• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Monday, December 14, 2015

2015

The more I think about 2015, the more I think it was mainly a year setting up the big -- in some cases, monumental -- issues and stories of 2016.

When Jeff Gordon announced last January that this past Sprint Cup season would be his last, I thought that would be the No. 1 motorsports story of the year. It turned out to be No. 2.

From a viewpoint accounting for the business and politics of racing, as well as competition, the most important development of 2015 was the fundamental change of philosophy in NASCAR. I think it was significantly under-reported, perhaps because one had to put together all the pieces to grasp what was happening. 

Think about it: When drivers refused to race Talladega in 1969 due to safety concerns, Big Bill France rounded-up replacements and non-Cup spec cars and put on the show. Do you remember, in the aftermath of Dale Earnhardt's death, Jimmy Spencer's and Todd Bodine's call for a driver safety committee was completely ignored by everyone except the media trying to "keep the story going" as they say. Now, there is a formal driver council, which meets with NASCAR's top brass. And it was the drivers who had huge input into the 2016 "low downforce" rules. (Of course, if that package doesn't improve the quality of racing -- defined by CEO Brian France as more side-by-side action and "Wow" moment finishes -- the finger of blame will be pointed at the drivers.) 

Remember when NASCAR's response to the creation of the Race Team Alliance was that the owners' group would have to communicate with the sanctioning body via lawyers? While NASCAR hasn't publicly wrapped its arms around the RTA,  serious discussions have and are taking place to create some sort of franchise system to add much-needed value to the teams. 

The sanction abandoned its long practice of granting racetracks one-year deals and so the regular hosts now have five-year contracts, a bid to provide stability and date equity.

Kyle Busch's leg and foot injuries in Daytona's Saturday Xfinity race brought a quick response from NASCAR and its tracks in adding SAFER barriers and temporary tire walls. We need to see this re-energized safety initiative continue in the New Year. And I hope there's money to keep researching and developing more and better safety systems. 

Some PR spinner advised Brian France a few years ago to refer to competitors and other constituency groups within the series as "stakeholders," an attempt to make the business sound more sophisticated and inclusive. Well, in 2015, is was actually happening for REAL. I talked about this with Mike Helton, whose title was changed to vice chairman before last season (look for COO Brent Dewar to get the president title), and in essence we both said the times demand this more welcoming approach. 

This NASCAR isn't your father's or grandfather's NASCAR. The change of course ordered by the Daytona Beach Powers-That-Be was profound. I say again, it was under-reported, but it was huge and will play out even more in 2016.

Despite all the hype about the redesigned car that made its debut season-before-last, you know, the one that looks more like the street versions, I find it incredibly disappointing that with all the time and manufacturer mutual cooperation that went into it, that this car hasn't produced far-better competition from an entertainment standpoint. Thus we had the spectacle of multiple mid-season aero changes. I wrote and said many months ago that given Brian France's mandate for a better show, watch for people changes, and we saw that with competition VP Robin Pemberton's exit. If Brian isn't happier with the product in 2016, you can bet more staffers will be invited to depart from their NASCAR employment.

One big improvement I'm hoping for in the New Year is actually not something new, but rather a return to something old. The guy who convinced Brian France to steer away from the basics of good and professional one-on-one relationships with the media, and created the Integrated Marketing Communications model, left for a non-motorsports job. Congratulations. Now let's get back to actually TALKING to media and providing the essentials such as a print version of the media guide.

Gordon's decision to stop after a transformational and consequential career (I'd like to meet whoever doesn't vote for him as a first ballot Hall of Famer) sets up a couple more fascinating 2016 stories. Much heralded Chase Elliott will take over the now iconic No. 24 and will be under an intense garage area, media and fan microscope. Will he win a race and make the Chase? Meanwhile, up in the Fox TV booth, Gordon will team with Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip. How DW adapts, and if Joy is successful in directing traffic to ensure Gordon gets plenty of airtime to have his say, is something I'm anxious to see and hear.

