• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, April 26, 2015

BOLES' GOOD MOVE MAKES HIM No. 5 ON THIS WEEK's 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST, BUT . . .

Congratulations to Doug Boles, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for being pro-active and getting out of his office to tour Indiana and speak to various community and business groups as a way to boost IMS and its events (including the troubled Brickyard 400.) Tony Hulman used to do the same. This is a very good return to a very good idea and that personal relationship-building is something the Speedway very, Very, VERY much needs. And, in recent times, hasn't done. Or, at least, hasn't done enough.

I hope, leading up to the 2016 100th running of the Indy 500, Boles will expand this outreach. And instruct his staff to follow his example, across the board, in all their constituent and customer relationships.

A couple of years ago it was Boles' idea to have Boston Marathon runners, who didn't get to complete that run because of the bombing, come to IMS and sprint to the Yard of Bricks to finish their race. It was a greatly needed positive gesture and the sort of thing that, sadly, has largely been lost within the IMS culture. 

A respectful suggestion from someone who has been a part of the IMS scene since 1969: The next, logical and necessary step, is for Boles to engage this way with the media. I mean the regional (still in ticket-selling range) and national (what sponsors notice) media. IMS once had very good relationships with media across the country -- the oldtime off-season annual media party was considered so important reporters would come in from New York and Los Angeles. But those kind of relationships were allowed to decay away.

Especially now, with the historic facility finally getting a facelift just as Chicago's Wrigley Field is doing, and with the 100th running just over a year away, Boles and Mark Miles and the entire Hulman & Co./IMS/IndyCar series team need to reach out with a hand of friendship and in the spirit of goodwill and open communication. Some bad media-related decisions have been made in the last year, partly due to a lack of communication, and some highly unfavorable opinions have been and are being shaped even as this is written.

If you need to know what happens when long-term unsatisfactory relationships with the influential national and key-market media are further irritated by more recent troubling decisions -- just when you are at your Big Moment and including from outlets normally considered "friendly" -- look no further than Hillary Clinton.

She should be a case study for Miles, Boles and IMS/IndyCar.

If IMS, not only for itself, but for its history and heritage and sponsors and city and state -- and to honorably reflect Mr. Hulman's spirit -- really wants the 100th to be the kind of Big Time National  Media Story it deserves to be, Boles, etc. must go out and make it happen. That starts by talking.


POWER PLAYERS for the week of April  26: 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. Brian France  -- NASCAR chairman implies sanctioning body had some responsibility in Kyle Busch's injuries at Daytona, telling the Associated Press' sports editors, "what happened to him was on us." France suggested NASCAR is more likely than not to give Busch a Chase-eligibility waiver. As for more SAFER barriers, which might well have prevented or reduced Busch's injuries, France said: "I met personally with the track ownership groups and they satisfied me completely that they were going to spend millions and millions of dollars right now, not down the road, to get it right. If that doesn't play out the way they have talked about and assured me, then we'll deal with it. You can't run around and say that safety is your No. 1 priority and get that stuff wrong."

  2. Tony GibsonOld-school crew chief leads Kurt Busch to victory at Richmond after missing Bristol due to a kidney stone. Is this consistently fast combination the next Kevin Harvick-Rodney Childers? 

 3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- Why? It's Talladega weekend.

 4. Josef Newgarden -- Promise finally fulfilled as much-touted 24-year-old from Tennessee gets his first IndyCar series win, at Barber Motorsports Park, for owners Sarah Fisher, Ed Carpenter and Wink Hartman.  

  5Doug Boles -- Indianapolis Motor Speedway president takes a page out of Tony Hulman's playbook and tours Indiana talking-up IMS and its events.

  6. Claire B. Lang -- News and quotable quotes will be flooding out of the Talladega garage area and Sirius XM's Claire B. is the one who will have it all.

    7. Erica Enders-Stevens -- Defending Pro Stock champion wins again, near Houston, and has emerged as the headliner in the troubled NHRA class. 

  8. Ashley Force Hood -- Father John names double U.S. Nationals winner team vice president with addition of racing-related business responsibilities. She had been president of Force's entertainment company, now folded into the racing operation as a cost-saving measure. She's NHRA licensed and JFR's standby driver if needed. 

