• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Sherwin-Williams announced a multi-year agreement to be the official paint and finishing partner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, IndyCar series, and related properties. It puts an official end to the time when Fred Rhue and Jim Chapman made PPG Industries the largest corporate contributor to the Indy 500 prize fund. Rhue was PPG's refinishing division VP and PR legend Chapman's late-night negotiation with then IMS President Joe Cloutier made the Indy 500 a points-paying event in CART's PPG Indy Car World Series.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

TIME TO CHECK WHAT'S SCRIBBLED ON MY LEGAL PAD

Time once again to transcribe notes written on my yellow legal pad:

I sure would like one of those Big Time TV executives to explain to me why they keep hiring pit reporters who don't know how to ask a meaningful question. ("How does it feel?" or "What does this mean to you?" don't make the cut.) Or, many a time, no question at all, just make a statement. Isn't the ability to interview the most basic requirement of the job?

It's a good thing Fox hired Jeff Gordon for the booth because NBC's Jeff Burton-Steve Letarte combo is miles and miles ahead of Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds.

Memo to NASCAR's R&D Center: You're never going to create a rules package that will make for boffo racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The track layout simply isn't suitable for stock cars. (And, no, IMS isn't going to add banking.) Do your best to create enough of a draft for passing on the long straights and into turns one and three. And leave it at that.

Memo to fans: Go to the Brickyard 400 for the experience and because it's Indy. And leave it at that.

Memo to Doug Boles, IMS president: Bring back the apron. Please. With all the talk about making racing more entertaining, this is what you've gotta do.

It was a very bad decision for the NBCSN director to go with a tight shot of the flagman waving the checkered flag instead of showing the majority of the field finish the Brickyard 400. Just how do you justify that? Fans want to see the cars and their favorite drivers finish, not the flagman. Period. 

There have been some nice tributes to Jeff Gordon this season. But I don't think anyone can top Phoenix International Raceway becoming Jeff Gordon Raceway on Nov. 15.

Hard to believe, but true: ESPN will essentially be out of motorsports next year. As of now, just the racing events that are part of the X Games. This is personal to me because, as CART's communications director, I did the first-ever TV deal between CART and ESPN in December 1980. Our first race on ESPN was Milwaukee in June 1981, with Bob Jenkins, Larry Nuber and Gary Lee calling the action.

As hard as it may be to believe there is such a thing as an "underreported" NASCAR story, here's one: The quality of Cup series road races has improved by a factor of 1,000 since multiple left-and-right turn courses were added to the modern era Cup schedule. Better brakes, transmissions, driving, cars, etc. And double-wide restarts.

Given last week's Internet chatter, let me repeat what I first wrote here in March 2011: Not only would an effort to field a car for Alex Zanardi in next year's Indianapolis 500 be a very, Very, VERY bad idea, it would be "exploitive." Please spare me the talk of how Alex the Great has driven a BMW sports car with hand controls. There is no comparison to doing that and driving an open-wheel car 230 mph on an oval. And spare me the talk about how much publicity this would generate. I happen to know a thing or two about generating publicity. There are some things you want publicity for, and there are other things that the risk is so great of bad publicity, you don't do. I hope a non-PC medical professional puts a stop to this before it goes any further.

Speaking of Internet Nonsense, last week's head-shaker goes to whoever wrote that brakes aren't so important at Indy. Really?  Sure, brakes aren't used doing a normal lap. But how about if you need to STOP?

And then there was the letter that said former CART President Andrew Craig "listened" to the fans. Anybody who was directly involved in CART during that time knows the only person he listened to was himself.

Sprint car racing's premier event, the Knoxville Nationals, comes up Aug. 15 and it's ridiculous this World of Outlaws' headliner doesn't have live TV. It did, for a few years, on the old Speed channel. 

I've often said that the three most important sports franchises are the New York Yankees, Manchester United, and Ferrari. Yes, Ferrari isn't a franchise in the traditional sense, but I hope you catch my meaning. So, when Ferrari wins a Grand Prix, it's not only good for Formula One, it's good for motorsports.

