The Business & Pleasure of Sports


Category: Auto Racing (43)

Hunter-Reay extends sponsorship deal with DHL


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Ryan-Hunter Reay delivered the IZOD IndyCar Series championship this year to Andretti Autosport and his sponsors.

Among the rewards, the Fort Lauderdale driver and the Andretti team received a multi-year sponsorship extension from DHL. The world-wide delivery firm, a partial sponsor of Hunter-Reay’s car the past two seasons, will become the full primary sponsor of the car Hunter-Reay will drive next year.

The new No. 1 DHL Chevrolet that he will he begin defense of his title at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 24, was unveiled Wednesday in Indianapolis.

“When Ryan wins we get so many more brand impressions. So it’s wonderful to see our brand so positively connected with speed and reliability, things that our brand stands for,” Christine Nashick, Vice President of Marketing for DHL Express, said during a recent celebration of Hunter-Reay’s championship at DHL’s North America headquarters in Plantation. “It’s absolutely beyond our expectations. Not that we doubted that Ryan could do it.”

Continue reading "Hunter-Reay extends sponsorship deal with DHL" »

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NASCAR's environmental summit will trumpet why it's good to go green


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NASCAR, a sport long associated with consumption, now proudly toots its horn as a leader in conservation.

While in South Florida for its season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, NASCAR will host a Green Summit to highlight its environmentally responsible efforts, as well as those of sponsors, and to address future innovations in conservation and sustainability. The summit is Thursday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the Eden Roc Renaissance Hotel in Miami Beach.

“There is a predisposition to think that companies that become involved in something like NASCAR that is a motor sport may not be as green as other companies, and that our fans are not as green as the general public Actually the opposite is the truth,” said Michael Lynch, managing director of the NASCAR Green Innovation. “The companies in this sport are very environmentally responsible and very smart about it from a business standpoint.”

Continue reading "NASCAR's environmental summit will trumpet why it's good to go green" »

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Juno Beach company sponsoring new IndyCar team


In October, TBC Retail Group of Juno Beach announced it would be sponsoring IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal, who had been without a full-time sponsor this past season, for the next two years.

Today, Chip Ganassi Racing announced it is forming Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing featuring Rahal. The new team is being sponsored by TBC, which includes an array of tire and automotive brands such as Service Central, Tire Kingdom, and NTB-National Tire and Battery.

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Spend Saturday with Danica Patrick


Didn’t take advantage of the $70 “Double the Danica” ticket that allowed you to see Danica Patrick race in both the IndyCar Series finale and the NASCAR Nationwide Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway?

You can still see Patrick race NASCAR on Saturday and take in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup finale at Homestead on Sunday. The ticket package includes seats in the Danica section for both series finales and a question-and-answer session with Danica at 2 p.m. Saturday. The tickets at $85 and $125 also provide a donation to the speedway’s foundation.

For more information or to purchase the Danica package visit homesteadmiamispeedway.com.

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Homestead and Miami Dolphins team up on ticket combo


Hoping to sell tickets to both Ford Championship Weekend and Miami Dolphins games against less glamorous opponents, Homestead-Miami Speedway and the Dolphins have created a “Track & Field” ticket package.

For $110, you can get a ticket to see the finale of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at the speedway on Nov. 21 (a day when the Dolphins aren’t playing) and a ticket to one of three upcoming Dolphins games in December – against the Cleveland Browns (Dec. 5); Buffalo Bills (Dec. 19) or Detroit Lions (Dec. 26).

The price represents a 31 percent (or $50) savings off buying tickets to both events separately. The speedway seats are at Turn 1 between rows 5 and 10 and the Dolphins seats are upper prime – in the 400 level on the sidelines between rows 5 and 20.

To purchase the package or for more information, visit homesteadmiamispeedway.com or call 866-409-RACE.

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Wrapup from IndyCar Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway


Less than a month after announcing the IndyCar Series wouldn’t be coming back to Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2011, series CEO Randy Bernard didn’t mince words.

On his inaugural – and perhaps last for the foreseeable future -- trip to Homestead, Bernard said he liked the track, but he was clearly dismayed the stands were far from full.

“It’s beautiful. It’s fun to see it,” Bernard said Saturday just before the start of the IZOD IndyCar Series finale -- the Cafes do Brasil Indy 300. “They’ve got to promote it. I went downtown [Miami] last night and not very many people knew about it.”

Bernard makes a distinction, though, between Miami and Homestead. “I think there’s other cities in this country that will play well to having a championship,” he said referring to the series finale. “I’m not convinced it’s here.”

Homestead-Miami Speedway President Matthew Becherer didn’t mince words either in speaking about the series departure. He’s disappointed personally and for the fans and drivers – more than 10 of whom make their homes in South Florida – but he said hosting the series doesn’t make financial sense. And once IndyCar chose to raise the sanctioning fee to host the series by 30 percent, the track couldn’t justify the expense.

“The reality is we need to make sound business decisions,” Becherer said Saturday.
“And in this kind of economic time to try to go up 30 percent. All we’re asking for is the deal we have, we’re not asking for a break. We’re just asking for the deal we have, and they stuck to their guns and wouldn’t waver so at least for the next year we’re out.”

Becherer said it costs the track to host the IndyCar Series, but he likened hosting open wheel racing to a car dealer carrying high-end, low-demand models.

“If you look at the car business, certain models of cars don’t make money for the manufacturer, but they add prestige and cachet and bring people in the doors,” Becherer said. “But they ultimately buy the four-door or the mini-van.”

Becherer also blamed Bernard for hamstringing the finale at Homestead by announcing in July the series wouldn’t be back.

“How anybody expects a promoter to be successful … when they essentially torched the event, three months out,” Becherer said. “Can you imagine the chairman of the Orange Bowl Committee lamenting the matchup for that year? Can you imagine [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell talking about what a miserable host city they had to go to that year?”

Neither Bernard nor Becherer has closed the door on the IndyCar Series returning to South Florida one day. Bernard said he’s already spoken with promoters about a potential street race in Miami. He said the series could return to Homestead, if the promotion was in place.

“We want them back, the drivers want to come back, the fans want them back, the community wants them back, but they’ve got a business model they presented us we can’t make work,” Becherer said. “My hope is people will settle down, over the next six or seven months, and maybe we can talk about ‘12, worst case ‘13. It could be longer, but the opportunity is there if we want to get together and try to work it out.”

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Becherer wanted to make sure the IndyCar Series went out in style. The decision to have drivers Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan put their twist on the grand marshall duties – they said, “Gentlemen, start OUR engines” – was a nod two locals with an important relationship to the track.

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Driver Graham Rahal, who struggled this season without a full-time sponsor, will drive full-time in the IndyCar Series next year thanks to a two-year sponsorship commitment – announced at Homestead on Saturday -- from Juno Beach-based TBC Retail Group, which includes automotive brands Service Central, Tire Kingdom, NTB-National Tire and Battery.

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Danica Patrick talks IndyCar and NASCAR


A longer version of my Q&A interview with IndyCar and NASCAR driver Danica Patrick than what appeared in the paper today:

IndyCar driver Danica Patrick makes two stops at Homestead-Miami Speedway this fall – in Saturday’s Cafes do Brasil Indy 300 and Nov. 20 for NASCAR Nationwide Series’ Ford 300. It’s just the third time this year a track has hosted Patrick, who made her NASCAR debut this year, in both series. A $70 “Double the Danica” ticket is good for both races.

At Boost Mobile in Pembroke Pines on Thursday to donate $2,500 to Adopt-A-Classroom and sign autographs, Patrick talked about her year in both series:

Q. You debuted at Homestead in 2005 – what do you think of the track?

A. I think it’s a really challenging track … it’s long straightaways with relatively tight corners, and it makes for a lot of passing. Last year there was a lot of lap traffic just because of the difference in speed between first and last. so there’s a Lot of action to be seen for the fans, for the second year now, it’s the season closer, so it’s like extra extra exciting for everybody to see who’s going to win. Another close down to the wire championship.

Q. This is the last Indy Race at Homestead – will you miss Homestead?

A. I’ve always enjoyed coming to Homestead, and I’ve always thought the racing’s good. And I think it’s a great place but if it was up to me, I would have kept this one and a heck of a lot of other ones on the schedule that aren’t on it. Shoot, I’d probably make a whole Indy 500 Series. I’d just base in Indianapolis and do like a series there. At the Indianpolis Motor Speedway, but that’s not my decision.

