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Sunday, June 16, 2013

THINKING ABOUT . . .

Thinking about this and that . . . and USAC champion Jason Leffler. 


Here's an early nominee for Auto Racing Story of the Year: What's going on at Penske Racing .

To be the most polite and generous as possible, there seems to be a serious lack of attention to detail and quality control.

First, the Fords of Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano were found by NASCAR to have illegal rear-end housing modifications at Texas. That produced big fines and penalties, although crew chief suspensions were reduced on appeal. Then Brad K got docked again because his car was out-of-spec after Dover.

Helio Castroneves' IndyCar Texas win was clouded by a fine and points loss due to an underwing violation. And the Keselowski-owned Camping World Truck series entry driven by Ryan Blaney got nailed because it didn't meet minimum height at Texas.

What the . . . ???

My institutional memory goes back to when the team operated out of Newtown Square, Pa., and then Reading. I remember dry ice in fuel tanks and acid-dipping bodywork in the Trans-Am in the days before live TV and more-intense media and social media scrutiny.

But for a team and owner which/who prides itself/himself on image, this turn of events is incredible.

The team's invisible "media relations" people just might find out what some of us have known for years: Good relationships with journalists is always important. It's especially important when trouble hits and you -- and your sponsors -- could use the benefit of the doubt.

Throw in Keselowski's blunt comments, one of which before Daytona resulted in him being called into a private meeting with NASCAR's hierarchy, and the 2013 season is rapidly becoming a case study of how not to act as champions.


NHRA's return to New England comes this weekend at Epping, N.H., and, candidly, the sanction could use a jump-start. To me, at least, it's been a somewhat lackluster Mello Yello season on and off the track. (Still waiting for all that Big Activation Coca-Cola's responsible executive promised on a media conference call last year.) Things got off to an exciting start with Courtney Force's win at Pomona, but since then, I've noted Jeg Coughlin Jr.'s and Bob Vandergriff Jr.'s welcome return to the winner's circle, but not much else, other than Robert Hight's flying bodywork at Charlotte. A Funny Car win by Rhode Island's Bob Tasca III no doubt would be memorable for the NE fans.


Remember that Beaux Barfield was a Randy Bernard hire and now IndyCar is run by Mark Miles with Derrick Walker in charge of all-things competition. Making the Gasoline Alley rounds at IMS a few weeks ago, I got an earful about Barfield from one influential credential holder. Yes, it was just one person, but someone who is accomplished and knows the political lay of the IndyCar land. Stay tuned.


Many Business of Racing eyes are on Pocono International Raceway CEO Brandon Igdalsky these days. He's trying to sell tickets to two NASCAR Cup races and the return of IndyCar, all three events coming in an eight-week period. That's going to take a lot of promoting and a lot of selling.


Here's two suggestions for the NASCAR Hall of Fame voters the next time they gather: 1) Some of you need to learn appropriate business attire is called for on such an occasion; 2) Recognize the reality -- and importance -- of the Business of Racing and elect the late T. Wayne Robertson. NASCAR's Cup series got to the level it did, in good measure, because of T. Wayne's leadership of the RJR sports marketing team.


United SportsCar Racing, which is what the merged Grand-Am and ALMS will be called next year, continues to stress that a key part of its operation will be maxing synergy opportunities with NASCAR. Since sports car racing gets even less national media attention than drag racing, here's what looks to me to be a quick and easy way to ease the way for more coverage: Make NASCAR's media hard card credential valid in USCR, or automatically issue a USCR media hard card to everyone who has one from NASCAR.


Mark Miles admitted in the Indianapolis Star that there are not as many good options for new IndyCar venues as he would have hoped. From a common sense and business standpoint, to me, that means he best find a way to cut a creative financial deal with Phoenix International Raceway. When I talked with Miles before the Indy 500, he admitted an oval before Indy "could be interesting." Yes, of course, but of even greater importance is getting back into a big and demo-diverse market. Especially with what he admits are limited options elsewhere. Whether or not this gets done will be a key test of Miles' biz philosophy and leadership.


[ more next Monday . . . ]