• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM: The Long Beach Grand Prix is a great EVENT. Not a great RACE. The difference is significant.

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 . . . ]

Sunday, April 12, 2015


It's been a while since I cleared-out random notes on my legal pad . . .

$ign of the Time$: When was the last time you read anything about a serious proposal to build a major (NASCAR or IndyCar worthy) oval track in America?

More SAFER barriers at Bristol Motor Speedway might prove to be a bigger test for fans than drivers. If the racing groove is narrowed -- remember, a result of safety -- will at-track and TV-watching spectators complain?

No televised sporting event, anywhere in the world, gets more gushy, kissy-face commentary than the Masters. (Commentators, in hushed, almost a church-like tone, "He's walking over the Hogan Bridge!") Yes, I've been to Augusta National Golf Club for the final round, and it's a beautiful and tradition-heavy setting. But . . . seldom, if ever, is heard a critical word. CBS sells out its journalism for a week in order to keep the TV rights for the following year. I bet there are more than a few at NASCAR who think they should get -- and deserve -- the same reverence from the media.

It's an old Business of Racing axiom that the champion of any major series is expected to take on certain responsibilities to represent the sport, often with the media and fans. Some drivers have been known to be more accepting of this idea than others. A few have come close to outright rejecting the notion. Not Kevin Harvick. He, indeed, does get it and has embraced the responsibilities of champion. NASCAR is better for it.

No one should doubt NHRA's decision to move its TV production "in-house" next year (an exclusive I wrote with Jon Asher last week on CompetitionPlus.com -- link on my Twitter @SpinDoctor500 ) is a Big Deal. It could be the biggest and most impactful Business of Drag Racing development since the end of the Winston series sponsorship. 

And, despite all the frustrations with ESPN, just where does NHRA think it can go in the cable universe to have a chance at that many eyeballs?

What looks like it will be a very small field for Saturday's prestigious race in Long Beach signals the many challenges still facing the United SportsCar management group.

The recent controversy over the completely bogus Rolling Stone story reminded me of this: In early 1993 I got a call from an RS writer and editor about doing a story on Nigel Mansell, the F1 world champion who had shifted to CART (I was the Newman/Haas Racing PR director.) During the 10-minute conversation, I could never get comfortable with what they were saying, the way they were proposing to go about the story. Unlike other Big Features we did with Sports Illustrated, Time magazine and Playboy, for example, I sensed something I didn't like. Like, maybe, they had an unspoken agenda. On behalf of Nigel and the team, I declined the story, and never regretted that decision.

I welcome the physical improvements being made to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and look forward to seeing them for myself next month. These are much needed and no IMS "traditionalist" should complain as long as the essential "presence" of the Speedway remains. Just as Chicago Cubs' fans are experiencing while Wrigley Field is remodeled. We'll see if a better IMS fan experience ultimately translates to more ticket sales.

If you don't think TV sports announcers are thinking about ratings, you're wrong. With Jordan Spieth's near-runaway after two rounds at the Masters threatening to hurt the weekend audience numbers, CBS' top host, Jim Nantz, said this Friday (on ESPN) as other microphone holders were noting the energy had been sucked-out of the tournament and popular world No. 1 Rory McIlroy was struggling: "C'mon, Rory, put nine holes together."  Nantz, supposedly a sports broadcast journalism titan (I've never thought that; he's not in the Al Michaels/Bob Costas league), was cheerleading for McIlroy to get back into contention.

(By the way, Spieth is the clubhouse leader for Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.)

A word of caution to those on Twitter or the Internet who have a point-of-view on any issue and presume everyone else feels the same. No one agrees about everything on any subject. Speak for yourself, as is your Constitutional right. Or speak as an authorized and official spokesman for a specfic group. But don't otherwise proclaim you are speaking for everyone.

Most people don't understand there is a huge difference between someone being "popular" and someone who is "influential." I'll pick "influential" every time.

It's a very bad reflection of today's communications age and polarized opinions that so many people read or listen to another filtered by their own bias. Here's a good rule of thumb: Before you get angry, go back and objectively re-read what was written, or replay what was said. You might well learn there was nothing to merit your negativity. You might save yourself some embarrassment.

Take a look at the cover photo of a special edition of Time magazine I put on Twitter @SpinDoctor500 last Friday. Who do you think that is?

