Thursday, July 30, 2009


Dario Franchitti, 2007 Indy 500 winner and IRL champion and currently second in points, was the Newsmaker guest on Wednesday night's The Race Reporters radio show on Robin Miller, of, and Gordon Kirby, United States editor of Motor Sport, joined me in the questioning and we had a roundtable discussion on the future of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indy 500, and IRL. Tony Kanaan made a brief surprise visit to update us on his health following a pit fire last Sunday at Edmonton.

Here's some of what Franchitti said:

On rules changes starting in Saturday night's race at Kentucky, intended to improve competition (read that: entertainment):

"I don't know how effective they will be. I don't really know enough about the aerodynamics of the car, to that degree, to say. What I do like about it is, it's going to give us choices. That was one thing we really were missing. They gave the teams a very tight window to work in. It will give all the teams a bunch of choices to what to do with the car and that should give us some separation. Some people are going to get it right and some people are going to get it wrong . . . As far as 'Push to Pass,' the biggest problem with that I see is with a normally-aspirated engine, it's so difficult to gain the kind of horsepower figures that are necessary. They are talking between five and 20 horsepower. With the turbo it's easy because you ramp the boost up when you hit the button and get 100 horse. I'm going to wait and see."

On problems passing this season in IRL races:

"Indy this year was weird. I think what we're seeing is the Sprint Cup cars are making the track quite bumpy. As soon as you go below that white line to try to get some air on the nose of the car to get you some grip, the car snaps sideways, because it's so bumpy down there. That's something that has happened since '07. The line at the Speedway, which already is narrow, has narrowed up even more."

Use this link to listen to the entire show:

The Race Reporters podcast is available on iTunes:

Upcoming guests:

August 5 -- Newsmaker: Tony Schumacher. Panelists: Dave Kallmann, Susan Wade, Jon Asher.

August 12 -- Newsmakers: Vicki O'Connor (Atlantic series), John Doonan (Mazda), Clark Campbell (VW). Panelists: Jeremy Shaw, Mike Kerchner, Jamie Reynolds.

August 19 -- Newsmaker: Brian Wolfe (Ford North America motorsports director). Panelists: TBA.

August 26 -- Newsmaker: Ashley Force Hood. Panelists: TBA.

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Monday, July 27, 2009


It's the show you -- and I -- have been waiting for.

Since I began hosting The Race Reporters just over two months ago, I've wanted to get Robin Miller and Gordon Kirby together for a one-hour roundtable discussion. Timing is everything. Given the recent executive management chaos at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indy Racing League, the timing is perfect.

So, we'll do it Wednesday, for one hour, 7 p.m. EDT on . Combined, we'll bring to the show about 125 years of Indy Car reporting and industry experience. We'll devote the entire show to the current state, and the future, of IMS, the Indy 500, and the IRL.

Even better, Dario Franchitti (left) will join us, as Newsmaker of the Week.

No HYPE -- you will not want to miss this one. I intend to say some things I previously haven't revealed relating to my own up-close-and-personal experiences. Things which help explain how and why things have gotten to this perilous point.

No, this won't be a bomb-throwing session. I would say this to the IMS/IRL can-do-no-wrong chatroomers: Tune-in with an open mind, because, if you LISTEN, you'll LEARN.

And, if you didn't hear it, we made some news on last week's The Race Reporters. Ed Hinton, the very well-known and experienced writer, said his reporting indicates the price tag for IMS -- even in a buyer's market -- could reach $1.5 billion. And Ray Evernham left open the possibility he could join Hendrick Motorsports at some point, perhaps to work on Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s team. You can listen to that show using this link:
* It really doesn't matter if Joie Chitwood departs IMS of his own choice, because he thinks his new job at ISC is better, for family reasons, or if it's a vote of no-confidence in the Hulman-George family ownership. What is a FACT is it's more management instability, which continues to undercut the Speedway, and the IRL. This was reinforced by Tony George's posting on his Vision team's website Sunday (no coincidence this was done the day of the Brickyard) in which he admitted to being "perplexed" by the family Board's decision to remove him as CEO and added he had "not received a reasonable explanation as to why." George also conceded he was "dismissed." I can tell you there has been a widely-held belief within the industry for decades of extreme disfunction within the H-G family and it's all proven to be TRUE despite the by-rote denials from the mouthpieces, who should now be thoroughly embarrassed.

