• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM: If Bernie Ecclestone is to be believed, Formula One is the only major sporting series in the world not concerned with attracting new and younger fans. Ecclestone's financial success of F1's commercial activities is unquestionable, but his age, legal problems, the series' out-of-control costs and now his latest pronouncement has only increased concerns about his capability to lead going forward.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

AND SO IT BEGINS

Last year's NASCAR season got off to such a great start one might have thought NASA was pushing the buttons and the starting line was at Cape Canaveral, not Daytona.

Think how those first three weeks went: Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Daytona 500 pole, out-of-no where Trevor Bayne put the Wood Brothers' No. 21 back into victory lane at the Great American Race and impressed America during his media tour with a humble, God-fearing personality. Toss in Michael Waltrip's 10-year anniversary of his D500 win with a Truck series checkered flag and Tony Stewart's Nationwide series triumph. Then, onto Phoenix where Jeff Gordon got back on track with an ultra-popular victory over Kyle Busch.

Taken as a whole, Brian France couldn't have planned it much better. Or paid anyone to orchestrate it. And that rocket launch beginning provided momentum that carried through the long, LONG season. Add in five first-time winners, Tony Stewart's Chase glory, the end of the Jimmie Johnson era, and a Homestead for the ages and it wasn't surprising some key TV numbers showed a much needed boost.

One year later, France and NASCAR and the sport and the industry need it all to happen again.

One year of uptick will quickly be forgotten if the storylines aren't compelling, the racing good (or better) and the Business of Racing metrics still headed north.

Sure, a Junior or Gordon or Stewart (or, yes, Danica) victory in the Great American Race would be very good for biz. But, as Bayne proved last February, someone else can power the stock car sport to heights if it's the right he/she with the right personality and a personal story that the national media believes it just HAS to tell -- because it will attract viewers and readers.

I'm sure Brian and Co. are giving that a lot of thought this week. And hoping for another electric start for the Sprint Cup season. A wild Budweiser Shootout (too many wrecks for my taste), close Kyle Busch-Tony Stewart finish, and ESPN darling Carl Edwards on the pole isn't a bad beginning.


Here are links to three of my Arizona Republic NHRA stories from last week:
Friday, Courtney Force --
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2012/02/16/20120216nhra-driver-courtney-force-great-expectations.html

Sunday, Jack Beckman Q&A --
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2012/02/19/20120219nhra-arizona-nationals-jack-beckman.html

Monday, new NHRA venue in Arizona?
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2012/02/20/20120220nhra-future-firebird-international-raceway-question.html


FAST LINES: The fans spoke and ESPN and NHRA woke-up, with live streaming returning to ESPN3 starting with the Arizona Nationals. Congratulations, folks, you did it . . . There will be an IndyCar test this week at Phoenix International Raceway. Don't automatically assume that means the series will return to PIR in 2013. But it will help show if the new track configuration and open-wheel cars are suitable for each other . . . NHRA's Arizona Nationals featured all teammate finals: John Force Funny Cars, Don Schumacher Racing Top Fuelers, and Summit team Pro Stockers . . . NASCAR did something last week I suggested to NHRA years ago. On the eve of the Sprint Cup season, Brian France E-mailed a note of thanks and appreciation to the news media. That's the kind of gesture that is remembered.

[ more next Monday . . . ]