• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

ALMS 2, INDY 0

RACING ART: I had the pleasure of meeting famed sports artist LeRoy Neiman a few times. He attended the 1990 CART Denver Grand Prix, staged on downtown streets, and did this painting of the Newman/Haas team. Mario and Michael Andretti are depicted sitting on the pit wall at the far right. Neiman shows himself third from left behind the car. To his right are Paul Newman (yellow) and Carl Haas (red), who has the original in his office. I have a print in mine. Neiman died last week at age 91.


And now I can tell you the story . . .

I've known for over a year that Pat Patrick and Jim McGee were working on a racing engine powered by natural gas. That was made official last week when IMSA, the American Le Mans Series' sanctioning body, announced a deal with Patrick Racing to research and develop NG as an alternative fuel for its Prototype Challenge class cars.

I didn't write anything because I promised my source not to -- until a formal news release was issued. At last year's Indianapolis 500 Hall of Fame awards dinner (McGee was inducted), however, I privately mentioned this to my friend Arie Luyendyk? Why tell him? Because what Patrick and McGee wanted to do was take this innovation to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If not in the Indy 500, then in a special demonstration run, an attempt to unofficially break Luyendyk's existing one-lap track record of 236.986 mph, set in 1996. I asked Arie if he'd like to drive it but he said no.

Given their winning history in the I500, it's certainly no surprise Patrick and McGee, his longtime team manager, wished to showcase this technology at IMS. I was told by someone directly involved, though, that the IMS Corp.'s negotiating position wasn't favorable. Oil and nat gas exploration mogul Patrick wanted exclusive rights to -- at least for a few years -- certain elements such as the fuel system and refueling equipment.

"They seemed to not have a lot of interest in it," according to my source. Reminds me of the DeltaWing.

From a Business of Racing standpoint, it's logical to assume the IndyCar series' multi-million dollar ethanol deal with APEX-Brazil had more than a little something to do with this.

Here are details you haven't read elsewhere: Patrick Racing has been working on this project for over two years. A natural gas-powered, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine was built and tested at Jack Roush's shop. That engine was two liters and turned 8,500 rpm with 20 pounds of boost and put out 655 horsepower.

I'm told virtually any engine could be converted to nat gas and it's better with a turbo because of the compression factor. The ALMS PC class uses 430-horsepower Chevrolet LS3 engines.

“Natural gas is destined to become a major player in the transportation industry for everyday passenger vehicles, and not just fleet operations,” Patrick said in the official release. “It is abundant, domestic, affordable and ecologically responsible. For more than a century, racing has been at the tip of the spear in developing new technology for the transportation industry. This is in line with and in the spirit of that history.”

The Speedway is the place where the innovation that was the rear-view mirror became famous. It was the stage for the Novi, turbine, and I even remember a design for a steam-powered car (didn't happen because it was too heavy.)

For those keeping score, it's now: ALMS 2, Indy 0.


I updated the Phoenix International Raceway IndyCar and NASCAR news in last Friday's Arizona Republic. No, despite what you may have read elsewhere, PIR is not and has never been a candidate to replace China on IC's 2012 schedule. But the chance for 2013 is still there. Here's the link:
http://www.usatoday.com/USCP/PNI/Sports/2012-06-22-PNI0622spt-AutonbPNIBrd_ST_U.htm


FAST LINES: There is every reason to believe this World of Outlaws season will be remembered as a true classic. The hottest driver in the series is Kraig Kinser, who won Saturday night over legendary father Steve, at Dodge City Raceway Park. It was Kinser the son's third victory in the last seven Outlaws' features. Steve won Friday night and is leading the championship standings. Fans and the news media are missing out by not paying attention . . . A college football national championship playoff system looks close to happening in 2014 and the TV rights fees will be historically enormous. What sport(s) will see their $s drop as those funds go to this new package? I'm sure that's something NASCAR is pondering . . . File this under Ridiculous & Arrogant: The MotoGP rights holder has a media credential request system more difficult than the Super Bowl or World Series . . . Geez, what will they talk about on PTI now that the basketball season is over? (Of course the hosts will take weeks off while a big percentage of their audience wishes they could have one weekend off.) God forbid they should have John Force, Courtney Force, Tony Schumacher or another good NHRA racer/talker on to showcase one of the many interesting personalities whose competition is shown on their network.

