• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Let Indianapolis be a lesson to those who worry about weather forecasts too far in advance. There was at least a 60 percent chance of rain listed on most forecasts up until a couple of days before the race.

Monday, May 25, 2015

CHANGE IN INDIANAPOLIS

Once again U.S. Air flight number 500 took me from Phoenix to Indianapolis for my 37th Indy 500.

My overwhelming feeling from the experience is how much the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has changed in the last  year and how much more it will prior to next year's 100th running of the "Greatest Spectacle." From a physical standpoint, the change has come from useful and overdo improvements such as the scoring pylon and video boards. If all comes together as reported -- and it will be a challenging time window for construction given Indiana weather -- things will be even more dramatically different by May 2016.

We'll see. Remember, IMS is eligible for up to $100 million from the state to accomplish this work. The stark comparison is International Speedway Corp. will spend as much as $400 million for its "re-imagining" of Daytona International Speedway. That's supposed to be finished in time for next February's Speed Weeks.

New and previously not available corporate signage is now most apparent at the Speedway. The infield lot where, for decades, the media parked has become a site for corporate display tents. The media parking was moved outside the track, on Georgetown Ave. (This could be the subject of several writings, but I'll pass on that.) Prices are up: I spoke with several suites holders who were outright angry at the steep price increases for food and beverage service. Sure, sometimes things are said in the heat of the moment, but a friend of mine who coordinates services for a number of suite holders told me the talk is they plan to put up with this through next year's 100th race and then not renew.

What I felt was very dollar that could be, or can be, squeezed out of the existing IMS assets was and is the absolute highest priority for Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, IMS President Doug Boles, and staff. The impression left is that the Hulman/IMS business must have been in much worse financial shape than imaged by any outsider, and Miles' mandate from the Board of Directors is to clean-up the books and bolster the bottom line. Not that I have any direct knowledge of that this is in the works, but it's a business fact that sometimes the kinds of things Miles is doing are done in preparation for a sale, to make the enterprise much more attractive to potential buyers.

My feeling is that everything is now done with the marketing and sales imperatives in mind. If there's a new revenue stream to be tapped, no matter the other implications, that money must be gotten. The human relationships of earlier times -- Tony Hulman greeted me and many others with a handshake and a "Welcome back to Indianapolis!" -- are gone or, at least, very much a secondary thought. 

Those who think of the Indy 500 for great racing got what they wanted last Sunday, after an embarrassing first 10 laps, and it would be nice to think that high-level of competition (as long as you are a Penske or Ganassi fan) and entertainment will carry over for the Verizon IndyCar Series. Next up, the Detroit doubleheader, of course, isn't a venue for such a show so I have my doubts.

How I'll remember my time at the 2015 500? The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and that much touted "Hoosier Hospitality," sure has changed.


POWER PLAYERS for the week of May 24: 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. Roger Penske -- A record 16th Indy 500 win and now hosts the IndyCar series at Detroit. The standard of racing excellence, after a five-year winless streak, has been re-established. 

  2. Juan Pablo Montoya -- He won't be Danny Sullivan (30-year anniversary of his "Spin and Win") out on the national media circuit, but this as hard-nosed a racer as you'll ever find doesn't care. He won the Indy 500.

  3. Joe Gibbs -- Carl Edwards puts his Toyota into a NASCAR victory lane for the first time at Charlotte.


  4. Mark Miles -- CEO of Hulman & Co. identified many news ways to make money for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. To what end?

  5Eddie Gossage -- Texas Motor Speedway president gets his chance to see what an exciting Indy 500 and winner Juan Pablo Montoya can do for ticket sales for the next high-speed oval race.  

  6Jeff Gordon -- His appearance as Indy 500 pace car driver drew more media enthusiasm than any of the 33 drivers in the race -- maybe more than all of them combined. And he'll be a Fox NASCAR analyst next season.

  7. Donny Schatz -- Charlotte was the 11th win of the World of Outlaws season for the driver who dirt-track fans come to see. 

  8. Erica Enders-Stevens -- Keeps carrying the ball for NHRA's troubled Pro Stock class with Topeka victory.

  9. Davey Hamilton -- He's running USAC's day-to-day racing operations now, but as an Indy 500 Radio Network analyst, his unhappiness with the aero kits is obvious.

10. Bernie Ecclestone -- The glamour of Monaco is over for another year and now Formula One's leader still most resolve the serious financial issues facing all but the top teams. 


more next week . . . ]

Saturday, May 23, 2015

LINDA VAUGHN WINS FIRST-EVER HONORARY JIM CHAPMAN AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN MOTORSPORTS PR

Linda Vaughn, who as Miss Hurst Golden Shifter and “The First Lady of Auto Racing” became one of the sport’s greatest world-wide ambassadors, today was announced as the first recipient of an honorary Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations.
 