  9. Donny Schatz-- Devil's Bowl win in the Texas Nationals the sixth World of Outlaws victory for the face of the touring winged sprint car series and American short and dirt track racing.

 10. Scott Bove -- Pirelli World Challenge president issues penalties to half the field at Long Beach and offers an apology to fans and partners for the on-track product presented at the Grand Prix.

more next week . . . ]

Sunday, April 19, 2015

REMEMBERING MEMBERS OF THE GOLDEN AGE (and This Week's Most Influential List)

This week I want to remember great Philadelphia sports columnists Stan Hochman and Sandy Grady, who died in recent days. I worked with Stan at the Philadelphia Daily News from 1974-1980. He covered all the incredible Philly sports moments and characters for decades. Not just the wins and losses of the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, Sixers and other teams, but people like Joe Frazier and his classic fights with Muhammad Ali. Others have written better than I about Stan, who also was well-known for his local TV and radio work, but what I recall most was how focused Stan was when it was time to write. He knew what the story was, what he wanted to say, and could type it out faster than anyone I can recall. People like me, editing copy and designing the pages and worrying about deadlines, really appreciated that! 

I didn't know Sandy well. He was at the Daily News before my time, then went to the rival Bulletin. When that paper folded, he came back to the News, but I had left for CART by then. 

Stan and Sandy were iconic examples of what has been called the Golden Age of sportswriting, especially in Philadelphia, a great, Great, GREAT sports town. (When I was there we actually had FOUR competing daily papers. What competition! What a challenge! What fun!) They came to town in the late 1950s, hired by a young Daily News sports editor named Larry Merchant. You've probably heard of Larry because he went on to acclaim, in part, as a Big Time boxing commentator.

What a treat it was for me, as a kid, to read these guys and later work with Hochman, Tom Cushman, Bill Conlin, superstar-in-the-making Gary Smith, Ray Didinger, Dick Weiss, Jack McKinney, Phil Jasner, Ben Callaway, Joe Greenday, very controversial harness writer/handicapper Jack Kiser (who liked auto racing, too) and trailblazing (although she was low-key about it) Mary Flannery. Still with the Daily News is Bill Fleischman, who recommended me to sports editor Mike Rathet for my job with the paper, and Bill still covers racing although he's not a full-time staffer. We also had some legendary broadcasters to know and appreciate, like Harry Kalas, Bill Campbell, Andy Musser, Tom Brookshier (always very kind to Mario Andretti), Gene Hart (the Flyers' announcer who became something of a Michael Andretti fan because Michael was a Flyers' fan) and Al Meltzer.

The news of Stan's and Sandy's passings (which came from Fleischman) was yet another reminder to me of how much the media has changed. And, in many ways, not for the better. (Look no further than the garbage that is Around The Horn and First Take. Empty Suits with Big Mouths.)

I am so thankful I was around for that other era of real sports journalism. If you weren't, you have my sympathy.

POWER PLAYERS for the week of April  19: 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. Richard Buck -- Did the Sprint Cup race director push the envelope by going green at Bristol on a not-completely-dry racing surface and with moisture in the air? Early crasher Brad Keselowski, who took out Penske teammate Joey Logano, said light rain had been falling from the start. Shades of Brian Barnhart at New Hampshire?

  2. Brian France  -- What is NASCAR's chairman thinking about entertainment value of Sprint Cup races after all-time Fox record low rating -- first-ever under a 3.0 -- for Texas? And what's the future of Saturday night races since 13 of the 18 lowest-rated NASCAR-on-Fox telecasts have been under the lights?

  3. Joe Gibbs: Wins Bristol with Matt Kenseth, but what move can he make to keep The Next Big Thing Erik Jones in his team, with no Cup seat apparently open?

 4. Scott Dixon -- North American motorsports' most relentless driver wins Long Beach, IndyCar's second-most important event of the season. 

  5Steve O'Donnell -- First, NASCAR's executive VP and chief racing development officer will fix the rule book to clearly definite what "post-race inspection" means. But will he make Kyle Busch Chase eligible upon his return from leg and foot injuries?

 6. Bernie Ecclestone -- Formula One's commercial leader wants a return to 1,000 horsepower V-8 engines as a way to counteract declining TV ratings and spectator attendance.