What's not good? Courtney Force winless so far this NHRA Funny Car season.

As one of the millions of Americans who suffer from chronic back problems, especially those with bad issues like bulging discs, spinal compression and nerve pain, I have no doubt whatsoever his own back problems contributed to Jeff Gordon's decision to stop racing.


POWER PLAYERS for the week of August 2: 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.  Rob Kauffman -- His deal to buy into Chip Ganassi Racing -- perhaps taking Clint Bowyer along for the ride -- sets off a tidal wave of talk in the NASCAR garage area about the future of Michael Waltrip Racing.

  2. Joe Gibbs -- Matt Kenseth keeps the Gibbs-Toyota victory streak going. Where did all this speed come from all of a sudden?

 3. Graham Rahal -- Wins his home-state race at Mid-Ohio to move to nine points behind championship leader Juan Pablo Montoya with two races to go. Rahal's is a one-car team vs. Team Penske's four. This plays out against the dropback of Honda's huge decision whether to remain in the IndyCar series. (Rahal is with Honda.) And then there's the issue of a media-friendly American champion vs. a media-reluctant Colombian.

 4. Mark Miles -- IndyCar CEO announces that competition president Derrick Walker "resigned" and has launched a search for a replacement. Walker admits in interviews the announcement wasn't made the way he would have wanted. (That's a hint.) His is yet another name added to the long, LONG list of American open-wheel racing leaders to fall under political pressure.

  5. Kyle Busch -- An out-of-fuel loss in Pocono Cup race, but his amazing comeback story continues with Cup pole and Truck series win. 

  6. Jack Beckman -- A dominant weekend at Sonoma gives the cancer survivor a shot to sweep NHRA's Western Swing in Funny Car.

  7. Art St. Cyr -- Honda Performance Development president says a few issues remain to be resolved before a new IndyCar series deal can be signed.

  8. AJ Allmendinger -- His best chance to win and qualify for NASCAR's Chase comes this Sunday at Watkins Glen, where he's the defending race winner.

  9. Jeff Gordon -- The Glen will be Gordon's last road-course event. It comes at a venue where he won four times in five years, but not since 2001. Not counting Dan Gurney at Riverside, Gordon was one of NASCAR's first road-course aces.

10. Bryan Clauson -- Becomes second three-time winner of the Belleville Midget Nationals.

more next week . . . ]

Sunday, July 26, 2015

BUSCH, STEVENS, GIBBS ATOP NEW 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST

Personal priorities didn't allow me time to think or write this week. Fingers crossed for next week. My apologies. Thank you.


POWER PLAYERS for the week of July 26: 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 -- Unless someone can prove that NASCAR has given him "The Call" to make up for leaving that Daytona pit wall unprotected, Busch's comeback story is so compelling that even the NBA-obsessed PTI co-hosts should talk about his accomplishments. 

  2. Adam Stevens -- Now a winner in four of the last five Sprint Cup races, Kyle Busch's crew chief and his driver are on a roll that even Jimmie and Chad would envy.

  3. Joe Gibbs -- Suddenly his Toyota team has become a Hendrick-like power house. It sure is a lot different from last year or the early 2015 Cup season.

 4. Mark Miles -- IndyCar CEO puts into place rules prohibiting competitors from making overly negative comments about the series, events, sponsors, rules, officials, the "brand," et al. Are media stories about to get a lot less interesting? 

 5. Sebastian Vettel -- A great start leads to Hungary Grand Prix victory for Ferrari and stops the Lewis Hamilton-Mercedes runaway. That's career win number 41, tying Vettel with Ayrton Senna.  Victory dedicated to Jules Bianchi, who died recently from head injuries sustained in last year's Japanese GP.

 6. Peter Clifford -- New NHRA president announces big changes to troubled Pro Stock class, including fuel injection in 2016 and shorter wheelie bars for more "wheels up" launches. Plus more fan friendly policies in the pit area.

 7. Fernando Alonso -- Sets an example for his fellow multi-million dollar Formula One drivers by pushing his disabled McLaren-Honda back to pit lane -- in full-face helmet and Nomex uniform -- during Hungary Grand Prix qualifying. Fans everywhere loved it. Then he finished fifth, the best yet in Honda's return to F1. 