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, June 17, 2012

JUNIOR WINS! (and other things)

Normally I hate it when the TV director stays with a single-car shot for any period of time. (Which we see way too much of in IndyCar.) But TNT did exactly the right thing by keeping with Dale Earnhardt Jr. almost constantly throughout the closing laps Sunday at Michigan. And, in this case, it also was right to cut away from the wide shot of the others taking the checkered flag to see the reaction of Junior's crew and Junior Nation as represented in the grandstands. IT WAS THE RIGHT THING TO DO BECAUSE THAT WAS THE NEWS -- AND THAT'S WHAT PEOPLE WANTED TO SEE. The end of Junior's four-year, 143-race winless streak is far more than good news for him, his No. 88 Diet Drew crew, and Hendrick Motorsports. It's good for the NASCAR industry. Ask any promoter today -- it's good for business. And don't think it's not a positive for the struggling media world, either, including the TV networks, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, Charlotte Observer, etc. Since we're all about the Business of Racing here, I'm comfortable in saying: Thanks, Junior.

The TV images from a blimp or helicopter tell the REAL story: There were A LOT of empty grandstand seats at Pocono and Dover. (I don't care what it said in the official NASCAR boxscore.) Should NASCAR be concerned? Absolutely! Should something be done. Yes! Both tracks are independently owned, meaning, not owned by International Speedway Corp. or Speedway Motorsports Inc. and the respective managements have regularly said they are not for sale. (I keep wondering about Dover, though, which was built with harness racing as the attraction -- "Dover Downs" was the original name -- and the company used to own other properties like Long Beach, Gateway and Memphis. No more. Dover itself way-overbuilt stands during the boom times.) Both have two Cup dates and it's time to rethink that. It's no secret SMI's Bruton Smith wants a second date for Las Vegas -- and I think that would be in the series' and the industry's best interests. Since no one I know of is interested in adding another date to the 36-race schedule, how about Pocono or Dover leasing one of its dates to Smith for Vegas? Why not try it for a year and see if that works for the bottom line for both companies?

Given all the supposed interest in the DeltaWing, I couldn't help but notice Speed didn't show or mention the car in its pre-Le Mans promos. STRANGE -- and makes me wonder who, if anyone, was paying attention to the details. Not surprisingly, the DW had annoying technical issues in the race and was retired just after six hours when unaware Toyota prototype driver Kazuki Nakajima knocked it off the road. I don't think DW ran long enough to draw any meaningful conclusions. The question, as I posed it last week, remains: What's next?

Speaking of Attention to Detail: How did Justin Wilson's Texas winning Dale Coyne Racing car get through pre-race tech inspection with a sidepod top deck banned from use at that track? Even if it somehow did, why didn't the pit road official assigned to that car notice? As I've written before, and did so from personal experience, the series needed to change people not just in race control. The Indy media cheerleaders should have insisted on a credible explanation from Beaux Barfield. It's a week later and I haven't seen one from Barfield, although Randy Bernard did admit to the mistake. Barfield had another embarrassment at Milwaukee with a wrong penalty to Scott Dixon, which Barfield attributed to a "technology error." That's three straight bad races for Bernard's new race boss.

Those hailing the on-track success of the reduced-downforce IndyCar configuration at Texas -- calling it a "game-changer" -- ignore the Business of Racing reality of the FINANCIAL viability of such events. It certainly wasn't a record crowd at Texas. Would the game-changers please show me even one bit of solid evidence that this rules package is going to sell enough tickets to make for a successful race -- at the box office? P.S. Owners are complaining about costs yet some cars no doubt will be junked in the desperation move of qualifying heat races at Iowa. We tried a qualifying race at Michigan when I worked for CART -- the bill for wrecked cars ended that concept. But, as I've said here for years, the IndyCar organization has never bothered itself to learn the lessons of history.

So, I'm watching Michael Andretti on Wind Tunnel talking-up his self-promoted IndyCar race at the Milwaukee Mile when Dave Despain and Andretti say the weather forecast -- for an event SIX DAYS LATER -- is good. Of course, the race was delayed by rain. I don't pay attention to a forecast for two days after today -- six days later, well, let's get serious. Hard to accept that valuable time on a national network TV show would be wasted on this when there were so many other substantive issues to discuss. They might as well have chatted about what they were going to have for dinner six days hence, too.

