• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, August 14, 2016

THE BILL ALSUP I KNEW (and THIS WEEK'S MOST UNUSUAL 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST

I've never told this story before.

In November 1981, Bill Alsup was scheduled to do some Indy Car testing at Michigan International Speedway and also had some corporate meetings in the Detroit area. Alsup, second in the PPG Cup point standings to Rick Mears that season, drove from his Vermont home to Michigan and stopped by the CART offices with gifts of jugs of real Vermont maple syrup. While there, he got word bad weather meant testing would have to be pushed back a couple of days. So, Alsup a member of the CART Board of Directors, hung out with us in the small sanctioning body offices. I was there as director of communications and was able to schedule a few telephone interviews which Bill -- as always -- gladly did. It was good for him and good for the series and it also helped pass the time. He took us out to lunch.

But, mostly, Alsup observed. He was there when we (meaning Kirk Russell and me) would get calls from other Board members -- Pat Patrick being No. 1 on the list. Such calls were often to push an agenda or to ask why we, the staff, were doing certain things or why we were doing them a certain way. Our answer typically was because Chairman John Frasco (who was out-of-town when Alsup visited), our boss and high-powered attorney who worked in a large suite of offices down the hall in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., told us to do it. I wish I had $1 for every time Patrick told me: "F*** Frasco. I'm the founder, the president, the treasurer of CART." Usually these things got sorted out OK, but let's just say such calls contributed to our organization operating less-than-efficiently, and didn't do much for overall morale.

In January, 1982, there was a regularly scheduled Board meeting held in a conference room at the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport. The routine was the directors -- Patrick, Roger Penske, Bobby Hillin, Bob Fletcher among them -- would meet behind closed doors. Frasco would pass out printed agendas at the start and collect them at the end. Russell and I would sit in the hallway outside, and wait to be summoned inside to make a presentation, answer questions and get the direction from the Board. Then we'd go back outside and wait in case we were again beckoned inside.

At this particular meeting, this is what happened, as described to me by a few friendly directors. After a couple of opening matters were disposed of, Frasco said: "Bill Alsup has asked for a few minutes." Alsup then recounted his experience in our offices, what he observed, and expressed great concern. "Our organization is being run in a way we would never allow our own businesses to be run," he said. And, later, "What are we doing to our guys (Russell and me)?" His words, his concern, came from the heart.

When Alsup was finished, Frasco said: "Thank you, Bill" and immediately pressed ahead with other agenda items. There was no discussion of the concern Alsup expressed. Well, actually, there WAS "discussion." After the meeting, Frasco said to Russell and me, "Have you guys been talking to Directors? Don't talk to Directors unless I tell you to."

Alsup -- who contained his displeasure at being dissed by the chairman -- also observed this and was alarmed. When Frasco walked down the hall, Bill came over to Kirk and the PR guy and said he was sorry. He tried. And now he was worried what he did would actually have the opposite effect and create a backlash against us. Right then, he was more worried about us, as the staff and as a couple of guys busting-butt and working VERY long hours. 

Bill Alsup was worried about me, as a person.

That's who Bill Alsup was. And that's why news of his death last week has left me profoundly sad.    

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  August 14: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. Jason Johnson -- Beats Donny Schatz, who had won sprint car racing's most important event nine of the last 10 years, in a classic 56th Knoxville Nationals for $150,000.
 



  2. Steve O'Donnell -- OK, what will NASCAR's executive VP and chief racing development officer have to say about racing in the rain after the Mid-Ohio Xfinity series event?

 3. Roger Penske -- Still working on an IndyCar and/or Cup championship for his 50th anniversary season, but already says he'll field a second Xfinity series team next year. Anyone want to bet on Austin Cindric being fast-tracked? 
   
  4. Justin Marks -- Will the Mid-Ohio racin' in the rain winner now become the most sought-after road racing coach for Sprint Cup drivers? 