Q. Does racing both series at Homestead make racing easier?

A. I don’t think it makes it easier or harder. There’s just more of me in that market. I think it’s fun for IndyCar fans to be able to see me in NASCAR. And I think it’s fun also the NASCAR fans that may have not gone to an Indy race maybe they’re interested, maybe they plan to come on out to see the Indy cars there … It’s a completely different from perspective from a stock car than an Indy Car. They seem like two different tracks.

Q. How hard is it to race in both series at the same time?

A. It’s challenging, because it’s challenging. The IndyCar Series is really hard, there’s a lot of really good drivers. In NASCAR, I’m a fish out of water. I’m just trying to figure it out, just trying to finish a race, so that’s all different, too. Everything from how the qualifying works, to when to get into your car, to where to go out of. I’m used to starting and stopping from pit lane, not the garages.

Q. What are the major differences, besides speed - and the cars?

A. The heat. Like the other day when I did a race at Dover, I did two races that weekend. I think my air conditioning unit was pumping heat as opposed to air conditioning, and there wasn’t good insulation so it was getting extremely hot and I thought I was literally going to pass out when I got out of the car. I’ve done Bikram yoga and I can do heat, and it’s not an issue, and it’s never affected me, but that was something else. The people are different, the language is completely different. Everything is very opposite with the way it works in NASCAR with everything from what you do in the car to how you speak about the car out of the car … It’s a big learning curve.

Q. You’ve been introduced as a NASCAR driver not an IndyCar driver on TV (including at the ESPYs)

A. I know, a couple of times. That has nothing to do with me or anyone from Danica Racing. It’s unfortunate they do that, I think it sounds better to say I’m an IndyCar driver and a NASCAR driver, than just one or the other. I think it sounds way cooler, but I think it just shows the league has a long way to go, before where we are where we need to be, where we are so mainstream that it would matter to be mentioned. That’s sad. I think it’s big enough, I think it seems relevant enough, but then again there are great racecar drivers that have won championships, and they get introduced for the Indy 500 they won. So they’re both very difficult, but a championship is very hard, that shows you’ve been good all year. The Indy 500 is just one race, but it is the biggest one. It’s just what the general public is aware of, and what they pay attention to and what sticks.

Q. Has the exposure of being in both made a difference in terms of companies wanting you to endorse their products?

A. Yes it has. Being involved in NASCAR has made people more interested in me and there’s a greater reach there. As we spoke about earlier, about being an introduced as a NASCAR driver, I think that’s an example of what I’m talking about. It’s just something resonates with people and they’re familiar with and they understand. A couple of times I’ve heard people call racing NASCAR, like ‘oh you race NASCAR.’ I’m like ‘No I race IndyCar.’ They’re like ‘Yeh, that’s what I mean. Yeh.’ I’m like, it’s not all called NASCAR. It’s like the company called Kleenex was brilliant because it’s always called a Kleenex. I’ve had people think that racing is called NASCAR. It has a really large platform with a lot of people paying attention.

Q. You won in Japan in Indy, and you’ve struggled in NASCAR. If you don’t win again soon in Indy or if you don’t win in NASCAR are you concerned about the criticism?

A. No. I do everything I can do. I think I more care about going out there and winning and performing, well for myself than anybody else. I want to perform more than people could want me to. So no, It’s more for myself. I’m harder on myself than other people are. I’m very frustrated with the way that it has gone in NASCAR, there have been some good things, but it has been hard and it’s been really humbling. And I thought it was going to be a little bit easier than this. And people then correct me and say you’ve done a great job, you really have, I don’t know why you keep saying you aren’t.’ I’m harder on myself than anybody else could be probably.

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Player Appearance: Meet IndyCar drivers Danica Patrick, Helio Castroneves, Dario Franchitti & more


In advance of Saturday’s Cafes do Brasil Indy 300 – the IndyCar Series championship – at Homestead-Miami Speedway, several IndyCar drivers will be meeting fans and signing autographs Thursday in the IZOD shop in the men’s department at Macy’s in Dadeland Mall.

Among the drivers scheduled to attend are Danica Patrick, Helio Castroneves, Dario Franchitti, Will Power, Tony Kanaan, Milko Duno and EJ Viso. There will be pit stop demonstrations, racing simulators and a two-seat IndyCar from 4 to 8 p.m. The drivers are scheduled to sign autographs from 6 to 7 p.m., at the Macy’s at 7303 SW 88th Street, Miami.

IZOD, which is the title sponsor of the IndyCar Series, will also be giving away items – while supplies last -- such as tickets to the Indy 300 for the first 50 customers who spend $40 or more on IZOD apparel at the event, and a ride in a street-legal Indy two-seater to the first 50 to spend $20 ore more on an IZOD purchase.

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Miami Heat players, Office Depot & Tony Stewart’s car welcome kids back to school


pittman1.jpgStudents at Miramar Elementary got a special star-studded welcome back to school on Monday morning.

Miami Heat center Dexter Pittman and guards Kenny Hasbrouck and Patrick Beverley helped Heat sponsor Office Depot distribute some 900 backpacks filled with school supplies.

In a rare convergence of sponsorees, the event also included the No. 14 Office Depot show car. The Boca Raton office supply company is also a co-primary sponsor of NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Tony Stewart's No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet. Stewart wasn't at the school this morning, but he did carry the Back to School paint scheme on his car in Chicago in July.

Hasbrouck checked out the inside of Smoke's car this morning. Photos courtesy of Office Depot. Above, PIttman helps hand out supplies.

The players addressed the students during morning announcements and the Heat Dancers, Xtreme Team and Burnie the Heat mascot were also in attendance.
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Player Appearance: Meet Helio Castroneves


At 35, three-time Indy 500 champion and Season 5 Dancing With The Stars winner Helio Castroneves has already had a pretty full dance card.

Castroneves shares the remarkable story of his life in auto racing, DWTS, his tax evasion trial, and being a new father in his book “Victory Road, the Ride of My Life.”

The South Florida resident will be making appearances locally on Saturday and Wednesday to promote the book. On Saturday from noon to 2 p.m., he’ll be at Costco North Miami, 14585 Biscayne Blvd. On Wednesday at 8 p.m., he'll be at Books and Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables.

Here’s how Castroneves describes his book on his website: “This is a book about a DREAM. This is a story of UPS AND DOWNS. I tell of my early racing days, my time on Dancing with the Stars, my most thrilling wins and worst defeats, the trial, and off course, the birth of my daughter.”

Castroneves is scheduled to compete in the IndyCar Series championship on Oct. 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

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Tony Stewart Memorial Day promotion supports military families


In honor of Memorial Day, NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Tony Stewart and co-primary sponsor Office Depot along with Lexmark International are helping military families keep in touch with their loved ones who are on duty.

Buy a Lexmark printer at an Office Depot store or online at officedepot.com between this Sunday and June 5 and Office Depot and Lexmark will donate a new Lexmark printer to Operation Homefront, a non-profit organization that aids military families. Boca Raton-based Office Depot and Lexmark hope to donate more than 4,000 printers, which typically start at $199.99.

To promote the partnership, Stewart’s No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet will sport a rear TV panel at Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway with the Office Depot, Lexmark and Operation Homefront logos and the message “Buy A Printer, Support Military Families.”

“For any NASCAR fan who needs a new printer, now is the time to visit your local Office Depot store. Your purchase of a Lexmark printer will directly benefit a military family, and that is a great gift,” Stewart said in a statement.

The companies have also included a social media component, encouraging fans to support individual members of the military by sending them messages via Twitter with the #OperationShoutOut hashtag. Tweets sent through June 5 make the messengers eligible to win one of 10 Lexmark printers.

Meanwhile, a separate Stewart promotion in which Miami-based Burger King invited fans to place their autographs on Stewart’s Chevrolet at the Coke Zero 400 on July 3 at Daytona International Speedway, was so popular that within 48 hours nearly 25,000 fans signed up. The plan for the BK Sign & Race” promotion is to try to include more than 18,000 names on Stewart’s car.

