I read the news today, Oh boy, Jeff Gordon!

Hello my friends.

I have found it difficult to write here for the past year. I’ve gone through some extreme changes in my life, both personally and professionally and unfortunately most of them have been unpleasant. As a result, it’s left me with little desire to write about anything, much less NASCAR, for which most of you come here to read about. And since I’m not being paid anymore for my opinions and words, my former employer Bleacher Report having found my work not to their needing or liking and so they cut me loose, I am left with this blog, for which I am grateful for and even more important, for your support by coming here.

On the occasion of the announcement yesterday that the legendary driver Jeff Gordon is planning to end his NASCAR career at the end of the 2015 season, I felt compelled to write about the two people associated with Gordon who have meant the most to me.

First up, however, I must say a few words about Thursday’s media teleconference with Gordon and team owner Rick Hendrick. From a technical standpoint, it was poorly designed and executed. The setting was bleak. There were numerous technical difficulties at the start of the teleconference that made it difficult for questions to be asked. And the volume on Hendrick’s microphone was so high that I could hear every breath, groan and clearing of the throat he made while Gordon was talking. When Hendrick was finally asked a question, his microphone was so high, it nearly blew out my computer speakers.

And while I admit that it was an emotional day for both men, their mood appeared overly somber and serious, they exuded an uncomfortable feeling that made them appear to have been forced into doing the teleconference. There were rare smiles from either man and both appeared less than enthusiastic about their surroundings. Guys, this was a time to celebrate Gordon’s unbelievable career, not look like you were both on Xanax!


There have been tributes aplenty in the past day or so, all of them praising Gordon as a game changer for NASCAR (he was), a role model for drivers (he is) and much, much more. I’ll not add to those platitudes here. I prefer to watch the man in his final year behind the wheel of a Cup car, making magic in his Chevy race car and once again reaching for that highly prized trophy called the Sprint Cup. In NASCAR, it’s tough to be at the top two years in a row these days. Even the dynamic duo of Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson know that. Gordon and his teammates had a slow start to the 2014 season and peaked at the right time. Had it not been for the race at Texas and Brad Keselowski’s questionable bump pass, NASCAR would have crowned Gordon the champion and not my pre-season pick, Kevin Harvick.


Which brings me to Alan Gustafson. Gordon’s crew chief since 2011, Alan has been my friend for much longer. He and I met during his first season as Kyle Busch’s crew chief on the 5 car. He gave Busch a great car every race and the young and brash Busch took full advantage of it, winning races, but just as important, scoring many, many top fives and top 10s. Gustafson taught me a lot about a Sprint Cup car back then. He was the person who took the time to explain how everything worked.

Gustafson became my “go-to” guy for many of my questions. I could always count on an easy to understand answer to any technical question I had. And I also learned over the years about leadership, the Gustafson way. The kind of leadership that kept the 24 team together. At the beginning of the 2014 season, their bad luck had them disappointed, frustrated and questioning themselves. Gustafson knew what to say to them and how to say it. He is truly a leader of men. And he is to be applauded for resurrecting Jeff Gordon’s championship style.

On occasion, Al and I would also talk about each other and our families and life in general. His southern accent is, well, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a NASCAR crew chief. Most of today’s Cup crew chiefs come from the Northeast or Midwest. Not that that’s bad or anything. But NASCAR would do well to keep its southern roots strong and healthy in order to keep the sport moving forward in the 21st century. Which is, another blog for another day.

I have no doubt in my mind that Alan will be able to duplicate the success that 24 team saw last season in 2015. If Gordon remains healthy, he is my pre-season pick for the championship.


Jon Edwards. Most people know his face, but they’re not exactly sure who he is and what he does. His official title is somewhere in the vicinity of publicist. But in reality, he’s one of Gordon’s closest confidantes. They’ve worked together almost since Gordon’s entry into NASCAR. If you’re a member of the media, Edwards is your go-to guy for anything regarding Gordon and an invaluable ally when you needed to connect with the driver of the 24 car.