  8. Jeff Burton -- Brickyard 400 was his strongest and most informative TV analysis yet. Proving that smart, intelligent talk has a place in NASCAR's "Boogity" media world.

  9. Martin Truex Jr. -- Can he double-up on Pocono wins this season and put the brakes on Kyle Busch's incredible run? 

10. Christopher Bell -- Wins Eldora in only his third career Camping World Truck Series start.

more next week . . . ]

Sunday, July 19, 2015

FINAL INDY RACE MAKES GORDON THIS WEEK'S 'MOST INFLUENTIAL'

Thank you to those who have Emailed me comments about The Summer of Our Discontent, my ninth anniversary blog. Given the conversation it has generated, I'm going to leave it up for another week for your further consideration. Here's this week's new "Power Players" list:

POWER PLAYERS for the week of July 19: 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. Jeff Gordon -- The last Brickyard 400 for the defending and five-time race winner, who grew up and made his USAC mark in Indiana. It's a reminder how important Gordon's 1994 victory in the inaugural Cup race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was not only to his career, but also in the history of NASCAR and American motorsports. Gordon gets a parade in his honor Thursday in Pittsboro.

  2. Tony Stewart -- Marks 10 years as owner at Eldora Speedway with Kings Royal and NASCAR's Truck series. And will be a media and fan focus at the Brickyard as the Indiana native tries to reverse a difficult Cup season. But Stewart didn't sound very optimistic on a media teleconference last week.

  3. Peter Clifford -- New NHRA president goes with Fox Sports 1 to replace ESPN next season, with majority of final eliminations presented "live" and four on Fox broadcast network. It's a big business undertaking for the sanction, which will assume production responsibilities and sell advertising and sponsorship packages.

  4. Kyle Busch -- Remarkable three wins in his last four Sprint Cup starts but still needs to be in top 30 in points to qualify for the Chase. There will be a national media outcry if he doesn't after comeback from leg and foot injuries.

 5. Shane Stewart -- He beats Donny Schatz twice at Eldora Speedway, taking Friday's Knight Before the Kings Royal and then Saturday's $50,000 Kings Royal World of Outlaws "major."

   6. Steve Letarte -- His NBC telecast analysis of Jeff Gordon's final Indianapolis race will be a big test of how candid the former crew chief is willing to be about his former driver and team.

  7. Jim Utter -- Long-time Charlotte Observer NASCAR beat writer begins his new adventure on Motorsport.com on Wednesday.

 8. Doug Boles -- How many grandstand seats will the Indianapolis Motor Speedway president be able to sell for the troubled Brickyard 400? 

  9. Graham Rahal -- Another strong finish at Iowa Speedway for the series' best comeback story moves him into second place in points as a suspension failure puts championship favorite Juan Pablo Montoya into the wall. 

10. Robert Ballou -- USAC's Indiana Sprint Car Week champion.

more next week . . . ]

Sunday, July 12, 2015

THE 9th ANNIVERSARY BLOG

On this, the ninth anniversary of the SpinDoctor500 blog, I can report to you that this is the Summer of Our Discontent.

That’s more than simply a play on the words of Steinbeck and Shakespeare.

It’s a fact.

It has me worried.

Everywhere I turn in the motorsports world -- NHRA, NASCAR, IndyCar, SportsCar, Formula One -- it’s there. I see it in the faces of too-tired mechanics. I hear it the voices of frustrated drivers. I feel it in the concern of overspent owners and unsettled sponsors. I sense it the tone of fans venting via social media.

The joy of the actual racing seems to have been nearly overcome by troubles surrounding the competition. Even when it's breath-taking -- the MAVTV 500 -- it stirs great controversy and divides people into sometimes angry "pro" and "con" groups. The future seems uncertain on the business, political, sponsorship and popularity fronts. The mood has turned dusk if not-yet dark. Confidence is declining. Smiles are fewer. Fun? Oh, that’s so 1990s.