IndyCar team owners being upset about public announcement of penalties/fines isn't anything new. After the 1983 CART race in Milwaukee, Roger Penske was fined $1,000 for "improper conduct in the post-race technical inspection area." Tom Sneva's winning car had been DQ'd and Penske's Al Unser moved up to first place. I was CART's communications director at the time and issued a news release on the penalty -- it was clearly stated in the CART rulebook as series' policy. I well remember Penske telling me we shouldn't do this type of press release because sponsors didn't like it.

Whatever "it" is in terms of driving talent, two-time world champion Sebastian Vettel has it. He has an engaging smile, too. But his appearance last week on David Letterman's show was horribly unprofessional. If Red Bull (which Vettel never mentioned) wants to market to punks, Vettel's interview was a success. With his multi-colored checkered (and untucked) shirt and worn-out jeans (with those trendy holes in them), Vettel (whose obscenity was bleeped) looked like a bum, not a world-class athlete. I know the energy drink companies have a different philosophy on marketing and image, but . . . this was on the reverse side of professional. It also didn't speak well for the supposed "PR pros" working with him. No way I would have allowed it and you can ask Michael Andretti, Paul Tracy and Jimmy Vasser about the times I had them change to appropriate clothes before media appearances. (When Vasser did Letterman in 1996, I took him to Barney's that morning to buy a nice outfit, which was tailored while we had a media luncheon at Tavern on the Green, and then I went back and got it.) Letterman, meanwhile, came across as skeptical about the Austin and New Jersery F1 races and advocated for the Indy 500 to be part of the world championship schedule. Of course, it once was.

The latest example of why I find the NHRA Funny Car class endlessly fascinating: All four John Force Racing cars lost in the FIRST ROUND at Bristol! That was a first for JFR. Meanwhile, Tony Schumacher ended a baffling 0-for-32 winless streak in Top Fuel in his father's U.S. Army-sponsored car on Father's Day.

Having been a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association back in my Philadelphia Daily News days, I say the Los Angeles Kings' Stanley Cup championship is the biggest major sports title surprise since, well, Tony Stewart's Sprint Cup last year. The Kings barely made the playoffs as the eighth seed but went on an amazing 16-4 run to earn the franchise's first Cup. As you'll recall, Stewart didn't make the Chase by much last year, then won five of the 10 races.

Pathetic this even needs to be said: I receive post-race PR reports from several NHRA, NASCAR Nationwide and Truck teams on Monday or even Tuesday about events that occurred the previous Friday night or Saturday afternoon. NEWS IS IMMEDIATE! That delayed timing makes these E-mails completely useless and thus they are quickly deleted. Why aren't those paying the fee or salary aware of this?

I know crowd control and the plague of professional autograph seekers have contributed to the need to manage signing sessions, but . . . This is what the Arizona Cardinals NFL team advertised as the rules for a 25 minute (Big Deal!) session at its recent Fan Fest: "Autograph Session for Children 12 and Under Only. Restrictions apply. One item to be autographed per child. No posed photos. Availability and access to certain players may be limited." Sad. And I'm tempted to ask, "Why bother?"

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, June 10, 2012

DELTAWING WILL PROVE ???

WONDERFUL OR WORRISOME?: IndyCar didn't want the DeltaWing as an IndyCar, so it will run at Le Mans as an experimental sports car.

The spirits of legendary automotive creative geniuses Colin Chapman and Carroll Shelby will be stirred this weekend as the DeltaWing makes its competition debut in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The argument can be made this is the boldest technological leap in all of motorsports since Andy Granatelli's turbine, Ken Tyrrell's six-wheel Formula One car, Jim Hall's series of innovative Chaparrals and Chapman's ground-effects Lotus that took Mario Andretti to the world championship. I'll even go back to Don Nichols' downsized UOP Shadow Can-Am car, which I wrote about decades ago. I got to know and liked the Nichols family and driver Jackie Oliver.

DeltaWing's saga has been well-chronicled elsewhere so I'll skip a detailed recounting of that history. Of course, the concept was born with the Indianapolis 500 in mind, but it never really had a chance. As I've explained before, to have had that happen, its backers needed to lay the groundwork via a carefully conceived and executed PR plan, designed to ignite the passions of year-round fans and once-a-year fans alike that would have resulted in an impossible-to-ignore "This is what we want!" communications thrust at the Hulman-George family. That wasn't done -- as best I can tell, it was never even thought of -- and so it was inevitable a less bold course was followed in coming up with the Dallara which debuted this season.