Speaking of Elliott, the other youngster to follow in '16 is Erik Jones, widely touted to be NASCAR's Next Big Thing. Champion team owner Joe Gibbs keeps saying he has a plan to get Jones into the Cup series, and you gotta believe Toyota isn't going to let Jones get away the way Ford did with Jeff Gordon.

NASCAR keeps saying it's committed to a great "fan experience" and that puts the spotlight right on Daytona International Speedway and it's $400 million "re-imagining" that makes it more stadium than racetrack. Will the risk this investment represents pay off?

The economists and financial analysts I listen to keep saying the U.S. economy is overdo for another recession amidst the continued sluggish recovery from the crash of 2008. If that happens, watch out, and not just at Daytona. Sprint will be in its final season as the Cup series sponsor and word is NASCAR wants a 10-year, $1 billion commitment from a new partner. The timing simply might not be right for that. I wonder if Brian France and Co. would be willing to go sponsor-less for a year or two until the "right" deal comes along?

One thing is certain, and that's the end of the great Beer Wars and bragging rights among the oil companies. In the early 1980s, when I was CART's communications director, we had car sponsorship by six different brewers. In the last few weeks came news of the planned merger that would put Budweiser and Miller under the same corporate umbrella. It had already been decided to take the flagship Bud name off Kevin Harvick's Chevy for the second-tier and less prestigious Busch brand. 

And while race promoters and fans continue to cheer much cheaper gasoline, the collapse in oil prices might well eventually impact racing sponsorships. There is cost-cutting aplenty in the oil industry. If you are a Roger Penske, whose two major sponsors are a beer and an oil, well . . . 
Xfinity, Truck, NHRA, sports car and IndyCar teams already are thinly sponsored. The national and world economies are a source of great anxiety within the racing industry heading into 2016.

Elsewhere, NHRA will have a new TV package with Fox Sports and a transition to mostly live final-round telecasts. Let's see if shorter turnaround times for the crews will result in mechanical failures or setup mistakes and, thus, worse racing entertainment. It's a negative that Mike Dunn, racing's best TV analyst, will no longer fill that role. And we offer a respectful salute to Gary Gerould, a great pro and nice man, who has retired from pit road reporting.

Peter Clifford will get his chance at a first full-season as NHRA president following Tom Compton's unexplained departure. On paper, Clifford has made what look like positive moves in recent months, but the true test will be how it all plays out on-and-off the track.

The only real good thing I can see in the still struggling United SportsCar series is the Ford GT factory effort. This should generate a good bit of additional news coverage for the road racing tour. To what effect?

Finally, the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 should be the year's most important event and story. The venerable Speedway is undergoing a remodeling, although not at all near the scale of Daytona. If this doesn't result in a return to sold-out status, and if there isn't a significant increase in national news coverage, we'll have even more cause to worry about the longer-term future of the race and the IndyCar series.


Finally, and as always, I thank all of you, the loyal readers, for using some of your valuable time to consume the information presented in this spec of cyberspace. 

[ please come back for a very special blog Friday, January 22, 2016 . . . ]

Sunday, December 06, 2015

JEFF GORDON 2015's 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' PERSON

Jeff Gordon ends 2015 not only as a retired four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, but also as the year's Most Influential Person in the Business and Politics of Motorsports. This year's top 10 Power Players list reflects the number of times a person made the weekly most influential rankings.

POWER PLAYERS for the 2015: This year's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, based on their total placings in the weekly lists, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

  1.  Jeff Gordon -- No surprise. Gordon's season-long last-time-around-the-NASCAR-tracks lap drew massive media coverage, including 24 hours of network TV time, according to sports marketing and research firm Repucom. Gordon -- who made NASCAR's Final 4 -- departs for the Fox TV booth as one of the most consequential people in motorsports history, a true transformational figure. Gordon made the weekly top 10 list 18 times, including four weeks at No. 1. 


