Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rookie Simona DeSilvestro's Best Finish in IndyCar

photo credit: Dan Helrigel IndyCar

Toronto, ON - Canada -

Switzerland’s Simona de Silvestro bounced back from a mistake at Watkins Glen to have her best finish, ninth, in her rookie year in IndyCar. After difficult start in the weekend, fighting an ill-handling car, Simona avoided the wrecking and was joyous after the race at the Honda Toronto Indy.

“It was a hard race,” the Indy 500 rookie of the year said smiling in the pits, accepting a hug from her father, Pierluigi, and congratulations from the team. “We started way back (21rst). I think we had a great strategy. I think the middle stint was really good too we were pretty quick; we were catching people.

I think it’s a great recovery for us. We started pretty bad to end up the race we had is really positive. If we think the about it we can start up front (next week in Edmonton) the team did an awesome job I think me and the engineers asked a lot from the mechanics.”

Her Dallara Honda looked pretty clean but she noted “yeah I had a couple of close calls. PT (Paul Tracy) almost ran into me and some other people spun in front of me. Especially the first yellow; we’d start and then there’d be a huge crash. The point was keeping our nose clean I think that’s what brought us forward, so I’m happy about.”

Writer's note - Yes, it's been more than a year since my last blog. I thought some of my tweeps would be interested in Simona's progress. One of my outlets is Speedweek, in Switzerland, so I have been following her progress since Formula BMW.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Does LeBron James he remind you of any NASCAR drivers when they lose?

If you think this piece is out to bash Kyle Busch then click somewhere else.

I’m not a big basketball fan, but, when I read that LeBron James, who had been voted the NBA’s Most Valuable Player of the year, refused to shake hands with the victorious Orlando Magic or handle interviews with the media, it rang a bell.

Many top sports celebrities are available to promote commercial or their own charitable ventures. On the other hand, when they have a bad day -- or worse -- a loss then, it’s hands off.

That’s quite the double standard.

After Kyle Busch’s car was shoved into the wall by Joey Logano’s at the end of the Nationwide race in Dover, two images lingered. Busch hurrying away from the camera; yes to go to his next race. And, there was the young Logano, almost in tears, apologizing for something that turned out wasn’t his fault. Busch’s car had a tire going down which slowed him down right into the path of his teammate’s front bumper.

Dover can be viewed as a bad example because Busch did have another, immediate, commitment. It’s just the most recent occurrence of that sort in my mind.

There have been other races where Busch, and others, lose a sure victory at the end and refuse to face the media. That’s when some apologists state “(insert your favorite driver’s name) hates to lose.” Give me a break, who likes to lose?

Athletes are paid sums of money unrealizable to common folk in everyday life. They are paid not only for their performance but also to communicate with the ultimate employers - the ticket buyers, the merchandise buyers and their companies. Part of that includes, yes, talking to the media.

Over the years NASCAR, and other professional sports organizations, have adopted a set of rules on who is required to conduct interviews after a game or a race. And, most of the time the second or third place race finisher is just fine to give some perspective on the day’s event.

When you have a dominating driver eliminated at the end or near the end, that person could be the “big” story of the day. Unless there is some rule (with a hefty punishment for non-compliance) the paying public will not know the rest of the story.

Let’s give athletes a partial break. In the heat of the battle they’re likely be very emotional. I’d say give them two or three minutes, and a cool towel, to collect their thoughts. Even if the responses come out robotic, at least, we’d hear the other side of the story.

On the other hand, let’s stop treating athletes like princes or princesses and just be called up to give an account of the day’s action.

Any other treatment is unfair to those who actually pay the bills, you.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Jeff Burton sorts out the AIG bonus mess

Since President Obama is having difficulties filling government posts I’d like to nominate Jeff Burton for a high position. Let’s say Secretary of Commerce or the Treasury. In Bristol on Friday Burton made sense out of the nonsense.

For the past week we’ve seen politicians and insurance industry leaders wringing their hands over the $160 million, in retention bonuses, doled out to a handful of company executives.