People have given the American Le Mans Series great credit for being more accepting. That's fine, but let's be honest -- what did ALMS have to lose? With not much more than a pencil-point impression on the general U.S. sporting public, lack of big automaker investment in its "Green" formula, and a virtually extinct headliner prototype class, ALMS had an easy call to go for it.

They helped convince Le Mans organizers Automobile Club de l'Ouest to grant DeltaWing the “Garage 56” entry reserved for cars that bring new and innovative technology to the endurance sports car classic.

Designer Ben Bowlby's car is built around the concept of a vehicle that has half the weight, half the horsepower and half the aerodynamic drag of a traditional prototype while also significantly reducing tire wear and fuel consumption. Technical partner Michelin has produced front tires that are only four inches wide and the front-track measurement is listed at just 23.6 inches. Nissan, which officially signed on several months ago, provided a 300-horsepower 1.6 liter turbo. The entire car weighs only 1,047 pounds.

I applaud the out-of-the-box thinking and congratulate Bowlby, builder Dan Gurney, ALMS founder Don Panoz and Highcroft team owner Duncan Dayton for making it happen.

That said, I do have concerns.

The first is safety. Le Mans' history is sadly filled with terrible crashes triggered by the dramatic speed differences between cars of various classes. And, let's be honest about it, drivers of varying skill. First-rate racers Allan McNish and Mike Rockenfeller, in two of the three factory Audis, were eliminated in huge wrecks just a year ago. DeltaWing will be completely different from everything else on the track and I can only hope all the other drivers will be super heads-up when racing around it -- especially at night.

The attention DeltaWing gets will be because it is SO unique and the main goal no doubt is to try to finish. The problem with such an out-and-out sheer engineering exercise is all the focus is on the machine. I've yet to met the first car that I can interview. As NASCAR has proven, tickets are sold, TV ratings are generated, and headlines are made by drivers as interesting personalities. When the Ford GT won Le Mans in 1967 -- an historic triumph over Ferrari -- what made the story complete was Gurney and A.J. Foyt were its drivers. Gurney and Foyt didn't subtract from Ford's glory. They added to it.

DW's drivers are Marino Franchitti, Michael Krumm and Satoshi Motoyama. No household names there. Franchitti's sports car experience and time with Dayton made him an obvious pick and I have no problem with that. But Motoyama hasn't competed at Le Mans since 1999 and Krumm not since 2005. Obviously, sponsorship and political considerations came into play. That's a reality of the modern Business of Racing environment, but I'm still disappointed.

Here's a radical notion -- but so what, the whole project is radical! -- I wish they'd have added a very available Paul Tracy to the lineup. It probably would have taken some effort to get PT to buy into the program, and it no doubt would have required some effort by team management to get PT to understand was what expected of him from a driving philosophy standpoint. But it would have put a popular name and face and voice to DeltaWing and raised its overall profile in the U.S. and Canada. Which would have been most useful, considering ALMS says it wants to establish DW as a regular entry in its series.

Which brings me to this: After Le Mans, what's next? Panoz said he'll take over from Gurney as constructor and hopes to sell more DWs to customers. ALMS and IMSA will be expected to figure out how to fit what probably would be another class into its overall field. Would that be a game-changer for ALMS on the American sporting scene? I don't see it. And I also don't see DW ever getting onto the Indy 500 grid, even though I've heard some say that might happen if the vehicle's viability is proven at Le Mans. Really? Given the usual narrow Indy mindset and all the other problems the series has these days?

I think we should just enjoy DeltaWing for this weekend and for what it is -- a welcome break from the awful, economy-induced, era of spec car racing. After that, whatever will be, will be.