  2. Mark Miles -- The policies put into place by the Hulman and Co. CEO, especially in the Verizon IndyCar series and at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, often were controversial. Most noteably the condensed IndyCar season schedule and long off-season, which many owners complained did not fit their business model. Other issues he faced included the breath-taking 500 miler at California's Auto Club Speedway, which likely helped boost TV ratings for the balance of the season, only to have the track fall off the schedule. As did the one-off New Orleans event and the traditional Milwaukee Mile. Cars flipping caused a Pole Day morning rules change and Honda requested rules relief after an uncompetitive season. Did the aero kits do anything to make the series more popular? Justin Wilson was killed. Miles, who added a Boston street event for 2016, was on the weekly list 15 times, once at the top. 

  3. Donny Schatz -- He's the biggest name in American short-track racing, with over 30 World of Outlaws A-Main wins in another championship season. To the extent the national media and general public pays attention to traditional American dirt track racing, Schatz is The Man. He was ranked on the weekly list 14 times, three as No. 1.

 4. Joe Gibbs -- The coach shuffled crew chiefs, added Carl Edwards as a fourth entry, had to keep the No. 18 going with sub drivers after Kyle Busch's Xfinity series injury at Daytona, then saw his Toyota Camry's gain surprising speed around mid-season. Busch returned to win his first Cup championship and Gibbs' efforts got Toyota its first Cup drivers title. Gibbs made the weekly list 13 times, twice at the top. 

  5. Kyle Busch -- He was not only the comeback athlete of the year, Busch's amazing return from leg and foot injuries to win the Sprint Cup made him the athlete of the year, at least to many. And he dominated most Xfinity series races he entered and was the Truck series championship team owner. Busch's Daytona injuries sparked a sweeping safety review at all tracks with additional SAFER barriers added. Twelve times he was on the weekly list, four at No. 1.

 6. Kevin Harvick -- The defending Cup titlist wore that crown well, cooperating with more media appearances, and overall accepted the added responsibility of champion. He was arguably the fastest most of the season and came up one spot short of a second title. Harvick made the weekly list 11 times, three atop that list. 

  7. Brian France -- In perhaps the most under-reported story of the year, the NASCAR CEO made the traditionally heavy-handed sanction more accepting of suggestions and concerns of others. NASCAR embraced a drivers council and the Race Team Alliance owners group. In the past, both would have been ignored. The drivers were allowed significant input into the 2016 car rules package. Promoters who had always worked on one-year contracts with NASCAR got the opportunity to sign for five years. No, this isn't your father's NASCAR. France was a top-10ers nine times, three at No. 1.

  8. Roger Penske -- He won the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 and the Xfinity series owners' championship, but the Cup and IndyCar titles got away. Again. Penske was ranked eight times during the season, three at No. 1. 


  9. Antron Brown -- He won another NHRA Mello Yello series Top Fuel championship. His is a great personal and professional story, which the drag racing Powers-That-Be still haven't been able to sell to the mainstream media. But Brown is a hero to many children who attend national events with their parents and that's a good thing. He was on the weekly list eight times.

10. Joey Logano, Lewis Hamilton, Bernie Ecclestone and Dave Moody -- Each appeared on the weekly list seven times, with Logano and Hamilton with one No. 1 each. Logano was NASCAR's biggest race winner, got the Daytona 500, and became the target of boos for crashing Matt Kenseth out of a win at Kansas. Hamilton easily won another world championship. Ecclestone retained his tight grip on the commercial rights in Formula One and was outspoken as ever in his never-ending search for more money. Moody became solo anchor of SiriusXM's NASCAR channel 90 prestigious drive-time show and wasn't afraid to disagree with callers.

[ annual Year in Review blog next week . . . ]

  

Sunday, November 29, 2015

BUSCH, GIBBS LEAD NEW 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' RANKINGS

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  November 29: This week's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

  1.  Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs -- Sprint Cup champion driver and team owner take the head table and media spotlight at NASCAR's awards activities in Las Vegas.

