• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM: News Flash! ESPN suspends Keith Olbermann! Who could have imagined such a thing!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

PENSKE WINS DAYTONA; TOPS 'POWER PLAYERS' LIST

POWER PLAYERS for the week of February 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 -- Second Daytona 500 win gives him shot at "Double" with Indy 500 and adds to his corporate image of success.

  2. Joey Logano -- He'll be the Face of NASCAR this week on the national media tour. NASCAR and its industry partners hope he'll draw-in fresh fans from a younger demo.

  3. Gene Haas -- What will he do with his self-owned and self-sponsored No. 41 Cup car for the rest of the season? Haas said he stood behind Kurt Busch as his driver, but NASCAR ruled otherwise. And Chevrolet said no. The team has other sponsors on its other cars and they all are, at least indirectly, impacted by this. 

  4. Joie Chitwood -- Daytona International Speedway president says track made a mistake not having SAFER barrier where Kyle Busch crashed. International Speedway Corp. cannot justify spending $400 million on elevators and escalators and other fan goodies but not having SAFER barriers all the way around the outside and inside walls. What happened needs to be the example learned from by all other tracks.

  5. Mike Helton -- As Brian France steps back with the Daytona spotlight turned off, NASCAR's now vice chairman stays on the circuit as the senior on-site racing official. First order of business: Getting all the national series on a calmer course after 10 days of crashing at Daytona. 

  6. Richie Zyontz, Artie Kempner, Barry Landis -- The three senior at-track production people face the task of keeping the Fox and Fox Sports1 presentations interesting and fresh for viewers who continue on with NASCAR post-Daytona 500. There are new and continuing stories to be told and these three will make the final decisions on what's important and what is unplayed or even ignored. Now in the Xfinity series, too.

   9. Mark Miles -- IndyCar's CEO tells media day gathering he wants to expand to 20 races, starting one week after the Super Bowl, and ending by Labor Day. 

10. Don Schumacher -- Mega NHRA team owner -- he's to drag racing what Roger Penske is to IndyCar and Rick Hendrick to NASCAR -- doubles in Phoenix with Tony Schumacher in Top Fuel and Matt Hagan in Funny Car. "The Don" continues to recover from cancer surgery.

(See Twitter @SpinDoctor500 for links to my Arizona Republic stories from last weekend's NHRA Carquest Auto Parts Nationals.)

new list and more next week . . . ]

Sunday, February 15, 2015

JUNIOR & JEFF MOST INFLUENTIAL ON DAYTONA 500 WEEK 'POWER PLAYERS' LIST

In an annoying and business illogical decision, NHRA has again scheduled its Phoenix-area national event for this weekend, directly opposite the Daytona 500. As usual, I'll be covering the straight-liners for the Arizona Republic ( AzCentral.com and I'll post story links on Twitter: @SpinDoctor500 ). So I'll let those on-site in Daytona Beach generate all the sound-and-fury in advance of the Great American Race. However, since NASCAR likes to call this stock car racing's Super Bowl, I just hope one of his executive suits doesn't convince Brian France to display the red flag after 250 miles and bring out Katy Perry and the sharks. Considering France OK'd the TV showbiz-over-common sense Daytona qualifying rules, though, I wouldn't rule out anything.


POWER PLAYERS for the week of February 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. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon -- NASCAR's annual most popular driver and defending Daytona 500 winner usually has the bright spotlight alone. Not this week, though, with arguably fan-favorite No. 2 Gordon beginning from the pole what he says will be his last Great American Race and full-time season.

  3. Brian France -- The chairman and CEO is tops on the NASCAR list just about any week, but the focus now is on Earnhardt Jr. and Gordon. France must hope for a legitimate Great Race -- after the controversial Daytona 500 qualifying rules -- to propel his much discussed "momentum" from last season, especially with a lame-duck title sponsor.

  4. Darrell Waltrip -- Like "Mr. Boogity" or not, what he says on Fox -- and he says a lot -- helps shape living room and office debate about what's right and wrong in NASCAR racing.

  5. Jenna Fryer -- As chief motorsports writer for the Associated Press, the world's largest newsgathering organizaton, her words inform fans globally. And are very important to everyone within the racing industry. 