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Things I learned behind the scenes in sports


In another plug for my stories on going behind the scenes in a variety of sports jobs, here are some details that didn't make the package:

Pit crew: Hours spent at the track go by in a flash – there’s so much work to be done. Constant work on the cars, meeting race fans, signing autographs, cleaning the trailers, and, of course, keeping the frigs stocked with water and Gatorade and snack trays filled with chips, granola bars, fruit. Seconds really do make a difference - as I learned the hard way. Everyone has a job. The time between pit stops gets filled with snacking and watching the race on pit box monitors. As the “deadman” you really are thatclose to the gas – you’re standing under a 55-gallon drum suspended on a metal scissor stand. I just didn’t think about my proximity to the gas.

Grounds crew: What this very busy crew at Sun Life Stadium does can’t be overstated. These people work hard to create a pitch perfect field for both baseball and football. As one of only two professional stadiums left in the country that host both football and baseball on natural grass, these people are busy. The grass gets mowed every day. There are the summer rains. The endzone and center logo replacements between Dolphins and University of Miami games. Lowering and raising the pitcher’s mound when football and baseball overlap. And the difference between football and baseball is stark, head groundskeeper Alan Sigwardt explains: football is all about the grass and how it holds up against the different players – the 350-pound lineman versus the speedy receivers. Meanwhile, baseball is about the dirt – with only three players doing their job on the grass, the vast majority of the work is done on the infield dirt. “It’s two totally different sciences,” Sigwardt says. Watch video of my turn at the job below.

Zamboni driving: Top speed is 9 mph, but you’re typically driving slower than that. In a giant contraption with a sensitive turning radius. The red line at BankAtlantic Center is dotted with prints of Panthers paws – which you can see when you’re on the ice, but they’re difficult to make out otherwise. Driving the Zamboni satisfies both sides of head ice technician Graham Caplinger’s brain. He’s a perfectionist, fascinated by the science and math of the job. But he’s also a musician – a drummer – so he has learned to let go. He knows he creates a perfect sheet of ice only to see the players mess it up with their skates. “Everything’s as best as I know how to do it, I’ve checked and checked and rechecked and checked and checked, then it’s up to the players, the artists, if you will, to go out carve up their masterpiece,” Caplinger says. He also says the iPod is the greatest invention – it helps him pass the time spent on the slow-moving Zamboni.

Mascots: It takes a special person to be a mascot. There’s a mascot creed and rules. Never reveal your identity. No talking. Don’t seek permission – ask forgiveness later. Have fun. Grown-ups become big kids as soon as they see a mascot – they cheer, they yell, they pose for photos, they high five, they act silly. And the mascot loves it – he, too, acts silly with no – or few - consequences. “It’s like Batman Superman status. Nobody knows who you are. They think they’re laughing at me, but I’m actually laughing at them. I’m getting them out of their character,” Burnie the Heat mascot says.
 

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Dillard High grad’s team wins NASCAR promotions contest


Stephanie Lockhart’s dedication to NASCAR has paid off. The Fort Lauderdale native and 2006 Dillard High grad and her fellow Howard University students have won the NASCAR Kinetics program’s Spring 2010 Case Study Competition.

The contest pitted teams in the NASCAR Kinetics program -- which is akin to an internship in which they learned about promoting and marketing the stock car racing circuit -- at six universities with the grand prize being a trip to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series All-Star week next month in Charlotte, including garage tours, pace car ride, and pre-race and victory lane access. The competing colleges were Howard in Washington, DC, Notre Dame, Coastal Carolina University, Clark Atlanta University, Central Michigan University and Winston-Salem State University.

The students worked on case studies all involving NASCAR promotion and marketing with the final project being holding a race-viewing party. With help and goodies from M&Ms, sponsor of Kyle Busch's No. 18 M&M's Toyota and creator of M&M's Most Colorful Fan of NASCAR contest, the students were to arrange and promote the viewing parties on-campus. The groups were judged on their success and creativity at hosting their parties.

The Howard group managed to win, even though the Texas race scheduled for April 18 was delayed a day due to rain.

NASCAR said the Howard group stood out for incorporating M&Ms eating and colorful fan face painting contests, a NASCAR educational component and live entertainment.

They encouraged students to attend their party with this commercial.

Here you can watch video footage from their party:

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Fort Lauderdale student learning business of NASCAR


Stephanie1.jpgWhen NASCAR fans settle in to watch the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Samsung Mobile 500 on Sunday afternoon, Stephanie Lockhart and four of her fellow students will be overseeing a race watch-party at Blackburn student center at Howard University in Washington, DC.

Lockhart, who hails from Fort Lauderdale and graduated from Dillard High School in 2006, knows it’s a bit unusual that a historically black college would even be thinking about stock car racing, but she says that’s been an interesting part of the challenge.

Lockhart is one of five students participating in the NASCAR Kinetics program, which is akin to an internship program aimed at educating and exposing students on six college campuses to the NASCAR brand and giving them hands-on experience. The program launched in 2009 and is just completing its third semester, NASCAR spokesman Brad Klein said. Read about the program's launch at Howard here.

One of their assignments is organizing a race viewing party for the Texas race this Sunday or the April 25 race at Talladega. They’ve also worked on plans to promote the book, The Weekend Starts on Wednesday: True Stories of Remarkable NASCAR Fans, by NASCAR Director of Business Communications Andrew Giangola.

“Most people are kind of shocked, especially at a historically black college, it’s a great shock,” Lockhart, 22, said of the reaction from students to her promoting Sunday’s viewing party. “They say 'Wow, what are you doing?’”

That’s her opening to talk about NASCAR and the program, which also includes a competitive element. The other schools, Notre Dame, Coastal Carolina University, Clark Atlanta University, Central Michigan University and Winston-Salem State University host their parties on April 25. Each group is being evaluated on its assignments, including the success and creativity of their viewing parties. The grand prize is a trip to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series All-Star week next month in Charlotte, including garage tours, pace car ride, and pre-race and victory lane access.

A public relations major, who wants to work in sports communication, Lockhart graduates May 8. She’s hoping her experience working in NASCAR’s Kinetics program helps her stand out.

“I thought NASCAR would be something cool to be into,” she said. “It was just something new. I love to try new things … I like to do a lot of things to make me more marketable.”

The groups are getting help and goodies for the viewing party from M&M’s, sponsor of Kyle Busch's No. 18 M&M's Toyota and creator of M&M's Most Colorful Fan of NASCAR contest.

Lockhart said she and her fellow students have been putting ads in Howard's student newspaper, making announcements in the college chapel, promoting the event on their Facebook page and through the school radio station, and arranging for contests to win prizes at the event.

The winner will be announced May 5.

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Office Depot, Tony Stewart celebrating Earth Day at NASCAR race Saturday


odstewart1.jpgIn honor of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart and Boca Raton-based Office Depot are “Growing Greener” this weekend.

To promote its efforts to sell eco-friendly items and ship in an environmentally friendly manner, Office Depot has teamed with wind and solar power producer NextEra Energy Resource’s EarthEra program.

Stewart will drive his No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet with a special “Grow Greener” paint scheme in Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Subway Fresh Fit 600 at Phoenix International Raceway. The paint scheme (see photo courtesy of Action Sports Photography) will feature Office Depot and EarthEra logos along with the “Greener Shipping” message. The office products supplier encourages consumers to be more “green” in the way they purchase and ship items by placing larger orders and reducing the number of deliveries.

Meanwhile, Office Depot is balancing the carbon footprint of the race by buying EarthEra “Green-e Certified Products,” which refers to the independent certification and verification program for renewal energy and greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Learn more about Office Depot’s “Grow Greener” program here and watch the wrapping of Stewart’s car with the special logos below:

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NASCAR Sprint Cup series Coors Light Pole winner too young to drink


The pole winner for this Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway is so young, they’ve had to rename the award.

Sprint Cup driver Joey Logano qualified for his first-ever pole, but since he’s only 19 – and therefore not yet legal drinking age -- the Coors Light Pole Award has been renamed the “21 Means 21 Pole Award” for Sunday’s race.

NASCAR has been confronted with such an issue before. In February 2005 at Fontana, Calif., Kyle Busch became the youngest pole winner in NASCAR’s top series. Back then, Budweiser sponsored the pole award, and at the time, Busch was also only 19. It’s unclear if the pole award’s name was changed for that race – perhaps it was a less enlightened time.