  3. Brian France -- NASCAR CEO needs to improve on his public presentation after flubbing it on the post-race stage at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

 4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- Is anyone betting against his winning a 13th consecutive Most Popular Driver award?

  5David Wilson -- Yes, Chevrolet won the Cup series manufacturers title, but Toyota Racing Development president will help lead the cheers for Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs as the automaker salutes its first-ever Cup champions. 

   6. Tracy Hines -- Closes out his full-time USAC career with a sixth place in the Turkey Night Grand Prix, good for the USAC national midget championship.

 7. Fernando Alonso -- Will he drive next season if the McLaren-Honda package is again way-off-the-pace?  McLaren boss Ron Dennis seems to have opened the door to that possibility.


  8. Steve Phelps -- Las Vegas provides a great selling stage for NASCAR's chief marketing officer.

  9. Richard Petty -- Has a seat open with his No. 9 Cup series Ford. Who will get it?

 10. John Force -- Signs a multi-year full-season sponsorship with Peak after piecing together a variety of IDs during the 2015 NHRA Funny Car campaign.

more next week . . . ]

  

Sunday, November 22, 2015

BUSCH, GIBBS, STEVENS 1-2-3 ON 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  November 22: This week's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

  1.  Kyle Busch -- It would be difficult to write a Hollywood script more compelling than his injury-to-championship season. One of the best sports comeback stories of all time. Oh, his team also won the Truck series title.

  2. Joe Gibbs -- Adds to his own sports legacy with the Kyle Busch Cup championship. The first for Toyota.

  3. Adam Stevens -- First year as a Cup series crew chief ends with a championship. He had to figure it out for the first 11 races without his driver.

  4Jeff Gordon -- His influence transformed NASCAR as a sport and as an industry. Now, on to the Fox TV booth. 

  5. Brian France -- It sure seemed the NASCAR CEO flubbed his Cup presentation remarks. Now, on to BIG decisions, like a franchise system to give team owners value for their investment.

  6. Chris Buescher -- Being happy with non-top 10 finishes isn't very satisfying for the fans, but two wins and consistency results in an Xfinity series championship. One bit of good news in a terrible year for Roush Fenway Racing. 

 7. Erik Jones -- NASCAR's Next Big Thing takes the Camping World Truck Series championship for Kyle Busch's team.  

  8. Joie Chitwood III -- Daytona International Speedway president says the $400 million "rising" project will be finished by mid-January and under the $400 million budget.

  9. Bryan Clauson -- Holds off USAC sprint car titlist Robert Ballou's last-corner passing attempt to win season-ending Western World Championship.

  10. Juan Pablo Montoya -- Indy 500 winner sets fastest lap during World Endurance Championship rookie testing in Bahrain in the Porsche 919 Hybrid. What he'll be doing after the 2016 IndyCar season?

more next week . . . ]

  

Monday, November 16, 2015

CHASE DRIVERS AND CREW CHIEFS ARE 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' THIS WEEK

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  November 15: This week's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

  1. Jeff Gordon -- He can make the  Hollywood script a reality, going out on top.

  2. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. -- The defending Cup champion, the year's Comeback Athlete, and the guy from a single-car team will try to keep Gordon from a farewell championship.

  5. Alan Gustafson, Rodney Childers, Dave Rogers, Cole Pearn  -- The Gordon, Harvick, Busch and Truex crew chiefs. The right or wrong call from the pit box could win or lose a championship.

  9. Jay Frye -- He gets racing's hottest of hot seats, as new IndyCar president of competition.

 10. Del Worsham -- Adds an NHRA Funny Car title to his one from Top Fuel.

more next week . . . ]

  

Sunday, November 15, 2015

DAVE FERRONI WINS 2015 JIM CHAPMAN AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN MOTORSPORTS PR

David Ferroni, who has been involved in motorsports for 30 years and currently is media representative for Furniture Row Racing and driver Martin Truex Jr. in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, today was announced as winner of the 2015 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations.
 