  6. Gene Stefanyshyn -- NASCAR's VP of innovation and racing development faces his biggest test with Big Stage debut of his gizmo electronic pit road officiating system. It sure better not create any controversy. 

  7. Rick Hendrick -- Have no doubt, he is far-and-away the most influential Sprint Cup team owner. His unprecedented on-track success -- now including Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson on Daytona's front row -- is just part of that story.  

  8. Joe Gibbs -- Ups his ante with Carl Edwards creating a four-driver Cup stable. Pairing of Edwards with Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin will put more scrutiny on Gibbs' reputation as a people motivator and team builder.

  9. Chad Knaus -- The Cup garage's smartest and most cunning crew chief -- he forces everyone else to wonder if they are working and thinking hard enough -- starts his calculations with new rules to get Jimmie Johnson that record-tying seventh championship. 

 10. Danica Patrick -- She begins third full Cup season at one of the events where she can have the best result. To maintain her celebrity status, and with GoDaddy sponsorship not confirmed beyond this year, she needs just that. 

new list and more next week . . . ]

Sunday, February 08, 2015

USELESS UNLIMITED (and Junior No. 1 on this week's Power Players list)

Longtime readers know I think the NASCAR All-Star race is the most meaningless event of an already overly long season. To summarize what I've written before:

Originally created to generate publicity for stock car racing back when the Indianapolis 500 was all dominant, that reason ceased to make sense with the IRL-CART split. The TV types then changed their tune and said it was "for the fans." Begging the question: Who were all the other races for? All credibility was lost when Kenny Wallace was named an "All-Star." Then it supposedly became a "Saturday night short track shootout" throwback. As recent years have proven, that doesn't translate. There is simply too much money, too much prestige, at stake in winning the actually Cup series championship for the smart guys to take a chance on getting hurt in an EXHIBITION. It's a waste of a weekend better left open to serve as someone's rainout backup.

This Saturday night's Sprint Unlimited at Daytona, though, is rapidly running a close second to All-Star on the meaningless list.

Originally, it made sense. Monty Roberts, Busch beer brand manager, opened the tap for the first Busch Clash in 1979. It was a special event for the previous season's pole winners only, racing 50 miles, with no pit stops. The concept was brilliant in its simplicity -- the media and public instantly understood what it was all about. Now, just to get more cars and names into the field, there are multiple ways to become eligible for the Unlimited field.

The main purpose now is to provide TV programming and give reporters something to write/talk about as a device to generate "buzz" (and that's all the NASCAR PR executives care about anymore) and attract eyeballs for the Daytona 500.

What legitimate racing purpose does the Unlimited serve? Don't tell me prep for the D500 because the drivers and teams have plenty of track time to do that, including the increasingly devalued qualifying races, since only a couple don't make the 500 in a time of fewer entries. And here's a true secret straight out of the garage area: Even if someone thinks they have a useful advantage, car-wise, they aren't going to show too much of it in the prelims for fear NASCAR will make a rule change to avoid stinking-up the all-important Big Show.

The memory of Jeff Gordon getting upside-down a few years ago in this points-less exhibition is not a pleasant one. Just imagine if he had been hurt! Wasting money prepping and then wrecking cars also doesn't add-up in a continued sponsor-challenged period.

And, in case you haven't noticed, the grandstands are not exactly sold out, either.

I know somebody's going to say NASCAR's testing ban -- no running at Daytona, especially -- makes the Unlimited important. I would caution against over-emphasis. The Unlimited is staged at night -- different weather and track conditions -- than the 500. More useful than in recent years,  maybe. And the Grassy Knoll conspiracy bunch might respond by saying that's just the point: Testing wasn't allowed, in part, to ramp-up the hype for this Saturday night.

I'd say we could do without both: The conspiracy AND the Unlimited.


POWER PLAYERS for the week of February 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.  (UPDATED MONDAY TO REFLECT BOB POCKRASS' MOVE TO ESPN.COM .)

  1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- Stock cars are headed to Daytona. No other explanation needed.

