Monday, September 07, 2015


There was a lot of criticism of the 2015 IndyCar schedule because the season was over before Labor Day.

As unintended as the circumstances were, thank God it did.

Few sports organizations face the off-season with as many challenges. So, with Justin Wilson's death fresh and raw, it was a good thing there was only one race left after Wilson died. That provided everyone in the paddock the chance to properly honor Wilson and pay their respects in a public way. Now they can deal with it privately.

What needs to be addressed by Mark Miles and his executive management team? Keeping Honda and dealing with its request to modify its aero kit. That would require Miles to go beyond what had been agreed to with Chevrolet, so the final decision likely will have consequences. Then there's the 2016 schedule, and the fate of Milwaukee and Pocono. Derrick Walker is gone as the competition boss, so there's a replacement to be found and issues like race control, the steward system, and the "post-race review" philosophy to be reviewed and reformulated. Sponsors, oh do teams need sponsors! Some existing teams may well be on the brink.

But there's one issue I want to see fixed -- finally. And that's adding an experienced, top-shelf communicator to the executive management team. Under different leadership, IndyCar paid a big price for going silent after Dan Wheldon's fatal accident. New people, the same problems, when Wilson was injured at Pocono. It's called Crisis Communications and IndyCar seemingly has zero capability. The fact that IndyCar doesn't have this is itself a crisis. Consider the PR mess Indy 500 pole day when the rules were changed abruptly in response to cars flipping. Walker admitted to me the Big 3 -- Mark Miles, Doug Boles and Walker -- did not emerge from their decision meeting with talking points. They all pretty much went in different directions with their own version of what was important. It was a mess.

In the age of instant communications via social media, there simply was no excuse for IndyCar to have let NBCSN go off-the-air at Pocono without an official statement regarding Wilson's condition. Those involved might do well to take a look at the June 1981 Milwaukee CART race on ESPN, or the 1981, 1982 and 1983 Michigan 500s on NBC. 

I've had a couple of conversations with CEO Miles about this (before Pocono.) Candidly, I didn't get the impression it's a high priority for him. It should be. It OBVIOUSLY should be. If nothing else, go back and read AP columnist Paul Newberry's article that called for the end of the IndyCar sport. I can say, from personal experience, that those kind of columns don't get written when the series has established good, professional, 1-on-1 relationships with journalists. (That means don't copy NASCAR's Integrated Marketing Communications model.)

It was already past time for IndyCar to spend the money on a communications VP, one with great experience, and with the authority to fix the long list of PR things that need fixing. With the run-up to the 100th Indianapolis 500 at hand, the time is NOW.

I have alerted you in the past when higher personal priorities would affect this blog. Now, again, is such a time. Over the next several weeks I do not expect to have enough time to think and write this blog, at least to the standard I have asked of myself. I have personal issues that will demand my time and attention, and I'll also be working on upcoming stories for the Arizona Republic. The "Power Players" list will be updated every week. Sometimes there may be brief text to go along with it; sometimes there will be only the list. Quick thoughts and news alerts will come via Twitter -- @SpinDoctor500 . Thank you.

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  September 6: 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.  Jack Beckman and Jimmy Prock -- Driver-tuner combo looking like NHRA's version of Jimmie Johnson-Chad Knaus in their championship seasons, winning U.S. Nationals with a Beckman holeshot in otherwise the fastest and quickest hot rod on the planet.

 3. Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon -- Plus Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer, needing a good finish at Richmond Saturday night to make the Chase on points and without a win.

 6. Joe Gibbs -- His Sprint Cup teams have won six of the last eight races, including Darlington with Carl Edwards. 

 7. Dave Moody -- SiriusXM NASCAR radio afternoon drive-time host adds Monday segments on Fox Sports 1's NASCAR Race Hub, simulcast on TV and radio.

  8. Erica Enders-Stevens -- Time for national media to give defending NHRA Pro Stock class champ some pub. She had three holeshots to take U.S. Nats.

   9. Ken Adelson -- TV production veteran becomes NHRA's broadcasting and digital content VP and will be executive producer for NHRA-produced Fox Sports shows next season. Adelson will be the one crafting what fans will see.

 10. Shane Cockrum -- Second consecutive win in the USAC Silver Crown Ted Horn 100 at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.

more next week . . . ]