• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, March 26, 2017

OF F1's UGLY WINGS AND NASCAR's WESTERN SWING

The "new era" of Formula One opened at the Down Under Grand Prix while NASCAR's "Western Swing" ended with the Fontana 400 and I have a few comments on both.

First, F1:

Australia officially began the post-Bernie Ecclestone chapter of the GP Sport/Big Business. Liberty Media's purchase of the commercial rights was finalized some months ago and now it's all on that entity to re-energize F1's worldwide appeal after recent seasons of declining television audience. I would love to see this happen, as I became a race fan because of Jimmy Clark and Colin Chapman and Lotus, and the unmatched spectacle Grand Prix racing has been for decades at exotic locations like Monaco and classic circuits like Spa and Monza.

But, to be honest, I'm in full Wait-And-See Mode.

Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars no-doubt spent to create and develop the latest quicker cars, their appearance leaves me shaking my head and saying again: F1 still doesn't get it. Those horrid front wings have more elements than the table I had to memorize in my high school chemistry class. The aero shark fins and stabilizing boards and ridiculous T wings atop or aft of the engine covers may well help the cars turn, but to the public, they are a turn-off.

I'm all in favor of wider tires and tons of horsepower, but the cars look horrible, and the series' Technical Working Group and FIA can't act fast enough to knock some sense into the designers so there's a full field of sexy-looking machines. And I think it's fair to be alarmed at the comments from many drivers that this new aero package creates so much dirty air the trailing driver stalls-out and makes overtaking that much more difficult.

Sound familiar?

These regulations, to be fair, were in the works before Liberty. But that doesn't mean, as one of its first bold actions, new ownership shouldn't insist on something better. Much, MUCH better. The Liberty execs can talk all they want about more social media engagement and a bunch of week-long Super Bowl-like events in America -- good luck with that -- but that's all meaningless unless people like what they see. I don't.

However, Liberty did have one piece of good news. VERY good news. Because, anytime Ferrari wins, which Sebastian Vettel did over the Mercedes of world champion Lewis Hamilton, the unrivaled passion that unleashes and the headlines it generates are GOOD for F1.

As for NASCAR, let me pose this question to the Powers-That-Be in Daytona Beach.

Imagine, for a moment, if someone came along and re-opened the oval adjacent to Disney World and got a Cup date. Then imagine if three consecutive races were scheduled in Daytona, Orlando and Homestead-Miami. Does that sound like a ticket-selling winner?

Of course not. 

And neither is this Las Vegas-Phoenix-California stretch. For all the happy yap about fans being able to see a three-pack of racing, cold and hard reality says there are not that many who have the time or money to do so. Most people have to make a choice, and common sense says Vegas is going to cash-in more often than not. Why force fans in the same general geographic region to make such a choice? 

Yes, I know, having been employed by one racing series, and paid to represent another, I understand how difficult scheduling can be. But, surely, the Western Swing as currently done isn't doing anything to boost stock car racing's popularity. There's not a single media person from one of those markets covering all three events, as I'm sure, NASCAR had once hoped. The number of retirees in their RVs making that tour cannot possibly be enough to make a meaningful difference.

With Vegas getting its long-sought second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series date next year, it's time to again re-shuffle the schedule, into something that makes more early-season economic sense for those with thousands of grandstand seats to fill.

But this should be obvious: NASCAR needs to showcase very early in the season the kind of multi-groove racing we saw last weekend at Auto Club Speedway. Fontana needs to go sooner, not later, on a revised schedule.

P.S. -- In case you missed it, I think it's worth repeating the lead on my Arizona Republic story of a week ago, after Phoenix.


Before the NASCAR season started, who did seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson expect to be a week-in-week-out contender for wins and a Cup title?
“Kyle Larson,” Johnson told azcentral sports during a Valley visit just before the Daytona 500. “Now that he’s got a taste of winning, I think he’ll be tough.”

Sunday, January 29, 2017

THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS IN THE BIZ OF RACING

History will record January 22-29, 2017 as one of the most important weeks in the Business of Racing.

Consider:

Liberty Media concluded its (reported) $8 billion acquisition of Formula One. The first order of business? Relieve Bernie Ecclestone of his iron-fisted control of the sport's commercial activities. Only the Bill Frances, Sr. and Jr., stand on the same podium with Ecclestone for their one-man decades-long control of a series and building it to unthinkable riches and prestige.

For now, new CEO Chase Carey is best known for his prominent mustache, as Ecclestone was for his slight stature. I rolled my eyes at Carey's pronouncement that more U.S. street venues, such as New York City, Los Angeles or Las Vegas, are a priority and should be week-long Super Bowls for F1. Really?  A review of the long and unsuccessful (Long Beach being the one exception and gold standard) history of such ventures -- IndyCar's Boston fiasco last year being the most recent example and Whatever Happened to the Northern New Jersey deal? -- suggests otherwise. Unless Liberty Media is willing to dig very deep into its own pockets. Or find more tax revenue-hungry politician dupes.