No wonder John Force went off in a Boston newspaper before the New England Nationals. Drag racing’s biggest name, even though he’s nearing septuagenarian status, is almost two years into a fight to keep his family business in business. (And, hey, the man has a wedding to pay for!)

It was a sign of the times. We are, collectively, a disgruntled lot. I've been on the media or business side of this industry since the early 1970s and I've neven seen a time when such profound problems reach across essentially every series, everywhere. 

I’m not sure some sanctioning body executives could get a friendly handshake if they offered a free milkshake.

At the core of it all are money and leadership. Yes, you've heard that before, but don't stop me now.

NASCAR is in the midst of a historic and fundamental shift in leadership philosophy, one that at first glance is welcome, but must be analyzed in the context that it is in direct opposition to its past. It wasn't all that many months ago NASCAR said all of its communications with the owners' Race Team Alliance would be done by attorneys for both sides. Remember back when Todd Bodine and Jimmy Spencer were ignored when they called for a "drivers' safety committee" following Dale Earnhardt's death? And when safety issues themselves were dealt with reactively, such as the slow adopting of the HANS Device and installing SAFER barriers only where it was deemed truly necessary?

Now there's a formally-chosen drivers' group and it is meeting with NASCAR. In the aftermath of Kyle Busch's injuries in Daytona's February Xfinity series race, more SAFER barriers and (at least) tire walls have gone up and engineering plans are expected to result in even more. Catch fencing, and what technology might make possible to improve it, are under study.

But such an abrupt spinning on his heels (ABOUT FACE!) and going the opposite direction of the policies of his father and grandfather leads me to conclude Brian France has suddenly concluded his sport and his industry are in real trouble. His attitude has changed so dramatically in such a short time, in fact, that I can't help but feel the situation is worse than us non-stakeholders have believed.

Sure, the argument can be made it's better for NASCAR to realize its on-track product isn't very good and start adjusting car rules. But what does turning mid-season multi-million dollar championship points-paying races into testing experiments say about the process and the people charged with making it right when the new Cup car was unveiled a couple of years ago? What about all the meetings, the wind tunnel time, the testing, the computer simulations? Why has such a hyped car with so much promise produced such disappointing shows? The impression here sure is NASCAR invented Steve O'Donnell's job as chief racing development officer to be the out-front person making excuses to the media, but unless things get a lot better real soon, watch for major personnel goings and comings at the R&D center. (And Goodyear rightly deserves its share of the blame, too.)

And all of this is only further driving-up owners' costs.

NASCAR has also become NAPCSCAR -- "PC" for "Politically Correct" -- deciding to issue statements to interjet itself into public policy controversies. If the Integrated Marketing Communications deep-thinkers, whose policies have devalued and dehumanized 1-on-1 relationships with journalists, want to wade into those PC waters, let's remember those run wide and deep and can be oh-so trecherous.

And, oh, NASCAR needs a new title sponsor to replace Sprint after next season.

Over at IndyCar, Mark Miles' path of what this year resulted in a condensed schedule (he told me again the other week what he means to do is start and end the season earlier over seven months) has beaten mechanics into the ground. Sooner or later, I feel sure this will result in a safety failure. Maybe it already has but we don't know it. This isn't NASCAR with fleets of cars, road crews, and the resources to race week-after-week. The same guys who pit the cars Sunday have to fix them up and get to another track the following Friday. The team sponsorship landscape is not a healthy one and even Roger Penske is self-funding via his truck leasing business. Then there are the proposed and much-hyped Big Money international events that teams and sponsors don't want. Management stability of the competition was supposed to be one of the first things Miles' fixed when he came to power and yet we saw the Indy 500 Pole Day rules-change fiasco, the Graham Rahal no-call at Fontana, canceling qualifying sessions, starting single-file on wet tracks and a variety of other concerns that make me believe the garage area has been lost. There is no PR voice on the executive management level and that absolutely hurt IndyCar and IMS itself on Pole Day and it's a point I've raised with Miles twice. That's simply unacceptable in this age of instant communications and perception is reality.

Oh, and is Honda coming back next season?

