Sunday, March 27, 2016



IndyCars are back in the Valley of the Sun this coming Saturday evening for the first time in 11 years. For those so inclined, I've got thousands of words this week in the Arizona Republic / . First up Sunday's blowout feature on Scott Dixon, a great driver, a great person. Monday I'll explain the significance and demands of short ovals in IndyCar history. My notebooks start Wednesday and Friday will be my feature on Ryan Hunter-Reay. Saturday will be my traditional race day Q&A, this one with Mario Andretti. Monday, April 4, I'll wrap it all up. All those links and news from the track all this week on @SpinDoctor 500

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  March 27: 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. Jay Frye -- NASCAR veteran was IndyCar's key negotiator in bringing the series back to Phoenix. Now, he's in charge of all competition issues. Getting the rules right (like amount of downforce) is essential, because no major race in recent memory needs great "word of mouth" promotion more than Saturday evening's 250 miler.

 2. Alan Johnson -- Nitro cars' greatest tuner got Brittany Force her first Top Fuel victory at the Gatornationals. Can Johnson the consultant go back-to-back at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with Force or Steve Torrence?  

  3Kyle Busch -- What will the Sprint Cup champion say, or not say, and how will he say it to the media at Martinsville after NASCAR fines post-Auto Club Speedway Xfinity Series race? 

  4. Mike Joy, Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip -- There's always lots to say during Martinsville races. DW and Jeff allowing each other enough time and space to make their points -- with Joy as traffic cop -- is essential. If someone doesn't cooperate, stick a Martinsville hot dog in his mouth.

  7. Lewis Hamilton -- Will the world champion restore "order" at Bahrain circuit after Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg won in Australia? 

  8. Bryan Sperber -- Phoenix International Raceway president has a lot on the line with return of IndyCar. And paid attendance will be . . . ?

 9. Jason Johnson -- The World of Outlaws resumes action Friday night in California after a rare "off" weekend with Johnson coming off a spectacular victory at Placerville Short Track, where he was involved in a major accident that sidelined him for the season at the same track one year earlier. 

 10. Kody Swanson-- USAC Silver Crown champion the last two seasons headliner as series opens Sunday at Terre Haute Action Track.

more next week . . . ]


Sunday, March 20, 2016


The Haas F1 team made its debut last weekend in Australia and Romain Grosjean finished a good sixth. I thought this was a good time to share some of my Business of Racing quotes from team owner Gene Haas. I interviewed him November 2015 in the NASCAR garage area at Phoenix International Raceway, where one of his drivers, Kevin Harvick, dominates. Some of this was used in my Arizona Republic notebooks PIR week.

On his first meeting with F1 commercial czar Bernie Ecclestone: "He was very nice and cordial, but a year later, when I went to see him again, he goes, ‘Who the hell are you?’ I think by nature he’s (inaudible). He said, ‘You can’t be serious about what you want to do. You have to be out of your mind.’ On the other hand, when he dropped down to seven or eight teams, he allowed four teams to come on board. I guess his perspective is based on how many teams he has on the grid."

On the massive cost of Formula One: "If you look at it over 10 years and you invest $10 million a year, that’s $100 million. That sounds like a lot more. We’ve probably invested at least $10-$15-$20 million in racing for 15 years. I can’t tell you how much I’ve invested in Formula One but I don’t think it will be triple digits yet."

On using F1 to increase international sales of his machine tools: "That’s the No. 1 reason for doing this. Just in the little bit I’ve done, the perception that Haas Automation as a company has received in these overseas venues has been phenomenal. I think it’s worked out beyond my expectations as far as people becoming aware of Haas Automation as a brand and as a machine tool builder.

"(In 2014) we did a little over $1 billion in sales and our long-term goal is to double that. It (Grand Prix team) would actually pay for itself in a 10 percent increase in sales. Ultimately, we expect to have revenue from sponsors. We expect to run it as a business and maybe one day make a profit from it."

On the possibility of hiring an American driver: "It would help from a marketing standpoint to try to sell advertising space to bring in an American driver. But our primary purpose is to learn about Formula One. Our goal is to do the best we can with what we can attain. We were able to attain a current Formula One driver to add some maturity and knowledge. Romain will bring his knowledge of the tracks and little things we need to know about like pit roads, tire strategies and those sort of things."

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  March 20: 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.  Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus -- NASCAR's most famous driver-crew chief combo has won two of five this season and "Superman's" California victory put him one up on Dale Earnhardt's career total.

  3John Force -- Gets first NHRA "double" with Brittany Force and Robert Hight winning Top Fuel and Funny Car at the Gatornationals. 

  4. Gene Haas -- Owner of America's first Formula One team in 30 years gets a points-paying sixth place in Grand Prix debut.

  5. Brittany Force -- Finally, her first Top Fuel win, and in an NHRA "major" no less. This is what NHRA needs, for the Force daughters (Courtney in Funny Car) to win and win and make headline after headline.

  6. Mike Helton -- Is NASCAR's vice chairman and his competition executives about to penalize Kyle Busch for his post-Auto Club Speedway Xfinity Series race actions and non-actions?

  7. Toto Wolff -- The Mercedes-Benz motorsports boss sees Nico Rosberg win season-opener in Australia and influences others to overturn F1's silly new qualifying format after just one try.

  8. Pipo Derani
 -- The Brazilian, 22, is virtually unknown in America, except at Sebring, just as he did at Daytona, takes overall lead and wins a SportsCar classic in the closing minutes for Ligier-Honda.

