• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A QUAINT IDEA THAT'S NO LONGER VIABLE (and SCHATZ' KNOXVILLE NATIONALS WIN PUTS HIM ATOP 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST

One of my favorite places, Laguna Seca Raceway (make that Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca), has been in the news recently for reasons related to the Business and Politics of Racing. Many best remember Laguna's world-famous Corkscrew as where Alex Zanardi went off-road to pass Bryan Herta for the win on the last lap of the 1996 CART race. I have the helmet Alex was wearing that day on display in my office. It's a cherished gift from Alex the Great.

Simply stated, the Monterey Board of Supervisors is having International Speedway Corp. (ISC, as in Daytona, Talladega, Phoenix, etc.) study the situation to see if it might replace SCRAMP to run the place. ISC wouldn't buy the track, but it would manage it. SCRAMP -- Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula) -- is essentially a local and largely volunteer organization that has put on the races for decades. If you want to get down into the weeds of this situation, you can read the lengthy story posted on Racer.com last week. 

A few years ago I wrote here about the late Lee Moselle, who was SCRAMP's executive director. I got to know Lee when I worked for CART and we started a successful run of races in 1983. Lee was a true gentleman and one of those people I'm blessed to have known. Here's a link to the blog so you can learn more about him:

http://spindoctor500blog.blogspot.com/2012/08/moselles-way-was-right-way.html

I wrote that Laguna has never seemed the same to me since Moselle's death. Now that I've gone back and re-read that posting, I realize that his passing really was the end of SCRAMP's ability to operate a major motorsports facility in today's business and political climate. It was a fine idea back in the day, for a group of volunteers who were mostly local businessmen, to be Big Time race promoters. Thinking about it, I understand even better that Moselle's relationships with all the key local business and political leaders and the racing sanctioning bodies and those sponsors, kept the now quaint notion of an organization such as SCRAMP going longer than perhaps reality demanded. It's like when Bing Crosby hosted his "Clambake" pro golf tournament at Pebble Beach. A wonderful event in its day, but no longer a viable proposition.

SCRAMP donated money earned from the races to a variety of charities and there's no reason that can't continue. But the Monterey supervisors need to adjust to the real world and change their too-restrictive policies about noise and such if they really want to have a valuable racing asset. 

If ISC concludes it can operate well within the supervisor's framework, then I say that's the best course to take. SCRAMP can be recognized for future generations by a plaque or some other honor such as an official renaming like the "SCRAMP Paddock."

But business is business, politics are politics, reality is reality, and to me that means a more professional approach is what Laguna Seca needs to go forward. Times have changed. I endorse ISC management as the way to go.  

POWER PLAYERS for the week of August 16: 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.  Donny Schatz -- Wins sprint car racing's biggest event, the Knoxville Nationals, start-to-finish from the pole, for the ninth time in 10 years and ties Steve Kinser's mark of five straight. It was Schatz 23d World of Outlaws victory of the season. He's symbolically carrying the banner of all short-track racers at tracks throughout America.

  2. Joe Gibbs -- Not only did Matt Kenseth win Michigan to continue Joe Gibbs Racing's hot streak in Sprint Cup, but Gibbs said he has a plan in place for Erik Jones' future. In 2016, that will be full-time in the Xfinity series with some Cup starts along the way.

  3. Steve O'Donnell -- NASCAR's racing development chief says the sanction will stick with its current rules package for the 10 Chase races. But NASCAR's second try of a high-downforce configuration, at Michigan, produced another bad showbiz event. 

 4. Danica Patrick -- Scheduled to announce her future plans Tuesday. Hint: The news conference is taking place at Stewart-Haas Racing.

  5. Jay Frye -- The former NASCAR Cup team executive, now chief revenue officer for the Hulman Motorsports properties, uses his strong stock car contacts to make big progress on a possible IndyCar return to Phoenix International Raceway. The track and series have agreed on a date, Saturday night, April 2, and a 250-mile race distance. Issues such as financial specifics still need to be resolved, but it's the closest the series and PIR have been in 10 years. 

  6. Brandon Igdalsky -- How many tickets the Pocono International Raceway president can sell to this Sunday's race likely will determine if IndyCar will return in 2016.

  7. Mark Miles -- A return to Phoenix would be a huge plus for IndyCar's CEO. But Auto Club Speedway already is gone for 2016 and Milwaukee, New Orleans and Pocono are on the brink.

  8. Jeff Gordon -- Is his last Saturday night start at Bristol Gordon's last/best chance to win in his final season?

  9. David Wilson -- Toyota Racing Development president has led a big turn-around for the automaker in Sprint Cup. Is Toyota's first Cup title at hand?

10. Wayne Estes -- Former Ford NASCAR publicist and Bristol Motor Speedway communications VP named president and GM of Sebring International Raceway.

more next week . . . ]