* I'm glad to see pro-active PR hasn't totally gone the way of the Offy. The most active PR man in the land last week likely was Andy Hall, getting ESPN announcers interviewed in newspapers and on radio shows, in the run-up to the start of the ESPN/ABC portion of the Sprint Cup season at Indy. Yes, somebody out there is actually MAKING it happen.

* I wish series' broadcasters who constantly use "we, us, our" would understand how it undercuts their own credibility.

* Windy McDonald, the voice of now-closed Manzanita Speedway, says he'll retire after 52 years behind a microphone. Windy says he'll wrap up with a couple of Arizona short track announcing assignments this fall.

* Sadly, and terribly, this is what "journalism" has come to: Adam Cooper's posting on just hours after Felipe Massa's accident last Saturday (bold emphasis mine): "Could Michael Schumacher prove to be the ideal candidate to stand in for Felipe Massa at the European GP . . . While it is way too early for the team to make any comment, and we are just throwing this into the mix . . ." Just throwing this into the mix -- whatever happened to editors who would have insisted on some facts or spiked such copy, or these days, pressed the delete button?

* How could you tell President Obama's prime-time news conference last week didn't go well? MSNBC egomaniac Chris Matthews quickly tried to change the subject -- back to former Vice President Cheney and his aide, Scooter Libby. (!)

A couple of links of significance from last week:

Sports Business Journal's report on the decline of sports coverage in daily newspapers. Be sure to read the sidebars to see how some leagues/teams are trying to compensate. It's an excellent package.

Plus, Ed Hinton's great column on the changing balance-of-power in American motorsports, as controlled by the Hulman-George, France and Smith families.

[ Dario Franchitti news nuggest Thursday . . . ]

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Ray Evernham, three-time NASCAR champion crew chief (with Jeff Gordon) and now an ESPN analyst, was the Newsmaker guest on Wednesday night's The Race Reporters radio show on ESPN's Sprint Cup coverage begins with this weekend's Allstate 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Ed Hinton, of, and Bob Pockrass, associate editor of NASCAR Scene, joined me in the questioning.

Here's some of what Evernham said:

Q: Would you ever be interested in working with Dale Earnhardt Jr., if not as crew chief, as team manager or in some other capacity?

A: "First, let me say, I was a Dale Sr. fan and friend and would do anything that I could to help Dale Jr. I have said that I would do anything I can. If there was one guy I was ever going to go back to work for in the business it would be Rick Hendrick. Right now, there are some legal issues. I do have some non-competes (contract clauses) that hold me in place for a while. If those things get taken care of, and Rick Hendrick needed me to go and help him in any way, or help Dale Jr., I would gladly do that.

"I would not be a crew chief. I ended my career as Jeff Gordon's crew chief, so I have no desire to be anyone else's crew chief. I would certainly go and help the Hendrick organization in a consulting role, or any way I can."

Q: When you say non-compete, does that involve your ownership position in Richard Petty Motorsports?

A: "I have a very minority ownership role with Richard Petty Motorsports and, right now, that is the issue with the non-compete."

Listen to the entire show by using this link:

The Race Reporters podcast is available on iTunes:

Upcoming guests:

July 29 -- Newsmaker: Dario Franchitti. Panelists: Robin Miller, Gordon Kirby.

August 5 -- Newsmaker: Tony Schumacher. Panelists: Dave Kallmann, Susan Wade, Jon Asher.

August 12 -- Newsmakers: Vicki O'Connor (Atlantic series), John Doonan (Mazda), Clark Campbell (VW). Panelists: Jeremy Shaw, Mike Kerchner, Jamie Reynolds.

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Sunday, July 19, 2009

RAY on the RADIO

Ray Evernham won NASCAR's 1994 debut at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as Jeff Gordon's crew chief, so it's appropriate to have him as my Newsmaker guest on this Wednesday's (7 p.m. EDT) The Race Reporters radio show on Ray, who teamed again with Gordon for another Indy win in 1998, and did it as a car owner with Bill Elliott in 2002, now is an ESPN analyst. ESPN begins its Sprint Cup coverage with Sunday's Allstate 400.