Burton, driver for Richard Childress Racing, has the answer; some people need to admit they made a mistake and, even if the bonuses were legal contracts, the recipients need to return that money voluntarily.

In a pre-practice interview he said “well I think that Congress screwed up. And it sure would be nice to have somebody stand up and say you know what, ‘I screwed up. I supported sending tax dollars to a company to bail them out and didn’t put any stipulations in there’.

It sure would be nice if somebody would stand up and say that. And the people at AIG ought to have enough sense not to take the bonus. But the people that gave the money to them should have enough sense not to do that.

Congress is ripping all the lenders for screwing the country up. Guess what they are? They’re a lender that screwed that up. So how are they any different? It sure would be nice to have one of them stand up and say, ‘You know what, we should have done something differently,’ rather than just point the finger at each another. There. I feel better now (laughter).”

Now I feel a lot better – Burton makes sense. He's simplified it all.

Okay, now what about the company paying us taxpayers back the $180 billion we’ve paid them?

That’s an eye-popping number that we really need to address.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Matt Kenseth Like You’ve Never Known Him

Matt's No Longer "the walking Robot."

Guess it’s time to put away the idea of Matt Kenseth as a walking robot.

The humorous Nextel commercial, where he was portrayed as a robot, was the popular conception; now that has changed .

After winning the Daytona 500 he’s been very animated.

The first thing we saw was that, despite being a NASCAR champion previously, he was moved to tears when the race was called on Sunday night.

Then Kevin Harvick, who finished second, said it would be a popular victory.

In New York for a media blitz at the hallowed Friar’s Club, where old-time celebrities went to booze and schmooze, Kenseth explained just how popular that victory was

A relaxed but animated race winner said , “following the Daytona I always knew it was a huge race and a big win, I never dreamed it would be as big as it was.

I’ve gotten more texts, emails and voice messages, yesterday and Sunday night, than when I won the championship.

That seems crazy to me. When I turned my phone on there were 104 emails, 58 texts and my voice mail was full. That’s the coolest part of it all when you get recognized by your peers, the guys in the garage.”

Looking around the walls covered with aging photographs of Frank Sinatra and popular comedians can you imagine Matt ordering a round for the boys?

Go Grandma

Kenseth has been a little too busy to find out if or when his home town will honor him for the prestigious victory. So his family has to fill in for him.

“I’ve been a little out of touch (on the media tour). I haven’t talked to a lot of people. I know it’s a little crazy for my sister at my fan club store. All three local (tv) affiliates have been waiting there, they actually interviewed my grandma.”

He laughed and thought was cool that, at 95, Edith Kenseth has become a media darling in Cambridge, Wisconsin thanks to his achievement.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

It's all about the Money - Why Open Wheel Drivers Failed in NASCAR this year

By Lewis Franck

There's a saying “when someone says 'it's not about the money.' It really is all about the money.”

Just one year ago traditional NASCAR fans were upset because it appeared that an invasion of mostly foreign “open wheel” i.e. IndyCar drivers were going to take over their sacred stock car sport.

Team owners, seeking new markets, thought that if they would bring in the open wheel drivers they could bring in new sponsors. It did not work out that way.

One year later only Juan Pablo Montoya, the ex-IndyCar and ex-Formula One driver, and Sam Hornish Jr. were in the picture for a full-time ride. The reason – they both drive for the owners of their former IndyCar teams. Montoya drives for Chip Ganassi and Hornish, Jr. for Roger Penske, both are the most successful owners in IndyCar history.

At the Daytona 500 this February there were more previous Indy 500 winners than those who would run at the Brickyard in May. Montoya and Dario Franchitti were driving for Ganassi. Hornish for Penske, and Jacques Villeneuve for Bill Davis Racing. Other open wheelers Patrick Carpentier for Gillett Evernham Racing (GEM), and A.J. Allmendinger for Team Red Bull Racing.