 5. Kyle Busch --  Will his hot streak continue with a sweep at Bristol? 

 6. Brandon Igdalsky -- Pocono Raceway boss re-ups with IndyCar for two more seasons . . . now how many paying customers will be in the grandstands this Sunday?


 7. Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria -- After big wall-bangers in the last two Funny Car races, will the NHRA drivers compete at Brainerd? 

 9. Donny Schatz -- Knoxville runner-up still leads World of Outlaws standings by 237 points over David Gravel.

10. Kyle Larson -- Marks won in Larson's usual Xfinity series ride while Kyle went from 21st to fifth at Knoxville.


more next week . . . ]

  




Sunday, August 07, 2016

SCHATZ 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' HEADING TO SPRINT CAR RACING's MOST IMPORTANT RACE

I'll pass on the blog I had planned for this week due to the injuries and big crashes of the past weekend.

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  August 7:This week's 10 most influential
people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

   1. Donny Schatz -- He's the main man leading up to sprint car racing's most important event, the Knoxville Nationals. Schatz has won the World of Outlaws showcase the last five years and nine of the last 10. 

   2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- Visits Watkins Glen and says he has no plans to retire, but doesn't know when he'll be able to resume racing as he continues to experience issues from his latest concussion.

 3. Barney Visser -- Furniture Row team owner signs Martin Truex Jr. to two-year extension and adds Erik Jones and 5-Hour Energy for a second Cup team in 2017.
   
 4. Del Worsham -- Defending NHRA Funny Car champion leads the list of national record breakers at Pacific Raceway, going 3.832 seconds at 330.88 mph.

  5. Rico Abreu --  Wins the Outlaws' Ironman 55 to add to his place among American racing's new hotshot generation of drivers. 

   6. Tommy Milner -- Races his Chevrolet Corvette from fifth place to the win in the last seven minutes at IMSA's annual Road America run.

   7. Claire B. Lang and Dave Moody -- It's an off-weekend for Sprint Cup but the SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90 hosts will find a way to entertain and inform their listeners.

    9. Graham Light -- With driver injuries two straight weeks after Funny Car side impact with the wall, NHRA's senior VP, racing operations will be looked to by fans and competitors to investigate and seek more side driver protection.

10. Scott Atherton -- IMSA president announces 2017 schedule which includes no new venues

and some future class realignment.

more next week . . . ]

  







Monday, August 01, 2016

CREW CHIEFS SHARE SPOTLIGHT IN THIS WEEK's 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST

POWER PLAYERS for the week of July 31: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. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon -- Junior's return from concussion-like symptoms for Watkins Glen seems unlikely, giving one of NASCAR's all-time best road racers another second act at the Glen.


  3. John Force and Jon Schaffer -- NHRA win number 145 at Sonoma gives Mr. Funny Car a chance to be the only driver in that nitro class to sweep the Western Swing twice, if crew chief Schaffer hits on the right tuning combination.

   5. Simon Pagenaud -- Opens up IndyCar series championship lead by winning Mid-Ohio from the pole . . . and with a bad back.

  6. Chris Buescher and Bob Osborne -- Xfinity series champion gets his first Cup series win as a rookie when veteran crew chief Osborne keeps him on the track at Pocono instead of pitting as Monday race is stopped 22 laps short due to fog. The Front Row team remains just outside the top 30 in points, a must to qualify for the Chase.

   8 Lewis Hamilton -- Opens up world championship lead by winning German Grand Prix as Formula One now takes its annual summer break.

   9. Greg Anderson -- Pro Stock win number seven this season ties him with Bob Glidden with 85 victories, second all-time in the class.

 10. William Bryon -- Sets Truck series rookie record with his fifth win of the season, this time at Pocono.


more next week . . . ]

  

Sunday, July 24, 2016

HISTORIC INDY DOMINANCE MAKES 4 THIS WEEK's 'MOST INFLUENTIAL'

Please see @SpinDoctor500 for some interesting quotes from my 1-on-1 time with Mark Miles in his Indianapolis Motor Speedway office last Friday.


