Friday, July 03, 2015

COMMENTARY: NASCAR Stands At A Fork In The Road

NASCAR is at a crossroads today, debating the role of the Confederate Flag in both its past and its future.

When 21-year old Dylann Roof opened fire on a bible study group recently, gunning down nine black parishioners in their predominately black South Carolina church, he rekindled a fire that has threatened to consume this nation for more than 160 years. 

NASCAR has not been spared from the flames. In the days following the attack, the sanctioning body has spoken openly of its desire to distance itself from the Confederate Flag. Yesterday, every NASCAR National Series race track signed-off on a statement requesting that fans no longer fly that flag at their venues. That request will be honored by many and ignored by some, forcing many longtime followers to choose between the Rebel Flag and their lifelong love affair with the sport.

The next few months will be difficult for both NASCAR and its fan base. Some longtime fans – and perhaps some new ones – will choose to walk away, rather than take down their flags. They will be missed, but the message they espouse will most certainly not.

It is time for NASCAR to walk the walk, rather than simply talking the talk. Welcoming minority fans with open arms does not work with a sea of “You Are Unwelcome” flags flying overhead. It’s easy to preach about the need for minority drivers and crewmembers in NASCAR, but without black faces in the grandstand, there will never be an appreciable number of black faces in the race cars.

This weekend, Daytona International Speedway will attempt to catch flies with honey, asking – politely at first – for fans to abstain from flying the Confederate Flag. We’ve all heard the adage, “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” but make no mistake about it, if this weekend’s request fails to achieve the desired results, NASCAR and its affiliated speedways will use whatever amount of vinegar it takes to get the job done.

Neither NASCAR nor International Speedway Corporation have any intention of unveiling their shining new Daytona International Speedway in February of 2016 with Rebel flags in the background. They’ll do whatever it takes – asking, begging, cajoling, even invoking an outright ban, if necessary – to rid the sport of what has become a hurtful and divisive symbol.

Our sport has come to a fork in the road, and the direction you choose in coming weeks will determine how your children and grandchildren remember you. More than a generation ago, Governor George Wallace stood on the steps of the Alabama State House and shouted his intolerance to the rooftops with the now-infamous words, "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."

Today, more than a half-century later, we find ourselves fighting the same exasperating battle, debating the meaning of a symbol that at various points in our history has been used to both unify and terrify, unite and intimidate. No matter what the Confederate Flag meant in 1860, it has now come to signify hatred and intolerance to a significant portion of our society. The Ku Klux Klan, American Nazi Party and White Supremacist skinheads made sure of that, and not many of us stood up in opposition; then or now.

If NASCAR is ever going to become the all-inclusive sport it aspires to be, there is no longer a place in the sport for divisive symbols. We’ve tolerated exclusionism for far too long, and it should not have taken a 21-year old racist with a high-powered rifle and a taste for blood to bring this issue to the front burner, once and for all. The issue is a hot-topic today, giving NASCAR an opportunity to do what should have been done decades ago, ridding itself of a symbol that has come to signify fear and hate to a significant portion of American society; black and white alike.

If NASCAR ever hopes to shed its longstanding image as a southern, white, male-dominated sport, it must welcome fans of all ages, all races, all genders and orientations. Stock car racing has been “our sport” for far too long.

Now, it must become “ALL our sport.”

Even George Wallace saw the light in the end, apologizing publically for his vile, racist beliefs. If the leading segregationist of his time can change, so can you.

Doing the right thing isn't always easy, or popular. But it's always right. NASCAR is standing at a fork in the road, and it matters which line you're in.

Choose wisely. The world is watching.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Race Team Alliance Inks Partnership With DraftKings

The Race Team Alliance, a coalition of NASCAR Sprint Cup teams, through its affiliate RTA Promotions, LLC, has entered into a multi-year marketing partnership with DraftKings Inc., a leading Daily Fantasy Sports company.

Working collaboratively with NASCAR, the teams will support and promote the free NASCAR game on with team marks, social and digital media initiatives, and other activation programs.
Rob Kauffman, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing and Chairman of the RTA stated “We are thrilled to be partnering with DraftKings, an innovative and fast growing company. We believe this partnership will be appealing to our existing fan base as well as potentially attracting new ones. The teams look forward to helping promote the new free online fantasy game, and supporting DraftKings as it makes a strong entrance into the sport.”

The partnership with DraftKings will begin in conjunction with this weekend’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

The RTA is a 501(c)(6) not for profit business organization comprised of racing teams which compete in stock car racing’s premier series, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.  More information regarding the RTA can be found at  

Tracks Ask Fans Not To Fly Confederate Flags

A comprehensive group of NASCAR Industry Members issued a written statement today, asking fans and partners to voluntarily abstain from displaying the Confederate flag at race events.

