• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Let's play to another Indy tradition -- the weather forecast starting mid-week and through Memorial Day weekend is for RAIN. How many times will this change? How many agonizing posts on social media will it cause?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

INDY THINGS (and THE NEW 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST)

I wrote last week to beware of what you read during May, America's Race Month, because Indy and Charlotte and Monaco and all the other prestige races brings out a cluster of non-journalists. I assume you are aware of what was going on in the NASCAR media world last week so I won't repeat all of that. But the lesson should be learned.

Meanwhile, I'm in Indianapolis for my 38th 500. Here's a little truth-telling from middle America: At least for now, and likely through the coming weekend, Indy is definitely feeling like Indy again. It's more than how many are in the grandstands. I sensed it in the airport. You see it on the streets (TRAFFIC!) I was close to stunned at how crowded the souvenir merchandise stores were Sunday. (I'll add this: Prices are up and I think quality has been down the last couple of years.) I'm no fan of the chosen 100th race logo (not friendly to the eye and the yellow doesn't POP out at you the way I would prefer) but you can't deny people want the stuff. Yes, I'm one of those aware of many suite-holders saying they won't be back because of the significant price increases, but that is a story to be explored another day.

But let's put the line in the sand right now: If this 100th doesn't lead to strong carryover progress next year -- not just for IMS but the whole series -- TV ratings, ticket sales, you name it, this will have been Opportunity Lost. I think there should have been much more of a connection to the 100th at the season's earlier races.

Let's also make something else clear: Despite what you may read or hear elsewhere, the fact that it's the 100th running of the "Greatest Spectacle" will not change a thing any driver, race strategist, engineer or team owner will do on Sunday. They are racing to win the Indy 500, be it the 99th or the 101st.

I'll close with a self-serving plug: Please check out Friday's Arizona Republic (AzCentral.com) for my story on the Arizona connections to the 100th race. Then, Sunday, Race Day, capital R and D as they use it in Indy, I will have what is planned to be the longest racing story in the Republic in at least a decade, approximately 2,000 words. After two decades since open-wheel racing's terrible civil war and all that flowed from that, where does Indy rank TODAY among America's great sporting traditions? And, are great drivers still made at Indy? Read what A.J. Foyt, Roger Penske, Rick Mears, Mark Miles, Donald Davidson and others have to say. Thank you.

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  May 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 -- Why? It's Indy 500 week and the race's most successful team owner has four chances to get his 17th win.

  2. Dan Davis, Arie Luyendyk and Max Papis -- The IndyCar stewards have the power to make decisions which could cost someone an Indy victory. 

  5. James Hinchliffe -- The potential sports story of the year if the polesitter can win a year after near-fatal injuries at Indy. 

  6Helio Castroneves -- Tries (again) to join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as a four-time Indy 500 winner. Would Helio, now 41, announce retirement in victory lane like Sam Hanks did in 1957?











  7. Tony Stewart  -- No surprise, Smoke tells it like it is at confusing and meaningless NASCAR All-Star race.  
 

  8. Joey Logano -- Of all the Team Penske drivers at Indy and Charlotte, the All-Star race winner  just might have the best chance to win.

  9. Lewis Hamilton -- In the glamour that is Monaco, it's time for the world champion to shine. 

10. Doug Kalitta -- Three straight NHRA Top Fuel wins.


[ this Friday here: Announcement of 2016 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports PR . . . ]

  

Sunday, May 15, 2016

CAREFUL READING (and F1 TAKES THE TOP 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' SPOTS)

May is America's Race Month. I've been saying and writing that for years and it's never been more true than in 2016 with the 100th Indianapolis 500.

An important part of the way we experience May is via the written word. At least four books have been published to coincide with the Indy Centennial. There's a nice not-for-sale piece from Borg-Warner celebrating one of sport's most famous trophies. Lionheart commemorates the life of double Indy winner Dan Wheldon. Indy 500 Memories from Art Garner and Marc Spiegel is self-explanatory. (My memory is on Page 59.) Gordon Kirby's much anticipated Penske's Maestro, Karl Kainhofer & the History of Penske Racing launches May 27 and comes as Penske's team marks 50 years of winning competition.