The Chapman Award, established in 1991, 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, Dan Gurney, Bobby Unser, Mario Andretti, Bill France Sr. and Avis Rent-a-Car founder Warren Avis among many others. Chapman, named Indy Car racing’s “most influential man” of the 1980s, died in 1996 at age 80.
 
The announcement was made at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the annual American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association breakfast meeting. Michael Knight, chairman of the selection committee and one of Chapman’s closest friends, made the presentation.
 
This first-ever honorary Chapman Award is the result of several suggestions and endorsement of the Chapman family and approval of members of the national media selection committee. Vaughn has earned PR awards from NHRA and SEMA and is in several Halls of Fame.
 
Sheryl Kammer, Chapman’s daughter, said: “I know Dad liked and respected Linda. She would also have to be much more than pretty to win Dad’s approval. This first honorary Jim Chapman Award is a terrific idea.”
 
“There is absolutely no question, and I know from my own conversations with him, that Jim had great respect for Linda,” said Knight, the long-time journalist/publicist and award rights-holder. “Jim was a true ‘people person’ and so is Linda.
 
“Linda went from being Miss Atlanta Speedway and Miss Pure Firebird to learn and become an accomplished public relations representative and marketer for Hurst. She became a friend and confidant to drivers and their families. She helped the media and introduced many journalists, including me, to drivers, owners and executives. She probably has been in more victory lanes than anyone on Earth. And she remains one of racing’s greatest international ambassadors, making fans for the sport everywhere she’s traveled."
Established in 1991 by media and publicists within the CART series, the Chapman Award originally focused on achievement in CART. After a hiatus of several years, the award was resumed in 2004, with eligibility expanded to anyone working in racing PR.
The award honors Chapman’s legacy as one of the public relations profession’s greatest and most innovative professionals.
Chapman was a journalist before entering the PR business in 1946, as regional PR director for Ford Motor Co. in Detroit.
 
Soon thereafter, Chapman hired Ruth as consultant to the automaker’s sponsorship of American Legion Junior Baseball. They traveled together for more than two years for personal appearances and became close friends. In 1950, Chapman left Ford to start his own PR firm. One of his first clients was Warren Avis and he devoted much of his time to financial PR, which he called his “favorite” form of PR.
 
Chapman’s first venture into motorsports was in 1951, when he joined with NASCAR founder Bill France to promote the Motor City 250. The race was part of Detroit’s 250th birthday celebration, a Chapman client. In 1967, Chapman entered Indy Car racing with client Ozzie Olson’s Olsonite sponsorship of Dan Gurney’s team, which later featured Bobby Unser as driver.
 
Chapman also directed Olsonite’s sponsorship of the Driver of the Year award. He orchestrated all the details, including the media panel voting, and an annual luncheon at New York City’s famed ‘21’ Club.
 
Chapman’s greatest professional acclaim came from 1981-1992, as director of CART series sponsor PPG Industries’ program. Chapman was instrumental in raising PPG’s prize fund from $250,000 to more than $3.75 million at the time of his retirement in February 1993. The all-female PPG Pace Car Driving Team was another Chapman innovation, as were the PPG Editors’ Days, when he brought business and feature writers to the tracks for lunch, pace car rides, and driver interviews.
 
In 1982, Chapman negotiated a landmark sponsorship for PPG with then- Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Joe Cloutier, which formally made the Indy 500 a points-paying event in the PPG Indy Car World Series. That arrangement continued through the 1995 season. In addition to a major contribution to the prize fund, PPG later became sponsor of the $100,000 Indy 500 pole award, and paid a special winner’s bonus in the early years of NASCAR’s Brickyard 400.
 
Indy Car Racing magazine named Chapman the sport’s “most influential” man of the 1980s, saying he turned “a public relations assignment into an art form.” After his retirement, Chapman continued to consult PPG, and agreed to Mario Andretti’s personal request that he serve as honorary chairman of Andretti’s “Arrivederci, Mario” farewell tour in 1994.
 
Chapman's professional achievements earned him vast recognition.  The mayors of Detroit and Long Beach, Calif., presented him proclamations and the key to each city.  In 1993, Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh named him Sagamore of the Wabash, the state's highest honor. He served as president and/or director of more than 30 Michigan and Detroit-area civic and charitable organizations.
 
Later this year, the national media selection committee, most of who knew Chapman, will nominate and vote for PR representatives from all forms of motorsports for the 2015 honor. The award is authorized by the Chapman family.
 