  2. Lesa France Kennedy -- With the spotlight bright on pre-Daytona 500 events, the full-range of track business issues -- ticket sales, sponsorships, corporate hospitality activity, concessions, merchandise -- will be largely influenced by International Speedway Corp.'s CEO. And those results will significantly guide how analysts view the overall industry.

  3. Kevin Harvick -- His long-awaited Cup championship in hand, he begins season-long role as an official leader in the garage area, with the media, and the American public. 

  4. Donny Schatz -- With Steve Kinser and Sammy Swindell no longer full-timers as the new World of Outlaws season begins, Schatz -- whose 26 wins last year beat the next guy by 12 victories -- is who people talk about when they talk sprint car racing.

  5. Mike Joy -- For the 15th straight year he's the broadcast quarterback in the Fox booth. And if you think it's easy telling the story while giving Darrell Waltrip running room, you're wrong.  

  6. Jay Adamczyk -- With NASCAR's on-track season set to start, his Jayski.com -- which has been called racing's version of The Drudge Report -- remains a daily must-visit and helps focus what those in the industry and grandstands are thinking and talking about. 

  7. Joie Chitwood -- Only the second person to serve as president of both Daytona International Speedway and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he has to improvise a satisfactory interim facility experience for fans before Daytona's $400 million "re-imagining" project is finished for 2016.  

  8. Chad Seigler -- Former Sprint Nextel executive promoted to Charlotte-based NASCAR business development vice president. A key early task: Securing a new Cup title sponsor. 

  9. Richie Gilmore -- Championship winning engine builder promoted to president of ECR (Earnhardt Childress) Engines to oversee daily operations, including engine lease programs. ECR Engines have more than 200 race wins in various series.

10. Bob Pockrass -- Announced Monday he's joined ESPN.com from Sporting News. The hardest worker in the media center. With Chad Knaus, maybe the hardest worker in NASCAR. Sometimes it seems he knows more about what is happening than some NASCAR executives.

new list and more next week . . . ]

Sunday, February 01, 2015

OF STANDARDS AND STANDINGS (Forrest Lucas tops this week's Power Players list)

The only racing last weekend was that to get in front of the big-screen HD TV to watch the Super Bowl, so -- after some brief thoughts -- let's get right to the new Power Players list as NHRA's Mello Yello season begins at Pomona: 

Following the New England Patriots' portion of the absurdity that Super Bowl Media Day has become, ESPN host Steve Levy complimented his fellows who hold microphones or pads and pens because not every question was about deflated footballs. Really? That's praise-worthy? 

Levy's comment once again reinforced how dumbed-down the media has become, because if there were true journalism standards, any more than one or two questions on that subject would have been criticized as unprofessional and trivial. But, of course, all the national network news shows at one point or another last week LED with this very minor story. The world is going to hell but this was the top story for Brian Williams and the rest of news-as-showbiz crowd. Oh, how our major media organizations have declined. Sports Illustrated last week let go all of its remaining staff photographers. (Most of the top writers are gone, too; so will my 40-plus year paid subscription come the next renewal notice.) The over-the-top over-coverage of last week's snow storm in the Northeast -- yes, there is an East Coast Media Bias -- is another example . . . talk about trivial nonsense, CNN put a reporter on the road in what it called its "BlizzardMobile." Ridiculous.

Point the finger to the incredible rise of social media for a lot of this downfall. Does the new technology have its place? Of course. Should it be allowed to dominate traditional professional editorial decisions? Of course not. I say the NFL could do away with most of the pseudo-reporters credentialed to Media Day and it wouldn't hurt the Super Bowl TV ratings one damn bit. I realize all of this likely can't be reversed, but that doesn't mean standards should be flushed in the name of "What's Trending?".


POWER PLAYERS for the week of February 1: 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. Forrest Lucas -- The Lucas Oil founder is drag racing's most expansive and loyal sponsor -- series, teams, tracks, events -- and now backs John Force Racing. Where would NHRA be without him?

  2. Rick Hendrick -- Personal leadership, strong executive management -- and some good timing -- work again. Chase Elliott to take over the No. 24 from Jeff Gordon with NAPA $. Success starts at the top. The team's future is as secure as anything can be in auto racing.