It was a rare occasion that Edwards would say no to a request. He often will go above and beyond to get the job done, presenting an extremely professional face to the world for anything relating to Jeff Gordon. I am proud to say is also my friend, someone whose first question when seeing me is always “How are you feeling?” And then our conversation turns to Formula One racing or something other than NASCAR. I met Jon when I first came to work in NASCAR. He is always there to answer any question, whether my role was as a journalist, publicist or television producer. Yes, television producer. I had approached Gordon’s father with an idea for a television show for Gordon several years ago. I believed it was perfect for him and I spent quite a bit of time putting it all together. It never did see the light of day. There were issues with logistics and many other reasons. I still believe it is the ideal vehicle for Gordon to segue into once he puts his driving gloves away.

Once you know Jon and how he works, it’s easy to see why he won the 2014 Jim Chapman Award for Excellence in Motorsports PR, a most prestigious honor!

And he’s just a good guy, too.


I don’t profess to know Jeff Gordon the way some journalists do. He was already an established star in the sport when I first began to cover it some 15 years ago and for whatever reason, my relationship with him just remained professional. But, I have always and will continue to admire both his talent and his person. He has done it all, from winning championships and the sport’s biggest races (more than once) to hosting “Saturday Night Live.” I mean, it is very easy to blast out a thousand words of praise and affection for the man. But, I’ll leave that to those who feel they know him better than I.

I prefer to watch Gordon do his thing, alongside the two men in his life who I consider to be among the most important to him. And that I can proudly call my friends.

Thanks Jeff for all those great years of racing. I look forward to your final season.

And thanks Alan and Jon for your friendship. Knowing both of you the way I do makes it easy to see why Jeff Gordon is so successful. He’s got both of you working with him.


Thanks for stopping by. And I promise to write more. Really!

I remember my friend Denny Darnell

It’s been some time since I’ve published anything in this space. I refrained from writing here in deference to my friends over at Bleacher Report, for whom I’ve been writing a regular NASCAR beat over the past year. But, that ends this week and I shall turn my attention back here.

Like many of my friends in the media and throughout the NASCAR and racing community in general, I was deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Denny Darnell. When he announced his retirement earlier this year, we exchanged emails and wished each other well. He was such a good guy. When I was battling cancer, his notes were always like a whiff of hot rubber from a race car that had just come off the track. They were a quick snapshot from someone I knew had written it to me from the front lines of the racing business while I lay in a hospital bed with a chemo bag attached to my arm.

Although I only knew Denny for a comparatively short time, we were good friends. We were not such good friends when we first met. And the story of how our friendship began is one that I always have loved to tell.

It started when he threw me out of the media center at the U.S. Nationals, the most prestigious drag racing event of the year.

Back in 1997, I was writing for one of the earliest motorsports news sites on the Internet, GoRacing.com. I was not only the main writer, I was the editor-in-chief and I took photographs, as well. We had a small staff of writers that covered the main motorsports here in North America, but I took a special interest in both Indy Cars and NHRA drag racing. It was in my attempt to cover drag racing that I met Denny.

Darnell ran the communications effort for the NHRA back then. I wasn’t sure what his affiliation was with the organization—whether he worked for the NHRA or R. J. Reynolds, the company that made Winston cigarettes, the title sponsor of what was then the NHRA Winston Drag Racing series.

Denny was very good at what he did and under his reins, the NHRA received a good deal of media coverage. But, then like today, it was mainly local newspapers (USA Today was just beginning to gain an audience) and local television and some specialized national television coverage.

I was able to get a credential for NHRA events as an Internet journalist only because the company that owned GoRacing.com that I worked for, also did the website for the NHRA. As an Internet pioneer, it was a strange time with limited phone lines available to me for use to file my work. I worked closely with Compuserve motorsports editor, the late Mike Hollander, who like me was an Internet pioneer and who helped me considerably.

Having a media credential at the prestigious U.S. Nationals didn’t mean I had a seat in the media center. Darnell had made sure that the limited space in the tower at the starting line that housed the media center was delegated to the newspaper reporters that had come to cover the event. Any left over seats were then assigned to the public relations person from selected drag racing teams. It made for an interesting mix of media and pr that was strangely incestuous.

My seat? It was in the room next to the deadline media area, alongside where the media was being fed. I didn’t complain. It was a seat and I had access to a phone line that was pretty good and my Internet speed was fast.