POWER PLAYERS for the week of April  12: 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. John Force -- Ends season-long slump with win in Las Vegas for Chevrolet, Peak and other corporate sponsors who have helped keep NHRA's biggest personality in business. 

  2. Lewis Hamilton  -- It's only two races into the Formula One season, but Hamilton's dominant winning weekend in China already gives Grand Prix racing's most recognizable worldwide star a big jump toward another championship.

  3. Tom Compton -- NHRA president decides to take TV production "in-house" next year and more big changes are coming, including possible (likely?) move away from ESPN.

  4. Darrell Waltrip -- It's Bristol Week, so expect to hear even more than usual from the 12-time track winner and Fox analyst.

  5Jim Michaelian -- Long-time Long Beach Grand Prix executive clears the city streets for the IndyCar and other series. It's not only America's most prestigious temporary circuit weekend and IndyCar's second most important race, the LBGP remains one of the country's top five motorsports events. Often copied. Never duplicated (especially on the bottom line.) 

  6. Derrick Walker -- IndyCar competition president mandates aero kit structural upgrades from both Chevrolet and Honda to reduce possibility of flying bodywork pieces. A spectator was injured at St. Pete after being struck by a bodywork piece. Here comes the lawsuit.

  7. Doug Boles -- Indianapolis Motor Speesway president announces new HD video boards and says 98 percent of spectators will have a clear view. Plus new sponsorship with Panasonic that makes IMS landmark the "Panasonic Pagoda." 

  8. Robby Gordon -- His Formula Off-Road Stadium Truck series gets a big platform for fans and media at Long Beach. It's a huge opportunity for a tour that needs more local, regional and national attention.

  9. Sam Schmidt -- New team driver James Hinchcliffe wins very rainy New Orleans debut IndyCar race (fewer than half the laps contested in green-flag conditions) for inspirational owner.

10. Jon Asher -- Drag racing's most influential journalist joins me in breaking story of big NHRA TV changes and debuts his "Insider" columns from Las Vegas with follow-ups to come. If you want to know what's REALLY happening in drag racing, you read Asher on CompetitionPlus.com . 

more next week . . . ]

Sunday, April 05, 2015


NASCAR's communications deep-thinkers decided to be Politically Correct last week and issued a statement saying the sanction was "disappointed" with Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

It backfired. Here's what comic Conan O'Brien said to his late-night TV audience:

"Do you hear that, Indiana? You're not progressive enough for NASCAR!"

So, NASCAR's own words were turned around and used in the mainstream media to mock the stock car organization, and negatively stereotype the sport and its fans. It was a self-inflicted wound. 

If Brian France really felt so strongly about the Hoosier state legislation, he should have had NASCAR's statement issued in his own name. 

I'm old enough to have been around to know this: In their time, if such an issue had arisen, Bill France Sr. and Jr. -- to the extent they would have commented at all -- would have expressed their support for state's rights and pride that NASCAR attracts fans who believe in traditional American values. Both knew a strong connection with apple-pie America was what helped build NASCAR's ticket-buying/TV-watching audience. It's right there in the history books. Look it up.

Let's be clear: What's being written in this blog has NOTHING to do with discrimination or the public policy questions raised by the legislation. That's a different issue. It's about messaging. It's about a business injecting itself, unnecessarily, into a state issue. It's one thing for Indiana-based Angie's List or the NCAA (with the Final Four going on) to comment, or Arkansas-headquartered Walmart to say as it wishes about that state's similar legislation. It's quite another for "outsider" NASCAR to do so. Will NASCAR now be issuing statements when the next Trayvon Martin, or Ferguson, Mo., situation happens?

Let's remember Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has also recently favored legislation creating the mechanism to fund $100 million in improvements to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That certainly benefits NASCAR, whose Brickyard 400 sure isn't the "must-see" it once was. 

(And one reason for that? NASCAR never held its official tire supplier, Goodyear, to account for the 2008 Brickyard 400 fiasco. When Michelin's bad product turned the 2005 IMS Formula One race into a joke, that company paid for tickets for the following year's Grand Prix for dissatisfied customers. NASCAR should have required something similar from Goodyear as a condition of the tire-provider contract. THAT would have been a meaningful, and tangible, act of support for its Indiana fans.) 