  7. Danica Patrick -- Bristol top 10 means she's Chase eligible on points after eight races. 

  8. Lewis Hamilton -- Win in Bahrain, despite Ferrari performance improvement, sets tone not only for his possible third world championship, but . . . also so much dominance from him and Mercedes that worldwide TV audience will decline again this season?

  9. Rick Hendrick-- Chase Elliott, not having the Xfinity Series success he had in claiming a championship last year, can use the legendary people "touch" from his Cup team owner-to-be.

 10. Richard Childress -- Loses appeal in the No. 31 Tiregate scandal although points and money penalties reduced. 

more next week . . . ]

Sunday, April 12, 2015

LEGAL PAD NOTES (and FORCE THIS WEEK's 'MOST INFLUENTIAL'

It's been a while since I cleared-out random notes on my legal pad . . .

$ign of the Time$: When was the last time you read anything about a serious proposal to build a major (NASCAR or IndyCar worthy) oval track in America?

More SAFER barriers at Bristol Motor Speedway might prove to be a bigger test for fans than drivers. If the racing groove is narrowed -- remember, a result of safety -- will at-track and TV-watching spectators complain?

No televised sporting event, anywhere in the world, gets more gushy, kissy-face commentary than the Masters. (Commentators, in hushed, almost a church-like tone, "He's walking over the Hogan Bridge!") Yes, I've been to Augusta National Golf Club for the final round, and it's a beautiful and tradition-heavy setting. But . . . seldom, if ever, is heard a critical word. CBS sells out its journalism for a week in order to keep the TV rights for the following year. I bet there are more than a few at NASCAR who think they should get -- and deserve -- the same reverence from the media.

It's an old Business of Racing axiom that the champion of any major series is expected to take on certain responsibilities to represent the sport, often with the media and fans. Some drivers have been known to be more accepting of this idea than others. A few have come close to outright rejecting the notion. Not Kevin Harvick. He, indeed, does get it and has embraced the responsibilities of champion. NASCAR is better for it.

No one should doubt NHRA's decision to move its TV production "in-house" next year (an exclusive I wrote with Jon Asher last week on CompetitionPlus.com -- link on my Twitter @SpinDoctor500 ) is a Big Deal. It could be the biggest and most impactful Business of Drag Racing development since the end of the Winston series sponsorship. 

And, despite all the frustrations with ESPN, just where does NHRA think it can go in the cable universe to have a chance at that many eyeballs?

What looks like it will be a very small field for Saturday's prestigious race in Long Beach signals the many challenges still facing the United SportsCar management group.

The recent controversy over the completely bogus Rolling Stone story reminded me of this: In early 1993 I got a call from an RS writer and editor about doing a story on Nigel Mansell, the F1 world champion who had shifted to CART (I was the Newman/Haas Racing PR director.) During the 10-minute conversation, I could never get comfortable with what they were saying, the way they were proposing to go about the story. Unlike other Big Features we did with Sports Illustrated, Time magazine and Playboy, for example, I sensed something I didn't like. Like, maybe, they had an unspoken agenda. On behalf of Nigel and the team, I declined the story, and never regretted that decision.

I welcome the physical improvements being made to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and look forward to seeing them for myself next month. These are much needed and no IMS "traditionalist" should complain as long as the essential "presence" of the Speedway remains. Just as Chicago Cubs' fans are experiencing while Wrigley Field is remodeled. We'll see if a better IMS fan experience ultimately translates to more ticket sales.

If you don't think TV sports announcers are thinking about ratings, you're wrong. With Jordan Spieth's near-runaway after two rounds at the Masters threatening to hurt the weekend audience numbers, CBS' top host, Jim Nantz, said this Friday (on ESPN) as other microphone holders were noting the energy had been sucked-out of the tournament and popular world No. 1 Rory McIlroy was struggling: "C'mon, Rory, put nine holes together."  Nantz, supposedly a sports broadcast journalism titan (I've never thought that; he's not in the Al Michaels/Bob Costas league), was cheerleading for McIlroy to get back into contention.

(By the way, Spieth is the clubhouse leader for Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.)

