• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart have both said it as clearly as you can do it -- "NO" -- they won't race in the Indianapolis 500. But that won't stop the chatroomers from speculating about it. You can bank on this -- There will be a lot of wasted Internet space on this topic leading up to next May's 100th Indy 500. Not that it will matter, but I'll repeat what Jeff and Tony have said -- "NO."

Sunday, September 27, 2015


POWER PLAYERS for the week of  September 27: 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. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch -- Defending Sprint Cup champion and comeback athlete of the year in a near must-win race at Dover in order to advance to the next round. If there were ever two drivers to watch in one race, this is it.

  3. Joe Gibbs -- His drivers have won both Chase races and, with Toyota, will have a technical alliance with the No. 78 Furniture Row team next season.

  4. Del Worsham and Antron Brown -- Winners of the first two NHRA Countdown events in Funny Car and Top Fuel, respectively. 

  6. Jeff Gordon -- Officially becomes NASCAR's "ironman" with 789 consecutive starts. But needs a good finish at Dover to secure his place in the second Chase round.

  7. Donny Schatz -- Wins 30th World of Outlaws feature of the season, the most since Steve Kinser in 1992.

  8. Gene Haas -- Driver announcement for his Formula One team coming this week.

 9. Jeg Coughlin Jr. -- First NHRA driver ever to win national events in seven different eliminator categories: Pro Stock, Stock and  Super Gas, Comp, Super Stock, Top Dragster and Stock.

 10. Tracy Hines -- Winner of more than 90 USAC national events and a Silver Crown and sprint car series champion, Hines will stop full-time racing next year to become NASCAR Truck series' ThorSport Racing's competition director. Hines leads the USAC midget series standings.

[ more next week . . . ]

Sunday, September 20, 2015


POWER PLAYERS for the week of  September 20: 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.  Sebastian Vettel -- Singapore was much more than his third victory in his first season with Ferrari. It's more than it was a win in a Ferrari, the world's most famous race car marque. It's more than it was from the pole. It was Vettel's 42d career Grand Prix victory, third on the all-time list, moving him ahead of Ayrton Senna. Let me repeat that: Vettel now has won more GPs than Senna. Senna. It's a story being heralded around the world, if not so much in America.

  2. Mike Helton -- On the NASCAR vice chairman's to-do list at New Hampshire: A meeting with what the sanction likes to impress everyone with its sophistication by calling  teams, sponsors, manufacturers, etc. "stakeholders" about 2016 rules -- likely to be the low downforce package -- and dealing with more controversy on what is and isn't a legal restart. And how to officiate it.

  3. Joe Gibbs -- His Toyota's finish 1-2 in both the Chicagoland Sprint Cup and Xfinity series races. 

  4. Denny Hamlin -- A poor starting position, early spin and ACL injury made his win in the first Chase race unlikely. Which makes it a better story for the national media. 

  5. Scott Pruett -- America's greatest endurance sports car driver gets his 60th career victory in IMSA's headline event at Circuit of the Americas. 

  6. Erica Enders -- Her victory in Pro Stock -- she's essentially the only story of note in that troubled class -- was the most significant of NHRA's four classes as the Countdown playoffs got underway next to Charlotte Motor Speedway. She passed Shirley Muldowney on the NHRA career-wins list.

  7. Rick Hendrick -- Completes two-year contract renewals with Jimmie Johnson and Lowe's. Chad Knaus was already signed.

  8. Lesa France Kennedy -- International Speedway Corp., which she chairs, decides not to submit a proposal to manage Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. That sent a chill through the sports car community, which, of course, is led by the IMSA series controlled by Jim France and family.

 9. Brandon Igdalsky -- While the Pocono Raceway boss vacationed outside the U.S., IndyCar continued to wait for his decision about bringing the series back in 2016. In this case, silence isn't golden.

 10. Robert Ballou -- Wins Tony Hulman/Jim Hurtubise Classic USAC sprint car race, his first victory at Terre Haute. It was his 10th USAC win of the season. 

more next week . . . ]

Sunday, September 13, 2015


POWER PLAYERS for the week of  September 13: 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.  Joe Gibbs -- His Toyota team has won eight of the last 11 Cup races. Could all four Gibbs' drivers battle it out for the Cup at Homestead?

  2. Matt Kenseth -- He starts the Chase as the championship favorite, with four wins and three of the last six.

  3. Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus -- They've been the masters of the Chase format but are struggling for speed.

  5. Kyle Busch -- He qualified for the Chase despite missing a big part of the season due to leg injuries suffered at Daytona. A Cup title would be one of sport's all-time greatest comebacks.

  6. Mark Miles -- Hulman & Co. CEO says he's going to take a more hands-on role with the IndyCar series.

  7.  Jack Beckman -- NHRA's Countdown starts this weekend at Charlotte and the cancer survivor's very fast Funny Car makes him the title favorite in that nitro class.

