• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, September 11, 2016

BACK TO THE GARAGE AREA (and GIBBS TAKES TOP SPOT ON THIS WEEK's 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST)

At least in theory, this is the most exciting time of the racing year.

The Chase for the (last) NASCAR Sprint Cup championship begins Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. NHRA's version for all four of its Mello Yello pro classes, the Countdown, goes green Sunday at zMax Dragway, across the road from Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Verizon IndyCar Series takes its season checkered flag with a double-points (I don't like that gimmick) finale at Sonoma Raceway -- not much excitement there as Simon Pagenaud should add to his and team owner Roger Penske's trophy cases. IMSA has just Circuit of the Americas and Road Atlanta events left. Mercedes' boys Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have the most work to do, seven more Grands Prix to determine the world champion. Difficult to see Donny Schatz not collecting another World of Outlaws' crown.

So, it's the time to be enthusiastically engaged in the action, not heading back to the garage area with the hood up. But that's what I have to do.

Circumstances are again directing me down one of life's roads that I didn't plan on traveling. So this will be the last blog for awhile as higher priorities demand my time and energy. Those who should know tell me 6-8 weeks from when some fixes get done later this month.

What I hope to do is Tweet a shortened version of "Power Players" @SpinDoctor500 . 

However it all works out, I'll take this chance to say thanks to those who use a little of your valuable time to visit here each week. If nothing else, I plan to post my traditional end-of-year thoughts come December. 

Thank you and enjoy the championship runs.   

POWER PLAYERS for the week of September 11:This week's 10 most influential
people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

  1. Joe Gibbs -- His Toyotas are the hot ticket in both Sprint Cup and the Xfinity Series. Could all four of his Cup drivers -- Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards -- qualify for the Cup finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway?

  2. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick -- Let's call them the Sprint Cup championship co-favorites as the Chase takes the green flag in Chicagoland.

  4. Antron Brown and Ron Capps -- The top seeds in Top Fuel and Funny Car, respectively, as NHRA's six-race Countdown begins at zMax Dragway.

  6Simon Pagenaud -- All-but-disaster at Sonoma should clinch his first IndyCar championship in the season finale.

  7. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg -- Hamilton needs victory under the lights in Singapore to re-open points gap over his Mercedes-Benz teammate. 

  9. Cole Custer  -- After controversial second-place finish to John Hunter Nemechek in last race, needs to win Chicagoland to clinch spot in Camping World Truck Series' first Chase.

 10. Rico Abreu -- World of Outlaws' win at California's Silver Dollar Speedway another notch for this rising star.


  

Monday, September 05, 2016

JUNIOR KO BLOW TO NASCAR INDUSTRY; MAKES HIM NO. 1 ON THIS WEEK's 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST

POWER PLAYERS for the week of September 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. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- Concussion KOs him for the rest of the season, and while Junior says he plans to return in 2017, the NASCAR industry and Hendrick Motorsports are forced to ponder what to do if their most popular driver can't make a comeback.

  2. Tony and Don Schumacher -- NHRA Top Fuel's winningest driver wins his record 10th U.S. Nationals while father and team owner doubles at Indy with Matt Hagen taking the Funny Car
class victory.

  4. Greg Zipadelli -- Stewart-Haas Racing's competition VP must fix the Kevin Harvick pit crew problem -- slow stops likely cost Harvick the Southern 500 win -- before the Chase begins.

  5. John Hunter Nemechek and Mike Helton -- The driver set a dangerous new precedent by pinning Cole Custer against a wall to win the Truck series race in Canada. Upon review at NASCAR's weekly competition meeting, will the sanction's vice chairman let this stand?

   7. Will Power -- After observation for concussion-like symptoms after Watkins Glen, will the only driver left who can beat Simon Pagenaud for the IndyCar championshp be able to participate in Thursday's test session at Sonoma, site of the season's final race?

  8. Nico Rosberg -- Italian Grand Prix victory pulls him closer to Mercedes' teammate Lewis Hamilton in world title standings.

  9. David Gravel  -- Sweeps the World of Outlaws' doubleheader at Skagit Speedway.

 10. Chris Windom -- Daring outside-line line pass of Jeff Swindell with three laps to go earns him first career USAC Silver Crown dirt win in Ted Horn 100 at DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.

more next week . . . ]

  

Sunday, August 28, 2016

NASCAR's HISTORIC 3 LEAD THIS WEEK's 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST

POWER PLAYERS for the week of August 28: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 Larson, Michael McDowell, Brett Moffitt -- In a NASCAR first, the three earn their first NASCAR Sprint Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series wins on the same weekend, at Michigan International Speedway and Road America.

  4. Graham Rahal -- In a spectacular last five laps, he leads only the last few hundred yards to win the restart of June's IndyCar rainout at Texas Motor Speedway. This weekend: Watkins Glen.

  5. John, Courtney and Brittany Force -- It's NHRA's Big Go, the U.S. Nationals, where stars shine and legends are made. A Force victory, or Funny Car-Top Fuel double, would do much to get drag racing into the college football-crowded Labor Day weekend headlines.

  8. Jeff Gordon -- He's back in the No. 88 for Dale Earnhardt Jr., at Darlington, where Gordon is a seven-time Cup series winner at the track too tough to tame.

  9. Sebastian Vettel  -- It's the Italian Grand Prix at mighty Monza, where fans treat Ferrari like a religion, with Vettel the best chance to beat the Mercedes-Benz duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

 10. Kevin Thomas Jr. -- Wins two of three at Kokomo Speedway to claim USAC's Sprint Car Smackdown V.

more next week . . . ]

  

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 . . . ]