Sunday, February 14, 2016


I'm deep into my fifth decade of professional motorsports involvement. I hope, and believe, I've made some positive contributions to the sport and industry along the way. I guess at least some people think I have as I've been honored with several awards for "dedication" and "contributions" to motorsports, including the inaugural Bob Russo Founders Award.

My first byline story appeared in 1969 in the old USAC News. In the aftermath of a refueling fire that led to a crewman's death, I wrote that USAC should mandate that all pit crew members wear a Nomex uniform. That sounds obvious today, but back then, it wasn't unusual for over-the-wall guys to wear T-shirts. You can see it in the old photos and films and even the Indianapolis 500 fire crew on pit road wore cotton, not Nomex. Anyway, I like to think I made a useful contribution to racing starting with my very first published piece.

I sure hope to make some more contributions this year, even if nothing more than providing readers here in the Valley of the Sun with my stories in the Arizona Republic and .  The media environment here is such that I'll probably account for a high percentage of the total local coverage. I'm not pushing any agenda as these are feature and hard news articles and Q&As. As IndyCar series drivers here are largely unknown, I plan to tell people here of the fascinating and wonderful human stories in pit lane, leading up to the April 2 Saturday night return of the Verizon Series after a decade.

This year, though, is fundamentally different. 

This year, I need racing to give back to me.

It's been a challenging few years and I'm functioning in the aftermath of that while still dealing with other issues as yet unresolved. I need for motorsports to be more than a distraction to me. I need it to lift my spirits, excite me, keep me mentally and emotionally positive.

I need for the racing to be FANTASTIC. I need more than Brian France's promised "Wow" moments. I need every series to give me its version of IndyCar last summer at Auto Club Speedway.

I need there to be GREAT stories. On the track. On pit road. In the paddock. In the garage area. I will read and hear enough about politics from the Republicans and Democrats this presidential election year. I need racing to provide those wonderful human interest stories that make all of us feel good and inspired.

I need the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 to live up to its billing as the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing." If I make it, it will be my 38th Indy 500. I need for May's practice and qualifying sessions to be safe and interesting. On race day, I don't need any rain, but every grandstand seat must be occupied. I need the best-ever start, best-ever pit action, best-ever finish, best-ever victory lane, best-ever winner's interview.

I need drivers, owners, crew chiefs and others to say interesting things during interviews. Yes, make sure the sponsors get the exposure they need and have paid for, but please move past a long list of corporate names and tell us things we don't know.

I need the microphone holders to ask legitimate, meaningful questions. "What does this mean to you?" is ridiculous and I hope I live long enough to be watching when the inevitable answer is given. "Talk about your race" isn't even a question. 

I need Jeff Gordon to be as great a TV commentator as he was a driver. I need Darrell Waltrip to dial his ego back a notch to give Gordon the time to make his points. I need Mike Joy to be a great traffic cop to make sure this happens.

I need the new NHRA package on Fox Sports to be boffo. I need the competitors to avoid boring oil downs so the live TV races will be a success.

I need the track operators to keep striving to make the fan experience the best it can be. In some cases, that means past-due facility upgrades. In others, it means more creative thinking. It's all about having a great day and seeing an unforgetible show.

I need more companies to spend their marketing dollars in the racing series that best fits their business objectives. Especially with low economic growth in America, and a roller-coaster stock market, there are good deals to be made.

I need the mainstream news media to look past the obvious NASCAR stories and bother to report on what's interesting in NHRA, World of Outlaws and other ignored series. There are GREAT stories out there, waiting to be told, for journalists willing to stop looking down their noses.

Most of all, I need the industry and the sport and the product to be so compelling that I can't wait for the next race. In other words, ladies and gentlemen, get my -- and everyone else's -- motor running.

Personal circumstances mean the blog this year will be somewhat different. I don't believe in writing for no reason other than to fill space. So, when I have enough time to think, and the mental energy to write, you will see a new weekly post. I will rely somewhat more on Twitter ( @SpinDoctor500 ) to offer quick thoughts as developments warrant between blogs. So, if you're a regular blog reader, please look for me on Twitter as well. The "Power Players" list of the 10 most influential people in the Business and Politics of Motorsports resumes below and will be here weekly. Thank you.

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  February 14: 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.  Brian France -- Charter system for 36 Sprint Cup team owners a revolution in the Business and Politics of NASCAR. My, my, has the thinking ever changed in Daytona Beach. Next big challenge: A replacement series title sponsor for lame-duck Sprint.

  2. Lesa France Kennedy -- International Speedway Corp. chairwoman gets to officially show off her $400 million Daytona "stadium" to the motorsports industry. Success or failure will affect many other tracks in the next few years. Will all the 101,000 seats be occupied?

  3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- Why? It's Daytona 500 week. 

  4Jeff Gordon -- There's been plenty of pre-Daytona promotion for Fox's new superstar in the booth. Gordon gets his chance to shine at the start of the season and his performance could help bring new viewers to NASCAR.  

  5. Chase Elliott -- At 20, he's the youngest Daytona 500 pole winner ever. You can bet NASCAR will be out trying to sell his story -- Gordon's successor in the No. 24, among other things -- in hopes to attracting a new generation of fan.

  6. Alan Johnson -- Drag racing's master tuner, with his own team parked due to lack of sponsorship, becomes a "consultant" to Steve Torrance. Torrence then wins the pole and the finals at Pomona. 

  7. Ron Capps -- NHRA's Phil Michelson -- wins a lot but never No. 1 -- starts his chase for a Funny Car championship with a Pomona win. Capps knows how to tell and sell NHRA's appeal to the public and the media.  

  8. Darrell Waltrip -- What he says influences what viewers think about drivers, teams and NASCAR itself. But he needs to back out of his own throttle enough to let Jeff Gordon in. 

  9. Jenna Fryer -- What she writes for the Associated Press is distributed around the world. Be that positive or negative.

 10. Rob Kauffman -- Leader of the Race Team Alliance cuts the "Charter" deal with NASCAR -- and has two of his own from defunct Michael Waltrip Racing to sell.

more next week . . . ]