My view of the track however, was quite poor and while I could hear the cars, I couldn’t see the starting line and by the time my line of vision was able to see them, they were near the finish line. I guess that was OK, but I had hoped for something better.

I would often wander into the deadline room to get a much better viewing experience. From there, you could not only see the staging lanes where the cars were being pushed up to the starting line, but you had a view of the entire track. It was first class media room access whilst I had economy class. Darnell would let me walk freely around the media center, but he always kept a close eye on me. He had probably been thinking that this guy is making this Internet stuff up and he’s just angling for a free ticket to the event. He was partially right there, as I did enjoy the perks of journalism like the free tickets and free food..

On the day before the final elimination rounds, I had been hanging out with the writers from the Indianapolis Star and USA Today. They had the best seats in the media center, on the front row. The writer for USA Today was another old friend, Erik Arneson, who is now the VP of Media Relations for Fox Sports 1 in Charlotte and he’s written some very good books on drag racers John Force and Darrelll Gwynn as well as a wonderful bio of the legendary Mickey Thompson.

I was never trained as a journalist, but I can offer that I learned from working alongside some of the best in the business!

One of the writers from the Indy Star suggested that since the seat where I was sitting had been assigned to one of their writers who would definitely not be attending the final eliminations rounds, that I should move my computer to that seat and work from there on the day of the final eliminations.

The writer whose seat I would be using? Robin Miller, who now writes for RACER and appears on NBCSN’s Indy Car coverage.  At that time he was a motorsports writer for the Indy Star, primarily covering Indy Cars. I guess he would show up at the U.S. Nationals once and a while.

So, on the day of the final eliminations, I showed up bright and early before anyone else and parked my stuff on the seat in the front row. It was spectacular. I would get to experience the biggest NHRA event of the year from the first class seats. It was bound to make my writing better. Hell, at that time, even the smallest things made my writing better.

As the room filled up with journalists for the big day of the finals, there I sat with the big kids for a chance to work alongside some real professionals.

Before the first pair of Top Fuel dragsters even got to the staging lanes, a very loud voice that could be heard over the rather loud din of the media room caught my attention.

“Margolis, what are you doing?” it said. it was Darnell. I turned to answer but before I could, “Get up from that seat and sit back where you are supposed to sit,” Darnell boomed out.

“But, I was told that I could sit here today,” I replied.

“By who? Not by me. Get your stuff and get back where you belong,” Darnell continued.

He wasn’t being very nice about it. And here I was, sitting amongst the big kids and Darnell was exposing me for who I was, just a lowly Internet journalist who was sneaking around, pretending to be a professional.

I walked over and tried to explain the situation, that Miller wouldn’t be there and that one of the Indy Star writers offered the seat to me. Darnell told me that the seat wasn’t the Indy Star writer’s to give up and that he, Denny Darnell, was in charge of everything in the room and if he wanted to give that seat to someone to use, it would be his choice to make.

“And you’re not going to get that seat,” Darnell said in a large voice. “Either get back to where you’re supposed to sit or get your stuff and get out.”

He was making clear to everyone there that this was indeed his media center and that he was in charge.

I went back to my now illegal seat in the front row and packed up my stuff.

As the then, editor-in-chief of GoRacing.com, I made the executive decision that my website was not going to give any more time or space to any motorsports organization that had a jerk like Darnell in their employ. And then to the dismay of the public relations representatives, who were losing a journalist who had offered them all the online space they wanted (back then, Internet sites weren’t made to look like today’s exercises in pop journalism) for their drivers and more importantly their sponsors, I walked out of the media center.

I think I heard a few claps from a journalist or three who actually supported my stance against the tyranny that Darnell used to run his media center.

Now, I’m not writing any of this to tarnish his reputation or to be negative in any way. I will admit, it was a difficult moment for both of us, as Darnell would later tell me. But, he ruled things with an iron fist and to his credit, the NHRA got more than its fair share of the media spotlight back then. Maybe even more than it does today.