NASCAR, now controlled by Brian France, announced its new "segments" race format. It's the sanction's latest attempt to improve the entertainment value of its racing and regain lost popularity. At least as measured by TV and at-track audience. Most significant was what was said to be the unprecedented collaboration with drivers, teams, OEMs, track operators and the $$$ Fox and NBC TV partners. A stark contrast to France Sr. and Jr.

NASCAR's new buzzword is "enhancements." As in the segments racing rules being competition "enchancements." I won't be using that in my stories as it sounds too much like something having to do with ED medications. An unfortunate choice of words by NASCAR IMC.

All of this happened at the annual Charlotte Motor Speedway media tour, no longer including a visit to CMS or anything specifically regarding CMS and no longer a "tour." To save money, drivers were brought to one location, instead if busing media to the various race team shops. And it was drivers only. No team owners. No crew chiefs. This in the days immediately after the "segments" announcement and driver-after-driver telling reporters it will be interesting to see what decisions crew chiefs make to try to gain those points. Not making crew chiefs available created a massive media void. Sure didn't make sense to me.

Various team sponsor announcemements were made. Nice, but no blockbusters. The BIG sponsor-related news was Nature's Bakery apparent backing-away from its primary deal for Danica Patrick's Stewart-Haas Racing (now) Ford. Danica without strong corporate funding? My, how things have changed. What domino's could this trigger? SHR's four-car lineup (including a not fully-funded No. 14 with Clint Bowyer in for Tony Stewart) couldn't exist without mega-rich Gene Haas, who can fill the funding shortfalls with Haas Automation. But for how long? Is it possible lack of NASCAR sponsorship could lead Patrick elsewhere, even back to IndyCar? 

Oh, in case you didn't pick up on this, NASCAR has officially retired the "Chase." Now it's the "playoffs." The reason for this change is so obvious it makes you wonder why it wasn't done years ago.

Carl Edwards to run for the U.S. Senate from Missouri? Hey, it makes as much sense as anything else I've read to try to explain his out-of-left-field decision to stop racing. And we thought it would be Jeff Burton who would become a senator. If it happens, I'd like to think Edwards could help speed up action in the slow-moving upper legislative chamber.

IMSA opened its new DPi era with the traditional Rolex 24 at Daytona. I'll congratulate the sanction on an excellent race with three exciting class finishes. The controversial non-call by Beaux Barfield gave IMSA the best outcome for its short-term national profile as it helped put Jeff Gordon into victory lane with the emotional Taylor family and Max Angelelli in his retirement drive in one of the new Cadillac DPi entries. That was the best story for mainstream media who often only care about IMSA for this one day a year and also the specialist racing media and, for sure, NASCAR fans. 

As I've said before, sports car racing must feature a robust Prototype class to be successful. Sorry, but I don't see the DPis, featuring a great sponsor ID billboard but untraditional and eyeball-unpleasing stability fins, satisfying that imperative. At least not right now. I continue to be disappointed overall in what IMSA, as the authority for the combined ALMS/Grand-Am series, has accomplished since the merger. I should say what IMSA -- and I'm talking Jim France, Ed Bennett and Scott Atherton -- have NOT accomplished. Yes, I know, it's not easy. Let's be clear and honest: No matter the hype you hear from various entities (including the participating OEMs), sports car racing (which I love) has a LONG way to go to even be an * on the USA sporting scene.

Nice to see the new Rolex all-auto racing theme TV spot, featuring sports car, land-speed record and F1 images. And a SPECTACULAR still-frame from the 1960s of Jackie Stewart's BRM four-wheels in the air!

The SCCA Runoffs -- an often wonderful and always underappreciated event in U.S. motorsports -- set Sonoma Raceway as its 2018 host. This year the amateur national championships will be decided at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.


Tickets for the July 15-16 FIA Formula E New York City ePrix went on sale, according to a news release. The Brooklyn Cruise Terminal was site of a photo-op. Stop me if you've heard this one before: A race on the streets of New York City. I'll believe it when I see it!

The Bottom Line results from this unbelievably newsworthy and historic week in the Business of Racing likely won't be known for years. But they will be worth watching and certainly most consequential.



No comment: Ryan Ellis, a Cup series driver as recently as last November, is now PR man for Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 32 GoFas Racing team.


What's the Big Controversy in Washington, D.C., about "alternative facts?" PR people have been presenting AFs to the media for decades! Trust me, I know!