Now, let's ask this question: Did ANYONE at NASCAR actually read the ENTIRE piece of Hoosier legislation before deciding to insert itself into the debate? And the sanction's statement's real Achilles' heel was found in this sentence: "We will not embrace nor participate in exclusion or intolerance." (Emphasis added by me.) If that's the case, then why not CANCEL the Brickyard 400?

Or was this decision made after monitoring social media traffic -- that apparently is what counts at NASCAR these days -- or because the NFL -- America's undisputed most powerful sports entity -- did so? Do they think a PC statement will now make Keith Olbermann a NASCAR supporter?

At the start of the 2003 Iraq war, Bill France Jr. famously said: "NASCAR fans are the kind of people who go to war and win wars for America." He proved he knew exactly who his fans were.

Can today's NASCAR leaders say the same?

POWER PLAYERS for the week of April 5: 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 Childress -- At week's start the industry, media and public have yet to hear directly from the NASCAR team owner about the tire-tampering penalites to Ryan Newman's No. 31 team. The latest leadership test for one of NASCAR's longest-tenured competitors is what he will do publicly -- and out of the public eye -- about this problem. It might be RC's greatest challenge since Dale Earnhardt's death. 

  2. Blake Irving  -- GoDaddy's CEO sees his stock price jump 31 percent on the first day of trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Investors valued the Internet services provider at almost $4 billion. Now, with Danica Patrick and her No. 10 Chevy present on Wall Street for the Big Day, will Irving sign her to a new contract as he rebrands the business?

  3. Michael Andretti -- How large a crowd -- with how much media and corporate support -- can his management team bring to the first IndyCar race near New Orleans? Meanwhile, his team faces the challenge of developing Honda into a competitive position vs. Chevrolet, on both the engine and aero kit fronts.

  4. Eddie Gossage -- Outspoken and publicity-hawk Texas Motor Speedway president hosts NASCAR. What pre-race "controversy" will make headlines?

  5Mark Miles -- CEO's decision to debut the Verizon IndyCar series in the New Orleans area marks another Big Test for his business plan. 

 6. Doug Boles -- Indianapolis Motor Speedway president bucks sacred tradition -- and creates a new and much-needed revenue source -- by booking The Rolling Stones for a July 4 IMS concert.

  7. Dave Moody -- SiriusXM NASCAR channel's afternoon "drive time" Main Man engaged callers about Indiana's controversial religious freedom legislation. At times, what was said was borderline out-of-bounds. Moody put himself way out on one side of the issue -- very rare for a motorsports' broadcaster to do regarding a non-racing topic -- and it wasn't the side the NASCAR mainstream media critics would have expected.

  8. Jon Edwards -- Jeff Gordon's veteran PR right-hand man helps set the tone -- and extent -- of the national and racing media's coverage of Gordon's final full-time season. A great opportunity, for sure, but very demanding.

  9. Ralph Sheheen -- Fox Sports broadcaster, public address announcer, MC and National Speed Sport News (Turn 3 Media LLC) president has evolved into one of motorsports' most versatile and familiar voices and media figures.

10. Dustin Long -- Long-time NASCAR writer, formerly with Landmark Newspapers, formerly MRN, now NBC Sports, impresses the industry and benefits fans with his low-key, hard-working, fact-based reporting style.

more next week . . . ]

Sunday, March 29, 2015


"More times than not, the fan at home does not believe NASCAR."

From a PR standpoint, that's about as damning a statement as you can get. And it didn't come on Twitter or from some anonymous forum poster.

This sentence was the focal point of a column written post-Auto Club 400 by Jenna Fryer, motorsports writer for the Associated Press, the world's largest news-gathering organization. As opposed to Mike Harris, who preceded her on the beat, Fryer does an opinion column in addition to straight news coverage. Her column came out of the controversy of a couple of late-race invisible (at least, to the TV audience) cautions at Fontana, which clearly impacted the final results. Here's a link:


The column, and the debate it triggered, should have been a Big Time Wake-Up Call to Brian France. And shaken the management of the Integrated Marketing Communications department. As I have said here many times, including just last week, the IMC theory is to PR what global warming is to real science.

It is, by nature, dehumanizing. And certainly not in keeping with how people like Bill France Jr. and Jim Hunter built the NASCAR business. Essential 1-on-1 professional relationships have been all-but neglected as IMC has gone all-in on social media. Traditional and basic media services have been dropped this season -- without notice -- despite the department being populated by more than 40 people. The approach is all about driving traffic on Twitter and other social media outlets. "What's Trending?" is EVERYTHING to them.