Busch was no stranger to being underage in racing. According to a Charlotte Observer story from 2005, he’d been at Fontana for a NASCAR Truck Series race in November 2001 when he was just 16. Although he’d been told he had been the fastest in practice, he was barred from competing because there was also a CART race at the same track that weekend being sponsored by cigarette maker, Marlboro.

Six weeks later, the story says, NASCAR set a minimum age requirement of 18 to compete in its top three race series.

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Promotions revving up in advance of Saturday’s Grand Prix of Miami


Last Thursday, the Homestead-Miami Speedway and Hooters Girls held a free car wash for Grand Prix of Miami ticket holders at the Hooters in Doral, complete with a car show, happy hour specials and Grand-Am drivers.

Then on Saturday, Guitar Center Hallandale hosted a PRS (Paul Reed Smith) Tech Day – an event that brought together music and race fans. The Grand-Am Daytona Prototype racecar was on site, as were the PRS guitars that will be awarded to the driver of the winning Daytona Prototype car in the Grand Prix and the driver of the Rolex Sports Car that earns the Motor Racing Network’s “Move of the Race.”

On Wednesday, drivers and show cars were in place for a Grand Prix Pre-Party at Monty’s on South Beach.

This evening, Homestead-Miami Speedway is holding a Haitian Relief “Drop-N-Drive” event, in which fans can donate items for Haiti and get a chance to drive their own cars on the track. The event is from 5 to 8 p.m. and also includes an opportunity to donate blood. Keg South of Homestead will serve food and beverages. Suggested donation items include sheets, towels, blankets, tents, flashlights, batteries, candles, soap, iodine, bandages, canned soup and bottled water.

All of this is in advance of Saturday’s day of Grand-Am racing. The Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Homestead 200 starts at 1:15 p.m., followed at 5 p.m. by the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Grand Prix of Miami.

General admission on Saturday is $20 and free for children 12 and under. Spend another $10 for access to the paddock area on Saturday. Want to meet Rolex Series Driver and actor Patrick Dempsey? There’s a $40 package that includes a ticket to the Grand Prix, meet and greet with Dempsey Racing drivers, an autographed hero card and a provides a $20 donation to the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer, Hope & Healing and Seattle Children’s Hospital.

For more information, visit homesteadmiamispeedway.com

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Just in time for Daytona: new book about true NASCAR fans


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Been missing NASCAR and its colorful stories? The weekend’s ripe with good ones – not just the Daytona 500 on Sunday, but Danica Patrick’s much-anticipated debut in the Nationwide Series on Saturday.

Perfect timing, too, for Andrew Giangola’s new book, “The Weekend Starts on Wednesday: True Stories of Remarkable NASCAR Fans,” which was released Wednesday (natch) by Motorbooks.

I’ll acknowledge up front that I haven’t read all of it yet, but the chapters I’ve read so far are heart-warming, entertaining, fascinating portraits of the people who make up NASCAR’s enormous fan base – said to be 75 million strong. There’s TV news anchor Brian Williams, chef Mario Batali, but also the Boise beauty salon owner, the army corporal from Charlotte, who lost his leg in Iraq.

Giangola is NASCAR’s director of business communications. His book captures his quirky sense of humor, flair for writing and appreciation for the absurd. Anyone who’s been the recipient – as I have – of his real-life tales that he shares in neat prose via email, knows what I’m talking about. You’ll find some of them on his New Yorker in NASCAR Country blog, here

These include stories and photos of his “scary smart” – as he calls her – teenage daughter Gaby. I’d share one of Gaby’s projects, The Pie Hole, which is her take on certain current events or issues, divided into a pie chart on a white board in the Giangola home, but the only one I’ve saved isn’t safe for work.

Giangola, who has been with NASCAR since 2003, knew about NASCAR fans and their passion, but he wanted to go out and meet them. He convinced his bosses to let him tell their stories, in his own words. Follow his The Weekend starts on Wednesday blog here.

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U.S. Senate candidate Meek takes a ride on NASCAR


U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek is following in the footsteps of dozens of politicians, who have used NASCAR as a campaign tool.

On Saturday, Mike Wallace’s 01 Chevrolet will bear a logo reading “Kendrick Meek for U.S. Senate” during the NASCAR Nationwide Series 2010 opener, the Drive4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway.

Meek is far from the first pol to bank on NASCAR, but how lucky did he get? Danica Patrick, the first woman to win an Indy Car race, is making her much-anticipated NASCAR Nationwide Series debut in that race. So expect Meek’s name to get a boost in viewership from the Danica factor alone.

The campaign isn’t yet saying how much it’s spending for the one-race paint scheme – it will have to report it eventually – but where top tier teams can command $100,000 to $125,000, Meek might have paid $25,000 to $50,000 based on Wallace’s ranking. Read my colleague Anthony Man’s piece on Meek’s campaign tactic here.

The history of politicians teaming with NASCAR is lengthy. Among the highlights:

President Richard Nixon hosted Richard Petty at the White House in 1971 – marking the first time a racecar diver had been invited to Pennsylvania Avenue.

In 1976, Democratic presidential hopeful Jimmy Carter announced the start of the Southern 500.

As a candidate for president in 1992, Bill Clinton was booed at the Southern 500.

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Mark Warner put a “Warner for Governor” logo on a Ford F-150 in 2001.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger introduced the “Terminator 3” car at California Speedway in 2003.

In 2003, one Ford F-150 won its first Craftsman Truck Series race in 2003 carrying a “Bob Graham for President” logo on it.

Also in 2003, while driving a Winston Cup car at a charity event, then-North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley crashed into a retaining wall at 120 mph -- he was unhurt – and was re-elected in 2004.

And President Obama hosted NASCAR’s top 10 drivers on the White House lawn last August.

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Florida Panthers' new jersey; Jimmie Johnson's legend grows; Ray Lewis' Hurricanes' Fatheads


3rdJERSEY2.jpg jjjd1.jpg

+ The Florida Panthers unveiled their new third jersey this week. It’s dark blue and with pale blue (which is not one of the team’s colors), a new center jersey logo, and a “FLA” and sun logo on the sleeve. Reviews are mixed; Uni Watch wasn’t kind. They'll wear it a dozen times at home games this season, including on Friday against the Maple Leafs at BankAtlantic Center.

+ NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson made the rounds of New York this week to celebrate his record-breaking fourth consecutive Sprint Cup championship, which he sewed up at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday. He and New York Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon posed (see below) on the top of the Empire State Building. Read NASCAR’s Andrew Giangola’s take on Johnson’s feat and need for a nickname. My favorite line in Giangola’s piece? “Just when a NASCAR driver absolutely deserves it, Sports Illustrated will probably give Sportsman of the Year to a horse.”

+ And Fathead has added Ray Lewis in his Hurricanes uniform to its product line of giant wall graphics. The company already had a version of the linebacker in his Baltimore Ravens uniform. Each version costs $99.99.


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NASCAR driver Carl Edwards does backflip into Biscayne Bay


Carl-Flip1jpg.jpgIn advance of the Nov. 22 NASCAR Sprint Cup finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Sprint Cup driver Carl “ESPN Body Issue cover model” Edwards, made a stop in South Florida this week.

Edwards, now sponsored by Aflac, wore a company tie covered with ducks, and took a ride on a Duck Tours Miami land and sea vehicle. He even agreed to make one of his signature backflips off the vessel into the bay. See the video below.

The driver of the No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion is a fan of the Homestead track, having captured both the Ford 300 Nationwide and Ford 400 Sprint Cup series races during Ford Championship Weekend last year.


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Tony Stewart undergoes Burger King polygraph; Estrada’s sunglasses for sale


TSpolygraph.jpgThe moment of truth – about NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Tony Stewart’s love for Burger King’s Whopper sandwich – takes place at 1 p.m. Tuesday. Stewart has agreed to undergo an hour-long polygraph test with questions submitted by fans.

It’s all part of Miami-based Burger King’s “Tony Stewart School of Endorsements” ad campaign that launched in September and includes CHiPs star Erik Estrada hawking “Estrada” sunglasses and Carrot Top trying to sell a juicer. Stewart tells the class it should “only endorse things you believe in.” Thus the polygraph test, which can be seen at truthabouttony.com. estrada1.jpg

Meanwhile, Estrada’s sunglasses have become something of a novelty: 150 pairs are being auctioned on eBay with the proceeds going to Burger King’s Have It Your Way Foundation. Check them out at estradaglasses.com, but be forewarned, as the site says, they’re a novelty, not for actually seeing.

