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Sunday, January 18, 2015

SOMETHING NEW: POWER PLAYERS

I've long said it's impossible to be a good fan -- or motorsports journalist -- without knowing at least a little about the Business and Politics of Racing. I mean really knowing, as in experience or at least making the effort to be informed, not guessing or throwing out wild statements. To reinforce that I am offering something different here this season -- I've been blogging since 2006 -- based on my four decades of industry experience. That includes not only time in the pits and media centers, but also inside the haulers and motorhomes, behind closed garage doors, seated in the team and corporate conference rooms.

Each week I will present Power Players, my list of the 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Racing. The rankings are 100 percent my own with all evaluations done exclusively by me and me alone. The key words here are "influential" and "weekly" and "Business and Politics of Racing." This isn't a rating of the best drivers or the biggest name team owners or the most talented PR spinners among sanctioning body executives or crew chiefs most skilled at bending the rules or track officials who orchestrate the most outrageous pre-race show.

It's about who shapes the news in a Big Picture sense, who makes the Big Decisions, who convinces others to see things his/her way, who has a true vision for the future, who handles crisis situations professionally, who can make the $ale, who has REAL power. I trust the difference is clear. 

Obviously, there are some names which could make the list every time: Roger Penske, Brian France, Rick Hendrick, for example. But they won't because my list is intentionally a WEEKLY one. It's a snapshot taken every seven days based on that week's developments. Some names will be obvious while others might be a surprise and appear only once all season. That's OK because it will reflect who is up and who is down at that moment. It will, at least occasionally, include names not typically found on such a list but who I know to be key players even if the name isn't known in every household. Names it would be good for you to learn. And, I'll admit up-front, some weeks I might overlook someone. That will be an honest mistake.

I post this list with the hope it will further your knowledge of who is making things happen within the industry, how and why they do it, and to expand your understanding of the B & P of R. Along with those goals, I would be glad if it promotes some healthy debate. However, forum posters be aware, only informed and respectful comments are cared about (at least by me.)

Some weeks Power Players will stand alone. Other weeks it will accompany blog text on other topics. As we begin 2015, I thank you for taking some of your valuable time each week to read what is offered here for your consideration. I hope we all are able enjoy a fantastic racing season -- and learn along the way.

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

  1. Jim France -- The driving force in bringing his Grand-Am and the competing American Le Mans Series together, the chairman of the Tudor United SportsCar Championship needs to insist on pedal-to-the-metal management and promotional performance to meaningfully grow the circuit in Year 2, starting with this weekend's Rolex 24 at Daytona.

  2. Jim Campbell -- Chevy goes all-in in NHRA Funny Car class as GM's U.S. performance vehicles and motorsports VP announces Camaro bodywork and sponsorship for John Force Racing.

  3. Emmett Hahn -- Chili Bowl co-founder stands tall among short-track event promoters as Rico Abreu wins 29th running of midget race in front of packed stands at Tulsa's Expo Center plus MAVTV audience.

  4. Scott Atherton -- Following an organizational reboot, the former ALMS and current SportsCar president must demand common sense officiating, and hope for compelling competition, at Daytona. If the problems of 2014 are repeated, it's the one-time Domino's Pizza marketer who rightly should be held accountable.

  5. Scott Pruett -- The face of American sports car racing goes for his record sixth 24-hour victory at Daytona.

  6. Steve Phelps -- NASCAR's chief marketing officer is point-man in search for new Cup series sponsor.

  7. Bob Varsha -- As host of the Fox's Daytona coverage, he'll set the tone, take the lead in the storytelling, and basically decide if something is important for the viewer to know. 

  8. Craig Jackson -- Barrett-Jackson CEO concludes 44th auction in Scottsdale with Jeff Gordon and Sharon Stone among the crowd, classic cars, and Big Money.

  9. John Force -- Life in his Brave New World -- no Ford, no Castrol -- officially begins with Camaro bodywork testing in Peak colors at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, near Phoenix. 

10. Jamie Allison -- Ford's racing director starts the season needing more speed from the Ecoboost IMSA engine and a more competitive Roush Fenway team in NASCAR, following the sensational unveiling of the new Ford GT at the Detroit Auto Show, plus no John or Courtney Force.

P.S. 1 -- Circumstances limited me to one,four-hour visit to the Barrett-Jackson auction last week. My favorite car of the show was the No. 70 1968 STP Lotus-turbine, the famous four-wheel drive "wedge" design. This car was displayed in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum last May and took a demonstration lap before the race. I spent about 20 minutes closely looking over the car, which was restored at the Lotus factory in England. It was chassis number 56/3. Even the contingency sponsor decals were perfectly in place. Graham Hill drove it. Whether you were around (as I was) to like or dislike the radical turbines, the "wedge" is an Indy classic, and a reminder of when innovation was an essential element of Indy's lure.

P.S. 2 -- Congratulations to the new  National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductees and their families. Gene (Tiger) Brown, Donnie Kreitz Jr. and Danny Smith in the driver category; Roger Beck and Gil Sonner in the owners-mechanics-builders-manufacturers-sponsors category; Bruce Ellis and Mike Arthur in the promoter-official-media category and Charlie Wiggins in the pre-1945 category. Ceremony will be May 30 in Knoxville, Iowa. I'm a HoF voter.

P.S. 3 -- Here's an example of what is so troubling about today's echo-chamber media audience. Last week I was on the John Force Racing conference call to announce Chevrolet as its new manufacturer partner. It was an important story and industry announcement and I sent out a series of news-oriented Tweets while the call was on-going. This was completely in keeping with how I said I would use Twitter. Breaking News! That night I got an E-mail from someone saying he would no longer be "following" me. Why? He's not a John Force fan. (!) Opinion, not legitmate news, too often rules these days and that is profoudly sad.


[ new list and more next week . . . ]