• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

2016


MEMORABLE MOMENT: Michael Andretti (left), me, Berni Haas and Mario Andretti at Carl Haas' memorial service. Mario, Michael and I all had the honor of being speakers.

 
2016: What a challenging year.
 
For me, personally, it was 12 months of emotional and physical pain -- grief, profound and prolonged sadness as a sole family caregiver, non-stop stress, attempts at heartfelt help for another seriously-ill loved-one, disappointment in the lack of understanding and support of "friends," maximizing my organizational skills in preparation for major surgery, embarrassment at being seen in public as physically compromised, and setbacks en route to what I hope will be a meaningful recovery by next spring.
 
People keep saying they are sure I'll be glad when this year is over. What they seem to not grasp is the calendar will change, but not many of the issues and situations. As I always say, however, millions have it more challenging than I do.
 
In motorsports, the best example of overcoming challenge can -- once again -- be found at Hendrick Motorsports and the No. 48 Lowe's team. In the summer months, Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus seemed to be nowhere on speed, and Rick Hendrick later admitted to pondering if it was time to split-up his six-time NASCAR champion driver-crew chief pairing. He didn't. After Homestead, they had gone from last-to-first and Cup title No. 7, tying Johnson with record-setters Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
 
Traditional and social media didn't even give the champions time to think about, appreciate or celebrate the seventh, immediately turning the conversation to the possibility of a historic eighth Cup championship. I have to say, in that sense, I felt sorry for Hendrick's Heroes.
 
I apologize to loyal readers of this blog for being off-the-air so long in what was the 10th anniversary of these writings. Quite simply, I had higher priorities, and could not devote the time to think and write to produce a blog that I felt was worthy of your time. Thank you for your understanding.
 
Let me announce that, in the final tallying of the weekly "Power Players" rankings of racing's Most Influential People, the 2016 winner is Roger Penske. In his team's 50th anniversary season, Penske won another IndyCar championship and came close in Cup. Joe Gibbs, leading what at times was Toyota domination, was second. World of Outlaws champ -- for the eighth time -- Donny Schatz (25 A-main wins) completed the top three.
 
This year I'm going to end with some awards, as determined solely by me, for whatever you may think they are worth. My hope is they will stimulate some thought:
 
Most Valuable Player:  Jay Frye. Shifted from Hulman & Co. chief revenue officer to IndyCar's competition president, Frye got Phoenix back on the schedule, added Watkins Glen as a last-minute replacement for the Boston street race, established an effective and largely uncontroversial stewards' panel, began the process away from aero kits to a universal body for 2018, and -- perhaps most amazingly of all -- kept the notoriously unsettled paddock area relatively calm. Quite a job by the longtime NASCAR team boss. There will come a time when NASCAR is in need of a senior executive, and Frye's outstanding 2016 in IndyCar will put him on the short list of candidates. Well done. No. VERY well done.
 
Most Loyal: Jeff Gordon, for agreeing to Hendrick's outreach for help and subbing for the concussed Dale Earnhardt Jr. Impossible not to admire Gordon's loyalty to the man who gave him what he needed for a historic Hall of Fame career. But . . .    
 
Worst Idea: Gordon returning to the track after a season-long celebration of his greatness in 2015. It seemed so anti-climatic and a footnote to all that had been remembered and cheered the year before.
 
Best Idea (co-winners): Gordon's authorized biography, Jeff Gordon: His Dream, Drive & Destiny. And Linda Vaughn's heavily-captioned picture book: Linda Vaughn: The First Lady of Motorsports. A long overdue tribute to a great lady. 
 
Best Moment: Gordon and Tony Stewart's side-by-side celebration lap after the Brickyard 400. One for the heart.
 
Feel Good Moment: Ron Capps finally -- FINALLY -- winning a much-deserved NHRA Funny Car championship.
 
Most Inspirational Person: Holly Cain, the wonderful NASCAR.com writer, who reported and wrote greatly while dealing with everything one has to deal with as a cancer patient -- and more. All the while remaining a very nice person.
 
Most Hype: The 100th Indianapolis 500. All the pomp and circumstance -- and an announced sell-out crowd that generated enormous profits for Hulman & Co. -- once again -- at least for one day -- made Indy Indy.
 
Biggest Disappointment: The 100th Indianapolis 500. All credit to owner Michael Andretti and the fantastic strategy call of Bryan Herta to coach Alexander Rossi to the checkered flag. He might have been the most surprising race winner in decades. But it was a fuel mileage -- not flat-out speed racing -- finish. And, at year's end, nobody beyond IndyCar's most passionate fans can tell you who won the 100th Indy 500.
 
No Hype (co-winners): Tony Stewart's final Sprint Cup season. Sprint's final season as Cup series title sponsor.
 
Best Race: The 56th Knoxville Nationals, as Jason Johnson fought-off Schatz for his first victory in sprint car racing's and the World of Outlaws' most prestigious event.  
 
Worst Race: As usual, the meaningless NASCAR Sprint All-Star event.   
 
Best Sight: IndyCars back on-track at Phoenix International Raceway.
 
Best Decision: The International Speedway Corp. Board of Directors FINALLY authorizing the budget to modernize Phoenix International Raceway, which has fallen way behind other sports venues in the Valley of the Sun.
 
Keep Your Eyes On (co-winners): Alex Bowman, who qualified and raced very well -- he almost won Phoenix from the pole -- in the No. 88 as substitute for Earnhardt. And Austin Cindric, who showed plenty of talent in various series, and has a full-season ride in a Brad Keselowski NASCAR truck for 2017.
 
Congratulations: T.E. McHale and Dan Layton, of Honda, winners of the Jim Chapman Award for Excellence in Motorsports Public Relations. Well deserved. The honor came on the centennial of Mr. Chapman's birth and unveiling of the permanent Jim Chapman Award, currently displayed in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway media center. 

Personal Thrill: Going 180 mph at Indy as Mario Andretti's passenger in the Honda IndyCar two-seater a few days before the 100th Indy 500, which was my 38th Indy 500. Thanks Mario, Jay Frye, Mark Sibla, Alivia Mattioli and the crew. 
 
Greatly Missed: My longtime boss, Carl A. Haas. We won three PPG Cups together with Mario and Michael Andretti and Nigel Mansell. What an honor to speak at Carl's memorial service. Bill Alsup, a great guy and strong ally of mine when I was CART's communications director. Media guy Bob Margolis, quite a personality and another inspiration for his own lengthy fight against cancer. And, above all, my mother. 
 
[ please check back here in January 2017. Thank you. ]