  9. Donny Schatz -- Sweeps the World of Outlaws weekend at Stockton, Calif., dirt track.

10. Tony Pedregon -- Still getting his legs under him in new FS1 NHRA TV role, but the "how" and "why" of his explanations will shape the opinions of the drag racing audience.

more next week . . . ]


Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Post NASCAR Week in Phoenix illness has kept me from updating this week. Will have a new list Sunday night. Thank you.

Monday, March 07, 2016


As I have been writing and advocating for a return of IndyCars to Phoenix International Raceway since 2007, it was a pleasure to actually see this "officially" happen at the recent two-day pre-season test. I was there for all four sessions. Of course, different teams have different agendas during tests, so precise comparisons can't be made. But I especially paid attention to the two evening sessions since the April 2 250-mile race will happen on a Saturday evening.

IndyCars look spectacular under the PIR lights. In observing those two sessions, however, it became obvious to me passing could be a problem in the race. Those who have enjoyed open-wheel cars on short ovals, as I have for decades, know working through traffic is a great challenge to the leading drivers and many a race has been won or lost because of this.

Running the high line through turns one and two, and then forcing the driver/car on the inside to stay low off T2 so the pass can be completed, would be fun to watch. It would also constitute a brave maneuver. Every driver I spoke with said they expect there to be 1 1/2 grooves for the race but not two. Yes, we all have heard many times drivers predict trouble in passing and yet they somehow find a way to make it happen.

My conclusion from what I observed was the cars had too much downforce. It concerned me when I heard some suggest MORE downforce would be the way to go. NO!

Let me just say how absolutely essential it is for IndyCar's drivers and teams to put on a GREAT show for the series' return to PIR since 2005. No major race in recent times needs positive word-of-mouth from the customers to potential new customers more than the Phoenix Grand Prix 250.

This reminds me of when the series came to Texas Motor Speedway a few years ago for a Saturday night race on the ABC network. Not cable, the over-the-airwaves network. That was another case of IndyCar really needing to be spectacular. Despite what drivers suggested after practice, though, the then-officials-in-charge didn't adjust. The race was boring. A great opportunity was lost. It was back to cable the following year.

Phoenix will be an early and huge test for Jay Frye, in his new role as competition president, and Bill Pappas, the series' new technical boss. I'm friends with both and worked with both in other situations. The decisions made about downforce levels for Phoenix must be spot-on correct.

The Verizon series can't afford anything less than the best racing on a Saturday evening in the Valley of the Sun, a major and demographically diverse (important to sponsors) market. Sooooo much rides on it.

I grew up in Philadelphia, went to school there, became a race fan there, started my journalism career there. I was there when Roger Penske bought his first auto dealership, Chevrolet, retired as a winning sports car driver and began America's greatest race team. I was there at the first shop, in Newtown Square, Pa., and in the Reading, Pa., HQ countless times, including for the launch of the Penske Formula One car. I lunched with Mark Donohue just a few days before  his death and attended his funeral and wrote about it all in the Philadelphia Daily News. I was in Chicago for the announcement that Roger had hired some guy named Rick Mears. And so it went on . . . I was there for most of it and now, 50 years later, I write the Team Penske story. It was promoted on the Front Page of Sunday's Arizona Republic and ran at the top of sports Page 1. It marked the start of our NASCAR Week in Phoenix coverage
( online at ) so I hope you'll read our stories all week, including a Q&A with Jimmie Johnson, features on Chase Elliott, the Wood Brothers and NASCAR's new car rules, plus Danica and lots more. Thank you.

I'll be Tweeting from PIR's pit lane and garage area, from inside the haulers and media center, with what I find interesting and newsworthy this weekend. That additional element of my NASCAR coverage you can find at @SpinDoctor500 . Thanks.

POWER PLAYERS for the week of  March 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.  Roger Penske -- Brad Keselowski gets The Captain his first win of the 50th anniversary season for Team Penske. Up this coming weekend: Start of Verizon IndyCar Series season. 

  2. Brad Keselowski -- Comes off unusual non-competitive outing in Saturday's Xfinity Series race to take Miller Lite and Ford to victory lane in Las Vegas, overcoming high winds and a pit-lane speeding penalty.

  3Kyle Busch -- Won Vegas' Xfinity Series race, leading all but one lap, and ran strong in Cup race. 

  4. Mike Helton -- Just what NASCAR's vice chairman likes to see: Three races, three different winning drivers, Toyota, Chevy and Ford all victory lane visitors.

  5. Scott Dixon -- American racing's most relentless driver opens IndyCar title defense in St. Pete.

  6. Jay Frye -- Now IndyCar's racing boss, a job which traditionally has a high turn-over rate, his time in the hot seat officially begins on the streets of St. Pete.

  7. Bryan Sperber -- A strong fan turnout this weekend in Phoenix would strengthen the speedway president's bid with International Speedway Corp. to fund much-needed track improvements.

  8. Shane Stewart -- Ends the World of Outlaws week with a win in debut race at Arizona Speedway. It was his first victory of the season -- last year, he won nine times and finished second in points to Donny Schatz.

  9. Jim Utter -- Switched from Charlotte Observer to midway last season, now in full writing swing on all happening in the NASCAR world.

 10. Dave Moody -- SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90 afternoon drive-time host spent a lot of time last week with callers who wanted to talk about Brian France's endorsement of Donald Trump. Hot topic this week? Not even Moody knows for sure.

more next week . . . ]