  4. Rob Kauffman -- His quotes about leaving Michael Waltrip Racing were blunt and close to devastating: "From a business standpoint, that didn't make sense any longer. You can't have a top-10 budget and top-10 resources and not be in the top 10 for a sustained period of time. It's a performance-related business. It's all about performance. It's a great sport but a very difficult business model. From a business decision, it just made sense to not go forward with that organization, which is not commercially viable."

    5. Danica Patrick --  Signs multi-year contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing and new primary sponsor Nature's Bakery. What to watch for: If she can produce better race results and how she might reinvent her image to suit the needs of Nature's Bakery. 

  6. Bruton Smith -- Speedway Motorsports Inc. (Charlotte, Bristol, Sonoma, Atlanta, etc.) founder reveals non-Hodgin's lymphoma diagnoses.

  7. Bernie Ecclestone -- Formula One's commercial czar casts doubt on future of GPs at historic Monza and Nurburging because they can't meet his price. If it's a bargaining ploy, it's a scary one for those who believe such legendary tracks are as important to F1 as Ferrari and Lewis Hamilton. 

  8. Jimmy Prock -- His driver, Jack Beckman, didn't win last Sunday but their combination is setting new NHRA Funny Car records. They are the favorites going into the Chevy Performance U.S. Nationals and for the class championship. 

  9. Kody Swanson -- Back-to-back wins in the USAC Silver Crown Tony Bettenhausen 100 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds -- after starting 16th!

 10. Steve Kinser -- Sprint car racing's "King" no longer runs full-time with the World of Outlaws, but shows he can still win -- and attract press coverage and fans -- taking Friday night's 35-lap UNOH All-Star Circuit of Champions feature at Michigan's I-96 Speedway.

more next week . . . ]

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A QUAINT IDEA THAT'S NO LONGER VIABLE (and SCHATZ' KNOXVILLE NATIONALS WIN PUTS HIM ATOP 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST

One of my favorite places, Laguna Seca Raceway (make that Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca), has been in the news recently for reasons related to the Business and Politics of Racing. Many best remember Laguna's world-famous Corkscrew as where Alex Zanardi went off-road to pass Bryan Herta for the win on the last lap of the 1996 CART race. I have the helmet Alex was wearing that day on display in my office. It's a cherished gift from Alex the Great.

Simply stated, the Monterey Board of Supervisors is having International Speedway Corp. (ISC, as in Daytona, Talladega, Phoenix, etc.) study the situation to see if it might replace SCRAMP to run the place. ISC wouldn't buy the track, but it would manage it. SCRAMP -- Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula) -- is essentially a local and largely volunteer organization that has put on the races for decades. If you want to get down into the weeds of this situation, you can read the lengthy story posted on Racer.com last week. 

A few years ago I wrote here about the late Lee Moselle, who was SCRAMP's executive director. I got to know Lee when I worked for CART and we started a successful run of races in 1983. Lee was a true gentleman and one of those people I'm blessed to have known. Here's a link to the blog so you can learn more about him:

http://spindoctor500blog.blogspot.com/2012/08/moselles-way-was-right-way.html

I wrote that Laguna has never seemed the same to me since Moselle's death. Now that I've gone back and re-read that posting, I realize that his passing really was the end of SCRAMP's ability to operate a major motorsports facility in today's business and political climate. It was a fine idea back in the day, for a group of volunteers who were mostly local businessmen, to be Big Time race promoters. Thinking about it, I understand even better that Moselle's relationships with all the key local business and political leaders and the racing sanctioning bodies and those sponsors, kept the now quaint notion of an organization such as SCRAMP going longer than perhaps reality demanded. It's like when Bing Crosby hosted his "Clambake" pro golf tournament at Pebble Beach. A wonderful event in its day, but no longer a viable proposition.

SCRAMP donated money earned from the races to a variety of charities and there's no reason that can't continue. But the Monterey supervisors need to adjust to the real world and change their too-restrictive policies about noise and such if they really want to have a valuable racing asset. 

If ISC concludes it can operate well within the supervisor's framework, then I say that's the best course to take. SCRAMP can be recognized for future generations by a plaque or some other honor such as an official renaming like the "SCRAMP Paddock."

But business is business, politics are politics, reality is reality, and to me that means a more professional approach is what Laguna Seca needs to go forward. Times have changed. I endorse ISC management as the way to go.  

