Sunday, May 17, 2015


As I say and write every May, Sunday will be the most important day of the motorsports year. Indianapolis, Charlotte, Monaco . . . locations whose connections with racing ring true and strong like the names Foyt, Petty, Clark.

I plan to be in Indy for my 37th 500. As always, I'll be watching and analyzing everything through the prism of my career background and that means the Business and Politics of Racing. With that in mind, here's what I believe is the best thing that could happen at this weekend's races. Please get this clear: This is NOT who I am personally rooting for, or who I think will actually win, it's who would be best for his/her series from the standpoint of B & P of R.

INDIANAPOLIS 500: Of course, aero kits will be a focus of attention, but I'll only be observing that based on what it does for competition and the showbiz value of the 99th running of racing's "Greatest Spectacle." A fourth Helio Castroneves' win would equal that of A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears. Media might refer to it as "Flip and Win" 30 years after Danny Sullivan's "Spin and Win." Honestly, though, I believe Helio is past his prime in terms of elevating the sport. And, let's be honest here, IndyCar desperately needs a Big Boost. I say that would come from a young(er) winner, hopefully someone who could hit the national media circuit and generate positive impressions the way Trevor Bayne did after his upset victory in the 2011 Daytona 500. It says here that list is, in no particular order, Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti, Josef Newgarden (another "Flip and Win" candidate) -- and Simona De Silvestro as the first female winner. Imagine the pub that would come out of a nationwide media tour featuring Rahal as Indy's winner and future bride Courtney Force as NHRA's trophy-holder!

COCA-COLA 600: The picks here are two and too obvious. A Jeff Gordon victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway, after driving the Chevrolet Corvette Indy 500 pace car earlier in the day, would be a headliner. It would be the first win of what Gordon says will be his final season. Running with this story would be a no-brainer for the media. The other would be Danica Patrick. In case you haven't noticed, NASCAR's TV numbers haven't been too impressive lately. A likely quick-fix would be a super-competitive run by Danica (who is looking for a sponsor). A win would be off-the-charts for her and NASCAR. Junior? His Talladega win didn't help the ratings. Of course, Kyle Busch would be a great feel-good story, the kind reporters fall over themselves to tell.

MONACO GRAND PRIX: Formula One, despite all the posh and highly-visible glitz-and-glamour, is another series that needs a PR lift. The issues of cost and down TV ratings will be the last thing most people will be thinking about looking at the royal scene from Monaco, but that doesn't mean those aren't problems. I have long said the three most important sports franchises in the world are the New York Yankees, Manchester United, and Ferrari. Nothing stirs the passions more than a Ferrari victory -- even media who typically don't care love to put the word "Ferrari" into bold headlines -- so a Sebastian Vettel triumph on the streets of F1's most prestigious event would put a big smile on Bernie Ecclestone's face.

NHRA: The recurring theme of this posting is series in need of a jump-start. NHRA's Mello Yello tour probably should be No. 1 on that list. NHRA didn't do itself, its fans, drivers, teams or sponsors any favor by returning to a Memorial Day weekend date and the media competition from Indy, Charlotte, etc. And Topeka's Heartland Park is in jeopardy of going the way of Miller Motorsports Park, the Utah multi-purpose motorsports facility that will close after this season. The best shot for notice clearly is Courtney Force. She hasn't won this season but you can bet some nicely-staged (no cap or sunglasses) pretty winner's circle shots of the future Mrs. Rahal would find space in major newspapers.

WORLD OF OUTLAWS: No disrespect to the winged sprint car competitors, because I am definitely a fan, but talking about who might move the needle here is relative. I have a ton of respect for Donny Schatz' 50-plus A-Main feature victories over the last few years, and he's the leader of the Outlaws, the Steve Kinser of right now. But a bit of a shakeup would be good now, especially from a real Kinser. Kraig Kinser has had his share of ups-and-downs since winning the Knoxville Nationals in 2005. The Outlaws run on Charlotte's short track Friday and then in Lawrenceburg, Ind., Monday. A Kraig Kinser win would be useful.

USAC SILVER CROWN: The sanction's premier division races Thursday night at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and then Saturday afternoon at Lucas Raceway Park. Kody Swanson, last year's series champion with five wins, is a rising name on some car owners' radar screens. If he could Double on the dirt and then the pavement, that would be super impressive.

I'll be Tweeting @SpinDoctor 500 from the IMS pits, Gasoline Alley and media center this weekend. But I'll try not to waste your time. What I'll send will be what I think is interesting and not what is otherwise out there. And please look for my Sunday Arizona Republic ( Indy story that I'm pretty sure will be different from what you'll find elsewhere.

POWER PLAYERS for the week of May 17: 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. Mark Miles -- A successful Indianapolis 500 -- more people in the stands and watching on TV than last year, exciting race, no officiating controversy and good fan experience -- essential for Hulman & Co. CEO. Last week's big accidents and qualifying day rules changes again bring into question what seems to be the age-old issue of crisis of leadership within the IndyCar series. Sunday will be another huge test for his controversial business plan. Appropriate someone names "Miles" tops the list

  2. Roger Penske -- Four cars at Indy in attempt for record 16th 500 win plus two more in Charlotte means his team can have a bigger impact on racing's biggest day than anyone else.

  3. Derrick Walker -- Decisions on final car rules and officiating calls must be correct by IndyCar's competition president and his staff given the issues of the last couple of weeks. Getting it right is essential on the biggest day of the year for a series with too many unhappy competitors in the garage area. 

  4. Marcus Smith -- Charlotte Motor Speedway president has his big chance to show other NASCAR race promoters how to generate hype and sell tickets. 

  5NASCAR Hall of Fame voters -- They'll gather to debate and vote for the next class of inductees.  

  6Allen Bestwick -- His call of the Indy 500 on ABC likely won't be controversial, but how he tells the stories and manages the in-booth debates of Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever will set the tone for how viewers perceive racing's "Greatest Spectacle."

  7. Darrell Waltrip -- His opinions during the Coca-Cola 600 on Fox will help viewers decide if they think Charlotte is or isn't more exciting than the Indy 500. 

  8. Jeff Gordon -- He'll draw attention for NASCAR's Charlotte race by driving the Indy 500 Chevrolet Corvette pace car because he's better known to the public than all 33 I500 drivers combined.

  9. Paul Page -- His voice is linked to that of the Indy 500 and he'll again call the race for the worldwide radio network.

10. Brittany Force -- Father John says daughters Brittany and Courtney, not him, sold the new Monster energy drink sponsorship for B's Top Fuel car. She'll still license in Funny Car later this season.

more next week . . . ]