POWER PLAYERS for the week of  July 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. Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs, Adam Stevens, Chris Gayle -- Historic double poles/double wins in Indy Xfinity and Sprint Cup series events for driver, team owner, Cup and Xfinity crew chiefs. Great showbiz? No. Great performances? Yes. 

   5. Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon -- P11 and P13 in last and "second last" Brickyard races for two of NASCAR's all-time greats. They didn't win, but in many ways, they made the Crown Royal 400 event. Including Gordon leading a standing ovation for Indiana native Stewart in drivers' meeting, and side-by-side salute cool-down lap, one of the Speedway's greatest moments and images. 

   7. John Force -- NHRA's all-time Funny Car champion beats daughter Courtney for class win in sanction's first live broadcast network event. 
 
    8. Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner -- Lime Rock win 100th for Chevrolet Corvette team, an IMSA first. 

 10. Lewis Hamilton -- Takes world championship lead from Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg with Hungary Grand Prix victory.


 
more next week . . . ]

  

Sunday, July 17, 2016

THE 10th ANNIVERSARY BLOG

When this spec in cyberspace was unveiled for public viewing on July 10, 2006, I wrote that one of my goals was to "point out a few issues not discussed elsewhere. I'm one of those people who believe it's essential to keep learning and my wish is this blog will be a vehicle to stimulate thought for all of us in, or with an interest in, the industry."

To repeat: ". . . it's essential to keep learning . . . "

While sooooo much has happened and changed in the last decade, I must report with sincere sadness that what I am thinking about the most on this 10th anniversary is that way, Way, WAY too many aren't interested in learning. They are only interested in hearing or reading what echoes or reinforces their own opinion.

At least, that's the impression I get.

Never in history have we had so many different ways to communicate. At first thought, that seems like a great thing. But let's dig down a little deeper to HOW those ways of communicating are being used. In Big Time Auto Racing, at least, it sure seems to me an alarming percent is personal attacks and over-the-top negativity. (No doubt at least one someone will post a criticism of me for writing that last sentence -- proving my point.) So-called "fans" -- a good number who portray themselves as "experts" or "insiders" -- hide behind the anonymous shield provided by site hosts and rip away freely at those they disagree with.

Question: How does that foster LEARNING? 

Everyone with a smart phone now can take pictures and video and write and too many who should know better call this population "citizen journalists." That is flat-out bogus wrong. Taking a picture or a video or ripping someone isn't necessarily journalism and those who do it aren't necessarily journalists. That is a professional activity done primarily by those educated and trained in techniques and standards. Quick! Yes! I know, in the current generation, there are a lot of professional journalists who prefer to think of themselves as "personalities" -- ESPN's Around the Horn, the worst show on television -- being the showcase example. Too often opinion is presented as if fact. Standards? It seems in all areas of our society and our culture what is acceptable would have been considered garbage not all that long ago. Celebrity and entertainment have taken the place of professionalism and education.

Central to journalism is the role of an editor. I've had the pleasure of knowing, and working with, some very good ones in my career. Who edits the anonymous poster who personally attacks another with another point-of-view? Who checks for accuracy? Who adds context?

Some years ago there was a regular Internet site poster who I easily identified by his chosen online "name." Said poster would often tell of a positive meeting he just had at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or conversation with some motorsports Biggie. And these posts would always lead to others thanking him for sharing this "inside" info and "great news." I knew the person . . . the real person. The only meeting he was having was at the bottom of a vodka bottle. Oh, the countless lemmings who were duped. And who didn't stop and question why this person would give out supposedly confidential information from a closed-door meeting or private talk?  

I was late coming to Twitter -- I'm still not completely comfortable with it -- but did so at the urging of several people I respect. For someone like me, there is a business component to it, so I agree that is useful. But here's my experience: I've had people tell me they no longer follow me because I wrote something they DISAGREE with. And that is the massive problem at hand here: If you only consume information from outlets you like, how will you ever learn there just might well be more to the story, other data points that might actually CHANGE your opinion?

