• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, August 14, 2016

THE BILL ALSUP I KNEW (and THIS WEEK'S MOST UNUSUAL 'MOST INFLUENTIAL' LIST

I've never told this story before.

In November 1981, Bill Alsup was scheduled to do some Indy Car testing at Michigan International Speedway and also had some corporate meetings in the Detroit area. Alsup, second in the PPG Cup point standings to Rick Mears that season, drove from his Vermont home to Michigan and stopped by the CART offices with gifts of jugs of real Vermont maple syrup. While there, he got word bad weather meant testing would have to be pushed back a couple of days. So, Alsup a member of the CART Board of Directors, hung out with us in the small sanctioning body offices. I was there as director of communications and was able to schedule a few telephone interviews which Bill -- as always -- gladly did. It was good for him and good for the series and it also helped pass the time. He took us out to lunch.

But, mostly, Alsup observed. He was there when we (meaning Kirk Russell and me) would get calls from other Board members -- Pat Patrick being No. 1 on the list. Such calls were often to push an agenda or to ask why we, the staff, were doing certain things or why we were doing them a certain way. Our answer typically was because Chairman John Frasco (who was out-of-town when Alsup visited), our boss and high-powered attorney who worked in a large suite of offices down the hall in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., told us to do it. I wish I had $1 for every time Patrick told me: "F*** Frasco. I'm the founder, the president, the treasurer of CART." Usually these things got sorted out OK, but let's just say such calls contributed to our organization operating less-than-efficiently, and didn't do much for overall morale.

In January, 1982, there was a regularly scheduled Board meeting held in a conference room at the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport. The routine was the directors -- Patrick, Roger Penske, Bobby Hillin, Bob Fletcher among them -- would meet behind closed doors. Frasco would pass out printed agendas at the start and collect them at the end. Russell and I would sit in the hallway outside, and wait to be summoned inside to make a presentation, answer questions and get the direction from the Board. Then we'd go back outside and wait in case we were again beckoned inside.

At this particular meeting, this is what happened, as described to me by a few friendly directors. After a couple of opening matters were disposed of, Frasco said: "Bill Alsup has asked for a few minutes." Alsup then recounted his experience in our offices, what he observed, and expressed great concern. "Our organization is being run in a way we would never allow our own businesses to be run," he said. And, later, "What are we doing to our guys (Russell and me)?" His words, his concern, came from the heart.

When Alsup was finished, Frasco said: "Thank you, Bill" and immediately pressed ahead with other agenda items. There was no discussion of the concern Alsup expressed. Well, actually, there WAS "discussion." After the meeting, Frasco said to Russell and me, "Have you guys been talking to Directors? Don't talk to Directors unless I tell you to."

Alsup -- who contained his displeasure at being dissed by the chairman -- also observed this and was alarmed. When Frasco walked down the hall, Bill came over to Kirk and the PR guy and said he was sorry. He tried. And now he was worried what he did would actually have the opposite effect and create a backlash against us. Right then, he was more worried about us, as the staff and as a couple of guys busting-butt and working VERY long hours. 

Bill Alsup was worried about me, as a person.

That's who Bill Alsup was. And that's why news of his death last week has left me profoundly sad.    

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  August 14: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. Jason Johnson -- Beats Donny Schatz, who had won sprint car racing's most important event nine of the last 10 years, in a classic 56th Knoxville Nationals for $150,000.
 



  2. Steve O'Donnell -- OK, what will NASCAR's executive VP and chief racing development officer have to say about racing in the rain after the Mid-Ohio Xfinity series event?

 3. Roger Penske -- Still working on an IndyCar and/or Cup championship for his 50th anniversary season, but already says he'll field a second Xfinity series team next year. Anyone want to bet on Austin Cindric being fast-tracked? 
   
  4. Justin Marks -- Will the Mid-Ohio racin' in the rain winner now become the most sought-after road racing coach for Sprint Cup drivers? 

 5. Kyle Busch --  Will his hot streak continue with a sweep at Bristol? 

 6. Brandon Igdalsky -- Pocono Raceway boss re-ups with IndyCar for two more seasons . . . now how many paying customers will be in the grandstands this Sunday?


 7. Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria -- After big wall-bangers in the last two Funny Car races, will the NHRA drivers compete at Brainerd? 

 9. Donny Schatz -- Knoxville runner-up still leads World of Outlaws standings by 237 points over David Gravel.

10. Kyle Larson -- Marks won in Larson's usual Xfinity series ride while Kyle went from 21st to fifth at Knoxville.


more next week . . . ]