A Bad Day To Take Off

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As I mentioned last week, I attended a family reunion for relatives on my mother’s side of the family. At ninety-two and counting, she was the oldest living member and is the matriarch of the family. My mother led a very captivating talk on some of the history of our ancestors for the fifty-seven of us in attendance. To me, her talk on Saturday was the highlight of the weekend.

I’m not really big on reunions. I enjoyed seeing my cousins that I grew up with, but I had never met two-thirds of the people there. Chances are, I’ll never see those people ever again and that’s fine with me. I don’t think meeting me made their lives any richer, either. But it got me out of half a day of work on Friday and I got to visit with my mother, my brothers, and my first cousins; so I guess that’s OK.

But last Friday was not a good day to be away from a computer and somewhat out of the loop for fans of the Verizon IndyCar Series. There were two major stories to surface – one was sort of expected, while the other came completely out of left-field. All I could do was catch little tidbits the few times I was able to check my phone.

The story we were sort of expecting was that Chip Ganassi Racing is switching from Chevy to Honda for 2017. While it had been rumored for a few weeks, I was still surprised when it was announced. Several that are closer to the situation than I am think it makes sense, but to a fan on the outside like me – I see it as a head-scratcher.

Chevy has won the last three championships and an overwhelming percentage of the races over the past three seasons. But…Honda has won two of the past three Indianapolis 500’s in that span. The last time Chip Ganassi Racing won the Indianapolis 500 was in 2012 – with Honda power. In fact, Honda has powered Ganassi to three of his four Indianapolis 500 victories – the only exception being in 2000, when Oldsmobile powered Juan Montoya to a dominating win. The only other alternative at that time was the woefully underpowered Infiniti engine.

Still, I’ll admit that I’m a little dumbfounded by the move. As I’ve heard said more than once; if I’m a car owner, I want to have what Roger Penske has. Team Penske finished 1-2-3 and eighth in the championship this past season. Ganassi cars finished sixth, seventh, ninth and nineteenth, with Chevy power. Honda placed two cars in the Top-Ten; Graham Rahal in fifth and Carlos Muñoz in tenth. I’m just curious how Honda is going to turn the fortunes around at Ganassi. But Chip Ganassi and Mike Hull are obviously a lot smarter than I am about such things, so I’ll trust that they know what they are doing. But from an outsider’s perspective, it sure looks like a curious move.

As big as that story was, it was small in comparison to the bombshell that came out of nowhere later on Friday.

After roughly thirty years at The Indianapolis Star, veteran IndyCar reporter Curt Cavin is leaving to become Vice-President of Communications for IndyCar.

Quite honestly, I was shocked. For decades, Curt Cavin was the main voice of reason that I sought out regarding IndyCar, CART and anything to do with open-wheel racing. In the early days of the internet, IndyStar.com was always my main go-to site for anything to do with “The Split”. Robin Miller was the outrageous one at The Star, with the good information. Curt Cavin had good information that was just as reliable, but presented it in a much more rational and reasonable manner.

After I got over my initial shock, I realized what a win-win this was for Curt Cavin and IndyCar.

We all know that newspapers are headed the way of the powdered-wig. Many of the successful newspaper journalists are lucky enough to have options. Here in Nashville, a similar thing happened this past spring. Jim Wyatt was the Titans beat-writer for The Tennessean, our local paper which also happens to be owned by Gannett, just like The Indianapolis Star. Having seen the writing on the wall, Wyatt took a position with the Titans as Senior Writer for their website and is in charge of the video content on the Titans website. I was a little afraid that Wyatt would not be able to be as objective and critical of the organization, but I was wrong.

In several sports markets, reporters are bailing from their local papers; joining either the teams they once covered or online outlets, such as ESPN.com. The good ones have options. Those with lesser talent will be left to eventually go down with the ship when the newspaper finally becomes a thing of the past. And mark my words, newspapers are on their way out.

I take no pleasure in saying that, mind you. I like the feel of holding an actual newspaper in my hand every morning. At my ripe old age, I’ve enjoyed the morning ritual of reading a newspaper with my coffee for forty years or more. But times are changing and you all know how I feel about change. Due to the cost of having an actual paper delivered to our driveway every day ($36 per month), I now get the digital version sent to my iPad every morning. It looks like the paper, but it isn’t the same – although I’m getting used to it.