With Motorsports 2017 officially underway, I'm going to make two points that I feel very strongly about, and will be a recurring theme for me throughout the year:

1. It's time for Public Relations People to Act Like "Public Relations" People. I attended the NASCAR awards in Las Vegas last December and watched so-called PR representatives walk past journalists who had written positive stories about their clients without saying a word. Others stayed in their seats, not bothering to get up and greet reporters who were just a few tables away. More apparently haven't bothered to update their media lists for years. There's one prominent NASCAR supplier who has been sending media material to a decreased reporter, to another who no longer covers the sport, but has yet to send Word 1 to the appropriate journo who has been writing for a decade. A partial ditto for a championship team in more than one series. There are plenty of PRers who don't bother to visit the media center on race weekends to say hello and introduce themselves to media types they don't know. Shame on the supervisors who allow their entities to be represented in such an unprofessional manner. ENOUGH. This year, I'll be naming names, as required.


2. Text LESS, TALK more: Yes, I understand, there is no putting this genie back in the bottle. But I will make this Common Courtesy/Common Sense point which I know, in my heart, the late + great PR legend and Gentleman Mr. James P. Chapman would be screaming from the mountaintop of manners: Texting is not the honest and sincere vehicle for anyone TRULY interested in what is going on in someone else's life. You can't hear the other person's voice with a text. The sound of that person's voice, it's strength or weakness, what is said or isn't said, is how you really find out what's going on. As Mr. Chapman knew, nothing will ever replace a face-to-face conversation, but a phone conversation is the next best/easiest option. (Skype would even be better.) I don't mind a text for anything routine, like a reminder of an appointment. But when someone sends a text "I hope you are feeling well" or "feeling better" or "doing OK," I don't consider that a sincere expression of honest concern. It might even be considered a lazy way to ask. It's obvious to me some people use a text as the modern version of voice mail. Back in the day, if you had to answer someone but really didn't want to speak with him/her, the trick was to call and leave a voice message at a time the other person wasn't likely to pick up. A text now can serve the same purpose. Bottom line: If you really CARE, CALL! 



John Haverlin, of PopularSpeed.com , recently wrote a very nice story about me and my career. Thank you to John and PS. Here's the link:

http://www.popularspeed.com/a-career-in-motorsports-journalism-and-pr/ 



This will be a HUGE week in Arizona racing. Official announcement and details of the $178 million Phoenix International Raceway rebuild on Monday. NASCAR testing at PIR Tuesday and Wednesday, marking the on-track return of Dale Earnhardt Jr., and debut of Daniel Suarez. Then NHRA nitro-class testing Thursday-through-Saturday at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. I'll have a couple of stories starting Tuesday in the Arizona Republic and AzCentral.com . More immediate newsworthy updates from me on Twitter: @SpinDoctor500 . Thank you.

[ more as I am able . . . ]

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

2016


MEMORABLE MOMENT: Michael Andretti (left), me, Berni Haas and Mario Andretti at Carl Haas' memorial service. Mario, Michael and I all had the honor of being speakers.

 
2016: What a challenging year.
 
For me, personally, it was 12 months of emotional and physical pain -- grief, profound and prolonged sadness as a sole family caregiver, non-stop stress, attempts at heartfelt help for another seriously-ill loved-one, disappointment in the lack of understanding and support of "friends," maximizing my organizational skills in preparation for major surgery, embarrassment at being seen in public as physically compromised, and setbacks en route to what I hope will be a meaningful recovery by next spring.
 
People keep saying they are sure I'll be glad when this year is over. What they seem to not grasp is the calendar will change, but not many of the issues and situations. As I always say, however, millions have it more challenging than I do.
 
In motorsports, the best example of overcoming challenge can -- once again -- be found at Hendrick Motorsports and the No. 48 Lowe's team. In the summer months, Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus seemed to be nowhere on speed, and Rick Hendrick later admitted to pondering if it was time to split-up his six-time NASCAR champion driver-crew chief pairing. He didn't. After Homestead, they had gone from last-to-first and Cup title No. 7, tying Johnson with record-setters Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
 
Traditional and social media didn't even give the champions time to think about, appreciate or celebrate the seventh, immediately turning the conversation to the possibility of a historic eighth Cup championship. I have to say, in that sense, I felt sorry for Hendrick's Heroes.
 
I apologize to loyal readers of this blog for being off-the-air so long in what was the 10th anniversary of these writings. Quite simply, I had higher priorities, and could not devote the time to think and write to produce a blog that I felt was worthy of your time. Thank you for your understanding.
 
