Grassroots racing at its best

webtopSaturday night, I attended the annual Michigan Automobile Racing Fan Club Banquet in Warren, Michigan.  Once again, Mother Nature tried to stop anyone from attending with a snowstorm  that piled up a total of 7 inches by night’s end.  However, almost 400 brave soles took on the challenge of barely plowed highways and multiple freeway accidents to gather at a night of honoring track champions from across the Wolverine state.

70 champions from the many local short tracks in the state were recognized and got a plaque from MARFC for their accomplishments and a chance to say thank you to those that helped them attain those titles.  Most heartwarming was a bevy of youngsters involved in karting, many under the age of 10, saying thanks to their parents.

paulpageAnother highlight of the evening was my very good and longtime friend and mentor Paul Page receiving the Eddie Sachs Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award.  The award was given to Paul by Eddie Sachs, Jr.  Unbelievably, Paul admitted this was the first award of this type he had ever received in his career.

After the ceremonies ended, it was on to dancing for some, but for most, it was renewing friendships and telling those tall lies that get larger and larger from the past season of racing. Finally the night came to an end with everyone making their way to either nearby hotels or their homes on even more treacherous roads than they had travelled to attend the affair.

Still, just like the event I had attened 7 days earlier(previous post) , no one complained about the weather or the challenges of the road.  They were too busy smiling and revelling in a celebration they would remember forever.

Welcome to Nascar’s new sponsored caution flag!

Being an influential member of the auto racing media fraternity (chuckle can be inserted here) I receive hundreds of email press releases each week.  Wednesday of this week one hit my InBox that didn’t seem any different from the thousands I’ve gotten over the years.

The subject line said “ServiceMaster Clean Release.”  The headline when the email was opened also brought no lifting of the eyes.  “ServiceMaster Clean inks multi-year sponsorship deal with ISC and SMI race tracks.”  However, the body of the release left me saying “What the heck is Nascar, ISC, and SMI thinking?” Here are the pertinent lines that got my attention.

service-master-truck-jpegServiceMaster Clean announced today that it has signed a unique partnership agreement to be the first-ever official sponsor of the caution period during races at International Speedway Corporation (ISC) and Speedway Motorsports Incorporated (SMI) race tracks across the nation. When there is a problem on the track, the ServiceMaster Clean Yellow Flag will wave, and the company’s familiar yellow trucks will be dispatched to clean the track.   

            ServiceMaster Clean will have official and exclusive sponsorship of the Yellow Flag– now to be known as ServiceMaster Clean Caution periods – at all 19 ISC and SMI race tracks around the country. These racetracks feature 31 Sprint Cup, 24 Nationwide and 17 Camping World Truck Series races and hundreds of other racing events. In fact, there will hardly be a race for the next five years where ServiceMaster Clean does not have a large presence. All cleaning and drying vehicles and equipment will feature the ServiceMaster Clean logo and colors, and the clean-up teams will wear bright yellow ServiceMaster Clean jumpsuits.       

To me that reads as if every time a caution flies, radio, TV, and the track PA announcers have to say the “ServiceMaster Clean yellow flag is out.”  Also it’s not longer just “under caution” but the “ServiceMaster Clean caution period.”

I just don’t think Nascar fans are going to take this seriously. If they weren’t booing enough during this past year’s Brickyard 400 with all the yellow flags, think about the ire to also hear “the ServiceMaster Clean yellow flag is out” each time.

I’m sure that the parties invovled equate this sponsorship to the Aaron’s Lucky Dog free pass.  It’s not. 

The Lucky Dog got its start in the TV broadcast booth and was a brand new animal (sorry it is what it is) in Nascar.  The yellow flag has been around forever.

What should have been done and is being done in the IRL and was also done in the now defunct CART series, was put the sponsorship name on the safety team.

In the IRL, it’s the Delphi Safety Team.  In CART, it was the Simple Green Safety Team.  No tying in with a caution flag or caution period.  Both sponsors actually got more mentions than they probably would the way the Nascar/ServiceMaster Clean deal will generate.

I hope that once the parties involved realize the fans think this idea of sponsored yellow flags and caution periods is a joke, they’ll make the adjustment to the examples I gave.  Let’s not make racing more of a circus and sideshow than it is quickly becoming.

Racing is all about friendships

Last Saturday night, I took on the challenge of over six inches of snow that was continuing to fall to attend a get-together of fans, officials, and media of what was CART/ChampCar/IndyCar racing at the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in Novi, Michigan.  The reason I braved barely plowed roads was to see people who I consider to be my second family that I hadn’t seen in several years.

The night to me was amazing and so much fun.  These were people I travelled the world with, that I worked beside as a broadcaster for CART, that I partied with, and even at times wept with when tragedy struck us.

We took care of each other because we were family.  Yes, we all were doing a job during those days, but we also built relationships that will last forever. We shared our lives and our passion for racing, and although the days could be long, enjoyed each race weekend because our friends were around us.

2009 Friends of Champ Car CelebrationThrough out the night, the stories flowed, memories were jogged, and I’ll admit, the adult beverages were consumed. It was non-stop conversation and laughter, and when the night did have to end in the early hours of the next morning, all said a heartfelt goodbye.

On my drive home it dawned on me why I like auto racing so much.  Yes, there is the excitement that happens on the track, but it was the friendships I had built off the track that made it so important to me. These were people I’d do anything in the world for and I know they would do the same in return for me. 

I can’t wait until next year when another “family” reunion takes place!  I’m already working on new lies to tell!

The American Spirit alive and well in the world of Motorcycles

Today I attended the 28th Annual Cycle World International Motorcycle Show at the Rock Financial Showplace near Detroit.  Let me state right here, I am not a “motorcycle” person but went to make contacts for work I hope to be doing.  However, I was blown away by what I saw.

First, I arrived at 10AM.  The doors opened to the event at 9:30AM and I struggled to find a parking spot.  People were flocking through the doors and into the mammoth facility.  None of this was cheap.  It was five bucks to park and 13 bucks for each adult attending.  Still, thousands were there.

100_0968Once inside, I saw display after display from the top motorcyle manufacturers in the world.  100_0972There was Honda, Ducati, Harley Davidson, Victory, Kawasaki, and many, many more. Most had upwards of 30 different models on display.

I saw many merchandise vendors showing off the latest helmets, gloves, motorcycle attire, accessories, and everything and anything associated with the motorcycle “lifestyle.”

A big reason that this all amazed me is that all we hear is how bad the economy is, especially here in the state of Michigan where we’ve been in recession for at least five years.

Here were vendors and manufacturers galore being ogled by thousands of people either unemployed or facing unemployment.  Still, they were there and from every sign I saw enjoying themselves immensely.

100_0974How “into” this motorcycle show were the attendees?  When I parked my car, in the next row were three motorcyles that had been ridden to the show.  Even though it was sunny, the temperature was a balmy 25 degrees, yet they saddled up and came in style to the show. That my friends says a lot about the spirit of America and especially those that love their motorcyles.

Maybe we can all learn a lesson from these people.  No matter how bad things are, as long as we have the freedom to enjoy the things in life that make us happy, we’re still ahead of the game!  Excuse me while I drop “Easy Rider” into the DVD now and start cranking up “Born to be Wild” in tribute.