JIM CHAPMAN AWARD HONOREES:
1991 – Michael Knight
1992 – Tom Blattler
1993-94 – Deke Houlgate and Hank Ives
1995 – Kathi Lauterbach
1996 – Marc Spiegel
1997 – Mike Zizzo
1998 – Tamy Valkosky
1999 -- Carol Wilkins
2000-2003 – (Award not presented)
2004 – Doug Stokes
2005 – Susan Arnold
2006 – Kevin Kennedy
2007 – Dave Densmore and Bob Carlson
2008 – Judy Stropus
2009 –  (Award not presented)
2010 -- Jim Hunter
2011 -- Bill York
2012 -- Judy Kouba Dominick and Nancy Wager
2013 -- Anne Fornoro
2014 -- Jon Edwards and Elon Werner
 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

WHAT WOULD BE BEST ON RACING'S BIGGEST DAY (and SOMEONE NAMED 'MILES' TOPS THE 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST

As I say and write every May, Sunday will be the most important day of the motorsports year. Indianapolis, Charlotte, Monaco . . . locations whose connections with racing ring true and strong like the names Foyt, Petty, Clark.

I plan to be in Indy for my 37th 500. As always, I'll be watching and analyzing everything through the prism of my career background and that means the Business and Politics of Racing. With that in mind, here's what I believe is the best thing that could happen at this weekend's races. Please get this clear: This is NOT who I am personally rooting for, or who I think will actually win, it's who would be best for his/her series from the standpoint of B & P of R.

INDIANAPOLIS 500: Of course, aero kits will be a focus of attention, but I'll only be observing that based on what it does for competition and the showbiz value of the 99th running of racing's "Greatest Spectacle." A fourth Helio Castroneves' win would equal that of A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears. Media might refer to it as "Flip and Win" 30 years after Danny Sullivan's "Spin and Win." Honestly, though, I believe Helio is past his prime in terms of elevating the sport. And, let's be honest here, IndyCar desperately needs a Big Boost. I say that would come from a young(er) winner, hopefully someone who could hit the national media circuit and generate positive impressions the way Trevor Bayne did after his upset victory in the 2011 Daytona 500. It says here that list is, in no particular order, Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti, Josef Newgarden (another "Flip and Win" candidate) -- and Simona De Silvestro as the first female winner. Imagine the pub that would come out of a nationwide media tour featuring Rahal as Indy's winner and future bride Courtney Force as NHRA's trophy-holder!

COCA-COLA 600: The picks here are two and too obvious. A Jeff Gordon victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway, after driving the Chevrolet Corvette Indy 500 pace car earlier in the day, would be a headliner. It would be the first win of what Gordon says will be his final season. Running with this story would be a no-brainer for the media. The other would be Danica Patrick. In case you haven't noticed, NASCAR's TV numbers haven't been too impressive lately. A likely quick-fix would be a super-competitive run by Danica (who is looking for a sponsor). A win would be off-the-charts for her and NASCAR. Junior? His Talladega win didn't help the ratings. Of course, Kyle Busch would be a great feel-good story, the kind reporters fall over themselves to tell.

MONACO GRAND PRIX: Formula One, despite all the posh and highly-visible glitz-and-glamour, is another series that needs a PR lift. The issues of cost and down TV ratings will be the last thing most people will be thinking about looking at the royal scene from Monaco, but that doesn't mean those aren't problems. I have long said the three most important sports franchises in the world are the New York Yankees, Manchester United, and Ferrari. Nothing stirs the passions more than a Ferrari victory -- even media who typically don't care love to put the word "Ferrari" into bold headlines -- so a Sebastian Vettel triumph on the streets of F1's most prestigious event would put a big smile on Bernie Ecclestone's face.

NHRA: The recurring theme of this posting is series in need of a jump-start. NHRA's Mello Yello tour probably should be No. 1 on that list. NHRA didn't do itself, its fans, drivers, teams or sponsors any favor by returning to a Memorial Day weekend date and the media competition from Indy, Charlotte, etc. And Topeka's Heartland Park is in jeopardy of going the way of Miller Motorsports Park, the Utah multi-purpose motorsports facility that will close after this season. The best shot for notice clearly is Courtney Force. She hasn't won this season but you can bet some nicely-staged (no cap or sunglasses) pretty winner's circle shots of the future Mrs. Rahal would find space in major newspapers.