But in my opinion, newspapers have been their own worst enemy. Most newspaper readers today are over the age of forty. That is their demographic. Instead of staving off death for as long as possible; newspapers have made the conscious decision to cater to the younger reader – who has never and will never be a customer. They have chosen to alienate their customer base, those of us over the age of forty. They promote and embrace the hip lifestyles and politics of twenty-somethings – the very folks who never see their publication, while ignoring and sometimes even laughing at the segment of the population that is actually subscribing to their sub-par product. It makes no sense.

While technology would have eventually made all newspapers completely obsolete, I feel very strongly that newspapers have accelerated their own demise by many years.

Quite honestly, the only reason I digitally subscribe to The Tennessean is for their sports department so that I can keep up with the Titans and Vols. But with the good reporters leaving for other online outlets, practically the only reporters left are young kids who can barely construct a correct sentence.

So, this is a definite win for Curt Cavin. He jumped ship before it sank and was able to hop into a great new opportunity for him. But it is also a win for IndyCar. In fact, it sounds like IndyCar pursued him heavily, instead of Cavin looking for a landing spot. This will be good for both parties.

In the past couple of years, an already strong Communications department at IndyCar has gotten a lot stronger. Mike Kitchel was hired from Panther Racing to become Director of Communications in March of 2014. His leadership has been evident to me at races, ever since he took the job.

This past spring, longtime motorsports media expert Pat Caporali came back to open-wheel racing from a four-year stint with Chrysler and their Mopar brand and motorsports interests. I first met Pat when she headed up PR for Vision Racing and then Alex Tagliani’s FAZZT race team. Since this past May, Pat is now Senior Media Relations Manager for IndyCar and all indications are that she is doing a phenomenal job. Now Curt Cavin brings three decades of being an IndyCar insider to the position of Vice-President of Communications for IndyCar.

As I said, a staff that was already good has gotten a lot stronger in less than three years with those three additions. Am I trying to score points with these folks? No. I already have my credentials in place and I also have a well-documented history of voicing my displeasure with IndyCar when I don’t agree with something. This is what I honestly feel.

I don’t claim to be good friends with Curt Cavin, but I know him well enough that we’ve carried on conversations that don’t even involve racing. But one thing I do know about him is that he is the consummate professional and will do an excellent job in his new role. IndyCar is lucky to have him, but I think he is very fortunate that he could leave the foundering newspaper business while staying involved with one of the sports he loves (basketball being the other).

My biggest concern was that his new job would affect his role on Trackside, which he co-hosts weekly with Kevin Lee. I was also worried about the future of the Carb Night Burger Bash. If you listened to Trackside last night, you know that both of those fears were put to rest. He will be allowed to continue his involvement with both.

I was out of the loop last Friday and took off a day from here on Monday so that I could attend our family reunion. I thought it was a safe bet that not much offseason news would be happening in early October. I was wrong. It was a bad day to take off.

George Phillips

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14 Responses to “A Bad Day To Take Off”

  1. Ganassi switching to Honda almost certainly was a huge factor in their decison to keep TK for a couple more seasons. He is Hondas favorite test driver and they will certainly get more and better data from him than from Andretti.

  2. Brian McKay in Florida Says:

    I surmise that you enjoyed your unmentioned (here) birthday.

    Thanks for blogging.

  3. Man did that come out of left field. I did not hear Trackside last night. I usually wait until the podcast comes out so I don’t have to listen to the commercials. I sure did not see that one coming. I Listen to Kurt and read his articles like everyone else and his passion for the sport is clearly evident. IndyCar needs people like that. It sounds like a dream come true for him and a win for IndyCar.

    On the Ganassi front: is this IndyCar’s attempt at a balance of power by luring the team over to Honda? Maybe there was a financial incentive there? A desire to have the two biggest teams in IndyCar on either side of the fence? Maybe laying out a more balanced playing field for an eventual third engine manufacturer?

    On the newspaper front: My old boss’s Dad was a writer and had a weekly automotive section at the Denver Post and was there for like 30 years. I would talk to him weekly about the new cars he had driven and he would always comment about how lucky he felt to still have a job.

  4. Having been up nort der in the wilds of northern Wisconsin for the past few weeks, I did not learn of the news regarding Curt Cavin until I returned. However, I am not surprised. For years I have turned to Curt at IndyStar, George Phillips, and Racer.com for racing news. Since the Indianapolis newspaper became part of the Gannett chain, it soon began to look like USA Today and Curt’s stories began to be put off to the side in favor of some guy named Gluck. Now the Milwaukee paper and the Green Bay paper are also part of the same damned chain. Racing news in the Milwaukee paper now has Gluck putting our excellent local writer Dave Kallmann off to the side. I would not be surprised if our Packer news soon becomes Glucksterized.

