• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

CHANGE CAN BE GOOD -- BUT NOT ALWAYS

Gordon Kirby's "The Way It Is" column (found at GordonKirby.com) is a must Monday read for me. I've known GK for about 35 years, mainly through his extensive coverage of the Indy Car scene for numerous publications. He's done books with the likes of Emerson Fittipaldi and Rick Mears and his new offering, with legendary team manager/chief mechanic Jim McGee, is scheduled to be launched this May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Last Monday, Gordon picked up on England's respected Motor Sport cover story calling for a revolution in Formula One. Rules, finances, business practices, structure, almost everything was put on the table in a call to return F1 to a more reasonable (from a budget standpoint) and exciting (meaning as an entertainment spectacle) endeavor. Not all of the suggestions are reasonable or even remotely doable, but it did serve to spark a healthy discussion.

One point was "Banning team PR people from circuits to encourage freedom of speech and allow personalities to flourish." Of course, I have an automatic bias against this, given my career background. No matter who is or isn't around him, I doubt famous NASCAR driver Kimi Raikkonen's personality is going to flourish. (!) 

I can assure you that, even if those labeled as "PR" were banned, someone else with another title would take charge of watching over the drivers and the press. (At Indy in the early 1990s, one of the Newman/Haas Racing mechanics said my title should be "communications engineer.") And that could be much worse. One of the biggest mistakes to have come into motorsports in recent years has been driver business managers being allowed to make media relations decisions. None that I have met, or know of, is qualified to make those calls. They don't understand the difference between what a wire service writer needs vs. a daily newspaper reporter vs. electronic media vs. magazine journalist vs. the whole confusing and ever-changing semi-mess that is social media.

Everyone, from team sponsor managers to sanctioning bodies to high-profile media, should resist this at every turn. 

One thing everyone involved in F1, including fans, would like to know is: What is the plan for the succession of power when Bernie Ecclestone is no longer running the show? When that time comes, it will be a huge issue throughout the worldwide motorsports industry. Several years ago a business contact of mine had access to some F1 business documents and I was anxious to see if anything could be learned about what the post-Bernie era would look like. However, there was nothing about that in those papers. I've also asked a few drivers well-connected to Ecclestone if they know what will happen, but again, no answer.

World events may be catching up to Ecclestone's cash grab. Civic unrest forced Bahrain to be put off for a year. How will Russia's military move on Ukraine impact the proposed Grand Prix in the former Soviet Union? F1 heads off to Malaysia this weekend under the cloud of the government's obtuse/incompetent handling of the missing jetliner mystery. There have been some clashes in Brazil related to government spending for the next Summer Olympics. 

Events of recent months, such as Izod's departure and Verizon's arrival as the IndyCar series sponsor; the messy Panther-Rahal-National Guard lawsuit; the coming together of America's two sports car groups into one, essentially NASCAR-controlled, organization; John Force losing both Castrol and Ford; the management reorganization of the Hulman family racing enterprises; NASCAR's new TV contracts and showbiz-related rules changes; the reshaping of Daytona International Speedway and plans to fix-up the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; the changing media coverage landscape (not always for the better); and many other stories have served to prove what I've been saying for years:

You can't be a good or knowledgable fan without knowing something about the Business of Racing. 

That's my interest given my own background, over a quarter-century on the biz side of the sport in just about every series and at a high level, plus my years in journalism. So that's what this blog has been about since 2006. That's what my CompetitionPlus.com column is for drag racing. That's what a lot of my Twitter activity ( @SpinDoctor500 ) is about. That's what I talk about mostly during radio interviews.

If that's useful to the industry, and to make fans more in-the-know about why behind-closed-garage-doors decisions are made, then it's a worthwhile pursuit.


I'm on the 120-person voting panel for the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, located adjacent to Talladega Superspeedway. None of this year's nominees received the required number of votes for enshrinement. A new process will be developed for 2015. 

[ more next Monday . . . ]