Two years later, I ran into Darnell at the Daytona 500. It was a bit awkward at first, but by that time, he’d left the NHRA and was working in NASCAR. Things were different. I was now working on a nationally televised motorsports television show, Motorsports Weekly, as a producer and on-air talent. Darnell and I took a long walk through the infield of the Speedway that afternoon and we talked about a lot of things, none of them racing.

I had long since left the anger of being embarrassed and humiliated by him in my rearview mirror. And he was very different and very apologetic. He admitted that he felt that I was just trying to get into the race for free and that I had no intentions of writing anything, much less have anyone read it.

But by 2000, the Internet had exploded and it was the new medium and he acknowledged that I was indeed one of the pioneers of the medium and that I had deserved a lot more respect. And he apologized, of course.

It was the start of a long and enjoyable friendship with the man. We always joked about the U.S. Nationals episode. Over the years, he was also a trusted source for real news and information. His birthday was the day before mine and it always gave me the opportunity to remind him that indeed he was still seven years older than me.

It is a terrible sadness to think that he had to leave this life at such a young age. The world has lost one of the truly great southern gentlemen in Denny’s passing.

I am a better person having known and befriended him.

The Truth Part II

Yesterday I touched upon the lack of significant “news” that comes out of a NASCAR press conference. Often times, writers search for something of interest to the fan. This can be a difficult task. Because one must first ask “Who is the NASCAR fan?”

White, male, over 45 and Republican is a pretty good answer. I’d love the answer to be “Broad spectrum, multi-racial, primarily male with significant female engagement and (most importantly) 18-44 and yes, we know they love President Obama, but we’d take them anyway.”

The first is reality. The second is a good target, but for the moment, more fantasy than reality. The reality is, the second fan base, you know, the multi-racial one, is more apt to watch Red Bull’s Global Rallycross than NASCAR. The races are short – designed for short attention spans. They feature a variety of automobile manufacturers: Ford, Hyundai, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Volkswagen (you must check out the new Beetle – its ridiculous!), Chevrolet and there’s even a Citroen (a French make). The car models are the cars those 18-44 year olds buy and drive on a daily basis, minus the bodywork, the suspension set ups and of course, the 600-plus horsepower engines. And more importantly, the drivers are likable, engaging with the fans and do what they do even though they’re not being made millionaires doing it. That’s not to say that NASCAR drivers aren’t doing what they do because they love to race, but the big paycheck that comes with a NASCAR Cup driving gig is pretty nice, too.

It is tough to pin down exactly who the NASCAR fan is these days, despite all the data and reams of research. When asked, people don’t always answer with the truth.

There’s a lot to keep the older, white male interested in NASCAR – at least until Dale Earnhardt Jr. retires. And there’s plenty to attract females of all ages – many of the drivers have matinee idol good looks (yes, they do). There’s also some fascinating new digital stuff going on if you check out the Raceview function on NASCAR.com. But, I’m wondering how many of those 45 year-old plus dads sitting in the living room, having an adult beverage or three with their buddies on Sunday know that adding Raceview to their television viewing, either via an laptop or tablet, would add a remarkable new dimension to their viewing experience? I would expect very few of them.

Yet, the generational shift this sport requires continues at too slow a pace.

So, who really is today’s NASCAR fan? Is it you? And how much do you care about what goes on behind the scene that makes the racing good or bad? Or are you more interested in the soap opera and who got the new puppy or moved into a new home or if so-and-so has signed a contract with Joe Gibbs Racing? Maybe both. But, that’s for the next blog.

Thanks for stopping by.

The Truth? You Can’t Handle the Truth

I watched in disbelief at the post-race press conference from Sonoma on Sunday afternoon with race winner Carl Edwards, team owner Jack Roush and crew chief Jimmy Fennig. It was a wonderful triumph for Edwards, who already had a win (Bristol) this season. With this second win, it assures him a place in the Chase.

However, I was amazed at how soft the media inquiries were.