As members of the NASCAR industry, we join NASCAR in the desire to make our events among the most fan-friendly, welcoming environments in all of sports and entertainment,” said the statement. “To do that, we are asking our fans and partners to join us in a renewed effort to create an all-inclusive even more welcoming atmosphere for all who attend our events. This will include the request to refrain from displaying the Confederate Flag at our facilities and NASCAR events.

“We are committed to providing a welcoming atmosphere free of offensive symbols. This is an opportunity for NASCAR Nation to demonstrate its sense of mutual respect and acceptance for all who attend our events while collectively sharing the tremendous experience of NASCAR racing.”

All 13 International Speedway Corporation (ISC) facilities, including Auto Club and Chicagoland Speedways, Darlington Raceway, Daytona, Homestead-Miami, Kansas, Martinsville and Michigan International Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway, Richmond International Raceway, Route 66 Raceway, Talladega Superspeedway and Watkins Glen International signed the statement.

They were joined by the eight Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI) facilities, including Atlanta, Bristol and Charlotte Motor Speedways, Kentucky Speedway, Las Vegas and New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Sonoma Raceway and Texas Motor Speedway.

Dover International Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Pocono Raceway, Iowa Speedway, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Road America, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Eldora Speedway and Gateway Motorsports Park also endorsed the statement.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Report: ESPN Set To Muzzle Olbermann?

According to an article in today’s Hollywood Reporter, if Keith Olbermann hopes to sign an extension of his existing, two-year contract with ESPN, he will have to agree to stop engaging in commentary on his ESPN2 program.

Olbermann has come under repeated fire for ill-informed and inflammatory comments, including a tirade earlier this year when he mocked both sides of the domestic dispute between NASCAR driver Kurt Busch and his former girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll; mistakenly identifying Kurt as his younger brother Kyle and referring to Driscoll as Busch’s wife, rather than his ex-girlfriend. Promptly called on the carpet by NASCAR fans, Olbermann characterized his mistakes as “typos,” urging NASCAR Nation to, “Settle the eff down and be happy something interesting happened in your simplest of sports.” 

Days later, he named Jeff Gordon his “Second Worst Person in the World” after Gordon took part in an exhibition tricycle race at halftime of an NBA basketball game, to promote the upcoming Daytona 500.

Olbermann’s hair trigger and intolerance for opinions other than his own have consistently landed him in hot water with his employers. He has come under fire for comments aimed at the National Football League’s handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case, and earlier this year, he served a four-day network suspension for a series of hateful tweets directed at Penn State University students. 

As he often does, Olbermann immediately backtracked on his comments in an attempt to save his job, correctly categorizing his comments as “stupid and immature.”

Is it any wonder than ESPN wants Olbermann to stop swinging his verbal arms?

After all, this is the same Olbermann who was dismissed – okay, fired -- from MSNBC’s presidential election coverage in 2008, after donning a mask of rival Bill O'Reilly and delivering a Nazi salute at a television critics' convention.

This is the same Olbermann who was canned by Current TV in 2012 for what the network called “a failure to honor the values of respect, openness, collegiality, and loyalty to our viewers.”

The same guy who castigated Jeff Gordon for “demeaning the sport” in an effort to promote the Daytona 500, despite appearing no less than 10 times on Hollywood Squares over the years, to promote himself and his show.

Olbermann's current contract expires in August. Short of handing him his walking papers, ESPN would do well to muzzle any future “commentaries” and force him to simply report the news, rather than trying to be the news.

Survey: Fortune 500 Companies Increasing NASCAR Involvement

Since the moment stock cars first raced on the shores of Daytona Beach, sponsorship has played a role in NASCAR. Today, a new survey of FORTUNE 500 companies reveals that more than one-in-four use NASCAR as part of their marketing mix.

That number has increased in each of the last three years.

The number of FORTUNE 500 companies invested in NASCAR increased 7% over last year, and nearly half of all FORTUNE 100 companies now invest in NASCAR; also an increase over 2014. The 130 companies involved in the sport mark a 20% increase since 2008, when significant changes to the economy severely impacted the media and marketing landscape.

On the heels of a recently announced Official Partnership with Microsoft – and several other technology brands entering the sport this year and last – the number of FORTUNE 500 tech companies invested in NASCAR has increased by 66 percent since 2013.

“We are gratified that NASCAR continues to be a place where best-in-class corporations choose to drive brand awareness, preference and purchase behavior. Our fans are fiercely loyal to our sport and the FORTUNE 500 brands that are an integral part of NASCAR,” said Brent Dewar, NASCAR Chief Operating Officer. “We collaborate with partners across the industry each and every day to grow the sport and advance sponsors’ objectives.”