I wrote here last week that, sooner or later, this new dehumanized approach would have consequences. Now, let me be clear, I haven't spoken directly with Fryer about her column. I wasn't at Fontana and Higher Priorities meant I didn't closely follow the race on TV. But here's a FACT: Building and maintaining solid professional relationships is what media relations is all about. The NASCAR Industry, largely, isn't doing that. It's stunning to me how few PR people actually make the rounds in the media center, introducing themselves, saying hello, offering information or help, a cell phone number and E-mail address. I personally observed NASCAR's Chief Communications Officer in the Phoenix International Raceway media center but he did not offer the personal touch of coming around to say "hello" or -- God forbid -- "thanks for the coverage." The unspoken attitude conveyed: Well, of course, you're going to cover NASCAR! After all, we're NASCAR!

That's the way it was for decades at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Please note how that has turned out.

The importance of individual human relationships cannot be overstated. Great PR leaders like Jim Chapman didn't have to be told this -- they just knew it. This was one of the greatest compliments I ever received in the decades I lived the 24/7/365 racing PR life: I did the PR for the factory Porsche Indy Car team in 1988. Porsche greatly underestimated the challenge and produced an uncompetitive chassis (later replaced by a customer March) and engine. About a month before his death in an airplane crash, my great friend Al Holbert -- director of Porsche Motorsports North America -- was asked by Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch if he was surprised the national media hadn't been hammering Porsche for its embarrassing performance. While I wasn't present for this interview, I heard later than Holbert credited my own good relationships with the media as one reason. (I say Al's was the main reason.) 

Until NASCAR -- at its highest executive levels -- understands that nothing is more meaningful than the sound of the human voice, a handshake, a pat on the back, a face-to-face conversation, I expect more media earthquakes like the AP column. 

But will Brian France notice? And change course? First, he has to do some homework and understand what the problem is.

POWER PLAYERS for the week of March 29: 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 -- His powerhouse IndyCar team qualifies 1-2-3-4 and finishes 1-2-4-5 at St. Pete. And American racing's most successful team owner speaks out strongly about messing with tires in NASCAR, against IndyCar international events, and calls for car rules stability to 2020 in the name of cost containment in a sponsor-challenged environment.

  2. Jenna Fryer -- The Associated Press' motorsports writer's very blunt column about NASCAR's invisible cautions -- intended to cost bad boy Kurt Busch the win at California? -- stirs-up the sanction's fan and Mainstream Media critics. And lays bare the lack of relationship building from the Integrated Marketing Communications department.

  3. Mike Helton: -- Is NASCAR's vice chairman and senior racing official about the lower the boom on any Cup crew chiefs for tampering with tires? A huge call -- or no call -- awaits.

  4. Sebastian Vettel -- Ends his own, and Ferrari's, long winless streak with pace and strategy in Malaysia. Ferrari remains motorsports' most passion-stirring name. A straight-up season-long Vettel/Ferrari vs. Lewis Hamilton/Mercedes battle is the best thing that could happen to Formula One right now.

  5Jack Beckman -- Fan favorite ends long Funny Car winless streak at the 4-Wide Nationals. Cancer survivors throughout the motorsports world are cheering.

  6. Dave Moody -- The first "off" weekend of the Sprint Cup season will provide plenty of opportunity for NASCAR fans to sound-off with SiriusXM's Main Man. How Moody steers the conversation will be a signal of how the season is going. 

  7. Ricky Craven -- He's the authority for those who get their NASCAR news on ESPN's SportsCenter. Should have gotten a spot on NBC's new crew.

  8. Donny Schatz -- The World of Outlaws' Main Main wins twice -- including his first in California since 2012.

  9. Don Schumacher -- The Roger Penske/Rick Hendrick of NHRA team owners doubles again with Jack Beckman and Antron Brown at the 4-Wide Nationals. "The Don" is recovering from cancer treatments.

10. Mike Davies -- Fox Sports' field operations senior VP tests a virtual reality software application at Auto Club Speedway. The technology supposedly enables viewers to "experience the event as if they were there." NASCAR's next revenue stream?

more next week . . . ]

Sunday, March 22, 2015


A few things coming out of the NASCAR weekend  at Phoenix International Raceway:

Could Formula One help save Danica Patrick's NASCAR career?