  8. Rob Kauffman -- When Michael Waltrip Racing liquidates after this season, the assets that are the No. 15 and the No. 55 points likely will go to the highest bidder. Richard Childress for Ty Dillon? The Wood Brothers for Ryan Blaney?

   9. Dave Moody -- It's time for NASCAR's playoffs and fans will talk about it passionately with the SiriusXM Channel 90 afternoon host.

 10. Levi Jones -- The winner in every USAC series named the sanction's new national midget racing director. 

more next week . . . ]

Monday, September 07, 2015


There was a lot of criticism of the 2015 IndyCar schedule because the season was over before Labor Day.

As unintended as the circumstances were, thank God it did.

Few sports organizations face the off-season with as many challenges. So, with Justin Wilson's death fresh and raw, it was a good thing there was only one race left after Wilson died. That provided everyone in the paddock the chance to properly honor Wilson and pay their respects in a public way. Now they can deal with it privately.

What needs to be addressed by Mark Miles and his executive management team? Keeping Honda and dealing with its request to modify its aero kit. That would require Miles to go beyond what had been agreed to with Chevrolet, so the final decision likely will have consequences. Then there's the 2016 schedule, and the fate of Milwaukee and Pocono. Derrick Walker is gone as the competition boss, so there's a replacement to be found and issues like race control, the steward system, and the "post-race review" philosophy to be reviewed and reformulated. Sponsors, oh do teams need sponsors! Some existing teams may well be on the brink.

But there's one issue I want to see fixed -- finally. And that's adding an experienced, top-shelf communicator to the executive management team. Under different leadership, IndyCar paid a big price for going silent after Dan Wheldon's fatal accident. New people, the same problems, when Wilson was injured at Pocono. It's called Crisis Communications and IndyCar seemingly has zero capability. The fact that IndyCar doesn't have this is itself a crisis. Consider the PR mess Indy 500 pole day when the rules were changed abruptly in response to cars flipping. Walker admitted to me the Big 3 -- Mark Miles, Doug Boles and Walker -- did not emerge from their decision meeting with talking points. They all pretty much went in different directions with their own version of what was important. It was a mess.

In the age of instant communications via social media, there simply was no excuse for IndyCar to have let NBCSN go off-the-air at Pocono without an official statement regarding Wilson's condition. Those involved might do well to take a look at the June 1981 Milwaukee CART race on ESPN, or the 1981, 1982 and 1983 Michigan 500s on NBC. 

I've had a couple of conversations with CEO Miles about this (before Pocono.) Candidly, I didn't get the impression it's a high priority for him. It should be. It OBVIOUSLY should be. If nothing else, go back and read AP columnist Paul Newberry's article that called for the end of the IndyCar sport. I can say, from personal experience, that those kind of columns don't get written when the series has established good, professional, 1-on-1 relationships with journalists. (That means don't copy NASCAR's Integrated Marketing Communications model.)

It was already past time for IndyCar to spend the money on a communications VP, one with great experience, and with the authority to fix the long list of PR things that need fixing. With the run-up to the 100th Indianapolis 500 at hand, the time is NOW.

I have alerted you in the past when higher personal priorities would affect this blog. Now, again, is such a time. Over the next several weeks I do not expect to have enough time to think and write this blog, at least to the standard I have asked of myself. I have personal issues that will demand my time and attention, and I'll also be working on upcoming stories for the Arizona Republic. The "Power Players" list will be updated every week. Sometimes there may be brief text to go along with it; sometimes there will be only the list. Quick thoughts and news alerts will come via Twitter -- @SpinDoctor500 . Thank you.

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  September 6: 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.  Jack Beckman and Jimmy Prock -- Driver-tuner combo looking like NHRA's version of Jimmie Johnson-Chad Knaus in their championship seasons, winning U.S. Nationals with a Beckman holeshot in otherwise the fastest and quickest hot rod on the planet.

 3. Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon -- Plus Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer, needing a good finish at Richmond Saturday night to make the Chase on points and without a win.

 6. Joe Gibbs -- His Sprint Cup teams have won six of the last eight races, including Darlington with Carl Edwards. 

 7. Dave Moody -- SiriusXM NASCAR radio afternoon drive-time host adds Monday segments on Fox Sports 1's NASCAR Race Hub, simulcast on TV and radio.

  8. Erica Enders-Stevens -- Time for national media to give defending NHRA Pro Stock class champ some pub. She had three holeshots to take U.S. Nats.

   9. Ken Adelson -- TV production veteran becomes NHRA's broadcasting and digital content VP and will be executive producer for NHRA-produced Fox Sports shows next season. Adelson will be the one crafting what fans will see.

 10. Shane Cockrum -- Second consecutive win in the USAC Silver Crown Ted Horn 100 at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.

more next week . . . ]

Sunday, August 30, 2015


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


(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:


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


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:


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 . . . ]