I've been personally attacked on Internet forums a few times. Not because my facts were wrong. Because the other party didn't agree with me. Mostly this has been from those still fighting the USAC-CART-IRL-Champ Car wars. I've been labeled a "CART guy" because I was that organization's first communications director. I've been labeled "pro IRL" because I worked on Arie Luyendyk's and Robby Gordon's Indy 500 programs. Yep, sure, it all makes sense. Nope, what it is is outright irresponsible and stupid. The writers should be embarrassed but, today, there no longer is shame.

When IndyCar returned to my home track, Phoenix International Raceway, earlier this year I wrote most of the stories for the Arizona Republic and by any objective measure personally accounted for at least a third of all coverage in this state. On the it's-not-a-good-day-unless-we-have-something-to-complain-about site, where I've been inaccurately blasted (but, hey, why worry about the facts?) many times, there wasn't a word from the haters about the effort and quality and knowledge and substance represented in that coverage. Oh, I think someone said the stories were "pretty good." The attackers couldn't be honest enough to acknowledge what was counter to their bias. I would say they should have asked Mark Miles and Jay Frye and Graham Rahal what they through about my stories, but I doubt some of the Internet "experts" know who Miles and Frye and Rahal are.

I actually learned something in doing all those stories that I believe will help me be even more effective next time. And I learned something about the Business and Politics of Racing while at Indy for my 38th Indianapolis 500 that I think will help me do better on that front, too.

Do you understand the problem here? I do and it worries the hell out of me.

That's why I say, in the last decade, the most significant development has been we have too many ways to communicate, giving too many uninformed people the ability to wrongly influence others. That is dangerous -- for everyone.

In that first blog, I wrote that this undertaking would be a "Great Adventure." In some important ways, I think it has. (The most significant example being my "Untenable" blog in the aftermath of Dan Wheldon's death, which accurately forecast the demise of Randy Bernard and the Las Vegas race. Weeks later, at the Sprint Cup awards, many NASCARites spoke to me about it.) Going forward, I would prefer this to be a "Great Adventure in Learning."

For that to happen, however, a lot of people will actually have to decide they will be open enough to WANT to learn right alongside of me. Or they will prefer to wallow in the laziness of ignorance.

I'd like to conclude by writing I think the next decade will be better.

I can't. The high-percentage bet is it all will get much, Much, MUCH worse. 

And we all will be endangered.


POWER PLAYERS for the week of  July 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. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon -- If Junior can't race at the Brickyard this weekend due to concussion-like issues, Rick Hendrick says five-time Indy winner Gordon will emerge from retirement to drive the No. 88. 

   3. Donny Schatz -- Bags the $50,000-to-win Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway, his 15th win of the season, and opens an almost 200-point World of Outlaws lead over Brad Sweet. In American open-wheel short-track racing, the name to know is spelled S-C-H-A-T-Z.

   4. Tony Stewart-- Coming off successful tripleheader World of Outlaws at Eldora Speedway he owns and hosts NASCAR Trucks this Wednesday night. Oh, in his day job, Stewart bolsters his Chase place with second place at New Hampshire, and now on to the Brickyard for the last time, where he's a three-time winner.
   
 5. Dave Moody -- Properly blasts ESPN for not including Jeff Gordon in tribute to retired athletes at the ESPYs and his afternoon drive-time SiriusXM Channel 90 show remains THE place for NASCAR fans to sound off. Sometimes, Moody even sounds off at the fans.

  6. Doug Boles -- Indianapolis Motor Speedway president takes another swing at improving NASCAR attendance issues.
   
   7. Holly Cain -- Indy = Big Week for NASCAR.com with inspirational writer Cain on-site to bring fans the stories they want and need to know. 

   8. Jon Asher -- Drag racing's most influential journalist pens a column for CompetitonPlus.com calling on NHRA to end the troubled Pro Stock class.  