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South Florida teams, events create 10-event Super Pass


In a highly unusual collaboration, 10 South Florida sports teams and events have banded together to sell a package of tickets to 10 different sporting events that saves fans $150 to $550.

The South Florida Super Pass, being sold in limited numbers through Oct. 30, costs $330 for regular seats and $1,125 for premium seats to see the region’s four pro sports teams, NASCAR finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, horse racing at Calder and Gulfstream, soccer, and attend the Sony Ericsson Open tennis tournament and the World Golf Championship event at Doral.

Getting all the teams and events to agree wasn’t simple. But Aaron Davidson, chairman of the sports committee of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, which is selling the ticket, said everyone saw the benefit.

“The economy probably helped. Our South Florida sports market is a challenging one in general,” said Davidson, who is also president of Miami FC soccer team. “Everyone realizes we’ve got to promote our South Florida sports. I hope this joint initiative is the first of many.”

The Super Pass can be purchased at sportssuperpass.com.

Each event works differently and the revenue is shared based on the team or event’s cost, Davidson said.

The Miami Dolphins, for example, are providing a 400 level seat with a food voucher or a Hall of Champions suite seat with food and beverage to the Dec. 27 game against the Houston Texans. The Florida Panthers are offering a goal zone ticket or an ADT Club ticket with food and beverage to any home game this season. Homestead-Miami Speedway is offering a reserved grandstand or Speedway Club seat to the Nov. 22 NASCAR finale.

The idea is to give fans a discount and encourage them to attend an event they might not have considered. Other teams and events have teamed up to sell a joint ticket, but those partnerships typically involve two events or teams. For example, the World Golf Championship and Sony Ericsson Open sold a joint ticket that allowed fans to attend both events, when their schedules overlapped in 2007. This summer, the Cleveland Browns and Indians sold a suite package together that included two Indians games and one Browns game.

Bill Sutton, associate director of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida, applauded the South Florida ticket plan, which he compared to an entertainment book of vouchers and discounts.

“It makes sense,” Sutton said. “It’s one of the hardest hit regions by the economy ... It gives people value and a sampling opportunity.”

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Helio Castroneves goes to the (bed) races


bedrace1.jpgThree-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves wasn't quite sure what to think when he was approached about being grand marshal of the Great Grove Bed Race -- the revival of the traditional bed races through Miami's Coconut Grove. It's not as if bed races are a Brazilian custom.

"I didn’t know. Bed race? OK, give me a minute to find out what it is," Castroneves said. "When I spoke to my trainer, he said, it’s pretty cool, it’s pretty famous."

According to organizers, it’s been six years since decorated beds and their riders and pushers have raced through the streets of Coconut Grove. With the help of local businesses, Homestead-Miami Speedway (where Castroneves will compete for the IndyCar Series championship on Oct. 10), and others, the race is returning Labor Day Weekend. There are two days of events planned: Saturday, Sept. 5 will feature a Pajama Pub Crawl with a Pajama Party and the race scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 6.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the Alonzo Mourning Charities and the University of Miami Sleep Program (it's a bed race!).

Castroneves was joined at the Mayfair Hotel & Spa in the Grove by Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff (in photo from Homestead-Miami Speedway Sarnoff is on the left; Diaz to the right) to announce the driver and Dancing with the Stars Season 5 winner's participation as grand marshal and celebrity judge. Castroneves will judge race entries for theme, decor and overall creativity.

With those duties, Castroneves might be too busy to race. Entries must be twin-sized beds with one participant in the bed and four others pushing it. "I love racing," Castroneves said adding that he's never participated in a bed race. "Certainly it's something different. If you want to win, you don't want to be sleepy."

Sarnoff says he might participate as he did nearly a dozen years ago. He was already musing about Castroneves' chances.

"I’m trying to figure out if Helio is going to run the Posturepedic, or which one he's going to use," Sarnoff said. "I heard he’s going to use the Sleep Number, because it’s lighter and it much more imitates the car that he drives. I don’t know if that’s going to be allowed."

Diaz also had a little fun at Castroneves' expense, reminding that the return of the event is good fun for the community and beneficial for the charities.

"We have such great programs and such great people in Miami like Helio and Alonzo, who are people who are known worldwide, people who serve as role models and inspiration," Diaz said. "They live here in Miami, they call Miami home, they love Miami, and ... they pay taxes in Miami," he said before letting out a chuckle.

Castroneves was acquitted this spring of federal tax evasion charges.

But Diaz doesn't want to stop at bed races.

"Commissioner Sarnoff and I are working on another event," Diaz said, "a Coconut Grove dance-off and we're challenging Helio."

He was just kidding.

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Helio Castroneves delighted IndyCar to open 2010 season in Brazil


2Helio-%40-Homestead.jpgThree-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves is thrilled the IndyCar Series will open its 2010 season March 14 in his native Brazil. He’s even been lobbying Brazilian President Lula da Silva for the race to be held in his hometown of Ribeirao Preto. A decision on the race's location is expected within the next month.

He expected his meeting with da Silva last month to be 15 minutes but it lasted an hour and 15 minutes, Castroneves said Tuesday during a break testing luxury sports cars at Homestead-Miami Speedway for Maxim Magazine’s November Dream Cars issue. (See photo courtesy of Homestead-Miami Speedway). The season 5 Dancing with the Stars champion didn’t want to say too much about his hope that his hometown will host the race.

“Well, I’m suspicious to talk about it, but yes, my hometown always gave me such incredible support since I was in go karts,” Castroneves said. “They are part of my dream come true. They helped me to achieve what I achieved, for me I’ll never forget that. So it’d be great to at least be there and able to promote the town because the town is great. I was raised there it would d be awesome, if it works it’d be a dream come true, if it doesn’t work, it would be great to at least be in Brazil.”

Castroneves said da Silva even asked whether he drove as well as he danced. The experience was such a positive one, Castroneves keeps hoping he and his team will have a chance to meet President Barack Obama one day.

“I wish I have the opportunity now to do the same thing in America, because my team is America, I would love them to have the opportunity to meet the president as well, like the previous American drivers did,” Castroneves said of previous American drivers, who have won the Indy 500. "I know I’m not American, but I would love to give this opportunity for my guys because they deserve it.”

Castroneves said other non-American Indy 500 winners have also not been invited to the White House. He hopes to change that, but even if he has to skip the visit, he’d like his team to go.

“I won three times, man. I mean it’s sad because my guys are American, they deserve to be there as well. I’m the driver, I’m the one carrying the car, but they are the ones putting everything together,” he said. “I think it would be fair for them. If they don’t want me there, I want at least my guys there, hopefully we make it happen.”

Castroneves, who was acquitted of tax evasion earlier this year, won the Indy 500 just days after the final count against him was dropped. He missed the first race of the season and thinks it could still be a long shot to keep alive the streak of the past four Indy 500 winners also winning the IndyCar Series championship. But he’s not giving up hope.

“I would love to keep the tradition going, but it’s one of those things, you can’t just rely on the fact it happens in the past, you’ve just got to go and continue working,” he said. “Certainly missing the first race makes it a little bit tougher, but that also brings us a huge opportunity, because it’s tougher, we want to do it more, you want to make it happen … There are still five races to go. Hopefully we can do it.

Castroneves said he’d also like to win a championship at his home track. Homestead-Miami Speedway hosts the IndyCar Series finale Oct. 10 and again next year.

“Bringing the championship down to Homestead, man it would be a lot of fun,” Castroneves said adding that none of the sport’s drivers who live in Miami has won at Homestead. “We have a lot of opportunities, a lot of drivers who live here, so hopefully this year we can make it happen.”

After test driving the Dream Cars (Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche and Corvette) for Maxim, Castroneves, who drives an Acura RL, is less sure about his choice for an exotic car. He enjoyed driving all of the fancy cars for different reasons.

"I’m shopping for a new car, it’s great to find out, hmmm which one am I going to have here," Castroneves said. "I like all of them, so more doubts here."

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Office Depot celebrating Tony Stewart’s No. 14


When he announced last summer that he was switching depots – from a sponsorship with Home Depot to one with Office Depot – starting this season, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart also got a new number, switching from No. 20 to No. 14.

