Sunday, June 28, 2015

THE SCARIEST RACE I'VE EVER SEEN (and the new 10 'Most Influential' list)

I was at Auto Club Speedway Saturday for the MAVTV 500. I could easily write thousands of words about what I think was the scariest auto race I've ever seen. IndyCar fans got enough to debate out of this one race to fill all of the long off-season. I choose to focus on a few points:

* I talked with series CEO Mark Miles for 20 minutes before the race. You can go to my Twitter @SpinDoctor500 to read his quotes. I'll have some more of that conversation in this space in upcoming weeks.

* I think it's more likely than not that Derrick Walker has lost the confidence of the garage area. I don't know if he can regain it. The last time drivers were this concerned, only a couple of years ago, it led to major changes in the IndyCar management.

* Having been a part of the IndyCar scene since the 1970s, I can honestly say I have never experienced a more unhappy garage area than I did Saturday morning. People were a little more rested after an off-weekend. But that did nothing to brighten the mood about the scheduling, rules and every other issue under the IndyCar sun. Honestly, talking to long-time friends who still toil as crew members and in other roles made me sad.

* To those trotting out the old "any publicity is good publicity" lie, please stop embarrassing yourself. Anyone who has ever actually gotten paid to be a PR professional knows that is false. Do you really think IndyCar would benefit from the publicity of another driver fatality? Do you think that's the media exposure sponsors want?

* The multi-person race control system has been proven to be a failure and needs to be changed ASAP. The inconsistent nature of the officiating cannot be explained or tolerated. How did Graham Rahal not get a penalty following the pit incident that has been routinely penalized with at least a stop-and-go for decades? The Grassy Knoll types think it had something to do with keeping on-the-fence Honda from leaving the series.

* Scott Pruett likely is near retirement. Mr. Miles, please talk to him about becoming the new race director. But he'd only be interested if he's the sole decision-maker from the time the green flag waves until the checkered flag is displayed.

* The tiny crowd of just a couple of thousand was sad and embarrassing but not much of a story because it was so expected. That's what happens with a late June date on a Saturday afternoon in California. Trust me, the series won't be back in Fontana unless it gets a September date.

POWER PLAYERS for the week of June 28: 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. Sam Flood -- NBC Sports' executive producer debuts his NASCAR team this weekend at Daytona. The stories they tell, don't tell, and the way they present the sport will have a massive impact on NASCAR's standing with the American public.

  2. Jeff Burton -- The former "mayor" of the NASCAR garage area is known for saying smart and insightful things. He needs the freedom from NBC's producers to do just that. If so, viewers will be more than entertained. They will be informed. 

  3. Derrick Walker -- No one in motorsports is more under-the-gun right now than IndyCar's competition president. Drivers say he didn't act on their pre-MAVTV 500 concerns about pack racing and safety given the aero rules IndyCar dictated. And then there's the whole issue of inconsistent officiating.

   4Kyle Busch -- His win -- on a road course, no less -- is nothing less than inspirational and should earn the praise of the national media.

  5. Graham Rahal -- Media-friendly second-generation driver wins what was perhaps the scariest IndyCar race ever run. No other driver can explain it better to the national media.

  6. Brett Frood -- Stewart-Haas Racing executive VP says he's "confident" in signing a new sponsor for Danica Patrick and re-signing her to stay with the team.

  7Jim Utter -- Leaving the Charlotte Observer after 24 years to lead the NASCAR coverage on . 

  8. Donny Schatz -- Wins in World of Outlaws from the 10th starting position for his 17th victory of the season. NASCAR-obsessed journalists owe it to their readers to pay attention. 

  9. Tony Kanaan -The most vocal of the IndyCar drivers post-Fontana. His voice carries the weight of being an Indy 500 winner and series champion.

10. Joie Chitwood -- Daytona International Speedway president works through the facility hassles of the last big racing weekend before "re-imagining" construction is scheduled for completion.

more next week . . . ]