Ed Hinton, writer, and NASCAR Scene associate editor Bob Pockrass will be on the media panel.

Meanwhile, American Le Mans Series President Scott Atherton was last week's The Race Reporters Newsmaker. I first met Scott in the mid-1980s, when he worked on Domino's Pizza's CART sponsorship of Al Unser Jr., and invited him on because I wanted to better understand his bet-the-ALMS-house strategy on Green racing.

A few sentences of explanation are in order for ALMS fans who didn't know of Atherton's live interview, which covered the second half of the show. Despite the fact that the interview was scheduled two months ago, and that they had a formal news release on it 72 hours in advance, the ALMS' PR department did not post any advance word on its site -- unprecedented among Newsmakers' own sites in TRR's brief history. Why? I was told "apparently something got lost in the translation" as staff readied for the weekend event at Lime Rock Park. (The audio link was posted well after-the-fact.)

In a series where media coverage is not exactly overwhelming in volume, helping to publicize a live, lengthy interview with its PRESIDENT falls through the cracks? That says a lot. The series' official report on the Lime Rock event provided no information on the championship standings in any class. I thought that's what a series is all about -- determining a champion.

You can listen to the show, with Atherton and journalists Larry Edsall, Greg Creamer and Jonathan Ingram -- plus my opening commentary on the nonsense that is talk of an alternative power 2011 Indy 500 - by using this link:
* I grew up in the age of Walter Cronkite. The highest praise that can be offered is to say he was a NEWSman. The news was to him what gimmicks are to the current-day cable goofs.

* The British Open (spare me the pompous "The Open Championship") proved again that among the most useless words spoken in broadcast media are predictions from golf announcers that a player will have a great round or make a putt.

* Sorry to say the media's love affair with President Obama has infected sports coverage. (Well, we already knew that, with NBC allowing the worst offender on its Sunday night NFL studio show.) The President threw out the first pitch at baseball's All-Star Game last week in St. Louis. Unlike any other high-profile person performing this ceremony, however, the Fox director stayed on a close-up of the President, so viewers couldn't see the quality of his pitch. (Low, didn't make it to the plate.) Show me any similar example in recent times. Was there an advance agreement between the White House PR operation and the network? I don't know. But I wouldn't be surprised.

* How to explain away getting booed and, at the same time, minimize such a crowd reaction? Do what the President did: Wear a Chicago team jacket in front of St. Louis fans, and then, throw the ball to the city's most popular athlete. (Trust me on this, I called the Arch city home for almost a decade.) Both were very effective image-management decisions.

* To cover both sides of the political base, let me observe this: It's insulting crap for radio talk-show host Sean Hannity to refer to someone as "a Great American" just because he/she calls his show. That caller could be a drug dealer or a child abuser for all Hannity knows. See item below.
Finally, and most importantly: In advance of Monday's 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, NASA issued a statement from astronaut Michael Collins. He was the one who orbited the moon while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed. Here's part of the transcript. All I can say about Collins' comments is -- AMEN!

NASA: You are starting to sound a little grumpy. Are you grumpy?
COLLINS: "At age 78, yes, in many ways. Some things about current society irritate me, such as the adulation of celebrities and the inflation of heroism."

Q: But aren't you both?
A: "Not me. Neither.

"Heroes abound, and should be revered as such, but don't count astronauts among them. We work very hard; we did our jobs to near perfection, but that was what we had hired on to do. In no way did we meet the criterion of the Congressional Medal of Honor: "Above and beyond the call of duty.

"Celebrities? What nonsense, what an empty concept for a person to be, as my friend the great historian Daniel Boorstin put it, "known for his well-known-ness." How many live-ins, how many trips to rehab, maybe -- wow -- you could even get arrested and then you would really be noticed. Don't get me started."

Upcoming The Race Reporters guests:

July 29 -- Newsmaker: Dario Franchitti. Panelists: Robin Miller, Gordon Kirby.

August 5 -- Newsmaker: Tony Schumacher. Panelists: Dave Kallmann, Susan Wade, Jon Asher.