    I am very happy for Curt. I had the pleasure of meeting him a few times at the Milwaukee Mile. Good news for IndyCar also. Curt is one of the more sucessful people to come from Frankfort, Indiana. The other being my mom.

    • EDGAR Emmitt Says:

      Ron,I had emailed you on an old post.
      I also live in WI and had a wonderful connection to Frankfort, IN
      My dad’s army buddy was Emery Hoffman.There daughter Linda’s 1st husband the late Donnie Oberhausen family ran the family bakery.
      My 1st 500 in 65 was when I got on the train and ended up in Frankfort at 3 AM where Mrs.Hoffman picked me up and that was the start of my Indy 500 haven’t missed one since. But Donnie was the guy that really got me hooked.

      Those were the day’s. Some great memories for sure.

      Never knew that Curt came from good old Frankfort.

      Small world we live in.Perhaps we could meet at RA next years and talk.I only live 15 miles from the track.

      • It is indeed a small world Edgar! All of my relatives on my mother’s side are from Indiana, mostly from the Frankfort area. Campbells and Georges. For many years we had our family reunions at that wonderful park in Frankfort. At some point my grandparents and uncles moved to farms just a bit west of Sedalia. My mother graduated from Rossville High School. I spent some happy summers on my Uncle Paul George’s farm. I think the first 500 I attended was about 1950 at the age of 10.
        We will indeed have to get together at RA next June. I live in Muskego. You could get my email address from George. Thanks for writing.

  5. Bruce Waine Says:

    Ganassi – Target sponsorship departs…………….. Honda $ponsorship comes knocking on the door………… Honda power arrives …….And no longer is there open Chevy data sharing with your competitor – Team Penske……

  6. Wow! I had not heard that as I was out of town camping and listen to Trackside on the podcast sometimes much later in the week. I was completely shocked when I read this. It does seem like a great opportunity for Curt and as long as he continues on Trackside I’m happy. Trackside keeps me going through the off-season.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    I’m sure Honda gave Ganassi some very good reasons to switch from Chevrolet, not ALL of them green. I am curious to see who, if anyone, moves from Honda to Chevrolet now. Will we see a major imbalance in the number of cars using each engine?

    Losing an informed reporter and staunch ally in (what is still) a major media outlet is less than ideal, but I am happy for Cavin nevertheless. He’s a good writer and deserves what should be a much more secure position for him.

  8. The Indianapolis Star is a pathetic shell of it’s former self. They continue to raise the price and lower the quality. Robin Miller probably is having a good laugh at what it has become. Curt was probably to the point that he was embarrassed to work there, but he has too much class to admit it. This is my opinion as a 40 year subscriber. Curt will do well at IndyCar.

  9. I’m thinking the motivation for Ganassi to switch to Honda is three-fold:

    1) As others have mentioned, they’re probably getting some needed financial help, in the wake of Target’s departure.

    2) Honda had a pretty clear advantage at Indy this last year, even in the hands of the usually less storied Andretti Autosports (imagine that same package in the hands of Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Mike Hull).

    3) If you’re running the same technical package as Penske is, you are now relying on your ability to out execute the Penske foursome at every race to beat them. If you have a different technical package, and hopefully a technical advantage, you may have a higher baseline level of speed from which to start. Given that the Honda engine was rumored to be more powerful than the Chevy last year (and the aero kit seemed to be more consistent as the teams learned them), there’s a decent chance that an impending technical advantage is not too much for Ganassi to hope for.

    And as for the news of Curt Cavin going to Indycar, well, that’s great for basically everybody. And when people ask why IndyCar needs the sanctioning fees that they ask for from the tracks/promoters, stocking your office with people like this who can carry forth the message of “Great Racing, Less (Time) Filling (because the races aren’t 5-6 hours long, like that other big series)” to the masses is one great way to spend those millions of dollars that you accrue over the year. Lower sanctioning fees potentially means less cash to pay/hire employees.

  10. Edgar Emmitt Says:

    George, is there any way that you could organize a get together at RA next year since you own and run this great website.

    Would be great to meet and talk racing and what ever with the other folks on this OIL PRESSURE website.

    Found out that Ron Ford and I have much in common and would enjoy to meet up at RA. Cold you give Ron my email.

    • I sent you an email and copied Ron on it, except I called you Emmitt (sorry about that). As for organizing a get-together, I’m not much of a social chairman. I may just say let’s all meet at the SJB concession stand at noon on Saturday or something like that. That’s about as structured as I’m likely to get, although I would like to meet everyone. Ron and I planned to meet up this year on race day, but last minute circumstances prevented it from happening. – GP

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