Now Boca Raton-based Office Depot, which is a co-primary sponsor of Stewart’s No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala, is asking fans to “Show Us Your 14” with an online photo contest. Fans can submit photos showing their support for two-time Sprint Cup champion Stewart with creative displays of the No. 14. That means anything from ‘14’ carved into haircuts to tattoos to lawn ornaments. Already, fans have submitted photos of ‘14’ in lipstick, landscaping, and on their bare backs.

The grand prize is a Hewlett-Packard package that includes a desktop and notebook computers, fax-printer, ink packs, and photo paper. First and second prize winners will receive a selection of HP items as well. And all entrants receive a 14 percent off coupon at Office Depot.

Enter through Aug. 31 by submitting photos up to 2MB at OfficeDepotRacing.com. Stewart, who is the current points leader in this year’s Sprint Cup Series, will be judging the photos.

“NASCAR fans are the most passionate fans in all of sports, and I can’t wait to see all the creative ways people incorporate the number 14 into their lives. I think I’m going to see some very imaginative stuff!” Stewart said in a statement.

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Want to own an IndyCar race team?


OK, not the whole team, but a piece of a team? Boca Raton-based iTeam Sports, which launched last year to provide fans an opportunity to become team owners, recently forged a partnership with HVM Racing, which has two cars competing in Sunday’s Indy 500.

iTeam’s model allows fans to pay typically $150 to $200 to invest in a minor league sports franchise. That investment provides no monetary return, but gives fans the right to be called “owner” as well as merchandise, ticket discounts, and unique access to team officials and players. They also become part of an online social network for each team.

The company launched with three independent baseball teams last year: the Atlantic City Surf in New Jersey and Texas-based Grand Prairie AirHogs and El Paso Diablos. Read the story I wrote about the company’s launch last October here.

But iTeam always planned to expand to other sports, including auto racing. In fact, iTeam President Steven Levenson said, partnering with an IndyCar team works well for attracting fans nationally.

“The stick and ball sports are very regionalized to where the team is,” Levenson said. “The appeal with motorsports is national and international … it’s a different model.”

For $199, fans can own a stake in Indianapolis-based HVM Racing -- read more about the partnership here. Team drivers E.J. Viso (No. 13) and Nelson Philipe (No. 00) are competing in the Indy 500. The partnership is exclusive through 2011.

“Racing fans are very engaged with their favorite teams, and this arrangement lets them get even more involved, probably more than they even thought possible,” HVM Racing Team Principal Keith Wiggins said in a statement.

iTeam has a booth at this weekend’s Indy 500, and representatives are handing out postcards explaining the deal. The company is running ads on other Web sites and pitching the investment as a gift idea, including for Father’s Day.

“You can sit and watch the race and say I’m a fan of so and so. It’s another thing to say I’m a fan of this team because I own this team,” said Bob Margolis, an iTeam spokesman. “It’s an opportunity to be Chip Ganassi or Roger Penske without the headaches.”

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Office Depot’s "Small Business of NASCAR" Tony Stewart-version


Rear-Panel-of-No-14-Office-.jpgBoca Raton-based Office Depot has launched this year’s version of its “Official Small Business of NASCAR” sweepstakes, in which a company with 99 employees or fewer can win its logo on the back of Tony Stewart’s Chevy Impala for a race.

The sweepstakes runs through May 31 and includes a chance to win the company’s logo on the rear panel of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevy driven by Stewart during the Pep Boys Auto 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in Atlanta on Sept. 6. Other items in the grand prize package include a $14,000 small business makeover by the office products supplier, the use of the “Official Small Business of NASCAR Courtesy of Office Depot” logo for a year, stationery and business cards.

In addition to Stewart’s participation, also new to the contest this year is a $1,400 Office Depot gift card, which is given to one winner every day of the sweepstakes.

“I know how challenging it is to build a successful business and how much hard work it takes,” Stewart said in a statement. “The Official Small Business of NASCAR Sweepstakes, Courtesy of Office Depot is a dream come true for a small business to get its name out there in front of millions of people.”

Stewart, who switched to the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevy after last season, is a driver/team owner with Stewart-Haas Racing and is also owner of legendary Ohio short track, Eldora Speedway, and is part owner of two other tracks.

Businesses can enter in person at Office Depot locations or online daily during the sweepstakes. The public can also nominate businesses. For more information, visit officedepotracing.com.

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Tickets for Homestead-Miami Speedway's six championships (IRL and NASCAR) on sale Monday


Tickets go on sale Monday for the six auto racing series championships Homestead-Miami Speedway will host this fall.

Tickets for adults start at $30 for the SpeedJam Championships (IndyCar, Indy Lights and Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car championships) that will be held Oct. 9-10; and $55 for the Ford Championship Weekend (NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series championships) Nov. 20-22.

But this year, the speedway is offering discounts and promotions, including a season ticket package to both weekends starting at $130, which represents a $55 savings off face value; and kids 12 and under will be admitted free to the SpeedJam weekend, with 13 to 16 year olds admitted for $15. At Ford Championship Weekend, kids 12 and under will be admitted free to the truck series finale and for $15 to the Nationwide finale.

The speedway is billing the fall as “Six Races, Six Championships, in Six Weeks” and hopes fans will want to attend both race weekends.

“We’re hoping that because now we’ve got all the championships, we’re hoping to grow that segment,” speedway President Curtis Gray said. “We’ve got a fan base that loves to go to big time championship events. The NASCAR fan that goes to an IndyCar race, can’t believe how exciting it is. The same thing for the IndyCar fan going to a NASCAR race. The difference is it’s the championship race.”

You can buy tickets in advance at two presale events this weekend:

During a NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Phoenix watching event at 7 p.m. Saturday at Bokamper's Sports Bar, 1280 N. Pine Island Rd., Plantation; or at an IndyCar Grand Prix at Long Beach watching event at 2:30 p.m. at Buffalo Wild Wings, 20505 S. Dixie Highway in Cutler Bay.

Fans purchasing tickets on Monday will be entered to win an Official Indy Experience Two-Seater Ride at the track on May 17. For more information and to purchase tickets, call 866-409-RACE or visit www.homesteadmiamispeedway.com.


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Hispanic Market Weekly launches sports business feature


With sports teams, leagues and events beginning to understand their Latino fan bases better, Hispanic Market Weekly has added the sports business to its roster of weekly features.

“HispanicSportsBusiness” appears on Fridays in the Coral Gables-based online publication that covers Hispanic business trends, advertising and media. The section focuses on deals, marketing, and other efforts sports are using to reach the Hispanic market.

The section first launched April 3 and in its first two editions has included stories about a study NASCAR commissioned to learn more about its Latino fans; Mexican beer Tecate title sponsoring boxing on ESPN; and how the Houston Astros are catering to their Hispanic fans, who represent a variety of cultures and income levels.

The section, which also has included sports business news briefs on broadcast deals and coverage of the IMG World Congress of Sports conference in Miami earlier this month, aims to cover the dollars associated with soccer, football, baseball, basketball, auto racing and extreme sports.

“We’re about following the money, following the dollars,” said Adam Jacobson, HispanicSportsBusiness associate editor. “The Hispanic sports fan represents a huge part of the U.S. consumer base. Retailers understand this. Sports franchises are just beginning to understand this -- that the growth lies in the Hispanic fan base.”

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Sports fans and teams getting social with Twitter


It’s mostly sports fans who are using Twitter.com to update scores, pontificate about various players and plays and trash talk. Some are even “tweeting” live from games and placing friendly wagers. But teams and events are increasingly realizing they need to be tweeting, too.

My story today examines how teams and events are incorporating social messaging system, Twitter, which allows users to send and receive messages of up to 140 characters, into their media, marketing and promotions. Teams are posting news stories, updates, scores, ticket discounts, promotions and more.

Reach the Dolphins here; the Heat here. The Panthers are in the process of launching an account and the Marlins are in talks with Major League Baseball Advanced Media, which controls the league’s new media rights, about setting up an account.

Even Homestead-Miami Speedway just started using Twitter this month to post news, driver quotes and even responses to Speedway Motorsports CEO Bruton Smith’s diatribe against Homestead last week. Check out the speedway’s twitter page here.

Are you talking sports on Twitter? Live tweeting from games? Let me know....

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Office Depot offering shopping spree with Tony Stewart


NASCAR Sprint Cup driver and race team owner Tony Stewart is already an Office Depot customer. The Boca Raton-based office products retailer is co-primary sponsor of Stewart’s car this season and outfits Stewart-Haas Racing with its office equipment.