WORLD OF OUTLAWS: No disrespect to the winged sprint car competitors, because I am definitely a fan, but talking about who might move the needle here is relative. I have a ton of respect for Donny Schatz' 50-plus A-Main feature victories over the last few years, and he's the leader of the Outlaws, the Steve Kinser of right now. But a bit of a shakeup would be good now, especially from a real Kinser. Kraig Kinser has had his share of ups-and-downs since winning the Knoxville Nationals in 2005. The Outlaws run on Charlotte's short track Friday and then in Lawrenceburg, Ind., Monday. A Kraig Kinser win would be useful.

USAC SILVER CROWN: The sanction's premier division races Thursday night at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and then Saturday afternoon at Lucas Raceway Park. Kody Swanson, last year's series champion with five wins, is a rising name on some car owners' radar screens. If he could Double on the dirt and then the pavement, that would be super impressive.



I'll be Tweeting @SpinDoctor 500 from the IMS pits, Gasoline Alley and media center this weekend. But I'll try not to waste your time. What I'll send will be what I think is interesting and not what is otherwise out there. And please look for my Sunday Arizona Republic (AzCentral.com) Indy story that I'm pretty sure will be different from what you'll find elsewhere.



POWER PLAYERS for the week of May 17: 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. Mark Miles -- A successful Indianapolis 500 -- more people in the stands and watching on TV than last year, exciting race, no officiating controversy and good fan experience -- essential for Hulman & Co. CEO. Last week's big accidents and qualifying day rules changes again bring into question what seems to be the age-old issue of crisis of leadership within the IndyCar series. Sunday will be another huge test for his controversial business plan. Appropriate someone names "Miles" tops the list

  2. Roger Penske -- Four cars at Indy in attempt for record 16th 500 win plus two more in Charlotte means his team can have a bigger impact on racing's biggest day than anyone else.

  3. Derrick Walker -- Decisions on final car rules and officiating calls must be correct by IndyCar's competition president and his staff given the issues of the last couple of weeks. Getting it right is essential on the biggest day of the year for a series with too many unhappy competitors in the garage area. 


  4. Marcus Smith -- Charlotte Motor Speedway president has his big chance to show other NASCAR race promoters how to generate hype and sell tickets. 

  5NASCAR Hall of Fame voters -- They'll gather to debate and vote for the next class of inductees.  

  6Allen Bestwick -- His call of the Indy 500 on ABC likely won't be controversial, but how he tells the stories and manages the in-booth debates of Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever will set the tone for how viewers perceive racing's "Greatest Spectacle."

  7. Darrell Waltrip -- His opinions during the Coca-Cola 600 on Fox will help viewers decide if they think Charlotte is or isn't more exciting than the Indy 500. 

  8. Jeff Gordon -- He'll draw attention for NASCAR's Charlotte race by driving the Indy 500 Chevrolet Corvette pace car because he's better known to the public than all 33 I500 drivers combined.

  9. Paul Page -- His voice is linked to that of the Indy 500 and he'll again call the race for the worldwide radio network.

10. Brittany Force -- Father John says daughters Brittany and Courtney, not him, sold the new Monster energy drink sponsorship for B's Top Fuel car. She'll still license in Funny Car later this season.

more next week . . . ]

Sunday, May 10, 2015

THE TIME I GOT LETTERMAN AN INDY 500 PIT PASS (and BRUTON SMITH TOPS THIS WEEK's 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST)

David Letterman is retiring from his CBS' late-night show May 20. Regardless of where one was on the Letterman vs. Leno debate, or what you think of his politics, there's no question Letterman has been a huge influence in bringing on guests from the motorsports world. The loss of that opportunity is a Big Blow to the Business of Racing.

I had the chance to work with David and his staff in bringing Mario (twice) and Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell (twice), Jimmy Vasser and Alex Zanardi to the show, including when Letterman's late-late program aired on NBC. I've told the story a couple of times about being in a dressing room with Nigel when the door flew open and Chris Economaki came in, firing questions machine-gun style. When Chris left, I told Nigel: "Relax, the hard part's over."

But here's another story, one I haven't told.

In May 1993, when "Mansell Mania" was in full bloom at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and I was Newman/Haas Racing's PR director, I got a call on my cell phone from Laurie Diamond, Letterman's long-time assistant. You might recall that David got his start as a local TV weatherman in Indy. You might find what I'm about to say hard to believe, but remember, this was a time when the IMS' arrogance and "We're Indy, you need us, we don't need you" attitude was at or near it's maximum height.

Laurie told me the Speedway would not issue David one of the precious number "1" or "99" race day credentials that allowed pit-lane access during the race. In those days, a "1" or "99" was more than a symbol of prestige, it was like gold. And IMS wouldn't give one to its hometown son-turned-national celebrity. Yes, I know that sounds unbelievable, but it's absolutely true.