I don't see any evidence the Patrick-(crew chief) Daniel Knost pairing is working. And, remember, this is the last year of Danica's contract with GoDaddy.com, which has new ownership, management and marketing objectives since former CEO Bob Parsons signed her last deal. Return On Investment may be declining, based on at least one yardstick (see my March 15 Arizona Republic story http://www.azcentral.com/story/sports/motor/2015/03/14/danica-patrick-financially-strong-decade/24760663/  ), and GoDaddy's ad campaign is no longer "Look at me!" But international is a new focus for GoDaddy, and that's where Gene Haas, her Cup team co-owner, comes in.

Haas will field his own Formula One team starting next season, his own play to build international market share for his Haas Automation machine tool business. I guess, if Haas wants to, he could give GoDaddy space on his F1 cars as part of an agreement to keep Patrick's Sprint Cup sponsorship going. It's something to watch for . . . 

The next step in NASCAR's slow-crawl toward a high (or, at least, higher) tech future will be seen on steering wheels. No, they won't be F1, or even IndyCar, ish, but more control buttons and a display screen to allow drivers to scroll through a menu of options is evolving. NASCAR will approve more of this.

It's more obvious than ever that NASCAR's Integrated Marketing Communications business model is less service to traditional media and all-in on social media. (Probably proven by last week's PRWeek award.) No more printed copies of media guides or weekly statistical update books. Fewer driver media center avails. Driver-media conference calls no longer a weekly staple. Someone is brought to the media center Sunday morning, but that's only a play to stir-up social media traffic and try to drive-up TV viewership. This dehumanization is sad, wrong, counter to what Bill France Jr. and Jim Hunter fostered, and at some point will have profoundly negative consequences for the sanction. I observed the Chief Communications Officer in PIR's media center but there was no effort to go around and actually TALK to journalists working away on their stories. There is no substitute -- NONE -- for the sound of a human voice, a face-to-face conversation, a handshake, a pat on the back, a personal thank you for coverage. That's all-but gone in today's NASCAR. A price will be paid.

The lack of real-life journalism experience among today's new crowd of team/sponsor "publicists" is costing their clients/employers coverage. They have no clue what journalists' needs are, how to "pitch" a story, develop meaningful story ideas, or build valuable one-on-one relationships with media. Too many think they are doing the job simply because they send out a few Tweets. One rep for an Xfinity series driver, who candidly, I had never heard of, wanted me to interview the driver (I appreciated the outreach) but offered no legitimate news reason why I should. I guess just because he's a race driver. There were about 100 of those at PIR.

And: Back when I was doing PR year-round, I had personal note cards, in boxes of 100, I used to send out hand-written "thank you" messages -- many to reporters for stories they had written. I went through about a box a year, or more. These days, forget notes, too many PRers don't even have the words "thank you" in their vocabs. 

Comforting to see that the Forum Folks are right on top of the up-to-the-minute news. In this case, about Sam Hornish and the Indy 500. I had it all Sunday, March 15 in the Arizona Republic:

Finally, no one at NASCAR or -- especially -- International Speedway Corp. should take the good crowd size at PIR to mean the long-overdue and much-needed facility improvements can continue to wait. Extra people with money to spend in the Valley of the Sun for Cactus League baseball, and near-90 degree weather, contributed to the positive attendance number. As I've written, and said March 13 on SiriusXM, PIR lags far behind the either upgraded or all-new sports venues throughout the Valley. It gives the impression to us locals that NASCAR and ISC take us for granted. 

POWER PLAYERS for the week of March 22: 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 -- Daytona 500 winning team owner gets a victory at the track he built in Fontana, Calif., courtesy of Brad Keselowski. Now, Penske begins Verizon IndyCar series with powerhouse FOUR driver/car lineup. Could Penske sweep the season?

  2. Kevin Harvick -- Eight straight top-two finishes for the defending Sprint Cup champion, THE story and dominant force in NASCAR.

  3. Jim Campbell -- Chevrolet's U.S. motorsports VP gets first Sebring podium sweep and first overall win since Jim Hall's Chaparral did it 50 years ago. Plus Corvette C7.R takes first in GTLM class. Not doing too badly in NASCAR, either. 