  3. John Force -- His family business has survived, financially, to race another season. That's essential to NHRA because he remains drag racing's biggest star.

  4. Courtney Force -- She's the one drag racer with the ability and appeal to greatly grow NHRA's audience and media coverage, but it will take wins and a Funny Car championship to add to her "It" factor. And that needs to happen within the next 2-3 years. 

  5. Mike Dunn -- What racing's best TV analyst has to say on ESPN shapes opinions about NHRA drivers, teams, sponsors and tracks. Nobody does it better.

  6. Peter De Lorenzo -- Former ad man's 15-year-old Autoextremist.com is THE weekly word on the auto industry (especially now during Car Show Season) and how it all translates to the dollars-and-cents of motorsports. Politically-correct industry insiders claim not to read him. They do.

  7. Gordon Kirby -- America's most-read international motorsports journalist as U.S. editor for England's Motor Sport, plus Racemaker Press author, and weekly GordonKirby.com column offers sharp opinion and perspective on issues across the racing spectrum. His words impact what Europeans believe is true about American motorsports.

   8. Tony Stewart -- Buys and merges the midwest All Star Circuit of Champions and Renegade sprint cars series, creating longer-term strength and stability. Don't anyone think circumstances of the last two years have changed his love of short track and dirt track racing, especially sprint cars.

  9. Terry Chandler -- She personally sponsors the Funny Cars of Tommy Johnson Jr. and Jack Beckman to bring awareness and donations to Make-A-Wish and Infinite Hero Foundation, respectfully. Chandler pays the bill to go racing; no contributions are used to field those teams.

 10. Bobby Bennett -- Publisher/editor of CompetitionPlus.com, the foremost website for INDEPENDENT drag racing journalism. (Full disclosure: I'm a CP.com columnist.)

new list and more next week . . . ]

Sunday, January 25, 2015

IMSA's SELF-INFLICTED MEDIA WOUNDS (and Jeff Gordon is No. 1 on This Week's Power Players List)

Week two of my new Power Players list is below. There will be plenty of time for thoughts on Jeff Gordon (some current NASCAR TV announcers can officially start to feel nervous about being replaced) as the season progresses. But first . . .

The challenges in elevating the status of sports car racing in America are enormous. I've been around long enough to remember the 1970s when IMSA was bolstered by John Bishop's leadership, a small but largely solid staff, the support of Bill France Sr., and the terrific backing of R.J. Reynolds' sports marketing group and Camel's title sponsorship. There was some excellent racing and some good times, too.

I predicted the first year of the combined ALMS/Grand-Am series would be difficult and it certainly was. Whatever goodwill was created by unifying sports car racing quickly fell to self-inflicted wounds, including inept officiating and a variety of organizational errors. Season two of the Tudor watches (not even remotely bringing an RJR-esque effort to the task)-entitled series opened last weekend with the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway, won by Scott Dixon, Kyle Larson, Tony Kanaan and Jamie McMurray.

Even though this is a series strongly influenced by NASCAR's philosophy and people, one of the largest hurdles to be overcome is achieving consistent season-long media coverage that goes beyond the motorsports websites. Putting the leadership together to make a real go at this goal was one of those bad mis-steps of 2014. And, I'm sorry to say, IMSA itself is responsible for another self-inflicted wound on the media front as the 2015 tour hits the road.

This may appear to be a real "inside baseball" thing, but remember, this blog is written primarily for those within the industry. As ridiculous as this may seem, it is a true fact: IMSA has made it more burdensome for legitimate media to obtain a season-long "hard card" credential than it is to get a credential for the World Series or Super Bowl.

Think about the incredible stupidity of that for a minute . . . 

Again this year, to obtain that pass, media must fill-out an overly long series of forms, at least compared to other series. If you choose to print the forms IMSA sends by E-mail, you MUST print it in COLOR.  (!) Perhaps worst of all, media have to get an IMSA license, making each journalist an "official member" of the sanctioning body. That is crap and completely inappropriate and unethical.