[ Ray Evernham news nuggest Thursday . . . ]

Monday, July 13, 2009


* TNT and ABC concluded their Sprint Cup and IndyCar seasons, respectively -- and it showed. It's obvious to me NASCAR made a mistake in carving out the Six Week Summer Snooze Series. The most noteworthy thing was the network's cover-up of the reason it parked its lead announcer. Of course, corporate cousin CNN would flash its "journalism" credentials if anyone else tried that. Credibility? Meanwhile, ABC offered-up a classic mail-it-in show from Toronto. It's probably too polite to even call what was thrown out there by the pit-road microphone holders "questions." Instantly obvious incidents involving Will Power and Mike Conway somehow escaped the notice of Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear, who had to wait for replays to figure out which end was up.

* Conventional wisdom is one reason NASCAR's Sprint Cup TV ratings are down is Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s lack of success. NHRA's numbers on ESPN2 are .2 lower year-to-date, as of the Ohio race. Following the CW, is that because John Force hasn't won?

* Tony Eury Jr. faced the press at Chicagoland for the first time since being replaced as Junior's crew chief. Basically, he blamed the media for putting too much pressure on Junior. Where have I heard that one before? Now, I agree there's been too much hype put on Dale, especially since his father's death, and certainly after he moved to Hendrick Motorsports. But . . . Dale Jr. and Tony Jr. accepted that as part of the deal and especially moving into a higher-profile situation with Hendrick and new sponsors. To the best of my observation, no reporter failed to secure a lug nut, consulted on chassis setup, or blocked Junior from getting into his pit cleanly.

* Dale, meanwhile, made a PR visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before heading to Chicagoland. His generally worded, polite, comment that he'd be interested in driving an Indy Car someday was enough to set-off some reporters and chatroomers. I am sure Rick Hendrick isn't the only one wishing Junior would just focus on the task at hand.

* Tony George finally got around to issuing his Internet statement on his ouster as Hulman & Co. CEO. PR hint: It took TOO long. As someone who has crafted a few of these kind of statements myself, my eye naturally went right to the spin. That's OK. Potentially, the most interesting and newsworthy sentences were that Tony will propose a restructuring of the family's Board of Directors. If anything meaningful comes out of that, it will be a legit story.

* There's another way to look at Tony's statement: Some within the industry could worry that a potential change of the IMS Board structure represents more management instability.

* Someone PLEASE explain to me how it's possible to interview Roger Penske and NOT ask him about the IMS and IRL management instability created by the Hulman-George family rift, and if he'd be interested in buying the Speedway, the League, or both.

* Toronto had the network TV spotlight on what once was one of the biggest races of the CART season in a major, great city. Now, in the midst of a PR -- and tourism damaging -- trash workers strike. I was watching to see if any of the drivers copied what a few U.S. Olympians did last year in China -- wear masks. Of course, Marty Reid said it was "beautiful." How did it smell, Marty?

* Yes, they did it again. Lightly-sponsored Dale Coyne Racing finally makes it to the winner's circle, with Justin Wilson at Watkins Glen, and the IRL allows Coyne's sponsor ID to be covered-up with a wreath. When will they ever learn?

* Why didn't CNBC's NASCAR special reveal that Kevin Costner, who was interviewed, is an official NASCAR Foundation spokesman?

* Who was the worst media offender in the absurb coverage of the grotesque Michael Jackson memorial? That's easy: Katie Couric.
Unfortunately, another round of economy-related layoffs -- part of parent company Gannett's restructuring -- hit the Arizona Republic last week. About 100 jobs were lost, including 20 in the newsroom. Included was Dave Lumia, the editor who took interest in, assigned and coordinated the motorsports coverage.
Scott Atherton, president of the American Le Mans Series and Panoz Motor Sports Group (which includes Sebring, Mosport and Road Atlanta) will be the Newsmaker guest on my Wednesday night (7 p.m. EDT) The Race Reporters radio show on I first met Scott in the mid-1980s when he was working on Domino's Pizza's sponsorship of Al Unser Jr. We'll address the issues relating to U.S. sports car racing and why Scott has basically bet the ALMS' house on "green" racing.

