The Greatest Spectacle In Racing

FINALLY happens tomorrow….

The Indy 500 is tomorrow. A race that, under normal circumstances, happens the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, was postponed due to COVID-19. I’m an auto-racing fan and I’ve done quite a bit of work with NASCAR over the years. Some of it has been promotional for clients, some has been as support for a dear friend that was a car owner, and some of it was just happenstance. Regardless, it was a tremendous amount of fun that I often find myself reminiscing about the incredibly things I experienced over the years. I watched Indy 500 quals last weekend and I have to admit that when it became clear that there would be another Andretti starting on the Pole, it gave me chills.

For a kid from the sticks, I have had some pretty incredible professional opportunities. I have to say, I am most grateful for the time I was allowed to spend working in stock and open wheel racing. I can honestly say to anyone who deems NASCAR just a silly pastime, please allow me to accompany you to any track (once these COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, of course) and I promise that you will leave feeling completely different about this type of auto racing.

I was a kid in the 80’s, what my dear friend Dick Bahre liked to call “the Good ‘Ol Days” of racing. The sport was finally coming into itself; it was growing in popularity with the first few million dollar sponsorship deals being put in place, TV deals being negotiated, and fantastic new talent finding their way into the field to challenge the original guys that elevated the series to the level of popularity that France Senior always imagined it might enjoy.

Raced were broadcast on TBS and TNN. The idea of sponsorship was still new in this arena but everyone understood that the more screen time your sponsor received, the better it was for your team. Eventually they the came to realize that it was also better for the sport, and track promoters realized just how many opportunities existed to leverage the brands and companies supporting not just the drivers, but the entire series and the individual televised races each week.

My company got involved in promoting a healthy beverage that had never before been sold in a resealable, to-go, container. They wanted to find a driver to partner with in order to promote this new innovation to Moms and families; and fortunately for us the marketing director understood the power of NASCAR and the sport’s demographic. We jumped in with both feet and rolled up our sleeves, we knew a few popular, successful drivers that represented family values each of whom did not have a beverage sponsor of any type.

It took a few weeks but we signed a deal with this amazing driver (he happened to also be a Ginger from the great state of Maine, and that made my heart very happy) and negotiated the terms of our contract for the promotion. The client wanted to sample at key retail locations in each of the regions where their dairies were willing to contribute to the marketing budget and NASCAR had regularly scheduled Cup races over the course of the summer. They didn’t know how to “hook” the consumer into the trial and purchase on-site. They had coupons to offer, but not much else. We had, of course, offered up a “show car” with the brand’s pain scheme but didn’t have it fully fleshed out. I suggested allowing kids (which turned into more adults than kids) having the opportunity to sit in the show car and have a photo taken, which we would post to a website for family and friends to see and a copy to send home with them as they left the store. (This was MANY years ago, we didn’t have the tech to simply text or quickly email the photos to consumers then).

We also had 1:64th replica cars made, limited to 10,000, which consumers could receive with 5 of the new resealable “tops” from the product and $1. (To this day, nearly 20 years later, we occasionally still receive a random email asking if any of these collectibles still exist and if they do, how they can be purchased.)

We attended races in 4 markets over the course of that summer, but 6 of the client’s key regions were allowed to redeem “tops” for the replica cars. At two of the races, we had a day or two of driver autograph sessions, which were so incredibly popular we had to turn people away after the first 45 minutes of opening because we knew that the driver would never be able to meet & greet the entire line. It was a highly successful promotion. So much so, in fact, that the driver’s primary sponsor took umbridge with the success and asked for a meeting to determine exactly HOW we were achieving this success with the small budget allowed by the client. (A very popular CPG brand that has been with the sport for at least 3 decades.)

Over the course of these few summer and early fall months, I found myself in the enviable position of spending an enormous amount of time with our show car driver (retired team/car owner) Dick Bahre. He would tell me stories, and what stories they were! Crazy things from filling the hollow tube chassis with ball bearings to meet the weight pre-race only to let them “go” mid-race which benefitted the driver two-fold: 1) the bearings would send cars behind the driver into a skid and 2) the reduced weight of the car allowed it to achieve higher speeds. Such crazy-but-true things that made me laugh so hard that at the end of the day my stomach was sore.

He would take me around the tracks we visited and introduce me to the drivers, team owners, broadcasters and other usual suspects that had been around the sport since the early days. I would sit and listed to them talk, gaining valuable knowledge and becoming privy to them “spinning tales” of the now crazy shit that happened once-upon-a-time during the sport’s infancy. Each story more unbelievable and goddamned funny than the next.