The Chapman Award is considered by many in the industry as the highest honor in racing public relations. It is named in memory of Chapman, the legendary PR executive and innovator, who worked with Babe Ruth and was named Indy Car racing’s “most influential man” of the 1980s. Chapman died in 1996 at age 80.
 
The announcement and presentation were made at Phoenix International Raceway by Michael Knight, chairman of the selection committee, and one of Chapman’s closest friends. The award is determined by a vote of national media members, most of who knew Chapman, and is authorized by the Chapman family. PR representatives from all forms of motorsports are eligible for consideration.
 
“Dave is an ‘old-school’ publicist in the very best sense of that term,” said Knight, the longtime journalist/publicist and award rights-holder. “His open approach to working with the media is in the best tradition as set by Jim Chapman and so this award is very appropriate.
 
“Jim set the ultimate standard of professionalism, class and dignity. He knew that building good one-on-one professional relationships with journalists was important in good times and absolutely essential in bad times. That’s too often missing today in a communications age where an E-mail or text message or over-reliance on social media is incorrectly considered ‘relationship-building.’ Jim was a true ‘people person’ and knew nothing could replace a handshake, a face-to-face conversation, or the sound of another person’s voice.”
 
Ferroni started his career as publicist for Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway before traveling the NASCAR and NHRA national circuits. His blue-chip corporate clients have included Miller Brewing Co., McDonald’s, Valvoline, Interstate Batteries, Pennzoil, the U.S. Army and Furniture Row.
 
Ferroni was PR director for the famed “Miracle On Ice” 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic hockey team, which won the gold medal in Lake Placid, N.Y. He also worked in professional soccer and the U.S. Women’s Indoor Tennis Championship in Bloomington, Minn.
 
Established in 1991 by media and publicists within the CART series, the Chapman Award originally focused on achievement in CART. After a hiatus of several years, the award was resumed in 2004, with eligibility expanded to anyone working in racing PR.
 
Chapman started as sports editor or managing editor of several Southern newspapers before joining the New York Times. He entered the PR business in 1946, as regional PR director for Ford Motor Co. in Detroit.
 
Soon thereafter, Chapman hired Ruth as consultant to the automaker’s sponsorship of American Legion Junior Baseball. They traveled together for more than two years for personal appearances and became close friends. Chapman was one of only three friends at Ruth’s bedside when he died in August 1948 and then officially announced Ruth’s death to the press corps that had maintained an around-the-clock vigil at New York’s Memorial Hospital.
 
Chapman kept with him a money clip with a pockmarked silver dollar that Ruth used to carry during games for good luck. Chapman said Ruth had used the coin for target practice. He proudly showcased several photos of Ruth in his office.  One was inscribed: "To a pal that is a pal." Chapman also displayed a framed letter, written on Ruth's personal stationery from Memorial Hospital, dated July 13, 1948, inviting him to the July 26 premier of the film, The Babe Ruth Story. That letter read, in part, "That evening would not be complete without your being my guest.  To you, Jimmy, I say you must be with me that evening."
 
In 1950, Chapman left Ford to start his own PR firm. One of his first clients was Avis founder Warren Avis. Chapman devoted much of his time to financial PR, which he once called his “favorite form of PR,” and helped companies get recognition among analysts and even gain admission to the New York and American stock exchanges.
 
Chapman’s first venture into motorsports was in 1951, when he joined with NASCAR founder Bill France to promote the Motor City 250. The race was part of Detroit’s 250th birthday celebration, a Chapman client. In 1967, Chapman entered Indy Car racing with client Ozzie Olson’s Olsonite sponsorship of Dan Gurney’s team, which later featured Bobby Unser as driver.
 