POWER PLAYERS for the week of August 16: This week's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

  1.  Donny Schatz -- Wins sprint car racing's biggest event, the Knoxville Nationals, start-to-finish from the pole, for the ninth time in 10 years and ties Steve Kinser's mark of five straight. It was Schatz 23d World of Outlaws victory of the season. He's symbolically carrying the banner of all short-track racers at tracks throughout America.

  2. Joe Gibbs -- Not only did Matt Kenseth win Michigan to continue Joe Gibbs Racing's hot streak in Sprint Cup, but Gibbs said he has a plan in place for Erik Jones' future. In 2016, that will be full-time in the Xfinity series with some Cup starts along the way.

  3. Steve O'Donnell -- NASCAR's racing development chief says the sanction will stick with its current rules package for the 10 Chase races. But NASCAR's second try of a high-downforce configuration, at Michigan, produced another bad showbiz event. 

 4. Danica Patrick -- Scheduled to announce her future plans Tuesday. Hint: The news conference is taking place at Stewart-Haas Racing.

  5. Jay Frye -- The former NASCAR Cup team executive, now chief revenue officer for the Hulman Motorsports properties, uses his strong stock car contacts to make big progress on a possible IndyCar return to Phoenix International Raceway. The track and series have agreed on a date, Saturday night, April 2, and a 250-mile race distance. Issues such as financial specifics still need to be resolved, but it's the closest the series and PIR have been in 10 years. 

  6. Brandon Igdalsky -- How many tickets the Pocono International Raceway president can sell to this Sunday's race likely will determine if IndyCar will return in 2016.

  7. Mark Miles -- A return to Phoenix would be a huge plus for IndyCar's CEO. But Auto Club Speedway already is gone for 2016 and Milwaukee, New Orleans and Pocono are on the brink.

  8. Jeff Gordon -- Is his last Saturday night start at Bristol Gordon's last/best chance to win in his final season?

  9. David Wilson -- Toyota Racing Development president has led a big turn-around for the automaker in Sprint Cup. Is Toyota's first Cup title at hand?

10. Wayne Estes -- Former Ford NASCAR publicist and Bristol Motor Speedway communications VP named president and GM of Sebring International Raceway.

more next week . . . ]

Monday, August 10, 2015

BUDDY BAKER DID IT HIS WAY: MY PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS STORY OF HIS 1980 DAYTONA 500 WIN

(I got to know Buddy Baker, who died Monday, in the mid-1970s when I was at the Philadelphia Daily News. My friend, the late Bill Simmons, was auto editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer and formally introduced us. He and Buddy were, well, buddies, and Baker used to ask Simmons about the cars he was road testing and writing about. Pocono or Dover would bring Buddy to Philadelphia for a round of media interviews in advance of their races so I got to spend some extended quality time with him. Baker, in addition to Benny Parsons, became my "go to" guys for rain-delay stories or when some bit of news at the tracks needed driver comment. In recent years I'd speak with him when he co-hosted on SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90. I covered Baker's greatest achievement, the 1980 Daytona 500, for the Daily News. Here's my story that was published Feb. 18, 1980:)


By MICHAEL KNIGHT

     DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- He is as physically imposing as John Wayne, a man who stands tall and proud and broad-shouldered. Wearing a black hat he could easily be mistaken for any of those bad guys the Duke shot it out with in the Hollywood westerns.

     And yet, at this moment, his emotions had gained control over the hulking body.

     He sat next to his son and cried.

     "My little boy (Brandon, 14) hopped in the car at the start/finish line," Elzie Wylie Baker -- better known as Buddy -- said yesterday afternoon after blazing his way to glory, $102,275, and the 22d Daytona 500 stock car race. "He was cryin' a little, and I was cryin' too. I'll tell you, that's what it's all about."

     The tears genuinely sprung from the soul of the 6-5, 215-pound driver from Charlotte, who has endured more frustration in his 18 years at Daytona International Speedway than Randy Gardner and Tai Babilonia could possibly feel in Lake Placid. Thirty-five times he had competed on the high banks, in what he admits were "some of the best race cars ever brought here," and 35 times he turned into the garage area instead of victory lane.

     In the 500 -- this sport's Super Bowl -- and July's Firecracker 400, Baker has crashed while leading. In the 1973 500 his engine blew while in first place with 10 laps to go. Five years later, it happened four laps from the checkered flag.