We talked about all kinds of racing stuff. He appreciated open wheel racing just as much as he loved NASCAR stock car racing. When I told him I really loved Indy and F1, he said that he knew I was a good “kid”. We all knew the owner of the Procono Track back then, and I had the rare opportunity to meet a few Andretti family members one weekend. I walked away feeling like I was floating. Not only had I met The King (Richard Petty), Kyle and Kyle’s son Adam before he tragically passed away after wrecking (coincidentally, Adam died at the track that Dick’s brother owned in NH); but I also had the chance to meet a few Andretti gentlemen.

This season has been a challenge, without doubt, for drivers, track owners/promoters, sponsors, drivers and teams alike. However, NASCAR figured out how to bring racing back as soon as they possibly could and I respect their tenacity and leadership in returning to competition with a plan to keep COVID at bay.

Tomorrow will make history for several reason. Not just because the Indy 500 was postponed to a later date, but also because P1 was claimed by Marco Andretti. His Dad and Grandad will be leading the field to green in a two seater and Michael will be driving (much to Mario’s dismay). They’ll honor the rich history of Indianapolis, but their family, including John, who passed away in January after a serious battle with colon cancer.

I look forward to watching the race. I hope you all do, too. It’s a wonderful reminder of what can be accomplished when you refuse to listen to the critics and persevere. Keep pushing. Keep thinking. Keep creating. Keep looking ahead.

Keep innovating.

Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines ….

When You See A FB Friend Suggestion

And You Have NO Idea Who They Are, But It Scares The Fuck Out of You….

I’m not on FB nearly as much as I used to be. I don’t have a reason why, I just don’t seem to give a shit anymore. I log on now simply to see my favorite people, posts about their freaking incredibly brilliant kids and what is going on that might not be shared in my ongoing FB Messenger chats.

Tonight I saw a suggestion. We had a number of mutual friends.

He is a PRIEST.

I tried like hell to place him. Did I really know him? The name sounded so goddamn familiar. It used to be that I never forgot a name OR a face. Now … well, now I seem to be able to forget both. It fucking sucks. I did a screen grab and sent it to one of my besties and asked if I knew him. She responded that we had gone to school with someone by that name to a certain point until our school districts had split.

I dove into my closet and dug out our yearbooks, looking for the pics of the kid I thought this person had been when we were young. After a few minutes I realized that it wasn’t the person I was afraid it might be. But, I did find a few great pics to share with some other friends and snapped some quickies to send off.

However, when it comes right down it to it, yeah … I was a little freaked out that I might have been hooking up with a dude that was now a fucking priest. Warranted? I don’t know. I mean, I’ve known a few dudes that I made out with that came out as gay, that doesn’t bother me. Why would knowing someone that I hooked up with before I was legal becoming a priest freak me out? I wish I had the answer. I think it has everything to do with the indoctrination of the Catholic Church. Those fuckers. [if this offends you, please skip to the next entry … my experience with religion is crazy for my age, but the Catholics left the most sourest of tastes in my mouth].

I moved to a very Catholic town when I was in the 5th grade. It was a bit strange. I was in the same Valley prior to living there, but before moving to this town NONE of my teachers were part of the clergy. Yes, the school prior would walk us across the lot to the church for a class once a week, but that was as close as we got to religion.

When we moved to this town, I was almost immediately visited by a Nun. She taught in the grade school and I quickly came to realize she was just one of many. I wasn’t raised Catholic, and everyone in this town [really the entire Valley] was French Canadian unlike me, so I had a couple of checks against me from the very beginning.

When I attended my first day of school, I was so confused. They placed me a grade behind and I sat there wondering what the fuck was happening. I kept saying that I had already completed this grade, they just kept shushing me. Finally, the teacher took me aside right before lunch and said she’d sort it out. She was married to the Principal and took me down to the office during lunch. They confirmed I was definitely NOT in that grade and found a place for me in the class which I belonged.

WOW.

My teacher was a *spinster* as they may have called her at one point in life. She had a very European hair style, incredibly flamboyant handwriting, she often brought unblessed hosts in for snack time and smelled terrible. I mean, she probably had a gland problem that she tried to cover with awful perfume, and no one was fooled. She also had a spitting problem.

That doesn’t mean she wasn’t a good teacher. I learned a great deal in her class. The school had an open classroom system and we were allowed to excel at our own pace, which was wonderful. I won a number of creative writing and science contests. Unfortunately, that meant I had to attend events with her. One of the great joys of my childhood was meeting Lois Lowry and having her tell me that I had a unique writing style; she loved my perspective and hoped that I would continue to write. That really meant the world to me and is something I will never forget.