  4. Mark Miles: -- Hulman & Co. CEO increases guaranteed Leader Circle payout to $1.25 million per eligible team. Now, he gives condensed IndyCar schedule another try, ending by Labor Day. A lot of teams and sponsors don't like it. What will the bottom line be in terms of TV audience, at-track attendance and sponsor activation?

  5. Matt Yocum -- Fox's Main Man on NASCAR pit roads, he provides professionalism and stability amidst a new (and weak) group of pit reporters. 

  6. Curt Cavin -- Indianapolis Star writer is a primary news source for IndyCar fans. His status is now increased with the series' new deal with USA Today.

  7Chris Berube -- Chevrolet's IndyCar program manager sees his engines and aero kits outpace Honda's in pre-season testing. 

  8. Jim France -- IMSA chairman reaches six-year extension of strategic alliance with Le Mans' Automobile Club l'Ouest. New Prototype regulations coming in 2017.

  9. Chip Ganassi -- Announces two-car Red Bull Global Rallycross Supercar team with sponsor Loenbro (energy services and construction) and drivers Brian Deegan and Steve Arpin.

10. Sebastien Bourdais -- A statement drive at Sebring, essentially lapping the field during his second-half stint behind the wheel of the winning DP-class Corvette. Now onto IndyCar opener in second year with KV team.

more next week . . . ]

Sunday, March 15, 2015


POWER PLAYERS for the week of March 15: 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. Bernie Ecclestone -- The most powerful, influential -- and one of the riche$t -- figures in worldwide motorsports sees his Formula One season begin with more Mercedes domination, Ferrari improvement, Honda disappointment, and the financial struggles of several teams amid debate for (yet again) new car rules, cost controls and more entertainment value. His next move will be . . . ?

  2. Kevin Harvick: -- Defending Sprint Cup champion is driving the series' on-track agenda, now with four consecutive Phoenix International Raceway wins and seven straight 1-2 finishes.

  3. Brian France -- Green-lights decision to reinstate Kurt Busch and declares Busch Chase eligible. The bottom line is NASCAR is a family business and, ultimately, one man has the final say. 

  4. Gene Haas -- Gets Kurt Busch back into his No. 41. And announces European base and key hires (team manager, designer, aerodynamicist) for first U.S.-led Formula One team in 30 years. (I was part of PR for the last one, the Beatrice-sponsored Team Haas USA.)

  5. Joie Chitwood -- Daytona International Speedway president outlines specific safety improvement plans for July NASCAR event and confirms full SAFER installation for 2016 Speed Weeks.

  6. Beaux Barfield -- Sebring is one of the most difficult races anywhere in motorsports to officiate. Barfield's back in IMSA race control after a few years in IndyCar.

  7. Dave Allen -- New Auto Club Speedway president gets his first Big Test in charge of this weekend's NASCAR events. And ticket sales will be . . . ?

  8. Davey Hamilton -- Indy 500 veteran driver joins USAC as racing executive director; says he seeks to increase series/event sanctioning and business opportunities.

  9. Claire B. Lang -- Everyone in the garage area talks with SiriusXM NASCAR channel 90's VERY hard-working reporter. Then she talks to fans post-race -- and that's not always an easy thing to do.

10. Rick Benjamin -- Hosts CBS Sports Network's Trans-Am series coverage starting Tuesday, 8 p.m. EDT. Amy Ruman won the Sebring opener in a record-setting field of 69 cars.

Links to all of my NASCAR-in-Phoenix Arizona Republic stories are on Twitter: @SpinDoctor500

more next week . . . ]

Sunday, March 08, 2015

DO FOX NEWS & SPORTS TALK? (And a Tie at the Top of This Week's Most Influential List)

Just wondering: Does anyone at Fox News speak to anyone at Fox Sports?


I can't help but wonder after watching FNC's NASCAR reports on the Daytona and Atlanta weekends.

Some talking head sitting in a studio in Los Angeles "reported" on Kurt Busch's suspension Daytona 500 weekend. And then when Kyle Busch was injured. Did the weekend producers even put 2+2 together that Fox Sports has the NASCAR rights? Why not put Matt Yocum on to provide some real on-site reporting? I guess the FNC correspondent in Antarctica wasn't available.

(This is a journalistically-unsound but regular FNC "gimmick" as I've seen some L.A.-based head "report" on stories in New York City, Boston, Washington, D.C., etc. It's credibility-bending.)