The presser was nothing more than a theatrical exercise in lameness. There were lame questions, about momentum, of all things:

“Coming off a race where as an organization a place that you guys have typically run very well and did not at Michigan, and then coming to a place where you have not as an organization won many races and ending up in victory lane today, I know the two tracks are not similar at all, but is it somewhat of a good momentum boost or a confidence booster?”

followed by equally lame answers (this from Carl Edwards):

“Well, these two guys sitting next to me, they give everything they’ve got all the time, and even though we’re not obviously running as well as we want at the bigger tracks, like Jack said, we prepared for this race the very best we could, and we’ll prepare for Kentucky the best we can. We’ve got to go out and take advantage of the places where we run well, and this year it’s been the short tracks, and the road course looks like we’ve got that program going pretty well.”

What were we supposed to learn from having this softball thrown at Edwards other than an equally soft swing-and-a-miss answer?

This is a team and an organization in turmoil. Its driver is planning to leave the organization at the end of the season. Why didn’t anyone ask both Carl and Jack, who were conveniently together, “Why are we hearing that you’re leaving the organization, Carl?” and to Jack “What have you done to prevent this?”

There were several questions to crew chief Fennig about race strategy, but none regarding what he feels the Roush Fenway Racing cars have been missing this season, because it can’t be Edwards’ fault that the team and the organization are not firing on all cylinders.

Believe me, if someone had asked Roush a question about his team’s performance this season and what needs to be done about it, they would have gotten a real live answer from a man who knows when to tell the truth and where to tell it. But, no one bothered to ask the man.

Roush made a farcical reference to the win being “good karma” but we’re left to wonder if it was Roush’s, Edwards’ or Fennig’s good karma that got them sitting there in front of the media. Karma had nothing to do with it. It was sheer talent behind the wheel, from a driver whose career is filled with also-rans and shoulda, woulda, coulda moments that didn’t need to happen.

Post-race press conferences are rare moments when a good media person understands that they have at their disposal an athlete and his support staff in a rare moment when their emotions are driving much of what they say. It is an ideal time to discuss those things that fans really want and more importantly, need, to know about the sport.

Why should we care that rumors persist that Edwards is leaving his team at the end of the season, unless someone is willing to ask the tough questions and press Edwards for an answer? And is Edwards’ leaving (or supposed leaving) indicative of his lack of faith in RFR’s ability to give him race cars and support that will complement his massive talent in the same way it works at other racing organizations?

Why were there no questions to Roush about this?

Is this post-race press conference indicative of what NASCAR has become – an orchestrated performance for the media and race fans? With the introduction a few years ago of the Integrated Marketing and Communications crowd, a group dedicated to making sure the message coming from all sections of NASCAR is positive, politically correct and adheres to the organization’s marketing strategy, we’ve ended up with a sport that has lost much of its appeal to a broad section Americans. There are no ugly moments to capture the public’s attention – the ugly moments that come when the truth creeps through all the BS that’s being pushed out as news about NASCAR.

Isn’t it time fans start hearing the truth? NASCAR has been homogenized and pasteurized to the point where it is no longer interesting, except for the racing. NASCAR can’t survive on those three plus hours of entertainment every weekend. Most fans don’t understand the intricacies and well thought out strategies that take place during those three plus hours anyway. If they did, they might have a far deeper respect for those who do all the hard work behind the scenes at the race shop. But instead, what we get is news that Danica Patrick and her boyfriend have gotten a new puppy.

NASCAR has to show more of what makes the sport appealing to an increasingly jaded and hard to impress American sports fan. It is an incredibly appealing sport for those who experience it in person for the first time. In order to maintain their interest, it means that the media must ask those tough questions more often and those being asked those questions need to be able to answer them without fear of retribution. Isn’t it remarkable how quiet Brad Keselowski has become? And even Jimmie Johnson, whose every word would be listened to by everyone, isn’t heard from as often as most fans would like.

Has it come down to Kyle Petty being the only voice that fans recognize as a no bullshit zone?

Despite the claims of 40 million or more fans and its undeniable cable television ratings, NASCAR has allowed itself to become a niche sport. That is how it is viewed by sports editors across the country and as a result, that is how it is covered.

Tough questions and equally tough answers are what define the coverage of stick and ball sports. NASCAR’s fans need and deserve to be treated to more of the truth and less of the bullshit they’re being handed these days.

Thanks for stopping by.