“Jim was one of the most innovative and imaginative PR men ever to grace a pit lane,” said Gurney. “Jim practically invented most of what is now considered routine sponsor PR work. He was the first, as far as I know, who thought of putting up a sponsor hospitality tent alongside a racetrack (at the old Riverside International Raceway), filling it with extravagant race car ice-sculptures, beautiful food and beautiful people from the business, sports and movie industries. He started an ‘open house’ tradition in Ozzie’s hotel suite in Indianapolis, where journalists could rub shoulders with John Wayne or (astronaut) Scott Carpenter.”
 
Chapman also directed Olsonite’s sponsorship of the Driver of the Year award. He orchestrated all the details, including the media panel voting, and an annual luncheon at New York City’s famed ‘21’ Club. That gathering was considered so prestigious it was routinely attended by leaders of all the major U.S. sanctioning organizations regardless of what series the Driver of the Year competed in.
 
Chapman’s greatest professional acclaim came from 1981-1992, as director of CART series sponsor PPG Industries’ program. Chapman was instrumental in raising PPG’s prize fund from $250,000 to more than $3.75 million at the time of his retirement in February 1993. The all-female PPG Pace Car Driving Team was another Chapman innovation, as were the PPG Editors’ Days, when he brought business and feature writers to the tracks for lunch, pace car rides, and driver interviews.
 
In 1982, Chapman negotiated a landmark sponsorship for PPG with then- Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Joe Cloutier, which formally made the Indy 500 a points-paying event in the PPG Indy Car World Series, an arrangement that continued through the 1995 season. “That was one of the most satisfying moments of my career,” Chapman recalled. “Roger Penske, among others, told me it was the best thing that had ever happened to CART.” In addition to a major contribution to the prize fund, PPG later became sponsor of the $100,000 Indy 500 pole award, and paid a special winner’s bonus in the early years of NASCAR’s Brickyard 400.
“With Jim, when he says ‘jump,’ we just ask ‘how high?,” Indy 500 winner and PPG Cup champion Al Unser Jr. said on behalf of his fellow drivers. “And we do it right then.”
 
Indy Car Racing magazine named Chapman the sport’s “most influential” man of the 1980s, saying he turned “a public relations assignment into an art form.” After his retirement, Chapman continued to consult PPG, and agreed to Mario Andretti’s personal request that he serve as honorary chairman of Andretti’s “Arrivederci, Mario” farewell tour in 1994.
 
Chapman's professional achievements earned him vast recognition.  The mayors of Detroit and Long Beach, Calif., presented him proclamations and the key to each city.  In 1993, Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh named him Sagamore of the Wabash, the state's highest honor. He served as president and/or director of more than 30 Michigan and Detroit-area civic and charitable organizations.  Chapman became active in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and represented the Detroit Urban League and United Negro College Fund in several controversial situations.  He admitted to shedding "buckets of tears of joy" when Willy T. Ribbs became the first African-American driver to qualify for the Indy 500 in 1991.
 
“The true honor of this award is not the plaque,” Knight concluded. “The true honor is having your name forever associated with that of the great James P. Chapman.”
 
JIM CHAPMAN AWARD HONOREES:
1991 – Michael Knight
1992 – Tom Blattler
1993-94 – Deke Houlgate and Hank Ives
1995 – Kathi Lauterbach
1996 – Marc Spiegel
1997 – Mike Zizzo
1998 – Tamy Valkosky
1999 -- Carol Wilkins
2000-2003 – (Award not presented)
2004 – Doug Stokes
2005 – Susan Arnold
2006 – Kevin Kennedy
2007 – Dave Densmore and Bob Carlson
2008 – Judy Stropus
2009 –  (Award not presented)
2010 -- Jim Hunter
2011 -- Bill York
2012 -- Judy Kouba Dominick and Nancy Wager
2013 -- Anne Fornoro
2014 -- Jon Edwards and Elon Werner
2015 -- Linda Vaughn (honorary)
2015 -- David Ferroni


Sunday, November 08, 2015

CHASERS LEAD NEW 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  November 8: This week's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

(Sunday, Nov. 15, the winner of the 2015 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports PR will be announced here.)