Repucom’s SponsorLink tracker reveals that seven out of 10 NASCAR fans are loyal to a brand when it sponsors their sport, higher than all other major sports properties.

To be eligible for the FORTUNE 500, a company must be based in the U.S. and be publicly traded. Though many more FORTUNE 500 companies advertise on NASCAR-related television programming, only those that are partners or licensees with the sanctioning body, teams and / or tracks were counted in the analysis.

Although being a FORTUNE 500 company is the gold standard of success for publicly-traded companies in the United States, there are several global corporations currently involved in NASCAR that were not included in the analysis because they do not meet FORTUNE’s criteria. A number of those not qualifying, but involved significantly in NASCAR, include Ingersoll Rand, MillerCoors, Mars, McLaren and Toyota.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Franchising Could Come To NASCAR As Soon As 2016

RTA chairman Rob Kaufmann has learned that NASCAR and its Sprint Cup Series owners are negotiating a new dynamic that could fundamentally change the way the business side of the sport operates.

Since the sanctioning body was founded in 1949, team owners have operated as independent contractors, with little stake in the sport beyond a pennies-on-the-dollar sale of buildings, equipment and inventory on their way out the door. That could change in the near future, with the implementation of a proposed new arrangement that would limit the number of teams allowed to take part in the Sprint Cup Series, as early as 2016.

Multiple sources tell that Race Team Alliance chairman and Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kaufmann is representing the owners in their negotiation with NASCAR. Under the new system, the sanctioning body will repeatedly award Sprint Cup Series franchises – or “medallions” – to owners whose teams have attempted to qualify for every race in each of the last two seasons. A total of 40 franchises will reportedly be awarded, trimming the Sprint Cup Series starting field from its current 43 cars.

Kaufmann declined to comment when contacted earlier today, but told’s Bob Pockrass that he has had “productive discussions” with NASCAR about building equity for owners.

“Both NASCAR and the teams recognize that the teams building up some kind of long-term equity for participating in the sport -- year in and year out and putting on the show -- is a good thing,” said Kaufmann to “You look at a lot of other sports around the world, and that's how they work.

"So the question is, can you come up with some model within the framework of NASCAR that makes sense for everybody? It's a very sensible concept. The hard part is the details. So we're having productive discussions to see if we can figure out how to do it. It's an ongoing project."

NASCAR has also declined to comment, citing the speculative and premature nature of the discussions.

Skinner Scores At Goodwood Festival Of Speed

Former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Mike Skinner returned to his winning ways, Sunday, breaking his own record for the NASCAR class of competition at the iconic Goodwood Festival of Speed. 
After damaging his primary truck on Saturday afternoon, Skinner entered the final round of competition driving the 10th Toyota Tundra race truck ever built.  He paced the race against the clock for the NASCAR division to beat a record he set in 2014 by more than half-a-second. For his effort, Skinner was identified as the "Driver Of The Day;” a storybook ending for the California native on his birthday.
"I love participating in the Goodwood Festival of Speed," Skinner said.  "To set the record-time for the second year in a row is very special for us.  We knew we had a bulls-eye on our back this year, so to be able to come back and still come out on top means a lot to our group.  We couldn't do this without the support of great partners like Textron Aviation, Cessna, Beechcraft, Remington and Toyota, and I'm happy that we were able to represent them in Victory Lane."
Participating in his fifth Goodwood event, Skinner had to overcome adversity throughout the weekend en route to his record-setting run. He was originally slated to compete in the No. 5 Cessna / Remington Toyota Tundra, but that truck was damaged when it made contact with the chicane during a Saturday morning practice run.  Teammate and business partner Andrew Franzone then handed over the wheel of his historic Toyota Tundra entry, enabling Skinner to make a timed-run in Sunday’s final round of competition. 
Climbing into a truck he nicknamed "Old Faithful," Skinner recorded a 50.22-second lap to set a new class record. His team, composed of Chris Paulsen of C&R Racing and Jamie and Dustin Skinner of Racecar Solutions, brought home a 0.05-second win against some of the most successful teams in NASCAR. 
The victory was made possible through joint partnerships with Textron Aviation, Cessna, Beechcraft, Remington, Venus Manhattan / Los Angeles Galleries, Sentinel Real Estate Corporation, Forbes Private Capital Group, Maui Jim, Justin Boots, Charlie 1 Horse Hat Company, WIX Filters, C&R Racing and Racecar Solutions.  
"I can't thank Andrew Franzone enough for backing our effort as our team owner," Skinner said.  "He was doing a great job driving our historic Toyota Tundra in the hill climb.  However, when things went awry with our primary truck, he graciously stepped aside to let me behind the wheel.  The weekend didn't exactly go as planned, but it certainly made for a great story, and made our second win at Goodwood that much more special."
Hosted by Lord March at the Goodwood Estate in West Sussex, England, the 22nd annual event featured every kind of car imaginable from the 1800s through today and attracted some of the most accomplished drivers in motorsports.
"Lord March throws the best party I've ever been to in my life," Skinner said.  "He's a class act.  He opens his home to all of us for this great event, to compete and have a good time, and look at so much beautiful mechanical art.  I'm already looking forward to the 2016 Goodwood Festival of Speed."