Of course daily news has given way to hourly news to social media's second-by-second news and most fans will be consuming much of this from Indy and Charlotte and Monaco as well as other news hubs. And it says here that I suggest you all be careful of what and who you read. There is a crucial difference between "cynical" reporting and "skeptical" reporting. Skeptical is actually a healthy thing while cynical can go all the way to evil. We have needed more skeptical in recent years: Some media outlets went way overboard hyping the Whatever Happened To? second U.S. Grand Prix in New Jersey. Most of the same gave an accepting pass to that first attempt at an American F1 team based in the Charlotte area. That deal never came close to turning a wheel. An all-female team was announced at the Brickyard last May and the most recent headline to come out of that was the laughable and credibility busting "all we need is a car." Isn't that one of the first things to be done? No matter what happens this week, way too much of the coverage on this lacked critical assessment and went heavy on the hype. And, in truth, we've seen several driver-team announcements in the last several years where, if you paid attention to the fine print, you'd see were based on securing sponsorship.

So I hope the regular "establishment" and "legitimate" journalists will bring a more critical eye, as needed, over the next few weeks. And, as for the "inside" info offered by anonymous posters in social media and on the Internet, well, buyer beware -- even if you didn't have to pay for it. Especially when personal attacks are involved. I have found the "delete" button to be especially useful in those circumstances.

For what anybody thinks it's worth, I plan to be on-site for my 38th Indy 500 as of Sunday, May 22. I'll be on Twitter ( @SpinDoctor500 ) with worthwhile words as needed and will be working on a couple of big stories for the Arizona Republic, especially a blowout on the status of the "Greatest Spectacle" scheduled for race day, Sunday, May 29. And, I was informed last Saturday, while there I'll receive three awards from the 2015 AARWBA journalism competition, including first-place efforts for my Republic Page A-1 feature on Jeff Gordon's career and my CompetitionPlus.com column on the introduction of Peter Clifford as NHRA's new president. This brings my collection of awards for journalism, public relations and contributions to motorsports to 75. Very humbling. Thanks to every editor and reader who helped make it happen.


POWER PLAYERS for the week of  May 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. Toto Wolff -- Mercedes-Benz Formula One team boss must decide what to do after the embarrassing Lewis Hamilton-Nico Rosberg collision on lap one of the Spanish Grand Prix. How will he prevent a repeat of something that never should have happened in the first place?


  2. Max Verstappen -- In his first race for Red Bull, the 18-year-old Dutchman becomes F1's youngest winner -- ever.

  3Simon Pagenaud -- He's gone 2-2-1-1-1 to open his second season with Team Penske. But how will the Indy road course winner do trying four flat-out laps in Indy 500 qualifying? 

  4. Roger Penske -- Why? It's Indianapolis 500 practice, qualifying and 100th race time for the Brickyard's winningest team owner.

 5. Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott -- Their dramatic 1-2-3 finish at Dover gives the media something legitimate to talk/write about going into the most meaningless race of the year, the so-called "All-Star" non-points exhibition.

 8. Jim Campbell -- The VP overseeing all things Chevy motorsports unveils new Camaro Funny Car body at John Force Racing. 

 9. Jason Line -- Win number four for Line, who has made the finals in all seven national events this season, as the Summit Racing Chevy Camaro team continues to dominate the electronic fuel injection version of NHRA Pro Stock.

10. Brad Sweet -- It's May and Donny Schatz isn't leading the Craftsman World of Outlaws sprint car point standings. Sweet, with six feature wins, is. 

more next week . . . ]

  

Sunday, May 08, 2016

IT's KYLE BUSCH, OF COURSE

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  May 8:This week's 10 most influential
people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

  1. Kyle Busch -- Gets his first Sprint Cup win at Kansas Speedway, one night after his Craftsman Truck series team wins with rookie William Byron.


  2. Joe Gibbs -- The Coach's NASCAR teams just keep rolling along. They are the ones to beat every weekend in Cup and Xfinity series right now. 