Could I help, asked Laurie? This wasn't the first time I had received such a request from someone you'd think wouldn't have needed it. Race week 1990 Ken Squier asked me if I could get two good tickets (those were the days when the I500 was sold-out months in advance) and a parking pass for the son of a CBS network executive. I did.

I told Laurie that, while I didn't have one in-hand, I'd get one. And I did, trading favors with a non-IMS someone with whom I had a long-established professional relationship. I called Laurie back a few days before the race and told her I had the pass. Saturday evening, when David arrived in Indy, he called me. He had arranged to get a ride with a policeman into the Speedway Sunday, so we agreed to meet at the Newman/Haas motorcoach race morning.

I was in the garage area when I got a radio message that Letterman had arrived. I hurried over and found David and Paul Newman talking. I gave David the credential and he said to wish Mario and Nigel good luck. I asked if he'd like to deliver that message in person. He was sincerely worried about bothering the drivers but both were glad for the visit. When I took David into the NHR coach -- and DL later told this story during his show -- Mario hadn't suited-up yet and was in his shorts, eating his cornflakes.  Then I took David to the Texaco coach where Nigel was quietly talking with a few friends.

I'm proud to have David's thank you letter, dated June 7, 1993 on his NBC Entertainment letterhead, displayed in my office.

Thanks, David. Good luck, good health, and cheers.

POWER PLAYERS for the week of May 10: 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. Bruton Smith -- The focus of NASCAR Nation shifts to its hub and Charlotte Motor Speedway. What the Speedway Motorsports Inc's. Grand Poobah has to say to the media -- whether seriously or in an attempt to sell tickets -- will make many headlines and fill lots of airtime. And, maybe, give NASCAR some heartburn. Regardless, it will be entertaining.

  2. Mark Miles and Doug Boles -- Will Miles' leadership of Hulman & Co. and the Verizon IndyCar Series, and Boles' of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, be generally viewed as resulting in an UP or DOWN arrow by month's end? Will a better fan experience at a being-remodeled IMS offset complaints from its suite and grandstand and infield customers about higher prices?

  4. Roger Penske -- His drivers and cars will, collectively, draw the most attention and have the potential to most impact the competition and results at Indy and Charlotte. 

  5Jenna Fryer -- May is America's Race Month and what the Associated Press' motorsports writer has to say about it all -- good or bad -- will be read by all the Power Brokers and millions of fans around the world.  

  6Jim Utter -- It's Show Time for the Charlotte Observer's man on the motorsports beat. Who and what he writes about matters to many.

  7. Curt Cavin and Robin Miller -- The viewpoint they convey in the Indianapolis Star and on Racer.com about what's happening, or not happening, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway shapes public opinion and debate.

  9. Donny Schatz -- Sweeps the World of Outlaws' doubleheader at Eldora, a weekend that also included USAC's sprints. Schatz is THE Outlaws' ticket-seller right now.

10. Ed Carpenter -- Owner-driver and Tony George's stepson tries for historic three consecutive Indy 500 poles. 

more next week . . . ]

Sunday, May 03, 2015

A SPONSOR DECIDING NOT TO SPONSOR TOPS THIS WEEK's 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST

When you've been around the Business and Politics of Racing as long as I have, you can see the signals. When Sprint's new CEO didn't show up at the season finale at Homestead last year, and skipped the glitzy NASCAR banquet in Las Vegas and the chance to personally award the Cup, it was obvious to me the end of that series entitlement was near.

And when Danica Patrick got a reduced role in GoDaddy.com's advertising, well . . . I would not call last week's announcement that the Internet services provider (the company HQ is about 20 minutes from my home in Scottsdale) won't continue with its NASCAR sponsorship a shock. With Danica's patron, former CEO Bob Parsons, long gone from a decision-making role, with the company sold to a private equity firm and then just recently listed on the NYSE with new management that has new business objectives, change was clearly on the horizon. I did think, and said and wrote, that the .com would maintain a reduced presence, perhaps cherry-picking a half-dozen events to back the No. 10 next season. But, no, they are outta here. Especially surprising to me was the fact that the news release said GoDaddy "hoped" to reach an agreement with Danica for her to continue as a company spokesperson. Now, in my experience, that kind of important detail is finalized before the announcement is issued. "Hope" isn't too hopeful a word for someone looking to keep getting paid.

