Sunday, April 12, 2015


It's been a while since I cleared-out random notes on my legal pad . . .

$ign of the Time$: When was the last time you read anything about a serious proposal to build a major (NASCAR or IndyCar worthy) oval track in America?

More SAFER barriers at Bristol Motor Speedway might prove to be a bigger test for fans than drivers. If the racing groove is narrowed -- remember, a result of safety -- will at-track and TV-watching spectators complain?

No televised sporting event, anywhere in the world, gets more gushy, kissy-face commentary than the Masters. (Commentators, in hushed, almost a church-like tone, "He's walking over the Hogan Bridge!") Yes, I've been to Augusta National Golf Club for the final round, and it's a beautiful and tradition-heavy setting. But . . . seldom, if ever, is heard a critical word. CBS sells out its journalism for a week in order to keep the TV rights for the following year. I bet there are more than a few at NASCAR who think they should get -- and deserve -- the same reverence from the media.

It's an old Business of Racing axiom that the champion of any major series is expected to take on certain responsibilities to represent the sport, often with the media and fans. Some drivers have been known to be more accepting of this idea than others. A few have come close to outright rejecting the notion. Not Kevin Harvick. He, indeed, does get it and has embraced the responsibilities of champion. NASCAR is better for it.

No one should doubt NHRA's decision to move its TV production "in-house" next year (an exclusive I wrote with Jon Asher last week on -- link on my Twitter @SpinDoctor500 ) is a Big Deal. It could be the biggest and most impactful Business of Drag Racing development since the end of the Winston series sponsorship. 

And, despite all the frustrations with ESPN, just where does NHRA think it can go in the cable universe to have a chance at that many eyeballs?

What looks like it will be a very small field for Saturday's prestigious race in Long Beach signals the many challenges still facing the United SportsCar management group.

The recent controversy over the completely bogus Rolling Stone story reminded me of this: In early 1993 I got a call from an RS writer and editor about doing a story on Nigel Mansell, the F1 world champion who had shifted to CART (I was the Newman/Haas Racing PR director.) During the 10-minute conversation, I could never get comfortable with what they were saying, the way they were proposing to go about the story. Unlike other Big Features we did with Sports Illustrated, Time magazine and Playboy, for example, I sensed something I didn't like. Like, maybe, they had an unspoken agenda. On behalf of Nigel and the team, I declined the story, and never regretted that decision.

I welcome the physical improvements being made to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and look forward to seeing them for myself next month. These are much needed and no IMS "traditionalist" should complain as long as the essential "presence" of the Speedway remains. Just as Chicago Cubs' fans are experiencing while Wrigley Field is remodeled. We'll see if a better IMS fan experience ultimately translates to more ticket sales.

If you don't think TV sports announcers are thinking about ratings, you're wrong. With Jordan Spieth's near-runaway after two rounds at the Masters threatening to hurt the weekend audience numbers, CBS' top host, Jim Nantz, said this Friday (on ESPN) as other microphone holders were noting the energy had been sucked-out of the tournament and popular world No. 1 Rory McIlroy was struggling: "C'mon, Rory, put nine holes together."  Nantz, supposedly a sports broadcast journalism titan (I've never thought that; he's not in the Al Michaels/Bob Costas league), was cheerleading for McIlroy to get back into contention.

(By the way, Spieth is the clubhouse leader for Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.)

A word of caution to those on Twitter or the Internet who have a point-of-view on any issue and presume everyone else feels the same. No one agrees about everything on any subject. Speak for yourself, as is your Constitutional right. Or speak as an authorized and official spokesman for a specfic group. But don't otherwise proclaim you are speaking for everyone.

Most people don't understand there is a huge difference between someone being "popular" and someone who is "influential." I'll pick "influential" every time.

It's a very bad reflection of today's communications age and polarized opinions that so many people read or listen to another filtered by their own bias. Here's a good rule of thumb: Before you get angry, go back and objectively re-read what was written, or replay what was said. You might well learn there was nothing to merit your negativity. You might save yourself some embarrassment.

Take a look at the cover photo of a special edition of Time magazine I put on Twitter @SpinDoctor500 last Friday. Who do you think that is?

POWER PLAYERS for the week of April  12: 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. John Force -- Ends season-long slump with win in Las Vegas for Chevrolet, Peak and other corporate sponsors who have helped keep NHRA's biggest personality in business. 

  2. Lewis Hamilton  -- It's only two races into the Formula One season, but Hamilton's dominant winning weekend in China already gives Grand Prix racing's most recognizable worldwide star a big jump toward another championship.

  3. Tom Compton -- NHRA president decides to take TV production "in-house" next year and more big changes are coming, including possible (likely?) move away from ESPN.

  4. Darrell Waltrip -- It's Bristol Week, so expect to hear even more than usual from the 12-time track winner and Fox analyst.

  5Jim Michaelian -- Long-time Long Beach Grand Prix executive clears the city streets for the IndyCar and other series. It's not only America's most prestigious temporary circuit weekend and IndyCar's second most important race, the LBGP remains one of the country's top five motorsports events. Often copied. Never duplicated (especially on the bottom line.) 

  6. Derrick Walker -- IndyCar competition president mandates aero kit structural upgrades from both Chevrolet and Honda to reduce possibility of flying bodywork pieces. A spectator was injured at St. Pete after being struck by a bodywork piece. Here comes the lawsuit.

  7. Doug Boles -- Indianapolis Motor Speesway president announces new HD video boards and says 98 percent of spectators will have a clear view. Plus new sponsorship with Panasonic that makes IMS landmark the "Panasonic Pagoda." 

  8. Robby Gordon -- His Formula Off-Road Stadium Truck series gets a big platform for fans and media at Long Beach. It's a huge opportunity for a tour that needs more local, regional and national attention.

  9. Sam Schmidt -- New team driver James Hinchcliffe wins very rainy New Orleans debut IndyCar race (fewer than half the laps contested in green-flag conditions) for inspirational owner.

10. Jon Asher -- Drag racing's most influential journalist joins me in breaking story of big NHRA TV changes and debuts his "Insider" columns from Las Vegas with follow-ups to come. If you want to know what's REALLY happening in drag racing, you read Asher on . 

more next week . . . ]