COMMENTARY: Sonoma Win Makes Kyle A Contender

This is going to get interesting.

Kyle Busch’s win in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway – a .532-second victory over elder brother Kurt – was the first since his return from a gruesome compound fracture of his right leg suffered at Daytona International Speedway in February. It also gave Busch a chance to qualify for the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, if he is able to crack the Top-30 in championship points by the end of the regular season at Richmond International Raceway on September 12.

Busch elbowed his way past leader Jimmie Johnson with four laps remaining Sunday, then fended off a desperate charge by brother Kurt to win on the 1.99-mile road course, snapping a personal, 46-race winless streak and claiming the 30th checkered flag of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career. Clint Bowyer finished third, followed by defending series champion Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano. Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Sam Hornish, Jr. completed the Top-10.

“All right, park it right here and we'll walk in,” said Busch after a tumultuous, smoky post-race burnout that shredded the tires on his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. “Walking in on a broken leg and a broken foot, nothing better than doing that.

“(I) made it through today," said Busch, who described the pain as a 7-out-of-10 following Friday’s practice. "That's all that mattered. I knew it was going to get painful and I was going to have to power through it. When you've got fresh tires and seven laps to go and you see the checkered flag waiting for you, you forget about all those things."

While disappointed with his runner-up finish, Kurt Busch expressed both pride and happiness with seeing his younger brother in Victory Lane. "I'm very proud of Kyle for what he's done,” said Kurt afterward. “To get back in the car as soon as he did… (to) be competitive at a track with hard, hard braking and to use his left foot to drive to Victory Lane, I'm very proud of him. I just wish I could have one more lap to get to his bumper."

Bowyer’s third-place finish left the Kansas native thinking of what might have been, after contact with Matt Kenseth on the race’s final restart cost him a shot at Victory Lane “Everybody went high into my groove and opened it up for him,” said Bowyer, who restarted on new tires with just seven laps remaining. “He drove right into it and went on. He had the right line, and unfortunately I didn't. He beat me to the punch… and the rest was history. You hate to be in that situation. You've got to get rough, you've got to get aggressive. Matt and I got hooked up and about gave away our whole day. It just turned me right and damn near wrecked me. I wanted to win really bad. I got an opportunity and just couldn't capitalize.”

Jeff Gordon’s bid for a final victory in the state of his berth went wrong Sunday when an ill-handling race car in the early laps and a late pit-road penalty relegated him to a disappointing, 16th-place finish. Gordon’s penalty came when a crew member tossed a spring rubber over the wall, violating a NASCAR edict forbidding thrown equipment on pit road and forcing him to restart at the rear of the field. A late gambit left him on the track with old tires for the final restart, but he was helpless on the older rubber and faded to 16th.

“I was really optimistic going into the race,” said Gordon afterward. “Our car was good in practice (and) we qualified well. We tried to make a couple of adjustments and it seemed the track continued to lay rubber. Our setup -- which we were taking a little bit of a gamble and risk with -- just didn’t pay off for us.”

With the win, Busch now trails 30th-place Cole Whitt by 136 points with 10 regular-season races remaining, leaving him with precious little room for error the rest of the way. He will need to average approximately a 14-place finish to overhaul Whitt before the start of the Chase.

“We have our work cut out for us,” he admitted. “It’s unfortunate that we’ve had a couple crashes (a 36th-place finish at Dover and a 43rd-place showing at Michigan since returning to competition), but as much as I can do, that’s what we’re going to do. Certainly, it's feasible. There's no reason why it shouldn't be. This team is good enough to be that way, and I should be good enough to be that way.”

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Thrivent, Leavine Family Racing Announce New Charity Game

Through a new interactive game introduced today by Thrivent Racing, fans will not only have the chance to win prizes, they also can be part of a $95,000 donation from Thrivent Financial to Habitat for Humanity and be entered into a grand prize drawing for a VIP trip for two to the championship race weekend on Nov. 22 in Homestead, Fla.