  3Mark Miles -- Still awaiting word from the IndyCar CEO about a possible replacement for the Boston street race. 

  4. Doug Boles -- The gates open at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Angie's List road course race and then 100th Indy 500 practice, qualifying and race. IMS president oversees it all.

  5. Kerry Madsen -- The former World of Outlaws' regular sweeps both nights of sprint car racing at Eldora Speedway. 

  6Will Power -- Will IndyCar's fastest road racer dominate Indy's road course event?

  7. Brittany and Courtney Force -- Drag racing's winning sister act go to Atlanta with another chance to bring mainstream media coverage to NHRA. That's the straight-line sport's best shot at headlines against the 100th Indy 500 and NASCAR's Charlotte events.  


  9. Nico Rosberg -- Will Spain be eight straight Grands Prix wins for the Mercedes Man?

10. Robin Miller -- It's May. That means controversial Miller's writings and video reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Racer.com are mandatory viewing and reading. 

more next week . . . ]

  

Sunday, May 01, 2016

DW MAKES THE RIGHT CALLS AT 'DEGA

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  May 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. Darrell Waltrip -- His Talladega calls -- ''You're second guessing a guy who's second guessing a guy"; "I've never seen anything like this"; "I don't know how to explain this" -- perfectly reflected the Sprint Cup race's mayhem.


  2. Brian France -- NASCAR chairman attends a drivers' council meeting for the first time and now faces a week of criticism over yet another dangerous Talladega wreckfest. 

 3Mark Miles -- How will IndyCar's CEO deal with the embarrassment of the canceled Boston street race? 

 4. Nico Rosberg -- Russia was his fourth consecutive Formula One victory this season for Mercedes and historic seventh straight going back to last season. Lewis who?

 5. Courtney Force -- After a winless 2015 NHRA's most marketable athlete gets a much-needed Funny Car win and leads the class standings -- as sister Brittany does in Top Fuel.

 6Ed Bennett and Scott Atherton -- Chairman and president, respectively, of U.S. sports car racing close to issuing a "Future Strategies" memo. That should rearrange a series that has too many classes, the cost of participation is too high given the available return, and has no drivers known to the general public. So far, the much desired unification of ALMS and Grand-Am has been a significant disappointment.


  8. Greg Anderson and Jason Line -- Team Summit's Chevy Camaros continue complete domination of NHRA's electronic fuel injection Pro Stock class. Anderson beat his teammate last weekend in yet another Summit final round.

10. Matt Kenseth -- Heads-up NASCAR, Joe Gibbs and Roger Penske: Kenseth is once again angry at Joey Logano going to Kansas Speedway, the scene of the duo's first "big one" last year. 

more next week . . . ]

  

Sunday, April 24, 2016

'SMOKE' IS NO. 1 ON THIS WEEK'S 'POWER PLAYERS' LIST

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  April 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. Tony Stewart -- Returns from injury to begin what he says will be his final Sprint Cup season. And gets a waiver from NASCAR to be eligible for a place in the Chase. And gets fined by NASCAR for his safety-related criticism of not enforcing via the rulebook five lug nuts on every wheel. 


  2. Brian France -- NASCAR chairman defends his organization's on-going push to make stock car racing more safe, and fields other questions, at the prestigious Associated Press Sports Editors' meeting. 

  3Denny Hamlin -- As spokesman for the drivers council, defends Tony Stewart's right to speak his mind about NASCAR safety. The drivers' council paid Stewart's reported $35,000 fine. 

  4. Carl Edwards -- Two straight Sprint Cup victories for The Backflip Man . . . even if he had to bump his teammate Kyle Busch out of the way on the last lap at Richmond.

  5. Joe Gibbs -- What will The Coach have to say in this week's team meeting? Was it OK for Kyle Busch to get dumped by a teammate on the last lap with victory in sight? Gibbs and Toyota are on a powerful roll right now, so keeping the athletes calm and cooperative this week's important task.