NHRA has given us an executive-level textbook case of how not to do things that will live forever among those who study such things. The unexplained lengthy absense of Tom Compton from the Glendora headquarters ultimately resulted in his "retirement" and NHRA Chairman Dallas Gardner told those (including me) on a media teleconference everything -- including Peter Clifford's hiring as new prez -- had happened just that morning. What a disgrace. How those in charge can possibly think competitors, event promoters, sponsors, media or fans would have any confidence -- or trust -- speaks only to their outright arrogance. (Please read more on this in my new CompetitionPlus.com column http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/editorials/michael-knight-commentary-never-get-a-second-chance-to-make-a-first ).

One might have thought the huge vote of No Confidence in NHRA from Ford and Castrol last year would have served as a head-smack to get real and get-with-it. One would be wrong.

Formula One faces a very real cost crises and calls to make the racing more entertaining and exciting. This raises more questions about leadership with Bernie Ecclestone now in his 80s. The second season of the United SportsCar tour has settled into an unsettling state of public unawareness. ("Oh, there's a race this weekend? Whose driving in it? Who? Who? Who?") 

(Ford's major new 2016 entry with its GT is very positive, though, and IndyCar should get it that's where the Blue Oval believes its money is best spent.)

All of this plays out at a time when America's love affair with the automobile seemingly is on the decline. Talk of a future with driverless cars is no longer talk -- such vehicles exist and are in limited use. What threat does that present to the motorsports industry if, over the next decade, we become increasingly a nation (or nations) of car owners who don't drive? 

Yes, there is much for which to be stressed.

Certainly, I do say thanks for the great moments. The Indianapolis 500's run to the finish. The final chances to see Jeff Gordon, not only one of the greats, but also one of racing's truly historic figures. My first Little 500. Fans willing to hang around to early a.m. to see NASCAR at Daytona. The anticipation of that stadium's "Rising" project and improvements coming to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for next year's 100th running of the "Greatest Spectacle." Kyle Busch's return. Austin Dillon walking away alive. And a continued thank you very much to all who invest a few minutes of valuable time each week and over the years to read what appears here.

But motorsports' true leaders must now stand tall and do what must be done to right the ship, find more favorable winds, chart a better course. (And, yes, we'll continue to offer, as we are able, informed and experienced comments, opinions and suggestions in this spec of cyberspace.) 

Otherwise, come time for the 10th anniversary blog, the overall situation may well be -- to use the title of my most famous posting (10/26/11) -- Untenable. 


POWER PLAYERS for the week of July 12: 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. Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte -- Bingo! NBC has put together the two brightest minds ever to team up in a NASCAR TV broadcast booth. Anyone who pays attention will learn something just about everytime they speak.

  3. Joe Gibbs -- His drivers, crew chiefs and engineers best figure out new rules and finish 1,3,4,5 at Kentucky.

  4. Kyle Busch -- His feel-good recovery story continues with victory at Kentucky Speedway, his second since returning from injuries. He could still make the top 30 in points to qualify for the Chase. A championship would be one of racing's greatest accomplishments, ever.

  5. Tony Schumacher -- Eight-time NHRA Top Fuel champion wins at Route 66 for his 80th career victory and third of the season and takes the class championship lead.

  6. Kevin Miller -- USAC president continues 28th annual Indiana Sprint Week -- "the soul of our sprint car series" -- with seven races wrapping up Saturday night at Tri-State Speedway.

  7. Bob Zeller -- Veteran motorsports journalist and his wife organize wonderful way to help a wonderful person, NASCAR.com writer Holly Cain. http://www.gofundme.com/z2ec56x 

  8. Donny Schatz -- World of Outlaws' A-Main season win number 20. Pay attention, national news media. 

 9. Dustin Long -- With NBC portion of NASCAR season underway, veteran fact-based, common-sense and hard-working writer tells the stories on NBCSports.com .

10. Ryan Villopoto -- Six-time motocross champion, 26, forced to retire due to multiple crash injuries, including tailbone fractures.

 [ more next week . . . ]

Monday, July 06, 2015

AS I SAID LAST WEEK . . .