Thrivent Racing represents the partnership of not-for-profit financial services organization Thrivent Financial, Leavine Family Racing and NASCAR driver Michael McDowell. Thrivent Financial is a primary sponsor of Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 NASCAR Sprint Cup car and McDowell for the 2015 NASCAR race season. Their relationship has been extended to include fans through, a microsite that brings fans under the hood of a growing race team and offers real-time updates and access to behind-the-scenes action with McDowell. Now through Oct. 15, fans can engage even further by playing the Driven to Thrive—to 95! game for the chance to win prizes and live generously through Thrivent’s contribution to Habitat for Humanity.        

“This game is a fun way for us to engage with NASCAR fans and let them experience Thrivent’s mission to live generously while benefitting a cause that’s especially meaningful to us,” said Craig Stacey, Thrivent Director of Marketing. “Habitat for Humanity is an organization Thrivent has partnered with for many years, and now we welcome the NASCAR community to join us. Plus, we are giving fans a chance to win No. 95 merchandise and even a trip to the championship race in Miami where the lucky winner will get to meet our driver, Michael McDowell.”

After launching the online game at, participants will click to uncover each of nine tiles to reveal “hidden” game symbols. By matching three like symbols, the player wins one of the various prizes. Uncovering one special tile will unlock a donation by Thrivent to Habitat for Humanity in an amount ranging from $1 to $95*.  

Thrivent Racing prizes include No. 95 diecast cars, branded koozies, autographed hero cards and more. All players will be entered to win the grand prize – a VIP trip for two to the championship race in Homestead, Fla.

No purchase is necessary to participate and fans will have the choice to add their own contribution to Habitat for Humanity to the Thrivent donation, or express interest in volunteering for a Habitat build, if desired.

The game furthers Thrivent’s commitment to Habitat for Humanity and offers race fans a chance to participate in the effort. Thrivent is the largest non-governmental supporter of Habitat through a unique partnership called Thrivent Builds with Habitat for Humanity, which is in its 10th year.  More than 4,000 homes have been built or repaired in the U.S. and abroad as part of Thrivent Builds, and 4.4 million volunteer hours have been contributed by Thrivent Financial member volunteers through this program.

Leavine Family Racing and Michael McDowell recently participated in a Thrivent Builds with Habitat for Humanity Repairs project in North Carolina alongside Thrivent Financial representatives and members.  

“I’m really glad that Thrivent is able to bring what they do with Habitat to the NASCAR community,” said McDowell.  “We really enjoyed being hands on and giving back at the Thrivent Builds event and I’m thrilled that we can bring a part of that to NASCAR fans who can help us donate $95,000 to this great cause and have a chance to attend the championship race weekend in Miami.”

A digital speedometer housed on the Thrivent Racing website will track progress toward the $95,000 commitment to support Habitat for Humanity’s mission of bringing people together to build homes, communities and hope.

After completing the game, players can earn bonus entries into the grand prize drawing for each friend that enters through a link they share via Facebook and Twitter.

The online game launches on June 22, 2015 and ends Oct. 15, 2015.  For official rules and more information, visit  Thrivent will make a $95,000 contribution to Habitat for Humanity International in connection with this Promotion.  Unlocking a tile is for entertainment purposes only and will not affect Thrivent’s contribution amount.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Grand Funk Railroad Headed For Darlington

As part of its celebration of the early 70’s during Labor Day weekend events, Darlington Raceway will have 1970’s rock and roll icon Grand Funk Railroad perform at the Bojangles’ Southern 500 Pre-Race Concert Presented by Coca-Cola on September 6.

Known for its No. 1 hits We’re An American Band and The Loco-Motion, Grand Funk Railroad is one of the top-selling rock bands of the 1970’s. Their 1973 album, We’re An American Band, topped out at No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard music charts.

“What better way to celebrate the 1970’s and our return to Labor Day weekend than by having rock legends Grand Funk Railroad perform our Bojangles’ Southern 500 Pre-Race Concert Presented by Coca-Cola,” Darlington Raceway President Chip Wile said. “Grand Funk Railroad’s hit songs were some of the most memorable from the early 70’s. They are an iconic name in rock music and a tremendous fit for our celebration.”

Grand Funk Railroad drummer Don Brewer agrees, declaring, “NASCAR and GRAND FUNK on Labor Day Weekend! God Bless America!”

Fans of Grand Funk Railroad have the exclusive opportunity to watch the concert from the front of the pre-race stage. In addition to the purchase of a Bojangles’ Southern 500 grandstand ticket, a pre-race access pass may be purchased for an additional $45. This pass will not only give fans stage front access for the concert, but will also include an up close view of the Sprint Cup Series drivers as they are introduced to the crowd. Supplies are limited.