     He is the ultimate pedal-to-the-metal good Buddy, a man who has been criticized for driving too hard, for breaking his equipment. He has won only 17 of 502 Grand National races -- a 3.4 winning percentage. Pete Rose, who was among the 110,000 spectators yesterday, would never have gotten a megabuck contract with a batting average like that.

     Baker's ultimate vindication came in the fact that, when he finally did win at Daytona, he did it his way, as Frank Sinatra would say. He led eight times, 143 of the 200 laps around the 2.5-mile tri-oval, and averaged a stunning 177.602 MPH in his NAPA Oldsmobile. It was the fastest 500-mile race in history, bettering the record of 174.700 MPH set by Lennie Pond 1 1/2 years ago at Talladega, Ala.

     Ironically, Pond did it in the same car Baker drove yesterday. There has never been any question that the Harry Ranier team, with crew chief Waddell Wilson, possessed what is probably the quickest machine on NASCAR's Winston Cup tour. The problem has been finishing.

     "I don't know any time I've driven a better car," said Baker, who became only the fourth man to win from the pole position. "The crew deserves all the credit. All I had to do was keep it between the two walls, it was such a great race car."

     But as good as Baker's car was, a crucial decision by Wilson ultimately could have made the difference between victory and defeat for Baker. Buddy has passed Dale Earnhardt for the lead on lap 155 and held it when the time came for his final pit stop.

     Bobby Allison and Neil Bonnett, who were running third and fourth, pitted on lap 180. Allison's crew added fuel and slapped two tires on the outside of his Hodgdon Mercury in 11 seconds. The normally efficient Wood Brothers team took 13 seconds just to add one can -- 11 gallons -- of gasoline to Bonnett's Purolator Mercury.

     "Right before Buddy came in, the Wood Brothers put in one can and I was already thinkin' about it," Wilson explained. "If we put in two, it would have taken an extra three seconds, so we gambled on one because I thought it was the only way we'd win."

     So when Baker stormed into the pits one lap after Allison and Bonnett, his mechanics sloshed in 11 gallons in seven seconds. Earnhardt, still running second, came in at the same time but sat there for over 25 seconds and had to stop again the next lap because the new left-rear tire went soft.

     Baker returned to the track with an 8.7 second advantage over Allison and quickly stretched it to 13 seconds as Allison and Bonnett battled for second place.

     Wilson, worried that there wasn't enough fuel on board to finsh, radioed to Baker to ease his large right foot off the throttle.

     "He told me to slow down and I said, 'I can't hear you,' just to get him off my back," laughed Baker. "I was afraid somebody would pass me if I slowed down.

     "Dave Marcis (who had spun in turn four with Cale Yarborough on lap 107) was runnin' behind me and I motioned him to move up, 'cause two cars runnin' together get better fuel mileage.

     "With two laps to go the fuel pressure gauge fell to two pounds and I said, 'Oh, no, I know what's going to happen.'"

     But, for once, it didn't. Just then, John Utsman's Chevrolet blew its engine on the front straightaway, and Baker slowed -- conserving those precious last few drops -- as the race ended under the yellow caution flag.

     Baker, 39, admitted thoughts of past disasters flashed through his mind in those closing laps. Thoughts of 1971, when Richard Petty passed him 50 miles from the finish to win. Thoughts of 1975, when his engine exploded with less than 150 miles to go. Thoughts of '73 and '78.

     "If I had run out of fuel, I'd have probably shot myself," he said.

     Then he thought about his Oldsmobile and the remarkable record speed and the big man straightened up his shoulders and conceded, "I'd have had to put a lot of effort into losing today."

     Buddy Baker had -- finally -- indeed done it.

     His way.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

ANTI-PR (and SCHATZ IS 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' THIS WEEK

I find these to be very troubling times for the media. I mean beyond the obvious business challenges. I mean in the fundamental relationship between reporters and public relations representatives and the athletes they cover or represent.

I've written about this a lot. I do so because this blog is written primarily for those within the industry and I hope to point out to them legitimate issues. But I also write about it a lot because it's important. It's about reporting the news in the new age of "new" media and "social" media and how the standards of acceptability have changed in an increasingly negative way. I think those like me -- go ahead and call us old-timers with old-time values -- are having it even worse than those who have come along in more recent years. I guess we see what was and what now is not and that's frustrating, to put it mildly.