The MAVTV 500 at California's Auto Club Speedway has turned out to be a historical marker in the history of IndyCar racing. It yet again divided competitors and fans into opposing "Yes!" or "No!" camps and I can't say that's a good thing for a series already burdened with conflict and problems.

The fan reaction, in many ways, reminded me of the worst of the IRL-CART split days. Anonymous posters tossing personal attacks often based on zero or wrong information. That's pathetic and sad but certainly in keeping with what is going on in the overall American society these days. Apparently it's now impossible to simply disagree and factually explain why. Apparently disagreement must be served with personal attacks. 

In case you're not sure what I mean, that is not a compliment.

I wrote last week Fontana was the scariest race I've ever seen. It was. I did not write that it was the scariest race YOU'VE ever seen.

As for what sport I "follow," I've only been paying attention to motorsports since the early 1960s. For many of the following years I made the vast majority of my income via professional involvements in racing at the highest levels of the sport and with several of its most famous names. 

The first race I ever attended was at Langhorne Speedway, outside Philadelphia, when it was still dirt. A.J. Foyt won. Langhorne makes just about everyone's list of one of the most dangerous tracks ever raced. And, yes, scary. Even after it was paved. I saw this with my own eyes.

For those who think I must not have ever seen a sprint car race, I am a voting member for the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.

For those who referenced the CART Michigan 500, I was CART'S communications director when the event was first created in 1981.

For those who think I must not have seen the 1984 Michigan 500, I just happened to be a member of the winning team that day.

Fontana was more scary than the 2011 Las Vegas race because it was 500 miles in distance.

Yes, racing has always been a dangerous activity. That will never change. It's essential to what attracts eyeballs to the tracks. But today's society will not tolerate the level of danger that existed in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s. 

IndyCar crewmembers are stressed and worried about not having a job during the long off-season. Team Penske has other things going on to keep paying their people full-time. Many other existing teams do not.

IndyCar CEO Mark Miles himself admitted, during a national media teleconference last week, that the series' rulemakers went too far on downforce.

The above is just for the record and for the information of the Internet "Experts."


I spent 20 minutes with Mark Miles before that Scary 500. I sent out, via Twitter ( SpinDoctor500 ), several of his most important and newsworthy comments. Here's three others: He flat-out denied he is cleaning-up the Hulman & Co. balance sheet in preparation for a sale. He likely will have a presenting sponsor for next year's Indy 500. He is taking into account the concerns of owners regarding this year's compressed schedule. That is what he said.


Miles' held a national media teleconference last week and I listened in. I have to give him credit: He actually made news (fines/penalties for being too-outspoken are coming) and answered most questions with at least a degree of substance. That was in stark contrast to another teleconference, later that day, with NHRA Chairman Dallas Gardner and new President Peter Clifford. Not a single question regarding the abrupt "retirement" of Tom Compton was answered in a meaningful or credible way. It was an insult to the participating media and sent Clifford off to a bad start with journalists. After that performance, why would he think anyone would want to waste time dialing-in when he wants to make what he says are upcoming "exciting" announcements?


Another troubling $ign of the Media Time$: Last week a SiriusXM host praised the Sonoma Cup race because, among other things, "A car caught fire and that was great for TV."


POWER PLAYERS for the week of July 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. Brian France -- Allows a premier sporting event to begin at almost midmight. Didn't attach his name to a "statement" asking fans not to fly the Confederate battle flag at NASCAR races and passed on his usual mid-season Daytona news conference. But the NASCAR chairman seems to open the door for a long-discussed franchise system for Cup series team owners. And he continues to press his own people to come up with a more exciting rules package, one version of which will be tried this weekend at Kentucky Speedway.

  2. Marcus Lemonis -- NASCAR's reactive Politically Correct spinners surely will disagree, but the clear impression remains that the Camping World CEO's threat to boycott the Truck series awards banquet if it again happened at a Trump property forced Brian France's hand.

  3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- Doubtful even NASCAR's most popular driver can keep an audience for a race at begins at almost midnight. Admits to be scared by accident that happened behind him as he won Daytona.