“Coca-Cola has been part of racing since the beginning, so we're excited to partner with Darlington Raceway to bring fans a fun throwback race and a great classic band for the pre-race concert,” commented Heather Hucks, Senior Director of Brand Marketing for Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated. “The weekend will be full of classics, from drivers to cars to our ice cold Coke, it's going to be a fantastic event for race fans."

We’re An American Band was released in July 1973. The following month, the song became the band’s first No. 1 hit single.  By August, the album charted to No. 1 and they picked up Gold Record No. 9.

Success was still in their future. Not only did they release yet another huge album, Shinin’ On, but also had their second No. 1 single with The Loco-Motion. Also, the single Some Kind of Wonderful hit stores with an immediate impact reaching No. 3 on the charts and staying in the Top-40 for a remarkable 12 weeks.

Known as “The American Band," the high-energy five-piece group has been part of the rock scene in many forms for over 45 years. Grand Funk Railroad includes original founding members Don Brewer and bassist Mel Schacher. Joining them is singer Max Carl, who is a rock veteran from 38 Special, lead guitarist Bruce Kulick is best known for his 12 years with KISS and keyboardist Tim Cashion.

Grand Funk laid the groundwork for such bands as Foreigner, Journey, Van Halen and Bon Jovi with its signature hard driving sound, soulful vocals, muscular instrumentation and forceful pop melodies. The fact that Grand Funk’s legacy still reigns over the Classic Rock landscape 45 years after its 1969 birth in Flint, Michigan is a testament to the group’s influence and staying power.

Internationally acclaimed Grand Funk has toured the world, selling out venues in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Japan and South America. Over their career, Grand Funk has had 19 charted singles, 8 Top-40 hits and two No. 1 singles (both selling more than one million each). The group has accumulated 13 gold and 10 platinum records with record sales in excess of 25 million copies sold worldwide.

For more information, visit

The Tradition Returns to Labor Day weekend as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles’ Southern 500 is set for Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015. The NASCAR XFINITY Series VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 will race on Saturday, Sept. 5. Tickets are on sale now by calling 866-459-7223 or visiting 

NASCAR Comments On Confederate Flag Flap

NASCAR commented today on the ongoing debate over the display of the Confederate Flag. The issue attained front-burner status after the recent shooting at a Charleston, SC church that left nine people dead and others injured.

“As we continue to mourn the tragic loss of life last week in Charleston, we join our nation’s embrace of those impacted,” said a written statement from the sanctioning body. 

“NASCAR supports the position that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley took on the Confederate Flag on Monday. 

"As our industry works collectively to ensure that all fans are welcome at our races, NASCAR will continue our long-standing policy to disallow the use of the Confederate Flag symbol in any official NASCAR capacity. While NASCAR recognizes that freedom of expression is an inherent right of all citizens, we will continue to strive for an inclusive environment at our events.”

Monday, June 22, 2015

COMMENTARY: South Carolina Shooting Offers Opportunity For Change

The fatal shootings of nine individuals in a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina last week has reignited the long-simmering debate over the Confederate flag and its meaning. The shooter, 21-year old Dylann Roof, is an apparent racist whose online postings included a 2,500-word manifesto declaring the inferiority of blacks and Jews, along with numerous photos of himself with the Confederate flag.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, a major debate has begun over whether that flag should continue to fly on the grounds of South Carolina’s state capitol. While legislators in the Palmetto State debate how to handle the burgeoning controversy, there are also questions to be addressed by NASCAR and other professional sports.

Hundreds of Confederate flags fly each weekend over RVs and motor homes in the infield of NASCAR tracks. The same can be said for college and professional football games, where fans fly Confederate flags as they tailgate and prepare for the day’s gridiron contest. The message sent by those flags is decidedly mixed, depending on one’s heritage and the color of their skin.

For many, displaying the rebel colors amounts to nothing more than a statement of southern pride and heritage. To others, however, particularly those of color, the flag is an endorsement of a time when minorities were considered property to be bought and sold, rather than people. It is a searing reminder of the horrors of slavery, when rape, physical abuse and murder were regular and legal facts of life.

The vast majority of NASCAR fans who fly the Confederate flag on race day harbor no ill will whatsoever toward people of color. To them, the only color that matters is the color of your race team jacket, rather than the color of your skin.  

To African-American fans, however, the Confederate colors are a red flag – both literally and figuratively – that declares “you are not welcome here.” Its continued presence at racing events contributes to stereotypes that have hobbled our sport for decades, reinforcing the erroneous perception of NASCAR fans as intolerant, uncivilized and unwelcoming to people of color. Justified or not, that perception is reality for large numbers of potential fans and friends of the sport.

Think of it this way.

If you’re walking down the sidewalk and there’s a snarling dog ahead, you cross the street. It doesn’t matter if the dog is really going to bite you, it matters whether you think the dog is going to bite you. The perception alone is enough to make you cross that street and avoid potential conflict.