Take a look at this Tweet sent out last week by Viv Bernstein. More importantly, click the link to read what she says about the "new normal" journalists face. She includes a link about the Chicago Bears' more restrictive media regulations. Apparently those who cover the NFL team only learned of the new policy when they arrived at Bears' training camp. If there was no prior consultation with affected media people beforehand, well, that reminds me of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway moving its long-time media parking area to OUTSIDE the track. Something most journos only found out about in May. Good media relations -- no, COMMON COURTESY -- demanded better. (I mentioned this to Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, but he didn't seem too concerned.) As I wrote afterwards, and has been carried forward by AARWBA President Dusty Brandel in the organization's new newsletter, Indy was a less friendly, less welcoming place. That's exactly the wrong tone to set for the run-up to next year's 100th running of the 500. 

retweeted

Bernstein mentions NASCAR and I completely agree. As I have previously stated, the Integrated Marketing Communications philosophy, as conjured-up and carried-out by the department's leadership, is anti-PR, anti-media friendly. At least to those of us who no doubt would be labeled "old school." That doesn't mean we're not right.

A few  years ago, in preparation for my NASCAR-at-Phoenix coverage in the Arizona Republic, I sent an E-mail to the PR rep for a team that was using multiple drivers. I asked to confirm who I believed was going to drive for the team at PIR. That's about as basic as it gets. NO ANSWER. And then there was when I was researching my comprehensive story on PIR's 50th anniversary. A NASCAR rep told me Chairman Brian France was not available to offer a comment. That was more than ridiculous. It was stupid. An easy chance for NASCAR's boss to praise the track (an ISC-owned track, I should add) in a major, demographically diverse market -- and it's fans -- became a not forgotten and a not healed burr under my saddle. 

All of which is not to say all is correct on the media side. The most recent and terrible example being last week's Republican presidential candidates debate on Fox News. At a time of terrorism at home and abroad, the rise of ISIS, Iran nukes, immigration issues, jobs, the economy, energy, race relations and the completely bogus "War on Women," Fox News turned what should have been a serious two hours into an entertainment spectacle. Three moderators weren't needed -- those choices were driven by ratings hype or contract obligation. And, as was at least partially admitted on other network shows, each question was predetermined right down to the exact wording, who would ask it, to whom it would be asked, and at what point in the debate. Even anchor Bret Baier admitted the opening 10 minutes -- spent revving-up the audience cheerleader-style while the candidates waited on stage -- "didn't work" and was "awkward." 

As I wrote on Twitter, I'm surprised Fox didn't have Darrell Waltrip open the debate with: "Boogity, boogity, boogity. Let's go debatin', boys."

Take this to the bank: No matter its public statements, Fox News management, and the anchor involved, are delighting in the controversy coming from Donald Trump's post-debate criticism. Good for ratings, you know . . .

But let's remember this: For all the hype from Fox about how 24 million viewers watched, the 2008 vice presidential debate featuring Sarah Palin drew a staggering audience of 70 million.


POWER PLAYERS for the week of August 9: This week's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

  1.  Donny Schatz -- He's sprint car racing's Main Man and winner of eight of the last nine Knoxville Nationals, the sport's most prestigious event. Schatz got some nice attention from Curt Cavin in the Indianapolis Star recently, but this Knoxville week is the time for national media to take notice of the World of Outlaws' dominant driver -- 22 wins already this season.

  2. Joey Logano -- NASCAR's new road course ace, the Daytona 500 winner sweeps the Xfinity-Cup series weekend races at Watkins Glen.

  3. George Bruggenthies -- Road America president bringing IndyCar back to the fantastic four-mile road course for the first time since 2007. The confirmed date is June 26, 2016.

 4. Shane Stewart -- Won both of the weekend's World of Outlaws' races, including the Ironman 55. Also won the Kings Royal earlier this season, so heading to Knoxville, he looms as the biggest challenger to Donny Schatz.

  5. Jimmy Prock -- Jack Beckman came up two rounds short of sweeping NHRA's Western Swing, but crew chief Prock has tuned Beckman's Dodge to a long string of three second passes and so is the Funny Car championship favorite.

   6. David MacNeil -- Founder and CEO of WeatherTech will take over from Tudor watches as IMSA's United SportsCar series sponsor next year.

