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Sunday, September 27, 2015

'MUST WIN' DRIVERS LEAD NEW 'POWER PLAYERS' LIST

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  September 27: 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. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch -- Defending Sprint Cup champion and comeback athlete of the year in a near must-win race at Dover in order to advance to the next round. If there were ever two drivers to watch in one race, this is it.

  3. Joe Gibbs -- His drivers have won both Chase races and, with Toyota, will have a technical alliance with the No. 78 Furniture Row team next season.

  4. Del Worsham and Antron Brown -- Winners of the first two NHRA Countdown events in Funny Car and Top Fuel, respectively. 

  6. Jeff Gordon -- Officially becomes NASCAR's "ironman" with 789 consecutive starts. But needs a good finish at Dover to secure his place in the second Chase round.

  7. Donny Schatz -- Wins 30th World of Outlaws feature of the season, the most since Steve Kinser in 1992.

  8. Gene Haas -- Driver announcement for his Formula One team coming this week.

 9. Jeg Coughlin Jr. -- First NHRA driver ever to win national events in seven different eliminator categories: Pro Stock, Stock and  Super Gas, Comp, Super Stock, Top Dragster and Stock.

 10. Tracy Hines -- Winner of more than 90 USAC national events and a Silver Crown and sprint car series champion, Hines will stop full-time racing next year to become NASCAR Truck series' ThorSport Racing's competition director. Hines leads the USAC midget series standings.

[ more next week . . . ]

Sunday, September 20, 2015

POWER PLAYERS (AND, NO, A CHASE DRIVER ISN'T No. 1)

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  September 20: 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.  Sebastian Vettel -- Singapore was much more than his third victory in his first season with Ferrari. It's more than it was a win in a Ferrari, the world's most famous race car marque. It's more than it was from the pole. It was Vettel's 42d career Grand Prix victory, third on the all-time list, moving him ahead of Ayrton Senna. Let me repeat that: Vettel now has won more GPs than Senna. Senna. It's a story being heralded around the world, if not so much in America.

  2. Mike Helton -- On the NASCAR vice chairman's to-do list at New Hampshire: A meeting with what the sanction likes to impress everyone with its sophistication by calling  teams, sponsors, manufacturers, etc. "stakeholders" about 2016 rules -- likely to be the low downforce package -- and dealing with more controversy on what is and isn't a legal restart. And how to officiate it.

  3. Joe Gibbs -- His Toyota's finish 1-2 in both the Chicagoland Sprint Cup and Xfinity series races. 

  4. Denny Hamlin -- A poor starting position, early spin and ACL injury made his win in the first Chase race unlikely. Which makes it a better story for the national media. 

  5. Scott Pruett -- America's greatest endurance sports car driver gets his 60th career victory in IMSA's headline event at Circuit of the Americas. 

  6. Erica Enders -- Her victory in Pro Stock -- she's essentially the only story of note in that troubled class -- was the most significant of NHRA's four classes as the Countdown playoffs got underway next to Charlotte Motor Speedway. She passed Shirley Muldowney on the NHRA career-wins list.

  7. Rick Hendrick -- Completes two-year contract renewals with Jimmie Johnson and Lowe's. Chad Knaus was already signed.

  8. Lesa France Kennedy -- International Speedway Corp., which she chairs, decides not to submit a proposal to manage Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. That sent a chill through the sports car community, which, of course, is led by the IMSA series controlled by Jim France and family.

 9. Brandon Igdalsky -- While the Pocono Raceway boss vacationed outside the U.S., IndyCar continued to wait for his decision about bringing the series back in 2016. In this case, silence isn't golden.

 10. Robert Ballou -- Wins Tony Hulman/Jim Hurtubise Classic USAC sprint car race, his first victory at Terre Haute. It was his 10th USAC win of the season. 

more next week . . . ]

Sunday, September 13, 2015

CHASE WEEK POWER PLAYERS LIST

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  September 13: 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.  Joe Gibbs -- His Toyota team has won eight of the last 11 Cup races. Could all four Gibbs' drivers battle it out for the Cup at Homestead?

  2. Matt Kenseth -- He starts the Chase as the championship favorite, with four wins and three of the last six.

  3. Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus -- They've been the masters of the Chase format but are struggling for speed.

  5. Kyle Busch -- He qualified for the Chase despite missing a big part of the season due to leg injuries suffered at Daytona. A Cup title would be one of sport's all-time greatest comebacks.

  6. Mark Miles -- Hulman & Co. CEO says he's going to take a more hands-on role with the IndyCar series.

  7.  Jack Beckman -- NHRA's Countdown starts this weekend at Charlotte and the cancer survivor's very fast Funny Car makes him the title favorite in that nitro class.

  8. Rob Kauffman -- When Michael Waltrip Racing liquidates after this season, the assets that are the No. 15 and the No. 55 points likely will go to the highest bidder. Richard Childress for Ty Dillon? The Wood Brothers for Ryan Blaney?