Then, when driver Travis Kvapil's car was stolen from a hotel parking lot before it ever got to Atlanta Motor Speedway, it was more appearance-of instead of real reporting. Weekend anchor Julie Banderas, who I think hasn't done any homework since the third grade, repeatedly botched Kvapil's name. I guess it would have been too much work to check how to say "Kvapil" during a commercial break.

FNC boss Roger Ailes -- a legitimate TV genius -- should be very, VERY embarrassed.

For over a half-century Chris Economaki criticized short-track promoters for not keeping the show moving along and thus keeping fans in the stands past midnight. Then, he pointed out, these same promoters would wonder why those with children didn't return or the race results weren't in the paper. I went to USA Raceway in Tucson Saturday night for the only World of Outlaws event in Arizona this season. (See my story on Donny Schatz in last Friday's Arizona Republic, link @SpinDoctor500 .)The opening ceremonies were at 7 p.m. and the checkered flag over winner Brian Brown (six different winners in six Outlaws' A-Mains to start this season) waved at about 9:45. Some of that was car count -- 26 -- but mostly it was clean racing (which, yes, can be exciting) -- no big flips or wrecks -- and a fairly efficient staging process. The show could even have been shorter if not for what seemed to me to be an overly-long track prep process before the features, which no doubt was go buy beer and hot dogs time, and a little extra entertainment then would have been good. We live in a short attention-span society -- baseball is enacting new rules to speed up games -- and so a briskly-paced Saturday night program is SMART and GOOD BUSINESS. I enjoyed it. 

POWER PLAYERS for the week of March 8: 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 and Jim Campbell -- Delaware's justice department decides not to file criminal charges against Kurt Busch in the case of alleged domestic violence. And the decision of NASCAR's CEO regarding Busch's eligibility to compete is . . . ?  And ditto that of GM's motorsports VP who suspended Chevrolet's relationship with Busch a few weeks ago. NASCAR rules don't allow for unbranded cars. The exact percentage is not clear, but lots of women buy Chevys.

   3. Jeff Gordon -- Takes Las Vegas pole, talks about safety, and schedules a meeting this week with NASCAR officials. Gordon has the BIGGEST microphone right now because every media person wants to know what he says during this, his last full-time season.

  4. Kevin Harvick -- Sprint Cup champion goes 2-1-1-2-2-1 in his last six races and wins in Las Vegas. Next? Phoenix, where he has been dominant.

  5. Lewis Hamilton -- World champion -- and arguably F1's most popular driver -- opens the season in Australia. Will Grand Prix racing's worldwide TV numbers dip again this year? A lot probably depends on if Hamilton and Mercedes-Benz dominate while Ferrari runs as a backmarker. 

  6. Bryan Sperber  -- Phoenix International Raceway president's NASCAR weekend is two weeks later than in recent years. Will grandstands -- typically full for the November race -- be that way vs. baseball Cactus League competition? Will new tire wall inside Turn 4 be tested?

  7. Marcus Smith -- Speedway Motorsports CEO announces five-percent decline in admissions revenue in 2014. "Our core fans have been particularly hard hit and certain markets are recovering slower than expected, with underemployment remaining a substantial headwind," he says.

  8. Derrick Walker  -- IndyCar's competition boss to oversee open test with new aero kits at Barber Motorsports Park. Will he deem it a success or order changes? new class into his International Drag Racing Hall of Fame before the Gators.

  9. Jon Asher -- Drag racing's most insightful and influential writer makes his "Insider" season debut on CompetitionPlus.com at the Gators. If you want to know what's REALLY going on, read Asher.

10. Lou Ferrara -- Associated Press managing editor announces deal with technology company Automated Insights to use NCAA game data to have computers "write" some event reports. Plenty of stats come out of NASCAR's races, too, so . . . ?

I'll have stories in the Arizona Republic all week and through the NASCAR weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. Read me in the paper, on AzCentral.com, and I'll also post links and updates from PIR on my Twitter: @SpinDoctor500 . Stories will include the "rebuilding" of Roush Fenway Racing, Trevor Bayne, explore how NASCAR's new car rules and electronic officiating could impact the PIR show, look at the marketing of Richard Petty Motorsports and -- of course -- talk to Danica. And more. Thank you.

[ more next week . . . ]