So, Office Depot is offering up a chance to win a $14,000 shopping spree with Stewart in one of its stores. The prize is part of a VIP race experience package at the May 23-24 Coca-Cola 600 race weekend at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., that includes a ride-a-long with Stewart.

To enter Office Depot’s “At The Speed of Smart” sweepstakes visit officedepotracing.com and enter the transaction code that can be found on the receipt from an Office Depot purchase, through Feb. 28. There’s also a way to enter without making a purchase.

The company is using the sweepstakes to promote its products and its new sponsorship of Stewart.

“I’m excited to hang out with the winner during the ultimate Office Depot shopping spree,” Stewart said in a statement. “We’re going to have a great time…and I even promise to help push the shopping cart!”

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Tony Stewart strengthens local ties with Office Depot, Burger King


tony-with-car-2.jpgNASCAR Sprint Cup driver Tony Stewart appears to have easily made the switch of depots this year. Stewart, who has replaced his longtime primary sponsor Home Depot with a co-primary sponsorship between Office Depot and Old Spice, visited the Boca Raton campus of the office products retailer earlier this month.

He signed autographs, posed for photos with employees and talked about what it’s like to run his own race team. And as he was getting ready to leave the stage, where he’d spoken with employees, he said, “Oh, one more thing,” and then he surprised Office Depot officials by pledging a $100,000 donation to the Office Depot Foundation.

Stewart is so popular that Office Depot, which previously sponsored Sprint Cup driver Carl Edwards, has received a number of requests for NASCAR Hero cards featuring the driver, and has sent out about 200 just in the past two weeks.

Meanwhile, Stewart is getting support from another South Florida corporation. Miami-based Burger King signed a multi-year sponsorship agreement with Stewart last week. It’s also getting the primary paint scheme on Stewart’s car for two races this season: on July 4 at Daytona International Speedway and Sept. 27 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.

It just so happens Burger King is also an Office Depot customer.

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Why isn’t Jimmie Johnson more marketable?


Jimmie Johnson just made history, becoming only the second driver in NASCAR history to win back-to-back-to-back Sprint Cup championship titles. He’s well-spoken, clean-cut and has one of the sport’s biggest corporations – Lowe’s -- supporting him.

So will he finally break through and become more marketable than his fellow drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and even Carl Edwards, his runner-up for this year’s championship? Not likely, experts say.

Oh sure, he’s marketable. He even shot a commercial last week before the Ford 400 Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But he doesn’t have that certain something.

“Call him the Roger Federer of NASCAR,” said Bob Dorfman, executive creative director at Baker Street Partners and author of The Sports Marketers’ Scouting Report. “Maybe Johnson is too cool and laid back on camera to the point of seeming a little stiff and aloof, and a question mark as a compelling pitchman. Given the state of the current economy, and the tight purse strings of marketers, it’s doubtful that Johnson’s third straight NASCAR championship will lead to new major endorsement deals.”

Dorfman predicts Johnson will make the rounds of talk shows and speaking engagements.

According to Millsport Motorsports’ Davie Brown Index, which uses consumer research to measure the attributes of athletes and celebrities, Earnhardt tops the list of NASCAR drivers among both avid NASCAR fans and the general population. Gordon and Stewart also beat out Johnson.

“He’s dry,” said Joe Castello, who hosts radio shows about auto racing on both 790 The Ticket and Sirius XM. “His style was to be the polished marketable guy, the polished pristine vanilla guy that’s corporate and that got him to where he is. But fans don’t like that. Fans don’t like the vanilla guy. Fans like the Tony Stewart, fans like the guy who’s going to do something against the grain.”

But there’s no question Johnson is marketable, Castello said. “He doesn’t sell as many T-shirts as Earnhardt, as Stewart. “He’s a California kid, understated, that doesn’t make you want to run out and get his T-shirt. His fans are passionate.”

And if you win three consecutive championships, that’s got to mean something, Castello said. “You’ve got to respect that.”

Meanwhile, Lowe’s is offering a discount on Kobalt Tools in Johnson’s honor. Find the details on our Shop-O-Matic blog.

And don’t forget to check out my guest blogs at CNBC, here and here.

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Weathering the economy at Homestead-Miami Speedway (and guest blogging)


NASCAR announced Friday – at the opening of its season finale weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway – that it is banning all testing at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks next year. The move is aimed at saving teams millions of dollars in an economy that is already hitting the sport hard.

The Homestead track wasn’t on the open testing schedule, meaning it won’t be losing out on valuable revenue, speedway President Curtis Gray said.

“We support NASCAR’s decision because we need the full teams,” Gray said. “If it saves costs and it makes the teams stronger, than we’re all for that.”

But Homestead, which is busy with racing and a host of other activities about 260 days a year, will continue looking for other ways to generate revenue.

“We have sports groups who want to use the venue for other sporting events, running and biking,” Gray said. “I think we’re wide open for ideas that make the track as active as possible.”

That includes renting out the track’s sparkling new media center. Already, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau is planning a convention event there, Gray said.

GUEST BLOGGING

I’m guest blogging today at CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell’s blog. Please check out my blog entries there.

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The greening of NASCAR


NASCAR, by its very nature, is the anti-green sport: fuel, fast cars, tires upon tires.

But that doesn’t mean efforts aren’t being made to recycle and cut down on printing.

Going to Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend for Ford Championship Weekend? You’ll find recycling bins throughout the concourse and hospitality areas. Workers will sweep the grandstand twice after each race – first for items that can be recycled, a second time to collect the trash.

OD-Thumb-Drives-for-NASCAR2.jpgMeanwhile, NASCAR is becoming more conscientious about its printing. For the 2009 season, media guides will be available in English, Spanish and French, but there will be fewer paper copies. The sport plans to print 1,750 media guides down from 6,000 and supplement those with some 2,000 flash drives that will include the media guides. Delray Beach-based Office Depot, a NASCAR sponsor, will supply the flash drives.Coumbus-Nascar-Car2.jpg

And speaking of sponsors, Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis has taken an unusual step for Saturday’s Nationwide Series Ford 300: covering Ryan Newman’s No. 33 Camping World Chevrolet with the colors and logo of Christopher Columbus High School. The car will not feature the names of any companies – just the colors and logo for the all-boys Catholic high school in Miami in celebration of the school’s 50th anniversary.

Lemonis is a 1991 graduate of the school. The value of putting the school’s name on the car is estimated at $250,000. Camping World agreed last month to a seven-year deal to title sponsor NASCAR’s truck series beginning next season.

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Carl Edwards gets wedding assist from sponsor Office Depot


carlod2.jpgNASCAR driver Carl Edwards carried a marriage proposal on the back of his No. 99 Office Depot Ford Fusion during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series All-Star Race in Charlotte in May.

The proposal was part of a contest sponsored by Edwards' primary sponsor, Delray Beach-based office products retailer Office Depot, and it came with a diamond ring and a trip to Sedona, Ariz.

Now Edwards, who is in second place in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup just 106 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson, has turned to Office Depot for help with his own nuptials.

Edwards and fiancée Dr. Kate Downey, a friend from his hometown of Columbia Mo., picked out their wedding invitation stationery (see the pattern by Gartner) from their local Office Depot store and are letting Office Depot’s Design Print and Ship service do the rest.

How’s that for sponsor loyalty?

With NASCAR’s 10-month schedule that ends Nov. 16 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, there’s little time off, but Edwards’ big day is planned in January. He’s also switching primary sponsors next year … to Aflac. Looks like he got his wedding invitations in under the wire.

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Big Event Region


In two days, South Florida has added two more major events to its already packed sports calendar. Is it possible for the region to become even bigger on the sports map?

On Wednesday, the Indy Racing League unveiled its 2009 IndyCar Series schedule and rather than kicking off the season, Homestead-Miami Speedway will host the finale of the 18-race schedule on Oct. 11, 2009.

It’s not NASCAR, but as you know, the speedway already hosts the final races in NASCAR’s Craftsman Truck, Nationwide and Sprint Cup series on the third weekend of November.

That means two championship events in five weeks. Speedway President Curtis Gray couldn’t be happier.

“We brand our speedway as your championship track,” he said. “Now it really is America’s ultimate championship motoropspots track. It is the first time NASCAR and Indy Car have ended their series at the same track.”