   9. Rahn Tobler -- Can tuner for Ron Capps' Funny Car championship-leading NAPA Dodge find the right high-altitude combination in Denver as NHRA begins its Western Swing? 

10. Nico Rosberg -- What will be his story with Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton this Sunday in the Hungarian Grand Prix? Will they try to take each other out -- again?

I'll be at the Brickyard this weekend for the NASCAR happenings. Whatever I find out you can read on Twitter @SpinDoctor500

more next week . . . ]

  

Sunday, July 10, 2016

BRAD K AND CREW CHIEF DOUBLE-UP TO BE NO. 1 ON THIS WEEK's 'MOST INFLUENTIAL LIST'

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  July 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. Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe -- Two consecutive Sprint Cup series wins for Team Penske Ford driver and crew chief. Right now they are the championship favorites.

   3. Josef Newgarden -- Dominates IndyCar's Iowa race for his first oval win. Will he graduate to a ride at Penske, Andretti or Ganassi?

   4. Don Schumacher-- NHRA's most important team owner sweeps Top Fuel and Funny Car classes at his home NHRA track, Route 66, for fourth consecutive year.
   
   5. Mark Miles -- IndyCar CEO says he expects to announce 2017 AND 2018 schedules in next couple of weeks.

   6. Maurizio Arrivabene -- Ferrari team principal surprisingly retains Kimi Raikkonen for 2017 F1 season, apparently because he and Sebastien Vettel get along so well.
   
   7. Charlie Whiting -- FIA race director stands firm on restrictions on radio communications between teams and drivers. If a Mercedes team appeal fails, Nico Rosberg will lose second place in the British Grand Prix due to instructions from team how to overcome shifting problem. 

   8. Tony Stewart -- Good Kentucky finish solidifies his place in the Chase and the Eldora Speedway owner expands World of Outlaws' prestigious Kings Royal to a tripleheader with more than $320,000 in prize money. 

   9. Max Verstappen -- Red Bull's 18-year-old Formula One sensation finishes on the podium in difficult and changing weather conditions during British Grand Prix. 

10. Greg Anderson -- Sixth NHRA Pro Stock win of the season, in eight consecutive final rounds, keeps the Ken Black Summit Chevy Camaro team undefeated.

SPECIAL 10th ANNIVERSARY BLOG NEXT WEEK.

more next week . . . ]

  

Thursday, July 07, 2016

RECALLING CARL


(July 10 will mark the 10th anniversary of this blog. As is my custom, I had planned a special posting for this occasion. That must wait. Carl A. Haas has died and that's where minds should be now. For those not aware, I first got to know Carl when I was CART's communications director. I then worked with Carl as a sponsor PR rep from 1984 (when we won the PPG Cup championship with Mario Andretti and Budweiser) through 1987. After a year away when my great friend Al Holbert asked me to come with him and work the Quaker State Porsche IndyCar program -- Al died in a private airplane crash that September -- I rejoined Carl as Newman/Haas Racing's PR director. We had two more championships, Michael Andretti in 1991 and Nigel Mansell in 1993, and I was there through the 1995 season. I see the Internet filled with various tributes to Carl -- and he should have tributes -- and I observe some to be less than the best and that's another thing to be sad about at this time. In January 2008 Carl made one of his last public appearances at the AARWBA All-America Team ceremony in Indianapolis. I was the event's chairman and asked Carl to attend as he would receive the Pioneer In Racing Award. So what I have decided to do here is share the text of my introduction and recap (remember, this was January 2008) of Carl's many accomplishments. A photo of Carl at the event is below. You can read more about Carl: http://www.haasauto.com/pages.php?pageid=7 . God Bless Berni Haas for her dedication in the role of Alzheimer's patient caregiver, something we had in common. I sure hope Carl and Paul Newman are once again enjoying each other's company and love of racing. Thank you Carl, Berni and Paul for allowing me to be a very small part of your historic racing success.) 