Perhaps Mario Andretti who in the 1960s and 1970s successfully raced in and won in everything from dirt track sprint cars, to his World Championship for Lotus, is best to explain why they came over.

"From where I'm sitting, it is probably because of the money [in NASCAR]," said Andretti, who won the 1967 Daytona 500 two years before his Indy 500 win.

"Every individual would give you a different reason. I think the strongest one might be financial. It's not the only motivating factor but it is a strong one. And right now, the best chance to earn some money is NASCAR," he said one year ago.

Since “the split” in 1994 which divided (the now-defunct )CART from the Indy Racing League fans and, more importantly, big money sponsors deserted Indy-type – now called Open Wheel – series for the more stable NASCAR top-level Cup Series.

CART's problem was that top stars would go to Formula One, and in an effort to keep American drivers at Indy the IRL was formed; only its' stars, like Tony Stewart, ended up in NASCAR, because that's where the higher paying jobs were.

It turns out that the lack of money – due to the sudden decline in the US economy – hit the hardest of most of the teams with the open wheel “invaders”.

Also, lack of proper experience, that is running in the junior series for two years or more was another reason that these drivers had a difficult time making the transition to the heavy 3,400 pound cars.

Rusty Wallace, the 1989 Cup Champion who drove for Roger Penske, explained to Francklyspeaking, “these drivers undeniably have a tremendous amount of talent. Because it takes many years to really understand these heavy NASCAR cars, being thrown right into one of these cars and expected to be competitive right off the bat is unrealistic.”

Kevin Harvick, the Daytona 500 winner in 2007, agreed (in a previous interview), “It just takes time to establish that foundation," he said. "A lot of people from the outside looking in say, 'Well, I race Formula One. There's no reason I shouldn't be able to race the Sprint Cup Series.' If you can get over the ego part of it, racing the Truck Series or the Nationwide Series, you'd be better off, I think."

Wallace added, “also, the downturn in the economy has killed these drivers' long turn prospects of succeeding in a stock car. With money so tight now and sponsors expecting immediate performance, it makes it especially difficult for these guys. I honestly think that if a sponsor would spend 2-3 solid years with these open wheel drivers, and understand that the first couple years would be investment years, then I think that victory and success in NASCAR would be more of a realistic long term goal.

Dario, Sam, Juan Pablo- these guys are all damn good.”

What is also interesting, and crucial, is that NASCAR's Big Four, Richard Childress Racing, Hendrick Joe Gibbs Racing Motorsports, and Roush Racing chose to stick with NASCAR-trained drivers and they were the only teams to fill the 12 places in the ten-race Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs. If you did not race for a fully-funded team you had virtually no chance of succeeding.

Jacques Villeneuve's attempt wasn't much of an attempt because he bought a ride at the struggling Bill Davis Racing, failed to qualify for the Daytona 500 and was not heard from, in NASCAR's Sprint Cup since then.

A disappointed Davis lamented "We've built a bunch of cars for him, have gone testing and spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel. But it gets to this point -- they thought they had a sponsor for the whole year; we had the cars decaled and uniforms made and like you've read 100 times before -- the check never came.”

Francklyspeaking enlisted the help of Ford Aerodynamicist, Bernie Marcus, who used to be an engineer at the ATS, Onyx and March Formula One teams. Later he worked with Bobby Rahal in his 1992 CART championship. There's probably no better expert, who has seen it all.

Montoya, hired by Ganassi after he was released from Team McLaren, seemed to be a win-win situation for NASCAR eager to exploit the Latin American marketplace. He's had relative success with wins on road circuits and, a second place in the Brickyard 400 in 2007 and the fall race at Talladega in 2008. Late this year Ganassi was forced to merge with Dale Earnhardt Inc. because he couldn't obtain sponsorship for the three cars he started with this year.

Marcus said “Juan has the talent to succeed in NASCAR, but Ganassi was such bad team this season, that he rarely had a good enough car to demonstrate his talent. Hopefully the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing merger will improve the teams technical staff and program, so that he gets the results he is certainly capable of.”