A word of caution to those on Twitter or the Internet who have a point-of-view on any issue and presume everyone else feels the same. No one agrees about everything on any subject. Speak for yourself, as is your Constitutional right. Or speak as an authorized and official spokesman for a specfic group. But don't otherwise proclaim you are speaking for everyone.

Most people don't understand there is a huge difference between someone being "popular" and someone who is "influential." I'll pick "influential" every time.

It's a very bad reflection of today's communications age and polarized opinions that so many people read or listen to another filtered by their own bias. Here's a good rule of thumb: Before you get angry, go back and objectively re-read what was written, or replay what was said. You might well learn there was nothing to merit your negativity. You might save yourself some embarrassment.

Take a look at the cover photo of a special edition of Time magazine I put on Twitter @SpinDoctor500 last Friday. Who do you think that is?


POWER PLAYERS for the week of April  12: 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. John Force -- Ends season-long slump with win in Las Vegas for Chevrolet, Peak and other corporate sponsors who have helped keep NHRA's biggest personality in business. 

  2. Lewis Hamilton  -- It's only two races into the Formula One season, but Hamilton's dominant winning weekend in China already gives Grand Prix racing's most recognizable worldwide star a big jump toward another championship.

  3. Tom Compton -- NHRA president decides to take TV production "in-house" next year and more big changes are coming, including possible (likely?) move away from ESPN.

  4. Darrell Waltrip -- It's Bristol Week, so expect to hear even more than usual from the 12-time track winner and Fox analyst.

  5Jim Michaelian -- Long-time Long Beach Grand Prix executive clears the city streets for the IndyCar and other series. It's not only America's most prestigious temporary circuit weekend and IndyCar's second most important race, the LBGP remains one of the country's top five motorsports events. Often copied. Never duplicated (especially on the bottom line.) 

  6. Derrick Walker -- IndyCar competition president mandates aero kit structural upgrades from both Chevrolet and Honda to reduce possibility of flying bodywork pieces. A spectator was injured at St. Pete after being struck by a bodywork piece. Here comes the lawsuit.

  7. Doug Boles -- Indianapolis Motor Speesway president announces new HD video boards and says 98 percent of spectators will have a clear view. Plus new sponsorship with Panasonic that makes IMS landmark the "Panasonic Pagoda." 

  8. Robby Gordon -- His Formula Off-Road Stadium Truck series gets a big platform for fans and media at Long Beach. It's a huge opportunity for a tour that needs more local, regional and national attention.

  9. Sam Schmidt -- New team driver James Hinchcliffe wins very rainy New Orleans debut IndyCar race (fewer than half the laps contested in green-flag conditions) for inspirational owner.

10. Jon Asher -- Drag racing's most influential journalist joins me in breaking story of big NHRA TV changes and debuts his "Insider" columns from Las Vegas with follow-ups to come. If you want to know what's REALLY happening in drag racing, you read Asher on CompetitionPlus.com . 

more next week . . . ]

Sunday, April 05, 2015

NASCAR's BACKFIRE (and CHILDRESS MOST INFLUENTIAL THIS WEEK)

NASCAR's communications deep-thinkers decided to be Politically Correct last week and issued a statement saying the sanction was "disappointed" with Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

It backfired. Here's what comic Conan O'Brien said to his late-night TV audience:

"Do you hear that, Indiana? You're not progressive enough for NASCAR!"

So, NASCAR's own words were turned around and used in the mainstream media to mock the stock car organization, and negatively stereotype the sport and its fans. It was a self-inflicted wound. 

If Brian France really felt so strongly about the Hoosier state legislation, he should have had NASCAR's statement issued in his own name. 

I'm old enough to have been around to know this: In their time, if such an issue had arisen, Bill France Sr. and Jr. -- to the extent they would have commented at all -- would have expressed their support for state's rights and pride that NASCAR attracts fans who believe in traditional American values. Both knew a strong connection with apple-pie America was what helped build NASCAR's ticket-buying/TV-watching audience. It's right there in the history books. Look it up.

