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Sunday, May 19, 2013

CHRISTMAS IN MAY

Christmas comes in May for racing fans -- and the motorsports industry -- with Sunday's all-important Indianapolis 500, Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, and the Monaco Grand Prix.

Quite simply, it's the most important day of the racing year.

It takes on added importance this time around. Because, for the first time in my memory, three different major over-the-air broadcast networks will provide live flag-to-flag coverage of three different races. That's Indy on ABC, NASCAR on Fox, and for the first time, NBC will televise Monaco with on-air and production people actually on-site.

We'll all thrill to the competition. But, from a Business of Racing standpoint, I'll be watching attendance and TV audience.

So will sponsors. And potential sponsors.

Again this year, a good and successful Indy would be the most important among the three events. Last year's race was called one of the best ever, but didn't translate into big crowds or TV audience gains. Mark Miles will be watching his first I500 as The Man In Charge and I'm sure one of the things he'll be pondering is how to leverage his series' Big Day into attention, popularity and sales elsewhere. Quite simply, the Speedway and the Izod (for now) series needs this more than the others.

Monaco's presentation on NBC is key as Formula One continues to try to grow its own footprint in America. Later this year will be the second running at Circuit of the Americas and skeptics are watching for a noticeable dropoff from 2012's terrific debut. It's huge to the F1 industry that that doesn't happen. Not much news lately about the New Jersey GP but Bernie Ecclestone continues to seek that second big U.S. payday. A good tune-in to Monaco would help.

NASCAR banked all on its new Gen-6 car this season and, not surprisingly, it's a work in progress. Controversy has overshadowed the car in recent weeks and I bet Brian France & Co. would like a boffo Charlotte (and a Dale Earnhardt Jr. victory) to advance other storylines.

Whether you're sitting on the sofa or going to a short track or a Speedway, enjoy the sport's Christmas day.


History means everything at Indianapolis. As a follow-up to last week's blog, recalling the 20th anniversary of "Mansell Mania," here's a selection of media quotes about Nigel's epic 1993 season. It's important to remember what IndyCar was -- as a goal for the future -- and that a driver's ability to connect with the public and media can literally drive an entire sport:

"The Michael Jordan of auto racing." -- David Letterman

". . . the most daring race car driver in the world." -- Sports Illustrated

"On the track where he was expected to be vulnerable -- the wild one-mile ovals dubbed 'bullrings' for their head-spinning action and potential for the drivers to get gored -- he demonstrated genius as he had never before done." -- Sam Moses, Playboy magazine

"Nigel Mansell is the champion, and we as race fans are richer for it." -- Paul Page

"Last season became a season to remember for Mansell, not because of good fortune, but because of mountainous grit and talent." -- Mark Armijo, Arizona Republic

"Maybe 'Mansell Mania' starts with the Mansell mystique. Women appreciate his dashing looks, charming accent and suave style. Men like his wheels-to-the-wall aggressiveness, along with his habit of winning nearly everything you can shake a stick shift at." -- Indianapolis Monthly magazine

"Mansell, more impressive than even Jimmy Clark or Jackie Stewart at adapting to ovals . . ." -- Robin Miller

"To many, he embodies the soul of what racing is all about . . . Racing is tough, after all, and we are looking for heroes." -- Sam Posey

"His performance, said one veteran observer, raised Indy Car racing 'to a new level of brilliance.'" -- Time magazine

"You can't do anything but admire Nigel Mansell on the splendid season he had. He was the consummate racer on and off the track . . . Think of what the CART season would have been without him. Nigel Mansell is a true racer in my book . . . " -- Gary London, National Speed Sport News

"Mansell's audacious driving has stirred strong passions . . ." -- Robin Morgan, The Sunday Times of London magazine

". . . his performances on the ovals have emphasized his commitment, skill and bravery in the fastest of corners." -- Gordon Kirby, Racer magazine

"Mansell's championships in consecutive years would be remarkable if he had achieved them in the same series. The fact that he has done it in the two highest levels of single-seater racing in the world speaks volumes of his talent and commitment . . . In F1, Mansell faced few unknowns. His bold decision to race Indy Cars was tantamount to walking down a long and dark street." -- Tim Tuttle, On Track

"His skill and judgment on the ovals were awe-inspiring; his all-or-nothing qualifying laps on the road courses, equally majestic and entertaining." -- Jeremy Shaw, Road & Track

"Nigel Mansell has outdone Jimmy Clark, Graham Hill and the rest of his countrymen who have driven racing cars . . . (he) can lay claim to being the No. 1 race driver in the world." -- Indianapolis 500 Oldtimers Club newsletter

"Nigel Mansell has done us proud. His Indy Car championship win is one of the most remarkable stories in modern motorsport history and it is fitting that he should clinch the title with a dominant win on an oval circuit." -- Autosport editorial

"Astounding. Remarkable. Fantastic. They all describe Nigel's rookie Indy Car season which proved he is unquestionably one of the greatest ever. Perhaps the best." -- On Track editorial


It's the 20th anniversary of Mansell-at-Indy but it's also the 10th anniversary of Annika Sorenstam's play in a PGA golf tournament. I knew from the second Annika announced her entry that this would blow-out Indy's national media coverage that 2003 race week. Of course, the chatroom crowd tried to hit me from the first tee to the 18th green, but history's facts prove I aced this one. Even a senior IMS official at that time admitted to me the Annika issue wasn't on their radar until I wrote about it. I'm still proud of this column and here's the first four graphs of what I typed back then: 

Annika Sorenstam's decision to be a "driver" in the Bank of America Colonial, the tradition steeped PGA Tour event heretofore made famous by legendary Ben Hogan, is an unfortunate turn for another icon trying to reconnect with the public's sweet spot -- the Indianapolis 500.


The Colonial, like Indy, is scheduled for Memorial Day weekend. This impending tsunami of Sorenstam publicity might result in a TV ratings bogey for the already challenged "Greatest Spectacle In Racing."

You can write it down right now: The Sorenstam Saga -- the world's greatest female golfer will become the first woman to play in a PGA tournament since 1945 -- is guaranteed to exhaust the available media oxygen supply during those seven days. That will be much to the delight of the CBS and USA networks, whose cameras will televise Annika's every swing, and to the fret of ABC and ESPN on-site at Indy. Yet, I am certain, even World News Tonight and SportsCenter will lovingly devote more minutes to Sorenstam May 19-25 than they will to all 33 starters at Indy combined.

The Gal vs. The Guys is a classic media "crossover" story, meaning it will have a rightful place on the news, business, feature, even editorial pages, in addition to sports. In fact, that's already happened. Annika's announcement on Feb. 12 made all of that evening's network and cable news programs, was discussed on virtually every major national radio talk show (including Rush Limbaugh), and the next day, got top of Page 1 treatment in USA Today. She owns a piece of the cover, a column, and six sizzling pages in the new Sports Illustrated. Opinionists are calling it the most significant athletic competition -- from a societal standpoint -- since Billie Jean King aced aging Bobby Riggs before God, country and Howard Cosell in a 1973 prime-time Astrodome exhibition.

No doubt I'll be doing a little Tweeting this weekend, as warranted, per the guidelines I've explained here before. @SpinDoctor500

Please look for my long A.J. Foyt story in this Saturday's Arizona Republic. Foyt is back in the headlines with his team winning and leading the Izod series points -- both GREAT for IMS and IndyCar. You'll enjoy what he has to say about current and past drivers -- and an interesting suggestion he makes. It's A.J. at his classic best. If not in Arizona, you can find the story at AzCentral.com .

[ more next Monday . . . ]