And the dog ate my homework

I really don’t know where to start. Maybe with a (quick) apology for not updating this blog as often as I should. Yes, yes, I know. I had cancer and that’s as good an excuse as any for not keeping up with one’s responsibilities. And writing this blog for you, my friends out there, is a responsibility I do take seriously.

So, why then haven’t I been dazzling you all with my wit and wisdom like I should?

First of all, I started writing for Bleacher Report. It’s a really different kind of sports web site that uses a mixture of professional and amateur writers. The pros on the site are some of the best in the business and I feel honored to share a site with them. The amateurs are all great sports fans, some have good writing skills but little storytelling skills, other have great storytelling skills but lack good writing skills. Bleacher Report has a protocol for helping those amateur writers who lack the writing skills by offering up a sort of writer’s university. Even I got involved with the writer’s university because while I may call myself a professional, I will always be open to learning and the Bleacher Report university taught me some really good stuff and made me a better writer.

The editor who hired me at Bleacher Report told me he wanted me to be an analyst, not a reporter, which was something different from what I had been used to while writing about NASCAR. I had written plenty of analytical, opinionated columns, but I’d always considered myself a reporter at heart. I’m still a reporter, but to be honest, I like playing the role of an analyst a lot more. I write a lot of slideshows, which at first I balked at because on an easy glance they look lightweight and forgettable. But they’re not. I spend a good deal of time writing my slideshows and put a lot of thought into each slide and I think you’ll enjoy them. Please check them out when you can.


The folks at Bleacher Report know about Sledgehammer and they’re fine with it, so long as I don’t publish the same stuff in both places. That will never happen. I can say things here that I could never say over there. And I write about other things besides NASCAR here, although my racing stuff in general is why most of you come here to read.

I’ll make this short, like it should be. A quick recap…

My cancer is gone. Two scans in a row and nothing. Nada. A couple of dried out, tiny lymph nodes, decimated by the toxic chemicals they use in chemotherapy into the tiny, shrunken dots on a scan they are today. I feel good. My weight is back up, but nowhere near what it was pre-cancer this third time around. And my hair is slowly growing back. What I wouldn’t give for my ’80s mullet again!

God has blessed me once again with the gift of living and believe me, every day I can roll over and shut off the alarm is a day I know will be lived to its absolute fullest, with little time wasted with all the crap I used to think was important.

And so much is going on in the world of motorsports.

The women have finally taken over the NHRA, even as the motorsports and mainstream media ignore that story completely. I’ll have something to say about that in the next week.

Gene Haas is absolutely out of his mind for wanting an F1 team. Either he’s OK with spending a good deal of his own personal wealth in starting this new all-American team based in Charlotte, or he’s got an ace up his sleeve in the form of an half dozen very solid business partnerships who see the b2b value of being in F1 and are willing to help ol’ Gene offset the ridiculous price of admission into what most of the world consider to be the No. 1 motorsport.

NASCAR is better than ever and no one is watching. I wrote about that at Bleacher Report. But what I didn’t get into over there is that the network television broadcast has to dramatically change in order to keep up with the changes in the world of sports entertainment, or be rendered nothing more than the place where NASCAR fans can get a visual on a small part of what is happening at the track. So much more is available online during a race nowadays that during a NASCAR television broadcast the talking heads in the broadcast booth are often the last to know what is really going on.

It’s scary stuff.

Damn, don’t get me started. I promised this one would be short.

If you were once a NASCAR fan and you no longer follow the sport, NASCAR has a name for you. You are a “lapsed” fan. And whatever your reason for not following the racing, it’s bullshit. Stop living in the past. And the folks out there who stopped following IndyCars and haven’t come back? Have you seen the potential roster for this year’s Indy 500? Jacques Villeneuve, John Pablo Montoya and now Paul Tracy! Come on. Stop making excuses and start living. And what’s better living than watching someone cheat death? Believe me, I live that life every day. It’s incredible!

There us much more to write about here…like the non-profit organization I co-founded that will help those who may have cancer with early detection and for those who don’t have it yet, a way out and a way to prevent it. http://www.highperformancevoices.org I will make this come to life and bring it to the hundreds of thousands of race fans across America every weekend throughout the racing season. Stay tuned for this!

Until next time…

Thanks for stopping by.