Hoping lightning would strike twice Ganassi hired Indy 500 and IRL champ, Dario Franchitti. Franchitti was injured (broken right foot) at Talladega in the Spring in the Nationwide race in an accident caused by an inexperienced driver. By July the Scotsman, married to actress, Ashley Judd, was finished because Ganassi couldn't find enough sponsorship to finish the year. That day 71 employees were terminated. He had only 10 Cup races with a best finish of 22nd.

Marcus explained “Dario struggled the most of all the Open Wheel Guys, and a lot of that is down to the Ganassi team being so bad, but he wasn't even close to Montoya anywhere and the biggest letdown was his inability to qualify the car at Sonoma, (one of two NASCAR Cup road races) where he should have been really good. But perhaps his luck, that had given him excellent drives without merit in the past, from DTM to CART to IRL, finally ran out. He clearly had no business being in NASCAR and took a seat away from a potentially young rookie.”

The parent company of GEM racing, which owned the Montreal Canadians in the NHL ,thought Carpentier, a competent IndyCar driver would help bring Canadian fans to NASCAR. Like in Franchitti's case the sponsors never showed. He was replaced by an American. He said “I’m the one getting the boot. It’s part of racing. I’m not pissed off. I kind of expected it. I still hope they find it (sponsorship).”

Marcus commented “Patrick did a very solid job for being in a tier 2 team, in which both the established drivers with a lot more NASCAR experience struggled mightily this year. In fact he out qualified them most of the time and had some decent race runs. It's a pity he got fired after the Talladega qualifying fiasco, for which he clearly can't be blamed. My feeling is they used him as a convenient scape goat. I believe that Patrick deserves to get another chance in a top team and he will get results. Talent wise he is the best of all the Open Wheel guys in my opinion.

AJ Allmendinger, who was a winner in the defunct Champ Car series, joined Team Red Bull in their first struggling year with Toyota in 2007. He, too, jumped over to NASCAR seeing that his team Forsythe Racing was going under. After two years he was let go in favor of Scott Speed. “AJ is a talented driver and we really enjoyed working with him,” said RBRT Vice President and General Manager Jay Frye. “He’s come a long way in just two years and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Allmendinger, who had one Cup victory in an non-points race, said “Cup racing it’s not easy. What happened to Dario and Villeneuve is going to make people wonder.You have to remember, Sam’s (Hornish Jr.) is only in his first year.”

Marcus thought he was under-rated “AJ struggled at first, but once he sat out those few races when (veteran) Mike Skinner drove his car, he came back and did a very good job, which he continued after he transferred to Gillett/Evernham.

He added “Red Bull, as a team, did the best job of any team where an Open Wheel Driver competed.

For 2009 former F-One driver, Scott Speed will be full-time at Team Red Bull. Marcus explained “Speed did a decent job after he replaced AJ for the last few races. He has shown that he has the ability to qualify the car well up the grid, but needs to improve his racecraft, which may or may not come with time. He wasn't too stellar in the ARCA series (a midwest based series using older NASCAR Cup cars), which he should have won hands down.

Over at Penske Racing, Hornish struggled with a non-performing Dodge, as did his teammate and former Champ, Kurt Busch, and Daytona 500, winner Ryan Newman. The American and Penske are committed for the near future. He said ““I would say it’s a struggle but I remember when I first started racing I ran a dirt oval and won I think the third race out and then I won five of the next six.”

Marcus added “Hornish is difficult to judge, since the Penske NASCAR team has been uncompetitive all year, except Daytona, where they pulled off a 1-2 finish and Hornish was top 15 also. It's hard to understand that Penske is so competitive in Indy Car and Sports Cars, but so uncompetitive in NASCAR. Hornish has the talent to succeed in NASCAR, he has shown flashes of brilliance, but unless Penske gives him better technical support, he will not be able to showcase his talent.”