Media panelists will be: Larry Edsall, editor of; broadcaster/announcer Greg Creamer; and Jonathan Ingram, of

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Thursday, July 09, 2009


Ron Capps, four-time winner this season in NHRA's Full Throttle Funny Car series, was the Newsmaker guest on Wednesday night's The Race Reporters radio show on Jim Pedley, Jeff Burk and Alan Reinhart joined me in questioning the NAPA Dodge Charger driver.

Here's some of what Capps said:

"I would love to go back to 1,320 (feet). Some tracks, we just can't . . . Some drivers just aren't on the chutes right away and that makes it worse. The safety at the top ends of some of the tracks (isn't) that good . . . We go to some tracks that just don't seem to be that good at holding these cars. If we had to go back to a quarter-mile at some tracks, you're already gritting your teeth and trying to duck behind the motor as it is; it's a good thing we're only going to 1,000 foot. I hate to come out and say stuff like that, but it's the fact . . . The way I see it, it's up to all the guys at NHRA, but we may have to go 1,000 foot at some tracks that just don't have the shutdown area, and maybe go to 1,320 at the ones that do."

Listen to the entire show by using this link:

The Race Reporters podcast is now available on iTunes:

Upcoming guests:

July 15 -- Newsmaker: Scott Atherton. Panelists: Larry Edsall, Greg Creamer, Jonathan Ingram.

July 22 -- Newsmaker: Ray Evernham. Panelists: Ed Hinton, Bob Pockrass.

July 29 -- Newsmaker: Dario Franchitti. Panelists: Robin Miller, Gordon Kirby.

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Monday, July 06, 2009


Tony George, by not continuing as CEO of the Indy Racing League once the Hulman-George family directors removed him from his leadership positions at Hulman & Co. and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, either:

a) Cast a vote of no confidence in the series he founded;

b) Showed himself as the kind who won't play the game unless he has the ball and is allowed to set all the rules.

Answer? Maybe both.

Despite some truly asinine writing in the aftermath of the Hulman-George family repossessing its checkfrom from Tony the Big Spender -- one George media mouthpiece has already fantasized about his eventual return to power; others allowed industry activists to opine without noting their financial ties to the IRL -- some Bottom Lines are obvious to those who know anything about the Business of Racing.

1. The IRL must become a pay-as-it-goes, self-sustaining enterprise. No more big bailouts from the H-G family accounts down the road.

2. Tony George has gone from one of the most powerful people in sports to the owner of a bad, one-car team as quickly as Helio Castroneves laps IMS.

3. George's decision to create the IRL now is cemented in sports marketing history as a mistake of stupendous proportions. When the IRL and Champ Car unified, I called what had happened over the previous 12 years the "$2 Billion Blunder" in this blog. Upon further information and review, I believe the total cost to be between $2.5-$3 billion.

4. Can anyone honestly point to me even ONE thing that the IRL accomplished, as stated as its founding goals? More American drivers? Oval track series? Cost containment? Preserving the success of the month of May? Increased corporate support and investment? Spectator and media growth? There is NOTHING! (Yes, give Tony his share of the credit for the SAFER barriers, which has benefitted many, but I'm counting that as an IMS accomplishment.)

5. Given the costs to his reputation, his family's finances, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the American sporting institution of the Indianapolis 500, would George finally ADMIT to his error in judgment? Honestly, Tony, was it WORTH IT?

Now what?

Two things, going forward:

* LEADERSHIP. Tony George, for the most part, did not put the right people in the key positions at IMS and the IRL. Whoever turns out to be the CEO past this season must make changes. The fact that someone is from Indiana is not an acceptable qualification. It's long past time for the realization to set in that it's a big business world out there and the narrow, insular mindset that has prevailed in the hiring and staffing process must stop. And, the H-G family must allow the top executives to exercise real leadership. If that means significant staff changes, revising the May schedule to accept new realities, etc., Mari George herself must give the green light.