I am reliably told all of this bureauracy has been mandated by insurance risk assessors. Are we to believe there is more risk in IMSA than in NASCAR, IndyCar or NHRA, all of which have a much simplier credential process? If they need to reduce risk, here's a suggestion: Stop allowing TV announcers and cameramen onto "hot" pit roads. There's no other major U.S. series doing that, and I don't care what the TV types say, it's not necessary for a quality production. Or good reporting. Jamie Howe proved she couldn't get it right even with access to pit road, wrongly reporting a driver change at an ALMS Mosport event some years ago, even though she was standing right in front of the car! 

When journalists cover baseball or football or basketball or hockey or golf or tennis or horse racing or track and field or skiing or boxing or whatever, they do not become a member of the ruling organization. I am especially surprised -- and very disappointed -- that series President Scott Atherton, who began his career as a Domino's Pizza marketer in CART and then issued media credentials as a racetrack manager, doesn't know better and didn't put a stop to this obvious mistake. This is the reason I declined the opportunity to be issued an IMSA credential this season. Call it a One Man Protest if you wish, but PR and Media Relations 101 tells me my position is the right one, and IMSA/Atherton's is flat-out wrong. Hey, Scott: Stop The Madness!

Roger Penske (Atherton's old boss) told me decades ago that self-inflicted wounds are the most painful, because they can be avoided. As a sports car fan, and member of the Jaguar team that finished 1-2 in the 1990 Daytona 24, I am going to hope this isn't a sign of another troublesome IMSA season. But I'm not confident.

And, finally, also on the IMSA media front, the opening two hours of the Rolex 24 on Fox broadcast network were highly unsatisfying. Bob Varsha not calling the action? Justin Bell -- who is to sports car racing what Rutledge Wood is to NASCAR and Will Buxton is to Formula One (hint: that's not a positive) -- instead of Tommy Kendall? (Dorsey Schroeder was definitely missed.) Later, on cable, the horrendously bad Howe back on pit road? The whole production struck me to be in line with what I've observed as a bad recent stretch across all the Fox networks. (Last week on Fox News, Chris Wallace wined about not being invited to an off-the-record pre-State of the Union White House media lunch while Shep Smith, who was there, lamented about not sampling the wine. As if any viewer gave a bleep. Talk about egomania and being out-of-touch with the audience!) It all doesn't bode well for the rest of the IMSA TV season, unless the production "Big Thinkers" get their act together before Sebring. But two precious hours on over-the-air network TV resulted in Opportunity Lost.


POWER PLAYERS: The 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports for the week of January 25, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight.

  1. Jeff Gordon -- Along with Bill France Sr. and Jr., Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, one of the five most consequential figures in NASCAR history, because he crossed-over from sports to the popular mainstream culture -- Saturday Night Live, Live with Regis and Kelly, etc. -- a major player in NASCAR's rocket-ride growth period and beyond.

  2. Chip Ganassi -- Record sixth Rolex 24 victory in 12 tries -- any baseball player would like to have that .500 batting average -- now aims for co-winner Kyle Larson's first Sprint Cup victory and securing move-of-the-race driver Sage Karam a full-time IndyCar ride.

  3. Jim Utter -- The Charlotte Observer's motorsports writer is key in shaping opinion in NASCAR's hub, is a new Hall of Fame voter, and will be prominent in this week's annual Media Tour.

  4. Ross Tannenbaum -- President of Fanatics Authentic does 10-year deal with NASCAR and major teams to be primary retailer at all Sprint Cup series events that will evolve into a climate-controlled superstore retail center (phasing out trailers) for all merchandise. 

  5. Scott Dixon -- Underappreciated due to IndyCar's popularity decline and his low-key personality, but leader of the Rolex 24 winning driver lineup is arguably American motorsports' most relentless driver, setting an example for racers everywhere to follow. 

  6. Jamie Allison -- Ford racing director's brand-important EcoBoost engine shows speed, efficiency and reliability to finish first in the Rolex 24 with Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray, a very Big Win for the Blue Oval.

  7. Tino Belli -- IndyCar's aerodynamic development director begins initial inspection of bodywork kits submitted by Chevrolet and Honda after homologation deadline.