What to Buy, Sell or Hold in drag racing? My June "Drags, Dollars & Sense" column on CompetitionPlus.com takes "stock" of NHRA:
http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/editorials/21400-knightmichael-knight-todays-drag-racing-stock-report


FAST LINES: Did ANYONE, ANYWHERE in the IndyCar organization even THINK of trying to get Kurt Busch into a car at Texas? (He once did a few laps in a Champ Car on a road course.) At a minimum, Busch's interest should have been measured and the feasibility studied. He's qualified (this was not a Las Vegas "challenge" type situation) -- remember, they let long-retired Jean Alesi run the Indy 500. Desperate times call for desperate measures -- and if you don't think these are near-desperate times for IndyCar, you are drinking the Indianapolis media cheerleaders' Kool-Aid . . . That sound you heard last week was Busch flushing-away his chances of a more competitive Sprint Cup ride in 2013. Owners and sponsors will do a lot to get/keep a winning driver, but the former Cup champion is near -- if not past -- the point where that isn't enough to balance the downside of his temper. Kurt has always been cooperative with me in, what I concede, have been our limited dealings. I hope he can rid himself of his demons but time is running out -- if it hasn't already . . . I talked about this last Thursday on Sirius XM with Rick Benjamin and Chocolate Myers and said this has gone far beyond a PR problem, it's an urgent issue for Kurt's management team. He needs not a PR rep, but a "body man" around him almost all the time, and his management had best start thinking about options in IndyCar or NHRA if NASCAR is no longer available . . . By the way, NASCAR did what it needed to do in suspending Busch, to protect the integrity of its probation system. For years plenty of people have been asking if probation really means anything -- in this case, it did . . . Count me among those concerned about the racing at Michigan International Speedway this weekend. Speeds during testing were at 200 mph . . . In announcing the start of its public ticket sale, Circuit of the Americas included a chart showing the average lowest three-day grandstand ticket prices in Formula One. Of the 13 venues on the list, Monaco (no surprise) is tops at $520. CotA is fifth at $269 . . . CotA announced last weekend that Mario Andretti will be its official ambassador for November's return of the U.S. Grand Prix. Hmmm. See what I suggested here on April 22
http://spindoctor500blog.blogspot.com/2012/04/f1-needs-ambassador-andretti-and-gurney.html .

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, June 03, 2012

A HISTORY of INDYCAR INFIGHTING

Sorry, I can't help but laugh.

The IndyCar series gathered on Belle Isle last weekend for Roger Penske's relaunched Detroit Grand Prix, ending a week where the latest round of political wrangling -- calls for the ouster of Randy Bernard -- up-ended what should have been a wheelbarrow of good tidings after an entertaining Indianapolis 500. Bernard foolishly elevated the story from rumor to headline by confirming it on Twitter.

But, hey, who's surprised? It's more of the same . . . deja vu all over again for a sport where internal political turmoil is as traditional as the checkered flag, Yard of Bricks and ESPN slobbering over Danica Patrick.

Those of us with an institutional memory recall it was at Belle Isle in 2000 that the CART Board of Directors finally woke up and threw Andrew Craig out on his all-arrogant ass. Having been deeply involved in the series at that time, I can faithfully report that was long in the making. In fact, at Phoenix in 1994 -- only Craig's second race as CART boss -- his attitude already had some people expressing concern to car owner Board members. I'll never forget when I first introduced myself to AC and his response was a dripping: "Oh, you're one of those." Meaning, a former CART employee (original communications director, 1980-1983), one of those Craig decided was beneath him and had helped create the mess His Highness was there to clean up.

Craig ruled with the mentality that it was his way or no way and he undoubtedly would have been fired years earlier if not for Tony George's creation of the Indy Racing League. The terrible atmosphere George and his key lieutenants fostered in May 1995 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- none other than Paul Newman was less than 24 hours away from going on Good Morning America and other national media outlets to let his feelings be known -- and the infamous "25/8" rule rock-hardened CART owners against George and solidified Craig's position. There's nothing more unifying than a common enemy. Carl Haas once admitted to me his concerns about Craig but said a change in command "would make us look weak to Tony. We can't do that right now."

I well remember visiting with Jim Chapman in his Birmingham, Mich., apartment in the summer of 1996. Jim was in the final months of his Great American Life. Although retired, he still was a consultant for PPG's CART series sponsorship. The phone rang and it was E. Kears Pollock, the PPG VP whose budget funded the CART deal. It was contract time and Craig -- who hadn't bothered to reach out to Chapman even though they were only miles apart in Michigan and there probably wouldn't have been a CART without what Jim had done for the series during his 1980-1994 tenure as PPG's racing director -- was trying to jam-down PPG's throat some key new items. Chapman listened, took a few notes, then calmly went through each point and explained to Pollock why CART wasn't in a position of business-strength to make those demands. "I'd offer to renew for one year at the same terms," was Chapman's final advice to Pollock. And that's pretty much what happened. If Craig's ego would have allowed him to see Chapman's importance, and had shown him proper respect, it might have been different.