Similarly, it doesn’t matter whether the flying of a Confederate flag is meant to celebrate, or to intimidate. To people of color, it is a snarling dog; a threat imposing enough to send them across the street, just in case.

In this day and age – not to mention in this difficulty economy – we cannot afford to alienate anyone, any longer. The current controversy in South Carolina offers an opportunity to examine these longstanding issues of race, and to determine once and for all whether the flying of a flag is worth the alienation of a potentially massive fan base.

If NASCAR ever hopes to attract minority fans in significant numbers, we must remove the snarling dog from our front porch. 

Lessons Learned, Jones Now Making Up For Lost Time

Erik Jones has learned to deal with disappointment this season. In each of the last three weeks, Jones has lost races in the NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series when fuel mileage issues and faulty pit strategy spoiled dominating afternoons. He was not to be denied last weekend, however, sweeping an XFINITY/Truck Series twinbill at Iowa and Chicagoland Speedways.

He once again dominated Friday night’s American Ethanol 200 at the Iowa, starting on the pole and leading a race-high 112 laps en route to his first win of the season. His Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota outran Brandon Jones, Tyler Reddick, defending series champion Matt Crafton and impressive newcomer Christopher Bell to the checkered flag. Timothy Peters, Spencer Gallagher, Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer and John Wes Townley completed the Top-10 in a race that featured six caution flags for 36 laps and six lead changes among five drivers.

On Sunday, Jones’ #54 Monster Energy Toyota fought past Ryan Blaney on a late-race restart, then pulled away to a 1.9-second decision in the Owens Corning AttiCat 300 at Chicagoland. With the win – his second XFINITY win of the season – Jones became the youngest driver to win two NASCAR races in the same weekend.

“I got inside of him and just barreled into three as hard as I could,” said Jones, who led 94 of the race’s 200 laps. “Fortunately, it worked and he didn’t try to cross us over.”

Jones was understandably relieved to break into Victory Lane at last, capping a week that also included a major Super Late Model victory at Michigan’s Berlin Raceway on Wednesday night.

“I was really excited about this week,” said Jones in Chicagoland’s Victory Lane. “I thought we had a shot to win. We won at Iowa, got the win at Berlin and then to win here kind of topped off an awesome week. I’m very proud of everybody involved, to keep pushing on from some of the races we’ve had in the last month or so.

“It was kind of a rough go,” admitted Jones of his early season frustration. “It’s the first lesson I’ve had in the highs and lows of racing. Most of my career, I’ve been fortunate to have success. Honestly, I never had to deal with adversity, or being out of the game for too long. But over the last month and a half, I’ve had to grow a lot as a person. (I’ve) had to grow up and figure out how to deal with adversity. It wasn’t easy, and there were a lot of things I wish I could have done differently along the way, but it was a learning experience.

“I just kept pushing along, knowing we had fast cars and knowing that it would eventually turn around.”

Jones also said the experience gained in recent weeks has made him better in the late stages of races. 

“It seemed like last year I’d get into these situations and be so nervous,” he said. “This time, it’s like, ‘I’ve got this.’ That’s definitely a product of seat time and being in the car every week. It has been a huge, huge help.”

Microsoft Joins NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports

Microsoft has ramped up its involvement in NASCAR, inking new, multi-year agreements with both the sanctioning body and 11-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions Hendrick Motorsports.

Both NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports will adopt the Windows 10 platform and Microsoft Azure to improve performance on and off the track. In addition, Microsoft will support the upcoming launch of Windows 10 with primary sponsorship of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Chevrolet SS at Sonoma Raceway this weekend and Pocono Raceway on August 2. Windows 10 will be the Official Operating System of Hendrick Motorsports. 

“NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports are perpetual innovators in motorsports,” said Steve Guggenheimer, Corporate Vice President, Developer Experience and Evangelism at Microsoft. “This sport demands constant innovation, to have its boundaries pushed, so that the sport delivers the exciting experiences expected by fans. The Windows mobile inspection application we launched last year is a great example of how innovative solutions can push boundaries and make the racing experience even better. We’re looking forward to the next solutions that we can deploy with both NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports to push each of our organizations forward.” 

NASCAR and Microsoft first collaborated in 2014 to make car inspections more efficient and improve communication among NASCAR officials in the garage. By using the Windows mobile inspection application, NASCAR has reduced the time spent examining cars prior to races nearly in half. Officials can also monitor in real-time the progress of each race car as they are inspected for safety and competition-specific regulations. 