   9. Dave Moody -- It's time for NASCAR's playoffs and fans will talk about it passionately with the SiriusXM Channel 90 afternoon host.

 10. Levi Jones -- The winner in every USAC series named the sanction's new national midget racing director. 

more next week . . . ]

Monday, September 07, 2015

IT's TIME TO COMMUNICATE (AND BECKMAN/PROCK POWER TO TOP OF 'POWER PLAYERS' LIST)


There was a lot of criticism of the 2015 IndyCar schedule because the season was over before Labor Day.

As unintended as the circumstances were, thank God it did.

Few sports organizations face the off-season with as many challenges. So, with Justin Wilson's death fresh and raw, it was a good thing there was only one race left after Wilson died. That provided everyone in the paddock the chance to properly honor Wilson and pay their respects in a public way. Now they can deal with it privately.

What needs to be addressed by Mark Miles and his executive management team? Keeping Honda and dealing with its request to modify its aero kit. That would require Miles to go beyond what had been agreed to with Chevrolet, so the final decision likely will have consequences. Then there's the 2016 schedule, and the fate of Milwaukee and Pocono. Derrick Walker is gone as the competition boss, so there's a replacement to be found and issues like race control, the steward system, and the "post-race review" philosophy to be reviewed and reformulated. Sponsors, oh do teams need sponsors! Some existing teams may well be on the brink.

But there's one issue I want to see fixed -- finally. And that's adding an experienced, top-shelf communicator to the executive management team. Under different leadership, IndyCar paid a big price for going silent after Dan Wheldon's fatal accident. New people, the same problems, when Wilson was injured at Pocono. It's called Crisis Communications and IndyCar seemingly has zero capability. The fact that IndyCar doesn't have this is itself a crisis. Consider the PR mess Indy 500 pole day when the rules were changed abruptly in response to cars flipping. Walker admitted to me the Big 3 -- Mark Miles, Doug Boles and Walker -- did not emerge from their decision meeting with talking points. They all pretty much went in different directions with their own version of what was important. It was a mess.

In the age of instant communications via social media, there simply was no excuse for IndyCar to have let NBCSN go off-the-air at Pocono without an official statement regarding Wilson's condition. Those involved might do well to take a look at the June 1981 Milwaukee CART race on ESPN, or the 1981, 1982 and 1983 Michigan 500s on NBC. 

I've had a couple of conversations with CEO Miles about this (before Pocono.) Candidly, I didn't get the impression it's a high priority for him. It should be. It OBVIOUSLY should be. If nothing else, go back and read AP columnist Paul Newberry's article that called for the end of the IndyCar sport. I can say, from personal experience, that those kind of columns don't get written when the series has established good, professional, 1-on-1 relationships with journalists. (That means don't copy NASCAR's Integrated Marketing Communications model.)

It was already past time for IndyCar to spend the money on a communications VP, one with great experience, and with the authority to fix the long list of PR things that need fixing. With the run-up to the 100th Indianapolis 500 at hand, the time is NOW.


I have alerted you in the past when higher personal priorities would affect this blog. Now, again, is such a time. Over the next several weeks I do not expect to have enough time to think and write this blog, at least to the standard I have asked of myself. I have personal issues that will demand my time and attention, and I'll also be working on upcoming stories for the Arizona Republic. The "Power Players" list will be updated every week. Sometimes there may be brief text to go along with it; sometimes there will be only the list. Quick thoughts and news alerts will come via Twitter -- @SpinDoctor500 . Thank you.



POWER PLAYERS for the week of  September 6: 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.  Jack Beckman and Jimmy Prock -- Driver-tuner combo looking like NHRA's version of Jimmie Johnson-Chad Knaus in their championship seasons, winning U.S. Nationals with a Beckman holeshot in otherwise the fastest and quickest hot rod on the planet.

 3. Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon -- Plus Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer, needing a good finish at Richmond Saturday night to make the Chase on points and without a win.

 6. Joe Gibbs -- His Sprint Cup teams have won six of the last eight races, including Darlington with Carl Edwards. 

 7. Dave Moody -- SiriusXM NASCAR radio afternoon drive-time host adds Monday segments on Fox Sports 1's NASCAR Race Hub, simulcast on TV and radio.

  8. Erica Enders-Stevens -- Time for national media to give defending NHRA Pro Stock class champ some pub. She had three holeshots to take U.S. Nats.

   9. Ken Adelson -- TV production veteran becomes NHRA's broadcasting and digital content VP and will be executive producer for NHRA-produced Fox Sports shows next season. Adelson will be the one crafting what fans will see.

 10. Shane Cockrum -- Second consecutive win in the USAC Silver Crown Ted Horn 100 at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.

more next week . . . ]