Look for the track to package tickets for the two events together and to pitch sponsors on investing in both. Despite its international flavor and increasing star power that includes Danica Patrick and two-time Indy 500 champion and Dancing with the Stars winner Helio Castroneves, the Indy race at Homestead has never been as popular at the track as the NASCAR event.

Will you be interested in attending now that it will be the championship event? Do you think crowds will grow as a result?

And on Thursday, Major League Baseball announced that Dolphin Stadium and the Marlins will host six second-round games in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, March 14-19. The games will pit the four winners and second-place finishers from the opening rounds being played in Toronto, which will host Canada, Italy, United States and Venezuela, and in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which is hosting the Dominican Republic, the Netherlands, Panama and Puerto Rico.

MLB President Bob DuPuy said baseball officials have always believed South Florida is a “good baseball market.” DuPuy said the Miami Gardens venue was chosen for a number of reasons. MLB wanted to ensure there were second round games held on both the east and west coasts for television and liked the region’s Latin influence since several of the teams are from Latin countries.

They liked that Dolphin Stadium is a veteran of hosting large events, including two World Series and four Super Bowls. Even more telling might be that the decision was made as the Marlins were completing their ballpark financing plan with Miami and Miami-Dade County.

“When we made the decision we had a stadium deal. It was in part a show of good faith we would consider Miami for significant jewel events, given the imminent construction of a ballpark and the agreement had been reached,” DuPuy said. “Since the decision has been made, there are developments that are troublesome, but we are announcing Miami is hosting the second round and that only enhances the public purpose of a baseball stadium. Without a Major League Baseball stadium, there would be no World Baseball Classic.”

Are you interested in the WBC? Will you attend?

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Towering over Times Square


Talk about coincidence.

Boca Raton’s Ryan Hunter-Reay won his first IndyCar Series race on Sunday.

It was good timing since he was already a towering figure in Times Square. Well, his likeness anyway, in an 80-foot tall billboard for sponsor Izod.

The billboard originally said “I am next,” but check out how Izod changed the ad to read “I am now,” after Hunter-Reay’s win at Watkins Glen, N.Y.

“The timing with the win and everything, it’s unreal,” an awed Hunter-Reay said by phone on his way to the billboard’s official unveiling Monday afternoon. “Right in Times Square, the busiest intersection in New York. It’s indescribable.”

Hunter-Reay loves the idea people might not be recognize the 2008 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year.

“That’s the beautiful thing about that,” he said. “They will say ‘Who is that?’ They’ll check out the IndyCar thing.”

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Dunkin' runs on sports


Kazmir22.jpgDunkin’ Donuts keeps expanding its relationship with sports.

The company is capitalizing on baseball’s popularity this summer with its Bases Loaded promotion that combines free food and other prizes with a video game component that allows fans to face one of two pitchers online to try to get a hit. Dunkin’ is partnering with MLB, the MLB Players Association and 2K Sports.

Through Sept. 30, all cups of cold Dunkin' beverages – iced tea and coffee and smoothies – come with a peel-away sticker that carries a login code for fans to win prizes and coupons for flatbread sandwiches and pizzas. At dunkindonuts.com/basesloaded, baseball fans can choose to face either New York Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain or Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon to try to get a hit. Prizes include 2K Sports games, high definition TVs, and Xbox video game systems.

Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels and Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir are also helping advertise the promotion in their markets – meaning the Rays' success on the field is getting them notice off the field, too. Fans in most Florida counties -- excluding South Florida and the Treasure Coast -- will also be eligible to win Rays tickets and a trip to Boston to see a Rays-Red Sox game.

Meanwhile, the Massaschusetts company also got involved with NASCAR this past weekend, stopping at Daytona International Speedway for the Nationwide Series Daytona 250 on July 4. A Dunkin' logo and hot coffee cup appeared on driver Eric McClure’s No. 24 car and his crew got Dunkin’ items for meals last Thursday and Friday.

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NASCAR's Jeff Gordon partners with Sunrise company


Looking for a way to save on your rising gas bill? NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon knows how.

He’s partnered with Sunrise-based N2Revolution to promote the company’s PurigeN98, a high-purity nitrogen tire inflation system. PurigeN98 helps keep tires properly inflated, thereby reducing fuel costs and improving the car’s handling. Nitrogen-filled tires also reduce fuel emissions, according to a company release.

The release quotes U.S. Department of Energy stats saying: “Americans waste 10 million gallons of fuel every day by driving on under-inflated tires. Annually this amounts to 3.6 billion gallons of wasted fuel and 77 billion pounds of greenhouse gases needlessly dispersed.”

Gordon has used the high purity nitrogen for his racecar’s tires for years, but he can use it in his non-racing vehicles as well. And so can consumers. The system is available at some car dealers, tire stores and service centers. Check here, to find a dealer.

The system is also being used by the Jeff Gordon and Mario Andretti racing schools, which operate NASCAR and IndyCar driving experiences, respectively, for fans at 16 tracks across the country, including Homestead-Miami Speedway.


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Connecting with No. 99 -- Carl Edwards


The winner of Office Depot’s and Harlequin Enterprises' “Say Yes to a Winning Proposal” contest will have his or her marriage proposal unveiled Saturday at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series All-Star Race in Charlotte.

The question will go spinning around the track on the back of Carl Edwards’ No. 99 Office Depot Ford Fusion. It’s just one of the many ways NASCAR sponsors are working to bring the regular fan as close as possible to the sport. The winner also gets a diamond ring and trip to Sedonar, Ariz.

Delray Beach-based Office Depot is collecting entries for its “Official Small Business of NASCAR” sweepstakes through June 22. That contest will allow a business with 99 or fewer employees to put its name on the back of Edwards’ car for one race – Sept. 28 in Kansas -- and in a less prominent spot for other races during the rest of the season. The company also gets a $10,000 business makeover and to use “Official Small Business of NASCAR” on stationery and business cards for a year.

The office products company has added a new component to the contest, now in its fourth year: the opportunity to increase your entries by asking friends and family to nominate your business online. The company launched “Connect with Carl,” which allows you to send recorded messages from Edwards asking to nominate your business, enter the sweepstakes or just visit the company’s racing Web site. The messages can be customized with your name and a variety of descriptions of the recipients – the technology isn’t new, but somehow it’s always entertaining.

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What Danica’s big win means for her marketability


It took 50 starts, but Danica Patrick was confident she’d eventually win a race and would not become known as the Anna Kournikova of auto racing.

Now that she won the Indy Japan 300 – becoming the first woman to win an open-wheel race -- will the Indy Racing League’s most marketable star be even more marketable?

After all, her sponsor roster includes Tissot, GoDaddy.com, Motorola, and she appeared in a bikini in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit issue. AirTran capitalized immediately with a commemorative plane called “AirTranica Won” – that bears her photo and is expected to be on planes through the IRL season.

Bob Dorfman, executive creative director of Baker Street Partners in San Francisco, says her first win could be worth at least $1 million more.

“Her current marketing partners will spend more on her, and new companies who may have discounted her driving talents will now consider her more seriously,” Dorfman said. “This opens her up to more performance-based products, as well as any advertiser to women with an ‘achieve your dreams’ message. It means a marketing portfolio that’s less cheesecake, and more blue chip.”

But Mike Bartelli, president of motorsports for Millsport, isn’t convinced the win will do much more for Patrick or the IRL.

"I believe it will help her marketability some, but given that her success off the track these last few years has been disproportionate to her success on the track, and given that IndyCar is a niche sport and will remain so for the foreseeable future, I don't think it will make a
significant difference to the scope of her appeal," Bartelli said.

"Will she likely see a few more endorsement opportunities? Probably,” he said. “Will this win, alone, translate into substantial growth for the IRL? Probably not."

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About the author
CRAIG DAVIS In more than 33 years at the Sun Sentinel, Craig Davis has written about a wide variety of sports topics from baseball to yachting, fishing to triathlons, and also worked as a copy editor and page designer. Recently he reported on local sports, including running, swimming, cycling, equestrian and beach volleyball. He enjoys sports as a participant as well as a spectator, is active in the South Florida running scene plays in the curling club at Saveology Iceplex. This blog offers a glimpse at the business side of sports in the interest of enhancing enjoyment of the games and sporting options as a spectator as well as a participant.
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