  7. Steve O'Donnell -- NASCAR's racing development boss tries the high drag aero package again this weekend at Michigan. 

  8. Bob Baker -- Executive director of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame (I am a voting member) will be showcasing the sport's history all this week at Knoxville.

  9. Dave Argabright and Mike Kerchner -- Theirs will be the definitive words about the Knoxville Nationals this week. See NationalSpeedSportNews.com . 

more next week . . . ]

Sunday, August 02, 2015

TIME TO CHECK WHAT'S SCRIBBLED ON MY LEGAL PAD

Time once again to transcribe notes written on my yellow legal pad:

I sure would like one of those Big Time TV executives to explain to me why they keep hiring pit reporters who don't know how to ask a meaningful question. ("How does it feel?" or "What does this mean to you?" don't make the cut.) Or, many a time, no question at all, just make a statement. Isn't the ability to interview the most basic requirement of the job?

It's a good thing Fox hired Jeff Gordon for the booth because NBC's Jeff Burton-Steve Letarte combo is miles and miles ahead of Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds.

Memo to NASCAR's R&D Center: You're never going to create a rules package that will make for boffo racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The track layout simply isn't suitable for stock cars. (And, no, IMS isn't going to add banking.) Do your best to create enough of a draft for passing on the long straights and into turns one and three. And leave it at that.

Memo to fans: Go to the Brickyard 400 for the experience and because it's Indy. And leave it at that.

Memo to Doug Boles, IMS president: Bring back the apron. Please. With all the talk about making racing more entertaining, this is what you've gotta do.

It was a very bad decision for the NBCSN director to go with a tight shot of the flagman waving the checkered flag instead of showing the majority of the field finish the Brickyard 400. Just how do you justify that? Fans want to see the cars and their favorite drivers finish, not the flagman. Period. 

There have been some nice tributes to Jeff Gordon this season. But I don't think anyone can top Phoenix International Raceway becoming Jeff Gordon Raceway on Nov. 15.

Hard to believe, but true: ESPN will essentially be out of motorsports next year. As of now, just the racing events that are part of the X Games. This is personal to me because, as CART's communications director, I did the first-ever TV deal between CART and ESPN in December 1980. Our first race on ESPN was Milwaukee in June 1981, with Bob Jenkins, Larry Nuber and Gary Lee calling the action.

As hard as it may be to believe there is such a thing as an "underreported" NASCAR story, here's one: The quality of Cup series road races has improved by a factor of 1,000 since multiple left-and-right turn courses were added to the modern era Cup schedule. Better brakes, transmissions, driving, cars, etc. And double-wide restarts.

Given last week's Internet chatter, let me repeat what I first wrote here in March 2011: Not only would an effort to field a car for Alex Zanardi in next year's Indianapolis 500 be a very, Very, VERY bad idea, it would be "exploitive." Please spare me the talk of how Alex the Great has driven a BMW sports car with hand controls. There is no comparison to doing that and driving an open-wheel car 230 mph on an oval. And spare me the talk about how much publicity this would generate. I happen to know a thing or two about generating publicity. There are some things you want publicity for, and there are other things that the risk is so great of bad publicity, you don't do. I hope a non-PC medical professional puts a stop to this before it goes any further.

Speaking of Internet Nonsense, last week's head-shaker goes to whoever wrote that brakes aren't so important at Indy. Really?  Sure, brakes aren't used doing a normal lap. But how about if you need to STOP?

And then there was the letter that said former CART President Andrew Craig "listened" to the fans. Anybody who was directly involved in CART during that time knows the only person he listened to was himself.

Sprint car racing's premier event, the Knoxville Nationals, comes up Aug. 15 and it's ridiculous this World of Outlaws' headliner doesn't have live TV. It did, for a few years, on the old Speed channel. 

I've often said that the three most important sports franchises are the New York Yankees, Manchester United, and Ferrari. Yes, Ferrari isn't a franchise in the traditional sense, but I hope you catch my meaning. So, when Ferrari wins a Grand Prix, it's not only good for Formula One, it's good for motorsports.

What's not good? Courtney Force winless so far this NHRA Funny Car season.

As one of the millions of Americans who suffer from chronic back problems, especially those with bad issues like bulging discs, spinal compression and nerve pain, I have no doubt whatsoever his own back problems contributed to Jeff Gordon's decision to stop racing.