It's a fact of Business of Racing life: New management is going to have its own ideas and programs, and often they are not the same as the previous CEO's. I experienced this more than once, most noteably 30 years ago, when the Beatrice CART and Formula One sponsorship (at the time, the largest in racing history) came and went like Haley's comet. (Look for a cool photo recalling the Beatrice days on Twitter @SpinDoctor500 soon.) International sports marketing was Beatrice CEO James T. Dutt's plan and passion. And, yes, Mr. Dutt liked cars and racing. But when Dutt was dismissed by the Board of Directors, the sports marketing department (of which I was contracted to) put on a lengthy and detailed presentation of how these sponsorships benefitted the company and its numerous brands. The new Powers-That-Be agreed racing was probably worthwhile and effective, but axed it anyway.

Original readers of this blog know I've made my criticisms of Danica. Let's be honest, though, she has shown on-track NASCAR improvement, both last season and this. She's still popular and marketable and can generate media, so what collection of corporations (I think it's unlikely she'd be able to link-up with a single high-payer like GoDaddy) she and her group (and Stewart-Haas Racing) might be able to assemble will be telling. If the money and logistics can be arranged, I think one sure splash Danica could make in 2016 would be a return to Indianapolis for the 100th running of the 500.

And speaking of IMS, it's May, and what positives do or don't come out of the Speedway in the next few weeks will be yet another legitimate test for Mark Miles & Co. The loyalist fans -- what remains of them, anyway -- seem hyped-up about aero kits. From the standpoint of selling tickets and getting people to watch on TV, though, I have to ask: What's the Big Deal?

This sure isn't like being able to ID a Novi vs. a Lotus vs. a turbine vs. a Lola vs. a March vs. a Penske vs. a Watson and so forth. Have -- or will -- aero kits in-and-of-themselves sell a single ticket? I would call that highly questionable. As for increased media coverage, maybe a little, around the margins, in specialist outlets. Otherwise, I believe stories about the kits simply came at the expense of an article about Tony Kanaan or Sage Karem or Ryan Hunter-Reay. Net gain? I think not.

If speeds are up and that stirs-up new excitement and publicity, great.

Meanwhile, there are other stories to be told. The much-needed and past-due physical improvements to the Speedway property. Josef Newgarden. The Penkse Quad. The home run of having Jeff Gordon drive the Corvette pace car. Remembering Hunter-Reay's brave and bold pass to win last year. A.J. Foyt after yet another major health scare. Ed Carpenter's try for a pole three-peat. 

My question is: Will IMS/IndyCar, its teams and its sponsors, actually be pro-active and aggressive in getting those stories told?


POWER PLAYERS for the week of May 3: 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. Blake Irving  -- GoDaddy.com CEO decides to drop NASCAR sponsorship and "hopes" to keep Danica Patrick as a company spokesperson. Will Danica need to re-invent herself -- her image -- to secure enough sponsorship to stay with Stewart-Haas Racing, or even in NASCAR? Remember, a key reason she left IndyCar was too many road courses, so a full-time return there could be had for less cost, but it's also far less attractive.

  2. Dale Earnhardt JrJunior Nation cheers as he wins Talladega. Now, will that show up on the Fox TV ratings, for what many will consider a "boring" 'Dega race? More importantly, will a week of happy feel-good Junior vibes help Saturday night's TV numbers (remember, Saturday nights haven't been kind to NASCAR lately) at Kansas Speedway on Fox Sports 1? 

  3. Kevin Harvick -- Uses his platform as Sprint Cup champion to call for shake-up of Cup schedule, including re-ordering of track dates, dropping less-popular events, adding new locations like Iowa, Milwaukee and at least one new road course.

 4. Jeff Gordon -- Will create the "Jeff Double" by driving the Indianapolis 500 Chevrolet Corvette pace car before returning to Charlotte for NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600.  

  5Bernie Ecclestone -- Formula One's commercial dictator says he wants to condense the 2016 season, starting later, and perhaps expanding the schedule but in a shorter time-frame. Did he hire the Boston Consulting Group? 

  6. Robin Miller and Curt Cavin -- It's May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So Miller on Racer.com and Cavin in the Indianapolis Star are daily musts.

  8. Tony Stewart -- His Eldora Speedway will host historic World of Outlaws-USAC sprint cars doubleheader this Friday and Saturday. It's the first time the winged and non-winged tours will race on the same track on the same nights. 

  9. Michael Andretti-- Says IndyCar's aero kits might be a costly mistake. "Millions and millions of dollars have been spent by manufacturers and the teams, and I don't see that it has put one more person in the stands," says Honda's lead team owner, with five Indy 500 entries.