  6. Simon Pagenaud -- After performing below expectations in 2015, his first with Team Penske, Pag has gone 2-2-1-1 this IndyCar season.

   7. Brittany Force -- Sister Courtney's long winless streak continues, but Brittany now has two NHRA Top Fuel wins and is in line for some "star" treatment from the media. 

  8. Lewis Hamilton -- Named one of worldwide sports' most influential people, the defending (but winless) world champion calls on Formula One's leaders to have the courage to experiment more with fan-friendly rules and race weekend format changes.

  9. Alan Johnson -- Drag racing's nitro class genius tuner, he consults on tune-up for Brittany Force's second Top Fuel win. She was 0-for-3 seasons until father John signed-up with AJ.

10. Graham Rahal -- With the Andretti Autosport team in a deep and unexplained performance slump, Rahal has resumed his role from last season as Honda's best hope. 

more next week . . . ]

  

Sunday, April 17, 2016

COMPLAINING INDYCAR DRIVERS ARE THIS WEEK's 'MOST INFLUENTIAL'

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  April 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. Verizon IndyCar Series drivers -- This isn't what IndyCar CEO Mark Miles had in mind on the road to the historic 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" that this time will be the "Race of the Century," the storyline trends this season have been: Drivers saying they cannot pass, the cars have too much downforce, the racing is "boring" (Tony Kanaan at Long Beach), the racing was better before aero kits, controversy over dome skid plates and strakes (try to explain that to any major city sports columnist who might consider writing about the 100th Indy), and (shocking!) concerns about the officiating. This as the series will present two more hard-to-pass road course events before the Big I500. Will Miles take dramatic action? Will he impose secret fines to any drivers because of their complaints? Oh, that makes two more storylines to follow that don't mesh with the 100th Indy. Help wanted: Chief Communications Officer for IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway who will be a part of the senior management team.



more next week . . . ]

  

Sunday, April 10, 2016

AN OLD-FASHIONED ACT MEANS MORE THAN EVER

A column in Sunday's Arizona Republic caught my eye. The writer, Karina Bland, told of how she received an actual hand-written letter from a reader. And how she showed it to disbelieving co-workers and how special it was because it wasn't another E-mail. It was a real ink-on-paper letter.

I could not help but make this connection: In the days immediately after the recent IndyCar event at Phoenix Raceway, I sent hand-written thank-you cards to six people for their special help. Six for that one race. In recent times the only personal note of this type I've received from anyone in motorsports has come from Anthony Vestal of NHRA. Yes, I noticed, and appreciated the gesture. Just thought I'd let you know . . . 


POWER PLAYERS for the week of  April 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. Kyle Busch -- How could it be anyone else? Four NASCAR national series wins in eight days. 


  2. David Wilson -- Toyota Racing Development president has the biggest smile among his manufacturer rivals in NASCAR these days.

  3Joe Gibbs -- Yes, Matt Kenseth has had plenty of frustration so far this season, but Coach Gibbs' team is the one getting it done in NASCAR right now. 

  4. Jim Michaelian -- This weekend marks another chapter in the amazing success story that is the Long Beach Grand Prix. As the LBGP president well knows, there's a garage area full of those who tried and failed to duplicate that success.

  5. Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip -- This is the Fox Sprint Cup telecast I've been waiting for. Two champions who knew how to get it done at Bristol. Now TV booth teammates, they will have short laps to offer what likely will be differing opinions. Don't doubt there will be a Number 1 and a Number 2 expert analyst post-Bristol

  7. Nico Rosberg -- Can he beat Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton for the third straight Grand Prix this season?

  8. Marcus Smith -- The Speedway Motorsports' track boss unveils his huge video screen hanging over the Bristol infield.

  9. Mario Andretti -- Says "no" to halos for open-cockpit cars and wants all cars to use the same type of aero kit for the Indianapolis 500, saying that's what's needed to make the 100th running full of the dramatic entertainment people want. And expect.

 10. Al Unser Jr. -- "King of the Beach" on the Long Beach streets is the pre-race favorite for the last-ever Toyota Pro-Celebrity race.

more next week . . . ]