POWER PLAYERS for the week of August 2: This week's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

  1.  Rob Kauffman -- His deal to buy into Chip Ganassi Racing -- perhaps taking Clint Bowyer along for the ride -- sets off a tidal wave of talk in the NASCAR garage area about the future of Michael Waltrip Racing.

  2. Joe Gibbs -- Matt Kenseth keeps the Gibbs-Toyota victory streak going. Where did all this speed come from all of a sudden?

 3. Graham Rahal -- Wins his home-state race at Mid-Ohio to move to nine points behind championship leader Juan Pablo Montoya with two races to go. Rahal's is a one-car team vs. Team Penske's four. This plays out against the dropback of Honda's huge decision whether to remain in the IndyCar series. (Rahal is with Honda.) And then there's the issue of a media-friendly American champion vs. a media-reluctant Colombian.

 4. Mark Miles -- IndyCar CEO announces that competition president Derrick Walker "resigned" and has launched a search for a replacement. Walker admits in interviews the announcement wasn't made the way he would have wanted. (That's a hint.) His is yet another name added to the long, LONG list of American open-wheel racing leaders to fall under political pressure.

  5. Kyle Busch -- An out-of-fuel loss in Pocono Cup race, but his amazing comeback story continues with Cup pole and Truck series win. 

  6. Jack Beckman -- A dominant weekend at Sonoma gives the cancer survivor a shot to sweep NHRA's Western Swing in Funny Car.

  7. Art St. Cyr -- Honda Performance Development president says a few issues remain to be resolved before a new IndyCar series deal can be signed.

  8. AJ Allmendinger -- His best chance to win and qualify for NASCAR's Chase comes this Sunday at Watkins Glen, where he's the defending race winner.

  9. Jeff Gordon -- The Glen will be Gordon's last road-course event. It comes at a venue where he won four times in five years, but not since 2001. Not counting Dan Gurney at Riverside, Gordon was one of NASCAR's first road-course aces.

10. Bryan Clauson -- Becomes second three-time winner of the Belleville Midget Nationals.

more next week . . . ]

Sunday, July 26, 2015

BUSCH, STEVENS, GIBBS ATOP NEW 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST

Personal priorities didn't allow me time to think or write this week. Fingers crossed for next week. My apologies. Thank you.


POWER PLAYERS for the week of July 26: This week's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

  1. Kyle Busch -- Unless someone can prove that NASCAR has given him "The Call" to make up for leaving that Daytona pit wall unprotected, Busch's comeback story is so compelling that even the NBA-obsessed PTI co-hosts should talk about his accomplishments. 

  2. Adam Stevens -- Now a winner in four of the last five Sprint Cup races, Kyle Busch's crew chief and his driver are on a roll that even Jimmie and Chad would envy.

  3. Joe Gibbs -- Suddenly his Toyota team has become a Hendrick-like power house. It sure is a lot different from last year or the early 2015 Cup season.

 4. Mark Miles -- IndyCar CEO puts into place rules prohibiting competitors from making overly negative comments about the series, events, sponsors, rules, officials, the "brand," et al. Are media stories about to get a lot less interesting? 

 5. Sebastian Vettel -- A great start leads to Hungary Grand Prix victory for Ferrari and stops the Lewis Hamilton-Mercedes runaway. That's career win number 41, tying Vettel with Ayrton Senna.  Victory dedicated to Jules Bianchi, who died recently from head injuries sustained in last year's Japanese GP.

 6. Peter Clifford -- New NHRA president announces big changes to troubled Pro Stock class, including fuel injection in 2016 and shorter wheelie bars for more "wheels up" launches. Plus more fan friendly policies in the pit area.

 7. Fernando Alonso -- Sets an example for his fellow multi-million dollar Formula One drivers by pushing his disabled McLaren-Honda back to pit lane -- in full-face helmet and Nomex uniform -- during Hungary Grand Prix qualifying. Fans everywhere loved it. Then he finished fifth, the best yet in Honda's return to F1. 

  8. Jeff Burton -- Brickyard 400 was his strongest and most informative TV analysis yet. Proving that smart, intelligent talk has a place in NASCAR's "Boogity" media world.

  9. Martin Truex Jr. -- Can he double-up on Pocono wins this season and put the brakes on Kyle Busch's incredible run? 

10. Christopher Bell -- Wins Eldora in only his third career Camping World Truck Series start.

more next week . . . ]