At present only Montoya and Hornish have firm contracts, again, because of the two-way loyalty between them and their car owners, Ganassi and Penske, respectively. It's unlikely that there will be any new Open Wheel drivers, (barring Danica Patrick if she wants to switch) jumping over to stock cars unless they bring sponsors, because it is, after all, all about the money.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Guest Blogger Mike Harris - more on Mike Hollander

Mike Harris

First, before anything else that needs to be said, Mike Hollander was my friend.

He was a lot of things to a lot of people, but, to me, he was the personification of intelligence and decency, wrapped up in a pleasant personality.

And he had his own parking spot.

Mike was fond of telling people that his father always seemed to be able to find a parking spot, no matter how big or crowded an event. He would drive into the overflowing parking lot, head for the front and - viola - there would be an open space.

According to Mike, when his father died, the parking spot passed on to him.

And I came to believe him after I saw it myself. We were in San Diego in the early 80s, covering an IMSA sports car race at the Del Mar horse track. I offered to give Mike a ride to the track and, when we got there, the attendant at the media lot said there were no more spaces. Mike leaned over and asked if he would let us ``try to find one.'' The guy shrugged and said, `Sure. But you won't find any.''

Needless to say, I drove to the front of the lot and somebody was pulling out of a prime spot as we approached. Mike just grinned and said, ``See.''

I never doubted him again.

Other people have written about his pioneering in the use of computers at the racetrack and his abilities as a writer and public relations person, so I won't bother to get into all of that. I just want people to know that Michael Hollander was a very special person and he will be missed.

Mike Harris, AP
(Mike Harris is an award-winning writer for Associated Press)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Two Racing Media Insiders Pass Away

Two very special individuals in the world of auto racing are no longer with us. You may not have known Michael Hollander or Ron Meade. Media centers are a little less human due to their loss.

Ron Meade, who I first met at Daytona, was the kind of guy who was knowledgeable in just about any form of motor racing. In Meade’s last years he worked in Public Relations at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. If you ever wanted to discuss the events of the day, or bounce an idea off of someone in the business “Uncle Ron” was there.

Michael Hollander

Hollander was a personal friend. I say the following with great affection, he may have been the first “computer geek” in the media centers of professional racing. When I first met him he was lugging a box full of electronics, it was almost 30 years ago. Laptops had not been invented. I believe he had a Radio Shack Model TRS-80. There were no disk drives for it. He loaded programs with a cassette recorder. For a monitor he had a portable black & white television.

Amusement turned to amazement when he obtained live results of races in far flung venues. Back then it was published on Compuserve which was eventually taken over by rival AOL. There were no “internet service providers” available at the time. His Racing Information Service developed a cadre of hard working unpaid or underpaid reporters who transcribed press releases and uploaded live race results. Graphics? Forget about it. It was all text, but, the world became a very small place thanks to Hollander and his reporters.

At first race tracks, like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, scoffed at Hollander because it was an unknown media, and circulation numbers were unreliable. Credentials? Almost impossible, but Hollander soldiered on letting the slings and arrows of lack of professional recognition bounce off him like Teflon, long before Al Gore “invented the World Wide Web.” He didn’t have the status of the name reporters but he deserved it

You know how popular online chats are these days? Old hat to Mike. He was always beaming to me after a huge coup. Dale and Teresa Earnhardt came to his home, and because his office was not quite adequately set up, Dale did a live question and answer sitting on the Hollander family water bed unfortunately I’m not aware of any photos of that event.

Today the tangible forms of media are withering away in favor of immediate online news. It's not hype to say that Hollander was a pioneer in his field.

That doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of his other accomplishments in public relations in the automotive field or work with professional media groups.

Moreover all of that wouldn’t do justice to this warm husband and father. He was a great friend to many the first to volunteer assistance whether it be professional, or to demystify the latest gadget or get you connected to the ‘net.

Both these wonderful people made my life covering auto racing a pleasure and they, certainly, are missed.