I'll just state the obvious: This is a Big Week in our country and for the future of our nation. Locally, it's NASCAR week here in Phoenix, and a lot will happen to determine the 2012 champions in all three NASCAR national series.
Phoenix International Raceway's grandstands are sold-out for Sunday's AdvoCare 500 -- impressive in a still challenging economic environment. Please look for my stories starting Tuesday in the Arizona Republic and AzCentral.com . (See below for more.)
As big as the news will be in the next several days, there were some major headlines last week.
SuperStorm Sandy topped them all. Looking at the TV images of the terrible destruction in New Jersey was especially tough for me. I grew up in Philadelphia but spent most of my childhood summers in the Atlantic City area. My grandparents owned a home right on the beach in Brigantine Island -- where the president did his photo-op last week -- but that house was completely taken out into the Atlantic Ocean in an early 1960s hurricane and never rebuilt. An aunt and uncle owned a home two blocks away from the beach and they kindly allowed us to stay with them for large parts of each summer. I've walked that Atlantic City boardwalk more times than I could possibly count, eating saltwater taffy and enjoying the shows and attractions (yes, including the Diving Horse) at the famed Steel Pier. The best cheese steak sandwich you could ever have came from a place just a couple of blocks away. Called the White House. Even Frank Sinatra would go there for his CS fix. I used to attend the TQ midget races staged each January in AC's convention hall (where Miss America was crowned for decades) and the Eastern Motorsports Press Association held its annual convention in town for many years.
Seeing what happened just 24 hours later, it's amazing NASCAR was able to race at Martinsville. But with the TV numbers plunging 20-plus points in the return of Dale Jr., that signals to me changes will be coming (again) to try to re-energize the Chase format.
Tim Wardrop, who was engineer when I managed Arie Luyendyk's (first) retirement race at Indianapolis in 1999, died. We won the pole that year and Arie was leading when he crashed trying to get around mirror-less and clueless Tyce Carlson. Tim was more than a very talented engineer -- he was a fascinating guy to be around.
Oh, and as you may have read, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp. Board of Directors decided to fire Randy Bernard after letting him twist in the wind for weeks. What horrendous PR we've seen in the last year: IndyCar's "run silent/run deep" disappearing act after Dan Wheldon's fatal accident which left a massive communications void which was filled by powerful and overwhelming negative voices. A.J. Allmendinger's completely botched public communications after his failed NASCAR drug test. And now the way Bernard's bouncing was handled by IMS Corp. However you feel about Bernard, there's NO EXCUSE for doing it this way. NONE.
I've read and heard some of the most ridiculous media yapping about this that could possibly be imagined. You have to give Bernard this: He was very successful in co-opting a large chunk of the Indianapolis-area media. It's sad there's no longer a powerful media watchdog like the old Editor & Publisher because I have no doubt such a publication would have had a field day objectively analyzing the way some people "reported" (cheerleading would be more accurate) on Bernard's tenure. Even those fans who continue to wear Indy's rose-colored glasses would have been well served by such a critical examination of a journalistic standards-lowering embarrassment. Now that Bernard is out and the coverage tone will/has changed in a dramatic -- far less favorable -- way, will media executives understand what's happened and make the moves that need to be made? Probably not . . .
IMS President Jeff Belskus is now in charge of the series and he made it clear in interviews last week that he is running the show and not limited by an "interim" title. I think it was good he made that point from a management stability standpoint, but -- caution -- by week's end it was starting to remind me of Al Haig's infamous "I'm in charge" press conference after President Reagan was shot in 1981.
IMS has begun a strategic business review and hired an outside consulting firm. Having been involved in two such strategic reviews involving major motorsports sponsors, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect. No doubt the recommendations will be: 1 -- Commit to a long-term business plan and budget; 2 -- Sell the business. So for everyone busy trying to suggest names for a new CEO, nothing is going to happen until the review process is completed, and the IMS Board decides how to act on it -- if at all.
Meanwhile, I did an extended interview on my friend Larry Henry's Pit Pass USA show about the latest IMS fiasco. It's right at the top of the show and here's a link:
Finally -- Given the recent developments in IndyCar, it just might be worth your while to go back and read (or re-read) my "Untenable" posting from a year ago:
Sometimes we need to forget about points, cars and gas mileage and focus on the PEOPLE. So here's a link to my long Sunday Republic story examining the evolution of the Jeff Gordon-Jimmie Johnson relationship. Would Jimmie have been as successful without Jeff? Gordon, Johnson and Rick Hendrick have their say:
In a major Business of Racing "get," my traditional Newsmaker Q&A next Sunday in the Republic will be with ISC Chair Lesa France Kennedy.
[ come back this weekend for announcement regarding the 2012 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports PR ]