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Keeping It Off the Wall
by Ed Donath

Champ Car Country?
1/6/04

Playa del Carmen, Mexico—Granted, the Mayan Riviera isn’t exactly Mexico City and, to the best of my knowledge, there aren’t any Gigante stores within a day’s drive of this resort area situated in a region of our vast neighbor nation of United States that shares no border with any of our own.

Nonetheless, nearly a week in these parts has passed, and we have yet to see a TV commercial starring Adrian Fernandez. Of the myriad highway billboard beer ads that appear everywhere—Lady Byrd Johnson would have had a field day de-blighting the Mexican highways—not even one little unlighted outdoor placard has featured the likeness of any of the Corona, Dos X’s, or Tecate-sponsored contingent of Mexican Champ Car pilots.

Adding insult to injury, a yuppified Englishman running on the beach with me yesterday was dumbfounded by the question: “Do you have any idea how Mark Blundell is getting on these days?” Dropping Darren Manning's name into the conversation after such a dazed and confused reaction would certainly have served no purpose.

“Buenos dias Señor Eduardo y Señora Darlene," our favorite waiter greeted the honeymooners at the breakfast table on New Year’s morning. "Do you miss those futbol games at home?"

It didn’t really make a difference whether Orfelio was referring to college football bowl games or to the international term for what we Americans call soccer…

“No, amigo,” I proudly and quickly replied in an ongoing effort to converse in Spanish to the greatest extent possible with the locals, “mi deporte favorito es la carrera de los Champ Cars.”

Champ Cars, señor?”

“Si. Autos con tornos abiertos? O tal vez Indycars.” I tried desperately to clarify—resorting to further bastardization of la lingua Español by inserting f-inheritor terminology into the mix. “Los autos que competo en Parque Fundidora, Monterrey!”

No dice.

So whether my extremely broken Spanish just plain isn’t capable of getting the job done or whether, as I suspect, the waiter had simply never heard of CART, the result was yet another dumbfounded expression. But after decades of attempting, mostly in vain, to explain our beloved speed sport to the uninitiated in the USA, this latest round of Mexican frustration wasn’t really all that unexpected.

Which leads us to the most critical element necessary for growth, or at least some sort of resurgence, to occur in Champ Car racing and the single biggest failure of all previous managers of the CART.

Marketing. Especially the selling of scores of interesting nationalist/international personalities who were always so plentiful and exploitable to the major media of the world—if only someone had taken the initiative to do so.

Whether it was Al Unser Jr.’s baby-faced American grin or Big Mo Gugelmin’s effervescent Brazilian smile…Mad Max Papis’ cosmo-European handsomeness or Danny Sullivan’s heart-throb American good looks…Bobby Rahal’s fearlessly geeky Mitty-esque persona or Teo Fabi’s, there was never a generation of Champ Car drivers—let alone their over-the-top skills and the techno-danger of the sport—that was ever properly marketed.

Former CART marketing director Pat Leahy’s plan to appoint an international media ambassador for the sport was never executed despite denizens Paul Newman and David Letterman’s ubiquity and Mario Andretti’s obvious availability. So OWRS, why not give a real international Champ Car hero a shot at the job? Alex Zanardi would be perfect!

Time to roll over because I’m starting to do another slow burn. New year, old story.

Copyright © 2004 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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