  8. John Force -- Team successfully tests near Phoenix and he responds to controversy about the Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car bodywork he'll run this season -- and reveals daughter Ashley is contracted as emergency backup driver for not only her dad, but also sisters Courtney and Brittany and brother-in-law Robert Hight -- in my CompetitionPlus.com exclusives (also on Twitter @SpinDoctor500). 

  9. Ben Geisler -- World of Outlaws' chief marketing officer spearheads search for new title sponsor to replace STP with 90-race sprint car season opening  Feb. 13 at Volusia Speedway Park in Florida. 

10. Winston Kelley -- Executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame rolls out red carpet for new HoF class, including Bill Elliott, and that positive regional and national publicity might give the financially-troubled facility a much-needed bounce. 

[ new list and more next week . . . ]

Sunday, January 18, 2015

SOMETHING NEW: POWER PLAYERS

I've long said it's impossible to be a good fan -- or motorsports journalist -- without knowing at least a little about the Business and Politics of Racing. I mean really knowing, as in experience or at least making the effort to be informed, not guessing or throwing out wild statements. To reinforce that I am offering something different here this season -- I've been blogging since 2006 -- based on my four decades of industry experience. That includes not only time in the pits and media centers, but also inside the haulers and motorhomes, behind closed garage doors, seated in the team and corporate conference rooms.

Each week I will present Power Players, my list of the 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Racing. The rankings are 100 percent my own with all evaluations done exclusively by me and me alone. The key words here are "influential" and "weekly" and "Business and Politics of Racing." This isn't a rating of the best drivers or the biggest name team owners or the most talented PR spinners among sanctioning body executives or crew chiefs most skilled at bending the rules or track officials who orchestrate the most outrageous pre-race show.

It's about who shapes the news in a Big Picture sense, who makes the Big Decisions, who convinces others to see things his/her way, who has a true vision for the future, who handles crisis situations professionally, who can make the $ale, who has REAL power. I trust the difference is clear. 

Obviously, there are some names which could make the list every time: Roger Penske, Brian France, Rick Hendrick, for example. But they won't because my list is intentionally a WEEKLY one. It's a snapshot taken every seven days based on that week's developments. Some names will be obvious while others might be a surprise and appear only once all season. That's OK because it will reflect who is up and who is down at that moment. It will, at least occasionally, include names not typically found on such a list but who I know to be key players even if the name isn't known in every household. Names it would be good for you to learn. And, I'll admit up-front, some weeks I might overlook someone. That will be an honest mistake.

I post this list with the hope it will further your knowledge of who is making things happen within the industry, how and why they do it, and to expand your understanding of the B & P of R. Along with those goals, I would be glad if it promotes some healthy debate. However, forum posters be aware, only informed and respectful comments are cared about (at least by me.)

Some weeks Power Players will stand alone. Other weeks it will accompany blog text on other topics. As we begin 2015, I thank you for taking some of your valuable time each week to read what is offered here for your consideration. I hope we all are able enjoy a fantastic racing season -- and learn along the way.

POWER PLAYERS: The 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports for the week of January 18, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight.

  1. Jim France -- The driving force in bringing his Grand-Am and the competing American Le Mans Series together, the chairman of the Tudor United SportsCar Championship needs to insist on pedal-to-the-metal management and promotional performance to meaningfully grow the circuit in Year 2, starting with this weekend's Rolex 24 at Daytona.

  2. Jim Campbell -- Chevy goes all-in in NHRA Funny Car class as GM's U.S. performance vehicles and motorsports VP announces Camaro bodywork and sponsorship for John Force Racing.

  3. Emmett Hahn -- Chili Bowl co-founder stands tall among short-track event promoters as Rico Abreu wins 29th running of midget race in front of packed stands at Tulsa's Expo Center plus MAVTV audience.

  4. Scott Atherton -- Following an organizational reboot, the former ALMS and current SportsCar president must demand common sense officiating, and hope for compelling competition, at Daytona. If the problems of 2014 are repeated, it's the one-time Domino's Pizza marketer who rightly should be held accountable.

  5. Scott Pruett -- The face of American sports car racing goes for his record sixth 24-hour victory at Daytona.

  6. Steve Phelps -- NASCAR's chief marketing officer is point-man in search for new Cup series sponsor.

  7. Bob Varsha -- As host of the Fox's Daytona coverage, he'll set the tone, take the lead in the storytelling, and basically decide if something is important for the viewer to know. 