Craig more than loved self-publicity -- he thought it was his God-given right. As one very well-known television personality observed: "There's no more dangerous place at a racetrack than betweeen Andrew Craig and a TV camera."

It was inevitable Craig's time to walk the plank would come. Craig crony and financial officer, the deeply disliked Randy Dzierzawski, also hit the highway. As one of their aggrieved paddock area citizens, I couldn't have been more delighted.

Before Craig there was Bill Stokkan, the former Playboy marketing executive, with whom I had a pretty good professional relationship. The Indy Car Public Relations Task Force was active at that time -- I was the original vice chairman and later chairman -- and Stokkan embraced our efforts as a positive for the series and met with me, individually, and the Task Force regularly. Stokkan established a New York City marketing office, a move I definitely agreed with, although its operation and staffing (and COST) became a topic of legitimate discussion.

But Stokkan got himself sideways with the Board on a number of fronts. I wound up playing a minor role in this drama. At dinner before the 1993 Michigan 500, some complaints from a prominent team owner alerted me to what was up (my antenna had first been raised at Portland earlier in the season.) The next day I was asked to come behind closed doors in a team's motorhome. The message basically was that the directors were going to need to meet confidentially (Top Secret!) during the upcoming week's races but didn't want to be seen. Since all of them knew me and it wasn't at all unusual for me to be seen talking to any of them and thus wouldn't raise suspicion I became the contact person, the messenger, going from one to the other, setting up meeting times and motorcoach locations. On one memorable occasion, at New Hampshire, I had to interrupt another meeting Jim Hall was having in his coach to remind him the others were waiting and transported him post-haste via golf cart. (I thought Jim, one of my original racing heroes, would be upset by the intrusion but, not at all, he thanked me for coming to get him.)

I always tried to repay favors I felt I owed journalists. Walking to the parking lot after the Michigan 500, I very casually floated the notion to one of CART's regular journalists that Stokkan might be in trouble. He didn't pick up on my "message" and I dropped the subject. I remember there was a lot of unhappiness with the way CART's man handled victory lane at Michigan that year (I was Newman/Haas Racing's PR director and we finished 1-2 with Nigel Mansell and Mario Andretti -- Arie Luyendyk was third) and so this was a big topic when PR representatives had a meeting two weeks later at Elkhart Lake. Someone suggested a letter of concern be sent to Stokkan. I was asked my opinion. "For those of you not aware, the winds of change are getting ready to blow through Bloomfield Hills (Mich., CART's office) once again," I said, adding it might be best to wait. Sure enough, Stokkan was called to a surprise meeting with the Board after the race the next day and a nonsense PR statement was issued afterwards (I didn't write it) that Stokkan wouldn't be seeking a contract extension.

John Frasco was CART's chairman when the organization seriously reformed itself as a sanctioning body after its shaky 1980 truce/alliance with USAC was blown up by USAC itself. USAC was under political threat from then Indianapolis Motor Speedway President John Cooper (a story I foreshadowed in an interview with Cooper at Pocono a few weeks earlier when I was with the Philadelphia Daily News); he said he might consider replacing USAC as the Indy 500's sanctioning body. I worked for Frasco at CART. His tenure came to an unhappy end as the 1989 season wound down. (The now-defunct newspaper The National later published a jaw-dropping expose of Frasco's sweetheart financial agreements, which CART took years to pay off.) The '89 championship celebration was in a large tent on the grounds of Pebble Beach Golf Club. When John Caponigro (who was a lawyer in Frasco's firm and then held various CART posts) opened the ceremony by asking for applause for "our chairman," the response was as tepid as Michael Moore being introduced at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention.

Caponigro took over and got himself in deep hot water at his very first Board meeting, held soon thereafter in Chicago. I was there, entertaining media (including Chris Economaki) in an adjacent hotel suite. Caponigro told owners he was going to play "hardball" with PPG, which, in his view, should take the money spent on pace cars and hospitality and put it into more prize money. A concerned citizen promptly told Chapman, who wrote a lengthy letter to owners, rebutting Caponigro point-by-point in explaining how those things formed the very reason for the series sponsorship. It was brilliant -- and devastating.