10. Mark Miles -- It was the Hulman & Co. CEO's idea last year to put IndyCars on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He has an event sponsor this time, but will ticket sales go up, or has that novelty worn off after one try?

more next week . . . ]

Sunday, April 26, 2015

BOLES' GOOD MOVE MAKES HIM No. 5 ON THIS WEEK's 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST, BUT . . .

Congratulations to Doug Boles, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for being pro-active and getting out of his office to tour Indiana and speak to various community and business groups as a way to boost IMS and its events (including the troubled Brickyard 400.) Tony Hulman used to do the same. This is a very good return to a very good idea and that personal relationship-building is something the Speedway very, Very, VERY much needs. And, in recent times, hasn't done. Or, at least, hasn't done enough.

I hope, leading up to the 2016 100th running of the Indy 500, Boles will expand this outreach. And instruct his staff to follow his example, across the board, in all their constituent and customer relationships.

A couple of years ago it was Boles' idea to have Boston Marathon runners, who didn't get to complete that run because of the bombing, come to IMS and sprint to the Yard of Bricks to finish their race. It was a greatly needed positive gesture and the sort of thing that, sadly, has largely been lost within the IMS culture. 

A respectful suggestion from someone who has been a part of the IMS scene since 1969: The next, logical and necessary step, is for Boles to engage this way with the media. I mean the regional (still in ticket-selling range) and national (what sponsors notice) media. IMS once had very good relationships with media across the country -- the oldtime off-season annual media party was considered so important reporters would come in from New York and Los Angeles. But those kind of relationships were allowed to decay away.

Especially now, with the historic facility finally getting a facelift just as Chicago's Wrigley Field is doing, and with the 100th running just over a year away, Boles and Mark Miles and the entire Hulman & Co./IMS/IndyCar series team need to reach out with a hand of friendship and in the spirit of goodwill and open communication. Some bad media-related decisions have been made in the last year, partly due to a lack of communication, and some highly unfavorable opinions have been and are being shaped even as this is written.

If you need to know what happens when long-term unsatisfactory relationships with the influential national and key-market media are further irritated by more recent troubling decisions -- just when you are at your Big Moment and including from outlets normally considered "friendly" -- look no further than Hillary Clinton.

She should be a case study for Miles, Boles and IMS/IndyCar.

If IMS, not only for itself, but for its history and heritage and sponsors and city and state -- and to honorably reflect Mr. Hulman's spirit -- really wants the 100th to be the kind of Big Time National  Media Story it deserves to be, Boles, etc. must go out and make it happen. That starts by talking.


POWER PLAYERS for the week of April  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. Brian France  -- NASCAR chairman implies sanctioning body had some responsibility in Kyle Busch's injuries at Daytona, telling the Associated Press' sports editors, "what happened to him was on us." France suggested NASCAR is more likely than not to give Busch a Chase-eligibility waiver. As for more SAFER barriers, which might well have prevented or reduced Busch's injuries, France said: "I met personally with the track ownership groups and they satisfied me completely that they were going to spend millions and millions of dollars right now, not down the road, to get it right. If that doesn't play out the way they have talked about and assured me, then we'll deal with it. You can't run around and say that safety is your No. 1 priority and get that stuff wrong."

  2. Tony GibsonOld-school crew chief leads Kurt Busch to victory at Richmond after missing Bristol due to a kidney stone. Is this consistently fast combination the next Kevin Harvick-Rodney Childers? 

 3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- Why? It's Talladega weekend.

 4. Josef Newgarden -- Promise finally fulfilled as much-touted 24-year-old from Tennessee gets his first IndyCar series win, at Barber Motorsports Park, for owners Sarah Fisher, Ed Carpenter and Wink Hartman.  

  5Doug Boles -- Indianapolis Motor Speedway president takes a page out of Tony Hulman's playbook and tours Indiana talking-up IMS and its events.

  6. Claire B. Lang -- News and quotable quotes will be flooding out of the Talladega garage area and Sirius XM's Claire B. is the one who will have it all.

    7. Erica Enders-Stevens -- Defending Pro Stock champion wins again, near Houston, and has emerged as the headliner in the troubled NHRA class. 

  8. Ashley Force Hood -- Father John names double U.S. Nationals winner team vice president with addition of racing-related business responsibilities. She had been president of Force's entertainment company, now folded into the racing operation as a cost-saving measure. She's NHRA licensed and JFR's standby driver if needed. 

  9. Donny Schatz-- Devil's Bowl win in the Texas Nationals the sixth World of Outlaws victory for the face of the touring winged sprint car series and American short and dirt track racing.