  8. Craig Jackson -- Barrett-Jackson CEO concludes 44th auction in Scottsdale with Jeff Gordon and Sharon Stone among the crowd, classic cars, and Big Money.

  9. John Force -- Life in his Brave New World -- no Ford, no Castrol -- officially begins with Camaro bodywork testing in Peak colors at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, near Phoenix. 

10. Jamie Allison -- Ford's racing director starts the season needing more speed from the Ecoboost IMSA engine and a more competitive Roush Fenway team in NASCAR, following the sensational unveiling of the new Ford GT at the Detroit Auto Show, plus no John or Courtney Force.

P.S. 1 -- Circumstances limited me to one,four-hour visit to the Barrett-Jackson auction last week. My favorite car of the show was the No. 70 1968 STP Lotus-turbine, the famous four-wheel drive "wedge" design. This car was displayed in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum last May and took a demonstration lap before the race. I spent about 20 minutes closely looking over the car, which was restored at the Lotus factory in England. It was chassis number 56/3. Even the contingency sponsor decals were perfectly in place. Graham Hill drove it. Whether you were around (as I was) to like or dislike the radical turbines, the "wedge" is an Indy classic, and a reminder of when innovation was an essential element of Indy's lure.

P.S. 2 -- Congratulations to the new  National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductees and their families. Gene (Tiger) Brown, Donnie Kreitz Jr. and Danny Smith in the driver category; Roger Beck and Gil Sonner in the owners-mechanics-builders-manufacturers-sponsors category; Bruce Ellis and Mike Arthur in the promoter-official-media category and Charlie Wiggins in the pre-1945 category. Ceremony will be May 30 in Knoxville, Iowa. I'm a HoF voter.

P.S. 3 -- Here's an example of what is so troubling about today's echo-chamber media audience. Last week I was on the John Force Racing conference call to announce Chevrolet as its new manufacturer partner. It was an important story and industry announcement and I sent out a series of news-oriented Tweets while the call was on-going. This was completely in keeping with how I said I would use Twitter. Breaking News! That night I got an E-mail from someone saying he would no longer be "following" me. Why? He's not a John Force fan. (!) Opinion, not legitmate news, too often rules these days and that is profoudly sad.


[ new list and more next week . . . ]

Monday, December 15, 2014

2014

The circumstances of life sometime make it necessary to ride the bike and patch the tire at the same time. A tricky balancing act, to be sure.

I'm one of those people who have always felt self-satisfaction in taking on a variety of challenges -- usually several at a time -- be it in business or personal matters. For me, 2014 will always stand as a year of great personal challenge, far more than I knew on January 1. I will start 2015 with most of those challenges yet to be brought to conclusion. But I continue to remember the examples of some special people I am blessed to call "friend." Alex Zanardi, Jack Beckman, Bob Margolis, among others.

Even though we are here at a time of great divisiveness, I think we all agree one of motorsports' great allures is the absolute need to overcome challenge in order to succeed. That applies to drivers, owners, designers, engineers, mechanics, marketers, publicists, track operators, sanction officials and even the fans. For me, it has and continues to be, a source of strength.

I think the sport and the industry, in generally, have asked too much of its fans too often -- the best examples are in the IndyCar and sports car series -- and I make a direct connection between "fan" and what he/she really is.

Our customer.

Customer service, and consumer relations, are two of the hottest of hot-button issues for me. It's sad that there has been such a fall-off -- no where else more obvious than the airline travel experience -- that the paying customers have been so beaten-down that much of the time they just accept the unacceptable as "they way it is." No. I refuse to do so.

It's our money that keeps these enterprises in business, that make jobs possible for their employees. Never, ever, forget that. Reputations can be made or lost (ask Bill Cosby) in an instant given the instant communications possible with social media and other non-traditional communications tools. 