  1. Kevin Harvick -- If the defending Sprint Cup champion could pick any track where he needs a win or great finish, it would be Phoenix. He's won the last four Cup races in the Valley of the Sun.

  2. Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano -- Brad K might make NASCAR's Final 4 with a good Phoenix finish, but it's an absolute "must win" situation for the Daytona 500 winner.

  4Roger Penske -- Has clinched a third consecutive Xfinity series owners' championship  with the No. 22, but Keselowski and Logano are in trouble regarding a second Cup title for America's most successful team owner.

  5. Jeff Gordon -- His No. 24 team won't learn anything at Phoenix to help them at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but he can enjoy having the track officially named in his honor for the day.

  6. Erik Jones -- NASCAR's next-big-thing gets the call as Matt Kenseth's sub in the No. 20 Toyota, finishing 12th at Texas Motor Speedway. And won the Truck series race. 

  7. Chris Buescher -- A couple of top 10 finishes should be enough to win him the Xfinity series championship.

  8. Scott Pruett -- America's most successful endurance sports car racer won't return to the Ganassi IMSA team. He'll lead a new Lexus program and go for a record Rolex 24 win with an as-yet unannounced team.
  
  9. Ricky Craven -- SportsCenter's man on NASCAR tells it like it is on the Matt Kenseth suspension and influences what ESPN's audience thinks about Cup racing.

 10. Bryan Sperber -- The Phoenix International Raceway president announces another grandstand sellout for the next-to-last Cup event of the year. On Sunday, PIR will officially be Jeff Gordon Raceway. 

more next week . . . ]

  

Sunday, November 01, 2015

HELTON, KENSETH, GORDON 1-2-3 ON THE NEW 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  November 1: This week's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

  1. Mike Helton -- How far over the line did Matt Kenseth go? The decision by NASCAR's vice chairman and senior racing official will set a precedent within the context of the current Chase for the Sprint Cup format. 

  2. Matt Kenseth -- He might have cost Joey Logano the Cup championship. And, himself, the rest of the season.

  3. Jeff Gordon -- The Drive for 5 is alive. Gordon will start his last Cup race with a shot at his fifth championship. 

 4Eddie Gossage -- How far will the Texas Motor Speedway president go in using the Logano-Kenseth wreck to sell tickets?

  5. Antron Brown -- Clinches his second NHRA Mello Yello series Top Fuel championship.

  6. Erica Enders -- Her ninth Pro Stock victory of the season locks-up her second consecutive championship in NHRA's most-troubled class. 

  7. Jay Frye and Bryan Sperber -- IndyCar's chief revenue officer and Phoenix International Raceway's president rely on a 20-year friendship to bring the series back to the Arizona oval for the first time in a decade. 

  9. Dave Moody -- Is there any doubt what NASCAR fans will be talking about all this week with SiriusXM channel 90's afternoon drive-time host?

  10. Bob Pockrass -- Three races to go in the Cup season and ESPN.com's hard-working NASCAR writer will help shape what the public thinks about it. 

more next week . . . ]

  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

NASCAR's HELTON THIS WEEK'S 'MOST INFLUENTIAL'

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  October 25: This week's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

  1. Mike Helton -- NASCAR's vice chairman remains the senior-most race official at the track. So he bears responsibility for the decisions made at Talladega's finish. 

  2. Joey Logano and Todd Gordon -- Three consecutive Cup wins and sweep of the second round of the Chase for driver and crew chief. If Logano doesn't win the championship, more than a few people will find it confusing.

  4. Lewis Hamilton -- Clinches third world championship with his third victory at Circuit of the Americas.

  5. Kevin Harvick -- Did he or didn't he?

  6. Mark Miles -- IndyCar will release its 2016 schedule Tuesday. Now the series boss has to make sure his Big Prize, the Boston street race, actually happens. 