  4. Peter Clifford -- NHRA's new president bombs with media in introductory teleconference but promises a series of "exciting announcements" are just "weeks away."

  5. Mark Miles -- IndyCar CEO admits the sanction went with too much downforce at Fontana and says fines/penalties are coming for competitors who go too far in criticisms.

  6. Lewis Hamilton -- Come-from-behind victory in British Grand Prix reaffirms it's not simply all about the car in Formula One. How will Mercedes-Benz USA help promote the U.S. Grand Prix with a talent and personality that should, on paper, click with the American public?

  7Donny Schatz -- Wins two of the week's three World of Outlaws events to bring his season total to 19. And also becomes the first Outlaws' driver to win consecutive features without participating in the dash (started 10th). He is worthy of major Sports Illustrated and USA Today feature stories.

  8. Dave Moody -- Want to talk about flying the Confederate battle flag at NASCAR races? New rules for Kentucky? Happy or not with the NASCAR on-track product? Waiting until almost midnight to start a race? SiriusXM Channel 90's solo afternoon drive-time host's show is the place to air it out. But don't expect him to automaticaly agree or disagree whatever the issue.

  9. Michael Andretti -Says fans must support IndyCar racing at Milwaukee by buying tickets. Will this weekend's IndyCar run at the famed Mile be his last as the promoter? And/or the last for IndyCar?

10. Bill Bader Jr. -- His family's Summit Motorsports Park (Norwalk, Ohio) once again sets the example for all other NHRA track operators on how to be fan-friendly and make people WANT to attend drag races. All others, including the facilities owned by NHRA itself, absolutely should adopt Norwalk as the standard that should be standard.

[ special ninth anniversay blog next week . . . ]


Sunday, June 28, 2015

THE SCARIEST RACE I'VE EVER SEEN (and the new 10 'Most Influential' list)

I was at Auto Club Speedway Saturday for the MAVTV 500. I could easily write thousands of words about what I think was the scariest auto race I've ever seen. IndyCar fans got enough to debate out of this one race to fill all of the long off-season. I choose to focus on a few points:

* I talked with series CEO Mark Miles for 20 minutes before the race. You can go to my Twitter @SpinDoctor500 to read his quotes. I'll have some more of that conversation in this space in upcoming weeks.

* I think it's more likely than not that Derrick Walker has lost the confidence of the garage area. I don't know if he can regain it. The last time drivers were this concerned, only a couple of years ago, it led to major changes in the IndyCar management.

* Having been a part of the IndyCar scene since the 1970s, I can honestly say I have never experienced a more unhappy garage area than I did Saturday morning. People were a little more rested after an off-weekend. But that did nothing to brighten the mood about the scheduling, rules and every other issue under the IndyCar sun. Honestly, talking to long-time friends who still toil as crew members and in other roles made me sad.

* To those trotting out the old "any publicity is good publicity" lie, please stop embarrassing yourself. Anyone who has ever actually gotten paid to be a PR professional knows that is false. Do you really think IndyCar would benefit from the publicity of another driver fatality? Do you think that's the media exposure sponsors want?

* The multi-person race control system has been proven to be a failure and needs to be changed ASAP. The inconsistent nature of the officiating cannot be explained or tolerated. How did Graham Rahal not get a penalty following the pit incident that has been routinely penalized with at least a stop-and-go for decades? The Grassy Knoll types think it had something to do with keeping on-the-fence Honda from leaving the series.

* Scott Pruett likely is near retirement. Mr. Miles, please talk to him about becoming the new race director. But he'd only be interested if he's the sole decision-maker from the time the green flag waves until the checkered flag is displayed.

* The tiny crowd of just a couple of thousand was sad and embarrassing but not much of a story because it was so expected. That's what happens with a late June date on a Saturday afternoon in California. Trust me, the series won't be back in Fontana unless it gets a September date.


POWER PLAYERS for the week of June 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. Sam Flood -- NBC Sports' executive producer debuts his NASCAR team this weekend at Daytona. The stories they tell, don't tell, and the way they present the sport will have a massive impact on NASCAR's standing with the American public.