* ACCOUNTABILITY. In the media. I know these are very difficult economic times for the media companies, but if Journalistic Credibility is to have any true meaning, those who have been Tony George/IRL mouthpieces have to go the way of the Offy. This includes some important local outlets and at at least one major national motorsports publication. Understand this: If Tony's Toadies are allowed to continue on the IRL beat in 2010, those outlets will have ZERO credibility.
Ron Capps, four-time Funny Car race winner this season in NHRA's Full Throttle series, will be Newsmaker of the Week on my The Race Reporters radio show, Wednesday, 7 p.m. EDT. Hear it at . It will replay several times on the channel, can be heard on demand at the show home page, and can be downloaded into an iPod. See links in right-hand column. Sign up to receive a free "E card" with alerts on upcoming guests.

The media roundtable will include: Jim Pedley, managing editor,; Jeff Burk, editor,; and NHRA announcer Alan Reinhart.

[ Ron Capps news nugget Thursday . . . ]

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


NASCAR legend Richard Petty was the Newsmaker on my The Race Reporters radio show Wednesday on . This weekend at Daytona is the 25th anniversary of his historic 200th Cup victory -- in front of President Ronald Reagan. Mike Harris, who retired yesterday after 30 years as the Associated Press' motorsports writer, and Lewis Franck, of ESPN the Magazine and Reuters, joined me for the journalists' roundtable. Here are a few highlights of Richard's interview:

What do you remember the most about that day?

"It was an exciting day for all the drivers just knowing that the president was coming. He said, 'Gentlemen, start your engines,' from the airplane (Air Force One) that was flying from Washington to Daytona. We cranked it up and then forgot all about the president . . .

"I stopped the car on the start/finish line and went up into the booth where the president was . . . I guess what impressed me was that the president, he could not understand Cale (Yarborough) and myself running 200 mph (for the win) with smoke flying off the cars. I think that really impressed him. It impressed me that he was excited about it . . . I think that made him a race fan after that . . . I always told people, 'We got the president on the sports page, and he got us on the front page.'"

How did you deal with earlier auto manufacturer withdrawals from NASCAR compared with today?

"When we first started, there was no factory involvement . . . The factories got back in in the '60s and out got in the '70s. We've lived through these before. The way things have happened the last few years, most of the big teams have their own engineers . . . If they're not here, we'll improve, we'll just improve a little bit slower."

How is Victory Junction camp (for ill children) doing in terms of fund-raising given the economy?

"Well, we're still surviving. We've still got a lot of people who really believe in it. What we've wound up doing, we've had as many people contribute as we've ever had, but the extra money is not there. Instead of sending a check for $100, they might send a check for $25. All the charitable deals right now is kind of in the tank because of the financial deal of the country. We're still operating. We're still doing our thing. In fact, we broke ground for another Victory Junction camp in Kansas City . . . I think it's going to be a little bit slower getting it going because of the economy. These are the kind of kids who can't go to a regular camp because of their afflictions. We give them a chance to do things they've never done before. It broadens their horizons, from riding a horse to going swimming, using a bow-and-arrow, climbing ropes. We give them all those opportunities to do that. Then, when they go back home, somebody will tell them they can't do it. They'll say, 'Hey, we've already done that. We want to do this over here.' It's a life-changing experience for the kids and for anybody who's ever been there and seen them do it."

It's widely believed that you, Bill France Sr. and Dale Earnhardt will be three of the first five inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Who should be the other two?

"I've thought a whole-lot about this. Being it is a Hall of Fame, then I think they ought to go back and look at some of the people that got me in business, OK? You go back to Lee Petty or Curtis Turner or Junior Johnson, all of these guys who were there when it started in order to give me and Earnhardt a chance to do it. We came along and, hopefully, we expanded it. Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne and these boys got a chance to do what they're doing today. Instead of getting the people who somebody knows, get some of the people in the background that people have forgotten. I think those are the ones who need to go in the Hall of Fame."

Listen to the entire show by using this link:

The Race Reporters podcast is now available on iTunes:

Upcoming guests:

July 8 -- Newsmaker: Ron Capps. Panelists: Jim Pedley, Jeff Burk, Alan Reinhart.

July 15 -- Newsmaker: Scott Atherton. Panelists: Larry Edsall, Greg Creamer, Jonathan Ingram.

July 22 -- Newsmaker: Ray Evernham. Panelists: Ed Hinton, Bob Pockrass.

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]