  7. Jeff Gordon -- His last shot at the Drive for 5 is still alive. Is Martinsville his last best shot for a victory? 

  8. Erica Enders -- Now the winningest single-season female racer in NHRA history with a second straight Pro Stock title at hand..

  9. Ron Dennis -- McLaren Formula One boss apparently blocking Red Bull from a Honda engine supply.

  10. Dave Moody -- The phone lines will be lighting up for the SiriusXM NASCAR channel 90 afternoon drive-time host. 

more next week . . . ]

  

Sunday, October 18, 2015

YES, LOGANO THIS WEEK's 'MOST INFLUENTIAL'

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  October 18: This week's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

  1. Joey Logano -- It doesn't matter if you approve of his bump of Matt Kenseth for the Kansas Speedway win. He's the only driver guaranteed to advance to round three of the Chase -- and the new Sprint Cup championship favorite. 

  2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth -- Both essentially need to win Talladega to move on in the Chase.

  4. Bernie Ecclestone -- Brings his Formula One world championship circus to Circuit of the Americas after reported less-than-complimentary comments about the United States on Russian TV.

  5. Jeff Gordon -- Drive for Five still going in his farewell season, but it's Talladega . . . 

 6. Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel -- Are F1 drivers enough of household names to sell tickets in America? If so, these are the two. One could essentially wrap-up the world title at COTA. The other could ignite the passions of Texans and Ferrari fans worldwide. 

  8. Antron Brown -- He lost in the semifinals last weekend but still has NHRA Mello Yello Top Fuel championship all but locked-up.

  9.  Mario Andretti -- One of America's greats and 1978 world champ in the spotlight again as Circuit of the Americas ambassador.

 10. Claire B. Lang -- There will be plenty of exciting sound-bites coming out of Talladega and she'll have 'em all on SiriusXM Channel 90.

more next week . . . ]

Sunday, October 11, 2015

HAMILTON, LOGANO, DEMPSEY LEAD NEW 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  October 11: This week's 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports, as selected by long-time journalist/publicist and industry insider Michael Knight. 

  1. Lewis Hamilton -- Victory in Grand Prix of Russia not only all-but locks up another world championship, it puts him one ahead of Ayrton Senna with 42 career GP wins. Hamilton is now tied with Sebastian Vettel in that category. Next up: U.S. GP at Circuit of the Americas.

  2. Joey Logano -- Charlotte victory guarantees he'll move on to the third round of the Sprint Cup championship Chase.

 3. Patrick Dempsey -- Actor -- and serious racer -- achieves his first-ever FIA World Endurance Championship win in the rain at Japan's Fuji circuit. He co-drove with Patrick Long and Marco Seefried in a GTE-Am class Porsche 911 RSR in the six-hour event.

  4. Donny Schatz -- Season-win No. 31 for the already-clinched World of Outlaws champion. That ties Steve Kinser's mark for third-most in an Outlaws' season. Schatz should be Driver of the Year. 

 5. Kody Swanson -- Wins the farewell USAC Silver Crown race at the New York State Fairgrounds as the Syracuse Mile fades into history. Swanson has four victories and a second consecutive series title.

 6. Mark Miles -- We're still waiting for the 2016 IndyCar schedule from the CEO. Phoenix? Pocono? Milwaukee? Gateway? 

 7. Lee Spencer -- Reports on Motorsport.com that NASCAR may change its green-white-checker rule for Talladega. That's what the drivers, but likely not the fans, want.

  8. Tony Schumacher and Jack Beckman -- Halfway through NHRA's Countdown they are second in the Top Fuel and Funny Car classes, respectively, and need wins this weekend in Texas to close on Antron Brown and Del Worsham.

 10. Jeff Gordon -- Still in contention to finish his Hall of Fame career with a fifth NASCAR championship, he's among the tire testers this week at Phoenix International Raceway.

more next week . . . ]