 10. Scott Bove -- Pirelli World Challenge president issues penalties to half the field at Long Beach and offers an apology to fans and partners for the on-track product presented at the Grand Prix.

more next week . . . ]

Sunday, April 19, 2015

REMEMBERING MEMBERS OF THE GOLDEN AGE (and This Week's Most Influential List)

This week I want to remember great Philadelphia sports columnists Stan Hochman and Sandy Grady, who died in recent days. I worked with Stan at the Philadelphia Daily News from 1974-1980. He covered all the incredible Philly sports moments and characters for decades. Not just the wins and losses of the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, Sixers and other teams, but people like Joe Frazier and his classic fights with Muhammad Ali. Others have written better than I about Stan, who also was well-known for his local TV and radio work, but what I recall most was how focused Stan was when it was time to write. He knew what the story was, what he wanted to say, and could type it out faster than anyone I can recall. People like me, editing copy and designing the pages and worrying about deadlines, really appreciated that! 

I didn't know Sandy well. He was at the Daily News before my time, then went to the rival Bulletin. When that paper folded, he came back to the News, but I had left for CART by then. 

Stan and Sandy were iconic examples of what has been called the Golden Age of sportswriting, especially in Philadelphia, a great, Great, GREAT sports town. (When I was there we actually had FOUR competing daily papers. What competition! What a challenge! What fun!) They came to town in the late 1950s, hired by a young Daily News sports editor named Larry Merchant. You've probably heard of Larry because he went on to acclaim, in part, as a Big Time boxing commentator.

What a treat it was for me, as a kid, to read these guys and later work with Hochman, Tom Cushman, Bill Conlin, superstar-in-the-making Gary Smith, Ray Didinger, Dick Weiss, Jack McKinney, Phil Jasner, Ben Callaway, Joe Greenday, very controversial harness writer/handicapper Jack Kiser (who liked auto racing, too) and trailblazing (although she was low-key about it) Mary Flannery. Still with the Daily News is Bill Fleischman, who recommended me to sports editor Mike Rathet for my job with the paper, and Bill still covers racing although he's not a full-time staffer. We also had some legendary broadcasters to know and appreciate, like Harry Kalas, Bill Campbell, Andy Musser, Tom Brookshier (always very kind to Mario Andretti), Gene Hart (the Flyers' announcer who became something of a Michael Andretti fan because Michael was a Flyers' fan) and Al Meltzer.

The news of Stan's and Sandy's passings (which came from Fleischman) was yet another reminder to me of how much the media has changed. And, in many ways, not for the better. (Look no further than the garbage that is Around The Horn and First Take. Empty Suits with Big Mouths.)

I am so thankful I was around for that other era of real sports journalism. If you weren't, you have my sympathy.

POWER PLAYERS for the week of April  19: 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. Richard Buck -- Did the Sprint Cup race director push the envelope by going green at Bristol on a not-completely-dry racing surface and with moisture in the air? Early crasher Brad Keselowski, who took out Penske teammate Joey Logano, said light rain had been falling from the start. Shades of Brian Barnhart at New Hampshire?

  2. Brian France  -- What is NASCAR's chairman thinking about entertainment value of Sprint Cup races after all-time Fox record low rating -- first-ever under a 3.0 -- for Texas? And what's the future of Saturday night races since 13 of the 18 lowest-rated NASCAR-on-Fox telecasts have been under the lights?

  3. Joe Gibbs: Wins Bristol with Matt Kenseth, but what move can he make to keep The Next Big Thing Erik Jones in his team, with no Cup seat apparently open?

 4. Scott Dixon -- North American motorsports' most relentless driver wins Long Beach, IndyCar's second-most important event of the season. 

  5Steve O'Donnell -- First, NASCAR's executive VP and chief racing development officer will fix the rule book to clearly definite what "post-race inspection" means. But will he make Kyle Busch Chase eligible upon his return from leg and foot injuries?

 6. Bernie Ecclestone -- Formula One's commercial leader wants a return to 1,000 horsepower V-8 engines as a way to counteract declining TV ratings and spectator attendance.

  7. Danica Patrick -- Bristol top 10 means she's Chase eligible on points after eight races. 

  8. Lewis Hamilton -- Win in Bahrain, despite Ferrari performance improvement, sets tone not only for his possible third world championship, but . . . also so much dominance from him and Mercedes that worldwide TV audience will decline again this season?

  9. Rick Hendrick-- Chase Elliott, not having the Xfinity Series success he had in claiming a championship last year, can use the legendary people "touch" from his Cup team owner-to-be.

 10. Richard Childress -- Loses appeal in the No. 31 Tiregate scandal although points and money penalties reduced. 

more next week . . . ]