“Partnering with a global leader like Microsoft heightens our commitment to drive innovation and adopt state-of-the-art technologies across our sport,” said Steve Phelps, NASCAR chief marketing officer. “Microsoft has a proven track record as a technology solution provider and the development of the Windows mobile inspection app has reinvented our inspection process. As we look to the future, we’re excited at the prospect of developing new applications and leveraging Windows 10 and Microsoft Azure services that will make our sport more competitive, exciting, and accessible to fans.”  

Earnhardt will serve as a spokesperson to promote Windows 10, which will be available July 29 as a free upgrade for qualified Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 devices. In addition, its new multi-year partnership with Hendrick Motorsports will incorporate technology solutions and training across the team, including competition, business and IT functions. 

“I’m a big technology user and really enjoy Microsoft products,” said NASCAR’s 12-time most popular driver. “Kicking off the Hendrick Motorsports relationship with Windows 10 is a unique opportunity, and there’s no doubt our ongoing technical partnership will help us raise the bar in many areas. It’s great to see Microsoft is having such a positive experience with NASCAR and wants to do more across the sport. We’re excited to be a part of that.” 

The announcement was made in advance of Microsoft’s participation at the NASCAR Fuel For Business Council meeting taking place on June 25 in San Francisco, with Microsoft serving as the presenting sponsor. These quarterly meetings are designed as forums where Official NASCAR Partners meet and do business with one another. Since 2004, these quarterly meetings have facilitated more than 1,000 “speed meeting” sessions among Official NASCAR Partners, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue and savings to its participating members.

Microsoft becomes the latest blue-chip brand to join NASCAR as an Official Partner. According to a recent analysis of sponsors currently in the sport, 25% of all FORTUNE 500 companies are now invested in NASCAR, with a 50% year-over-year increase in technology companies entering the sport from 2013 to 2014.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

No Surprise Here: Trotta To Serve As Wallace's "Distractor" This Weekend Chicagoland

Thanks to thousands of fans from around the world who voted via social media, the face of FOX Sports personality Danielle Trotta will appear on the No. 6 Ford Mustang of Bubba Wallace this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway as part of the ROUSH Performance Distractor face contest.  

Trotta beat out fellow FOX Sports hosts Larry McReynolds and ‘Hollywood’ Jeff Hammond in the vote, which was counted by use of hashtags across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus and Reddit.  Trotta, McReynolds and Hammond each appeared in Wallace’s “Midnight Run” promotional video, which debuted on FOX Sports 1’s NASCAR Race Hub program.

“I hear that we’ll have Danielle on our Roush Performance Ford Mustang this weekend,” said Wallace. “Danielle and all the people at FOX are always so great to work with, so I appreciate them having a little fun with us. I’m sure a lot of the guys will be distracted by Danielle’s face on the car, just hopefully not my team!” 

Wallace currently sits fifth in the NASCAR XFINITY Series points, in a strong rookie season that has produced one Top-5 finish, four top-10s and one pole award.  

The ROUSH Performance Distractor Face originated in 2012, when fans submitted photos of their own faces for a chance to appear on the rear bumper of Jack Roush Jr.’s No. 61 car in the Grand-Am series. The trend quickly spread across online racing communities, with fans attempting to come up with their favorite designs to distract the competition. 

"We first announced the idea of the ROUSH Distractor Face on my road racing car at Mid-Ohio back in 2012," said Jack Roush Jr.  "It's awesome to see it now make its way into NASCAR on Bubba's hood!  It should make for a great show." 

Appeals Panel Upholds XFINITY Series Penalty

The National Motorsports Appeals Panel today heard and considered the appeal of a P3 penalty issued on June 3, 2015 to Obaika Racing relative to NASCAR XFINITY Series vehicle #97 at Dover International Speedway.

The penalty concerns the following sections in the 2015 NASCAR rule book:

12.1 – Actions detrimental to stock car racing, and – Any and all ballast added to the vehicle must be bolted inside an added ballast container inside the main frame rails, and/or inside the front sway bar mounting tube.

Improperly attached weight; weight fell out of car.

The original penalty assessed was a $15,000 fine to the crew chief; a one-race suspension for the crew chief and car chief; probation for both the crew chief and car chief through Dec. 31; and the loss of 15 championship driver and 15 championship owner points. The team appealed only the assessment of the 15 championship driver and 15 championship owner points.

Upon hearing the testimony, the Panel ruled that the team violated the rule set forth in the penalty notice,
affirming and upholding the original penalty levied by NASCAR. The team has the right to appeal the decision of the National Motorsports Appeals Panel to the National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer in accordance with Section 15 of the NASCAR rule book.

The panel consisted of NASCAR Hall of Fame car owner Bud Moore, former Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Lyn St. James and Caraway (NC) Speedway owner Russell Hackett.