AARWBA Remarks, January 2008:

On the morning of May 26, 1985, Carl Haas was featured on the cover of the Chicago Tribune’s Sunday magazine.

Carl’s Beatrice Lola didn’t win the Indy 500 that day. Danny Sullivan edged Mario Andretti by 3 seconds in the famous ‘Spin and Win’. But the Tribune wrote that that Carl “is, arguably, the most successful team owner in big-time auto racing.”  It called him a “driving force.” It added, “His touch, whether on the nose of a car or the bottom line of a sales agreement, is that of Midas.”

That was 7 championships, 93 wins, and 95 poles ago.

Carl once said: "Winning is the only thing that counts. I believe the way you give yourself the best chance to win is to get the quickest driver you can, pair him with the best engineer and crew, give them a good car, and let them do their jobs."

Mario explained it this way:

"All along, Carl has had the taste for victory. Because of that, he doesn't accept anything else very well."

The record book reflects that.

Carl’s teams have won 16 major championships: 8 in CART/Champ Car – including the last four in a row – 4 in the SCCA Can-Am series; 3 in Formula 5000; and 1 in Super Vee.

His roster of drivers constitutes an auto racing Hall of Fame:

*  Mario Andretti

* Michael Andretti

* Nigel Mansell

* Jackie Stewart

* Alan Jones

* Paul Tracy

* Cristiano da Matta

* Brian Redman

* Jackie Ickx

* Peter Revson

* David Hobbs

* Patrick Tambay

* Christian Fittipaldi

* Masten Gregory

* Chuck Parsons

* Skip Scott

* Sebastien Bourdais, among others.

In 1992, Carl triggered the single most audacious move in the last quarter-century of motorsports, by signing reigning world champion Nigel Mansell to come to America. Overnight, American open-wheel racing was in the spotlight around the world.

Mansell Mania created an unprecedented level of international fan and media interest in CART. 90 journalists from 9 countries covered his first test, at Phoenix, in January 1993. I remember Carl looked at the scene and whispered to me, “I think this is going to be bigger than we thought.” Paul Newman called it, “The Great Adventure.” The 1993 PPG Cup, 4 consecutive oval wins, and an unforgettable month of May sensation at Indianapolis followed.   

And if you don’t remember some of those other driver names – like Masten Gregory – believe me, they were tremendous racers.

Carl’s worked with many of the top manufactuers, including Ford, Honda, Toyota and Chevrolet.

And Carl’s list of sponsors would be the envy of any CEO. They are some of the most famous names in corporate history:

*  Budweiser

* McDonald's

* Kmart

* Havoline

* Beatrice

* Eli Lilly and

* Citicorp, among others.

Carl’s other accomplishments are many:

*  Chairman of the SCCA, and member of the SCCA Hall of Fame;

*  A director on both the CART and Road America boards;

*  Formula One and NASCAR team owner. His cars scored world championships points. His cars have been on the pole for both the Indy 500 and Allstate 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

*  Promoter at Milwaukee and Houston;

*  Importer of racing cars and parts. Most noteably, Lola. The Haas Auto parts transporter has been a fixture in the paddock area for decades.  

* In 2005, AARWBA named Carl one of its 50 top newsmakers of the half-century.         

How did Carl do it all?

Paul Newman, Carl’s one-time rival team owner, and long-time partner, offered his own theory. As usual, Paul combined keen insight with his own sense of humor:   

"The core of his mind rests in his cigar, and it's a GOOD cigar."

On behalf of AARWBA, it is a pleasure to honor, as a Pioneer In Racing, Mr. Carl A. Haas.

(Below: 1. Carl Haas accepts AARWBA Pioneer In Racing Award. 2. Michael Knight, Carl Haas, Nigel Mansell, Paul Newman celebrate 1993 PPG Cup championship after race win at Nazareth Speedway.)



[ next week: 10th anniversary blog . . . ]