Let's be clear: What's being written in this blog has NOTHING to do with discrimination or the public policy questions raised by the legislation. That's a different issue. It's about messaging. It's about a business injecting itself, unnecessarily, into a state issue. It's one thing for Indiana-based Angie's List or the NCAA (with the Final Four going on) to comment, or Arkansas-headquartered Walmart to say as it wishes about that state's similar legislation. It's quite another for "outsider" NASCAR to do so. Will NASCAR now be issuing statements when the next Trayvon Martin, or Ferguson, Mo., situation happens?

Let's remember Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has also recently favored legislation creating the mechanism to fund $100 million in improvements to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That certainly benefits NASCAR, whose Brickyard 400 sure isn't the "must-see" it once was. 

(And one reason for that? NASCAR never held its official tire supplier, Goodyear, to account for the 2008 Brickyard 400 fiasco. When Michelin's bad product turned the 2005 IMS Formula One race into a joke, that company paid for tickets for the following year's Grand Prix for dissatisfied customers. NASCAR should have required something similar from Goodyear as a condition of the tire-provider contract. THAT would have been a meaningful, and tangible, act of support for its Indiana fans.) 

Now, let's ask this question: Did ANYONE at NASCAR actually read the ENTIRE piece of Hoosier legislation before deciding to insert itself into the debate? And the sanction's statement's real Achilles' heel was found in this sentence: "We will not embrace nor participate in exclusion or intolerance." (Emphasis added by me.) If that's the case, then why not CANCEL the Brickyard 400?

Or was this decision made after monitoring social media traffic -- that apparently is what counts at NASCAR these days -- or because the NFL -- America's undisputed most powerful sports entity -- did so? Do they think a PC statement will now make Keith Olbermann a NASCAR supporter?

At the start of the 2003 Iraq war, Bill France Jr. famously said: "NASCAR fans are the kind of people who go to war and win wars for America." He proved he knew exactly who his fans were.

Can today's NASCAR leaders say the same?



POWER PLAYERS for the week of April 5: 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. Richard Childress -- At week's start the industry, media and public have yet to hear directly from the NASCAR team owner about the tire-tampering penalites to Ryan Newman's No. 31 team. The latest leadership test for one of NASCAR's longest-tenured competitors is what he will do publicly -- and out of the public eye -- about this problem. It might be RC's greatest challenge since Dale Earnhardt's death. 

  2. Blake Irving  -- GoDaddy's CEO sees his stock price jump 31 percent on the first day of trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Investors valued the Internet services provider at almost $4 billion. Now, with Danica Patrick and her No. 10 Chevy present on Wall Street for the Big Day, will Irving sign her to a new contract as he rebrands the business?

  3. Michael Andretti -- How large a crowd -- with how much media and corporate support -- can his management team bring to the first IndyCar race near New Orleans? Meanwhile, his team faces the challenge of developing Honda into a competitive position vs. Chevrolet, on both the engine and aero kit fronts.

  4. Eddie Gossage -- Outspoken and publicity-hawk Texas Motor Speedway president hosts NASCAR. What pre-race "controversy" will make headlines?

  5Mark Miles -- CEO's decision to debut the Verizon IndyCar series in the New Orleans area marks another Big Test for his business plan. 

 6. Doug Boles -- Indianapolis Motor Speedway president bucks sacred tradition -- and creates a new and much-needed revenue source -- by booking The Rolling Stones for a July 4 IMS concert.

  7. Dave Moody -- SiriusXM NASCAR channel's afternoon "drive time" Main Man engaged callers about Indiana's controversial religious freedom legislation. At times, what was said was borderline out-of-bounds. Moody put himself way out on one side of the issue -- very rare for a motorsports' broadcaster to do regarding a non-racing topic -- and it wasn't the side the NASCAR mainstream media critics would have expected.

  8. Jon Edwards -- Jeff Gordon's veteran PR right-hand man helps set the tone -- and extent -- of the national and racing media's coverage of Gordon's final full-time season. A great opportunity, for sure, but very demanding.

  9. Ralph Sheheen -- Fox Sports broadcaster, public address announcer, MC and National Speed Sport News (Turn 3 Media LLC) president has evolved into one of motorsports' most versatile and familiar voices and media figures.

10. Dustin Long -- Long-time NASCAR writer, formerly with Landmark Newspapers, formerly MRN, now NBC Sports, impresses the industry and benefits fans with his low-key, hard-working, fact-based reporting style.

more next week . . . ]