I believe customer service is at an all-time low. I personally discovered this this year with Mayo Clinic. Despite its Big reputation (and I have no doubt many have benefitted from care there), what my experience here in Scottsdale was that, unless you are prepared to help them maximize revenue (no matter what your insurance coverage and I'm not talking about outright declining a test), there is a second-class level of attention. Almost nine months after an important diagnostic test, the results still have not been formally reported to me, but, hey, I'm only the patient/customer. The person charged with reviewing how my case was handled, Jon Nordrum,  apparently conveniently skipped-over this important detail. At least as he reported his findings to me. Mountainside Fitness is the worst business of the year and CEO Tom Hatten gets my award as the year's worst CEO since in my Constitutionally-protected opinion he seemingly has zero grasp about the bad customer service happening in his Scottsdale location (at least.) Core Concepts' Dylan King deserves the "honor" as the year's worst sales person because his attitude as experienced by me is he's doing a customer a favor by being there, not that the customer is doing him a favor by spending his/her money with Mountainside. Danielle Hawks is the year's worst location manager because of her unprofessional and insensitive demeanor and because she doesn't know the first thing in business is to get the money out of a willing customer's hand ASAP. By her own actions as demonstrated to me she's proven she has no qualification for such a job. Mountainside Fitness' Robyn Klawitter is the year's worst VP because she reversed a professional promise to a customer (me) less than 72 hours after making it. 

Because of their own actions, none deserve a penny of my business.

Mayo and Mountainside Fitness certainly weren't the only entities to fall into decline. Sears and McDonald's are others on that list. I think chances of Sprint renewing its Cup series entitlement aren't too favorable given management changes and telecom industry market conditions. Government lost standing, too, at least in general, as did a certain segment of the public's ability to thumb-its-nose at the established legal process by breaking the law with impunity. The PRI show, apparently ignorant of CART history, invited Andrew Craig to be a panelist at an industry seminar. And just how many ESPN hosts were suspended in the last 12 months?

At least regarding a story that came out of sports competition, the year's best/worst example of media-in-decline was Tony Stewart's involvement in a fatal sprint car accident. I'm convinced, at least in the early hours, some media mouths reacted not knowing the difference between sprint car and Sprint Cup. We saw, again, that too often in the media, opinion, ego and agenda are more important than the FACTS.

It's all part of the dehumanization of American society, where wonderous technical innovations and machines have led to a new generation -- and an older generation reprogrammed -- to not bother to actually TALK to others. At least in motorsports, there is no worse offender than the Global Warming-esque PR theory and bureauracy that is NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications. At least for the two Phoenix International Raceway events, NIMC came into the market without knowing or bothering to find out what was going on with the local media. I don't think NIMC realizes yet how much coverage of the November PIR races declined, at least in terms of quantity, compared to previous race weeks. No one, it seems, is paying attention. What could be more fundamental? What say you, Brian France?

Elsewhere, at least in sports, the paying customers did get their money's worth. No single athlete in a team sport is alone responsible for victory, but San Francisco Giants' pitcher Madison Bumgarner came as close as you can get in the World Series. Kevin Harvick was a worthy NASCAR Cup champion because he was fast all season, led a ton of laps and poles, and won the last two races. And Derek Jeter capped what Bob Costas called "a charmed baseball life" with a game-winning bottom-of-the-ninth RBI single in his last Yankee Stadium game. "It wasn't just what he did. It was the way he did it. From the beginning to the very end,"  said Costas. What a wonderful role model for bad-behavior players that, these days, infect even high-school sports. I can't wait to hear the excuse from whoever doesn't vote for Jeter for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Whoever that is will embarrass himself.

Finally: I'm not comfortable asking for help because I figure I should be capable enough to handle things myself. Necessity forced me to do otherwise in 2014, however, so I owe some special thank yous to some who provided that help when needed. The list includes: Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, and his assistant, Lisa Brown. The IMS infield medical center staff. Media center staffer Tim Sullivan. U.S. Air. Jennifer Jepson, previously of Phoenix International Raceway, now with the Fiesta Bowl. And to PIR for the honor of including me on its list of 50 storied legends and being asked to write three stories for Phoenix at 50: A Half-Century of Racing commemorative book.

And, as always, thanks to you, loyal readers, for using some of your valuable time to consume the information presented in this spec of cyberspace. 

[ more a week or so before the Rolex 24 . . . ]