It quickly went downhill from there. John C was on extremely thin ice when owners met in Indianapolis in the year's closing weeks. A few owners, including Haas, were worried about more change and hung themselves out to somehow convince the others to offer Caponigro a one-year contract. When called into the meeting and offered that deal, Caponigro, who clearly did not grasp the gravity of the situation or the deep concerns about his leadership, said: "I'll have to think about it." That was so inappropriate for the moment he might as well have worn seersucker to the NASCAR Sprint Cup banquet. Virtually every owner in the room took it as unbelievably tin-eared so the end was at hand. Over lunch, the owners started talking about who to get to run the group. John Capels had announced his team was closing its doors due to lack of sponsorship. So Barbara Trueman suggested Capels as their new leader, and that's exactly how Capels got to CART's executive office.

And, of course, there was the inept Joe Heitzler (whose call to race the weekend after Sept. 11, 2001 remains the worst decision in modern motorsports history and effectively ended whatever remaining goodwill CART had with the public), the puzzling/surprising failure of Chris Pook, out-of-his-depth Steve Johnson, and the Hulman-George family's internal conflict -- see ya, Tony; hello, Randy.

As for Bernard, I have no particular axe to grind with him. For those sufficiently interested, I refer you to last October's "Untenable" blog (which recently took second place in the annual AARWBA journalism contest.) http://spindoctor500blog.blogspot.com/2011/10/untenable.html
I stand by what I wrote. Since then, I think it's very fair to say Bernard didn't do his due diligence before accepting Lotus as an engine supplier, didn't deliver the promised price on the new Dallara and parts, and has hired/promoted and thus is responsible for one of the five worst PR departments in all of professional sports (proven again during May. That situation is dire and requires immediate change.) I would also remind you that most of what you have been reading about this issue elsewhere has come from the Indianapolis media cheerleading community. One thing Bernard has done very well, and given my PR background I'll give him a lot of credit for it, is to co-opt the series' longtime media critics. Just understand that is the filter through which these stories are being presented to you -- and who the primary (if unnamed) source is.

Finally, there's another thing that hasn't changed. I duly note the chatroomers are offering petitions in support of Bernard and threatening boycotts against the series and the sponsors of team owners who want him gone. The lessons of history are clear: Such boycotts were routinely touted on message boards as one CART/Champ Car sponsor after another left the series ("I'll never buy that car, tire, oil again," etc., etc., etc.) It doesn't work for the simple reason there are not enough actual CUSTOMERS there to matter. I don't question the honest passion of some of these people, but as for this sort of thing making any real difference, sorry, NO. For example: Last I checked FedEx seems to be doing just fine, and enjoying a successful NASCAR sponsorship, despite all those boycott posts of the past. Apologies for lack of Business of Racing knowledge remain in order.

So, Randy Bernard's on IndyCar's political hot seat? History teaches us no one should be one bit surprised.

And so it goes . . .

FAST LINES: I agree with Jim Utter -- Danica Patrick should drop the talk about trying the Danica Double until she shows much better situational awareness than she did in the Coca-Cola 600 . . . Good job Courtney Force, who visited ESPN's "campus" in Bristol, Conn., before last weekend's NHRA Nationals in Englishtown, N.J. Courtney survived the "car wash" of interviews on ESPN's multiple media platforms. NHRA needs all of this sort of effort it can get . . . "We are no longer a newspaper company," Chicago Sun-Times Media Holdings Editor-in-Chief Jim Kirk wrote to his staff last week, in announcing a newsroom reorganization shifting emphasis to digital news distribution . . . "Green" is the politically-correct rage these days within NASCAR and ISC, proven again with last week's announcement that Grand-Am (owned by NASCAR's holding company) will add a third class, called GX. It will "feature cars and technologies not currently involved in the Rolex Series. Rules are being developed to allow for the exploration of a wide variety of alternative technologies and alternative fuels. This could include turbocharged engines; fuels other than gasoline, such as clean diesels; and hybrid powertrains." Just what sports car racing absolutely does not need -- ANOTHER class . . . Meanwhile, in sports car racing's never-ending -- I'm sick of it -- ALMS vs. Grand-Am one-upmanship, ALMS said it will race at Circuit of the Americas in 2013. A curse on both their houses -- and I say that as someone who became a sports car fan (Cobra, later Ford GT and Chaparral) back in 1963.

[ more next Monday . . . ]