  2. Jeff Burton -- The former "mayor" of the NASCAR garage area is known for saying smart and insightful things. He needs the freedom from NBC's producers to do just that. If so, viewers will be more than entertained. They will be informed. 

  3. Derrick Walker -- No one in motorsports is more under-the-gun right now than IndyCar's competition president. Drivers say he didn't act on their pre-MAVTV 500 concerns about pack racing and safety given the aero rules IndyCar dictated. And then there's the whole issue of inconsistent officiating.

   4Kyle Busch -- His win -- on a road course, no less -- is nothing less than inspirational and should earn the praise of the national media.

  5. Graham Rahal -- Media-friendly second-generation driver wins what was perhaps the scariest IndyCar race ever run. No other driver can explain it better to the national media.

  6. Brett Frood -- Stewart-Haas Racing executive VP says he's "confident" in signing a new sponsor for Danica Patrick and re-signing her to stay with the team.

  7Jim Utter -- Leaving the Charlotte Observer after 24 years to lead the NASCAR coverage on motorsport.com . 

  8. Donny Schatz -- Wins in World of Outlaws from the 10th starting position for his 17th victory of the season. NASCAR-obsessed journalists owe it to their readers to pay attention. 

  9. Tony Kanaan -The most vocal of the IndyCar drivers post-Fontana. His voice carries the weight of being an Indy 500 winner and series champion.

10. Joie Chitwood -- Daytona International Speedway president works through the facility hassles of the last big racing weekend before "re-imagining" construction is scheduled for completion.

more next week . . . ]


Sunday, June 21, 2015

JONES & SCHATZ TIED ATOP NEW 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST

POWER PLAYERS for the week of June 21: 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.  Erik Jones and Donny Schatz -- NASCAR's Next Big Thing sweeps the non-Cup weekend, taking Friday night's Truck race at Iowa Speedway and Sunday's rain-delayed Xfinity series event at Chicagoland Speedway. With Joe Gibbs' Cup roster full for 2016 (it is, isn't it?) what will Gibbs and Toyota do to keep Jones? Meanwhile, Schatz sweeps the World of Outlaws weekend, including inaugural series race at Dakota State Fair Speedway, to bring his season victory total to 16. If you're talking about the Outlaws -- or trying to sell tickets to those winged sprint car races -- you're talking about Schatz and his Bad Boy Buggies Chevy fielded by the Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian team.

  3Steve O'Donnell -- NASCAR's racing development boss announces a less-downforce rules package for Kentucky Speedway as the sanction tries to deal with fewer green-flag passes and a down trend in its TV numbers. O'Donnell says NASCAR is "confident" in this package but adds "all options are on the table."

  4Bernie Ecclestone -- The cash crunch that has imperiled all but the major Formula One teams has spread to the tracks, with the unthinkable now possible: No Italian Grand Prix at Monza. "In order to have a Grand Prix, you need money," says F1's commercial czar. "If the money is there, the race takes place." Which also provides an explanation for the disappearance act of the U.S. Grand Prix near New York City.

  5Dave Allen -- Can the new Auto Club Speedway president make any kind of attendance success out of a late June Saturday afternoon date for his IndyCar 500?

  6. Paul Tracy -- No surprise, he's telling it like it is on NBCSN's IndyCar cablecasts and has a 500-mile race to work with this Saturday. 

  7. Robin Miller -- His Racer.com column becomes the voice of the beaten-down IndyCar series mechanics. And he breaks news of a possible IndyCar return to Road America.

  8Justin Wilson -- IndyCar veteran to drive Honda's HPD ARX-04b LMP2 in this Sunday's Pikes Peak Hill Climb. 

  9. Kevin Miller  -- USAC CEO cuts loose Davey Hamilton as executive director after only three months. Hamilton says it happened because of a "difference of opinion."

 10. Rico Abreu -- Champion of USAC Indiana Midget Week with one win and three top-five finishes. He was one point ahead of Bryan Clauson. Abreu  highlights what short-track drivers can do for those owners in other series who are paying attention. 

 more next week . . . ]