Let me announce that, in the final tallying of the weekly "Power Players" rankings of racing's Most Influential People, the 2016 winner is Roger Penske. In his team's 50th anniversary season, Penske won another IndyCar championship and came close in Cup. Joe Gibbs, leading what at times was Toyota domination, was second. World of Outlaws champ -- for the eighth time -- Donny Schatz (25 A-main wins) completed the top three.
 
This year I'm going to end with some awards, as determined solely by me, for whatever you may think they are worth. My hope is they will stimulate some thought:
 
Most Valuable Player:  Jay Frye. Shifted from Hulman & Co. chief revenue officer to IndyCar's competition president, Frye got Phoenix back on the schedule, added Watkins Glen as a last-minute replacement for the Boston street race, established an effective and largely uncontroversial stewards' panel, began the process away from aero kits to a universal body for 2018, and -- perhaps most amazingly of all -- kept the notoriously unsettled paddock area relatively calm. Quite a job by the longtime NASCAR team boss. There will come a time when NASCAR is in need of a senior executive, and Frye's outstanding 2016 in IndyCar will put him on the short list of candidates. Well done. No. VERY well done.
 
Most Loyal: Jeff Gordon, for agreeing to Hendrick's outreach for help and subbing for the concussed Dale Earnhardt Jr. Impossible not to admire Gordon's loyalty to the man who gave him what he needed for a historic Hall of Fame career. But . . .    
 
Worst Idea: Gordon returning to the track after a season-long celebration of his greatness in 2015. It seemed so anti-climatic and a footnote to all that had been remembered and cheered the year before.
 
Best Idea (co-winners): Gordon's authorized biography, Jeff Gordon: His Dream, Drive & Destiny. And Linda Vaughn's heavily-captioned picture book: Linda Vaughn: The First Lady of Motorsports. A long overdue tribute to a great lady. 
 
Best Moment: Gordon and Tony Stewart's side-by-side celebration lap after the Brickyard 400. One for the heart.
 
Feel Good Moment: Ron Capps finally -- FINALLY -- winning a much-deserved NHRA Funny Car championship.
 
Most Inspirational Person: Holly Cain, the wonderful NASCAR.com writer, who reported and wrote greatly while dealing with everything one has to deal with as a cancer patient -- and more. All the while remaining a very nice person.
 
Most Hype: The 100th Indianapolis 500. All the pomp and circumstance -- and an announced sell-out crowd that generated enormous profits for Hulman & Co. -- once again -- at least for one day -- made Indy Indy.
 
Biggest Disappointment: The 100th Indianapolis 500. All credit to owner Michael Andretti and the fantastic strategy call of Bryan Herta to coach Alexander Rossi to the checkered flag. He might have been the most surprising race winner in decades. But it was a fuel mileage -- not flat-out speed racing -- finish. And, at year's end, nobody beyond IndyCar's most passionate fans can tell you who won the 100th Indy 500.
 
No Hype (co-winners): Tony Stewart's final Sprint Cup season. Sprint's final season as Cup series title sponsor.
 
Best Race: The 56th Knoxville Nationals, as Jason Johnson fought-off Schatz for his first victory in sprint car racing's and the World of Outlaws' most prestigious event.  
 
Worst Race: As usual, the meaningless NASCAR Sprint All-Star event.   
 
Best Sight: IndyCars back on-track at Phoenix International Raceway.
 
Best Decision: The International Speedway Corp. Board of Directors FINALLY authorizing the budget to modernize Phoenix International Raceway, which has fallen way behind other sports venues in the Valley of the Sun.
 
Keep Your Eyes On (co-winners): Alex Bowman, who qualified and raced very well -- he almost won Phoenix from the pole -- in the No. 88 as substitute for Earnhardt. And Austin Cindric, who showed plenty of talent in various series, and has a full-season ride in a Brad Keselowski NASCAR truck for 2017.
 
Congratulations: T.E. McHale and Dan Layton, of Honda, winners of the Jim Chapman Award for Excellence in Motorsports Public Relations. Well deserved. The honor came on the centennial of Mr. Chapman's birth and unveiling of the permanent Jim Chapman Award, currently displayed in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway media center. 

Personal Thrill: Going 180 mph at Indy as Mario Andretti's passenger in the Honda IndyCar two-seater a few days before the 100th Indy 500, which was my 38th Indy 500. Thanks Mario, Jay Frye, Mark Sibla, Alivia Mattioli and the crew. 
 
Greatly Missed: My longtime boss, Carl A. Haas. We won three PPG Cups together with Mario and Michael Andretti and Nigel Mansell. What an honor to speak at Carl's memorial service. Bill Alsup, a great guy and strong ally of mine when I was CART's communications director. Media guy Bob Margolis, quite a personality and another inspiration for his own lengthy fight against cancer. And, above all, my mother. 
 
[ please check back here in January 2017. Thank you. ]

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 . . . ]