That being said, I was one of a handful of kids that grew up in this place without a French Canadian heritage or stake in the Catholic Church. It was really difficult. Most families looked down on me because of it. I was intelligent, talented, athletic and well-adjusted. I’ll give them credit, they weren’t accustomed to having foster kids in their town like me. I plugged on like I was normal, I insisted they treat me like I was normal and eventually they had no choice but to treat me like I was a normal kid. After all, that’s exactly what I was a normal fucking kid.

I did find myself excluded from some things, such as Varsity Cheerleading. The Coach was afraid I would ‘report’ her for praying before each game. Thus, I was delegated to the secondary team where no one cared. I was still the best fucking cheerleader the secondary, AKA the GIRLS Varsity Team, ever fucking had. I used to run out and hit three pointers before we all ran drills. It didn’t take long before I was recruited by the coach and I was playing on the basketball team.

Honestly, when I try to explain where I grew up to people, it’s part Twilight Zone, part “Fucking Nuts”. School , well I explain that as attending a public parochial school. At least 50% of our teachers at the time from K-12 were Nuns. I will give credit to those who taught science. They did it appropriately and they did it well.

All in all … I am honestly just happy that I didn’t do anything with a kid that ended up as a Priest. I really resent the people that tried to keep me down. The people that tried to make me out to be some sort of degenerate simply because my parents had issues and I unfortunately ended up in the foster system. They treated me like it was my fault, like I’d done something to deserve that placement and I was less-than as a result.

Now, of course, they all pretend that never happened. Everyone likes to think they were my champion. It pisses me off. It really pisses me off when they press it and I have no issue reminding them how they treated me when I was in school. I don’t give a fuck who they are, who they were or what they fuck they are doing now. It’s unacceptable for adults to treat a child the way that so many adults treated me back then. Even if it hadn’t happened I would have still donated, helped and looked out for foster children; but honestly the treatment I received has given me reason to try even harder to make things better for as many children as I can.

In short, I will never forget where I came from. I may have difficulty explaining where I went and the place I currently am. I just want kids to know that their parents mistakes are not who they have to be.

A Glimpse of Normal

A Fun[ny] Thing Happened When I Spoke to Vegas

It’s no secret that the events industry, among others, has been all but devastated since we identified the novel Coronavirus and orders to SIP were issued. My company is small, agile but has a wide range of capabilities, so we were lucky to continue working this entire time. The projects were COVID related until recently and with the pivot to drive-in and drive-through experiences, we’re onto providing a new type of service for some of our clients.

However, some things never change. Temporary structures still require specific permits and that’s a service that we have always provided and provided well. I recently received a referral from a dear colleague. The new client was tasked with setting up some temporary structures on the East and West Coast. During the initial conference call I sensed a “comradery” in his voice. I slacked my co-workers that I felt like this person was Canadian. One of my co-workers is currently spending time with his family north of Montreal (Yes, he is also Canadian) and replied, “We’re everywhere!” I laughed.

We had a great call and when it ended I looked up the person we were speaking with. Sure enough, he was not only Canadian, but he played in the CFL. I grew up on the northern border of Canada, Canadians are my thing. (Actually, I have always had a knack for recognizing accents and dialects, but this was like Shaq standing under the rim.) I sent him a quick email saying that I “knew” he was Canadian and made a quick joke about his CFL days. He immediately wrote back, saying that had been so long ago he couldn’t believe his accent was that thick. A few minutes later I received a text with a pic of him from his playing days. I loved it.

Suddenly, while a tiny little connection, I felt like we were back in the days before COVID when I would have worked on a relationship like that face-to-face. I’m a huge sports fan. I’ve always been “just one of the guys” when it comes to being able to speak a little bit about a lot of things. I’ve never had a problem making friends and I can get along with just about anyone. I can roll with the punches and I know enough to plan for something to go wrong, so it’s never a surprise when/if something does. I was meant for this type of work (or possibly the CIA, languages come rather easily, too) so I’ve missed the personal connections.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting a number of amazing people over the years. I was a little girl that came from a nothing, tiny town in the middle of nowhere. I’ve been pretty lucky. I really felt good that I could recognize and appreciate what this new client had done earlier in his life. Probably something that he doesn’t find a lot of women in this business tend to know about let alone care to discuss. We both had a good laugh and now he is absolutely a client.

A human connection.

I didn’t think I really liked people, but these last 5 months have taught me I actually like people, I just hate assholes.