Editor's Note: A similar Ed Donath commentary appears in the June/July 2000 edition of Champ Car under the title "Will Ambassador for Food"
New CART marketing honcho Pat Leahy is shopping for an Ambassador. No, not an early-Seventies vintage American Motors sedan, but a personality who is knowledgeable about Champ Car racing. Someone attractive, glib and upbeat enough to represent the series at local-market events and on TV and radio programs.
"And we need to have an ambassador…who can speak for the series and talk about what's right with CART." - Pat Leahy, VP-Marketing (On Track Magazine commentary - 3/30/00)
Having a corporate spokesperson - an icon to click on, so to speak - is a truly splendid idea. An ambassador would help to put a human face on CART's corporate identity. Selecting the right person for the job, however, might seem to be a complicated task.
If you think along the same lines as six of the ten people I informally polled about a CART Ambassador you're now saying - without even a bit of hesitation - "Mario Andretti's the man for the job. His name is not only synonymous with Champ Cars, but with speed itself." This is quite true. Every time I've ever been pulled over the Trooper has always asked me if I thought I was Mario Andretti.
The remaining four of you would suggest some other ex-driver or businessman, such as Emerson Fittipaldi, Dan Gurney or Roger Penske, or a "real" CART personality like Dave Letterman or Paul Newman. Each of the above-named would make a fine ambassador, but major portions of these people's hectic schedules are already dedicated to CART public relations. It is doubtful that any of them would really want to go full-time. Also, finding the budget for a salary big enough to satisfy one of these high-priced individuals would present the VP of Marketing with another, perhaps greater challenge.
The next layer down of known racing personalities includes entertaining ex-racers. Tommy Kendall - a cult fave for his flagpole-sitting escapades as a CART-TV color man - would be an interesting interviewee. Then, of course, we have racers' wives. In happier times Shelly Unser might have been a viable candidate.
Actually, the ambassador selection process does not have to be all that complicated. Every Champ Car racing superfan - and that certainly includes you and I - is an experienced CART Ambassador. Though we may not currently be doing speaking engagements on the Rubber Chicken Circuit we are, nevertheless, constantly talking-up the exciting elements of our beloved speed sport. We are continuously on the lookout for converts. We study the technical, administrative and marketing elements of the series to have vital, valid information on the tips of our tongues when we encounter people who are interested enough to ask questions.
One of us might just make the perfect CART Ambassador.
The tradition for cheerleader squads, Mr. Leahy, is for the captains to select talent in an open try-out format. Maybe it's time for me to get fitted for a new tux and to start looking for a substitute curator to watch over the CART-ifacts exhibit in my office.
What would I talk about with uninitiated potential fans if I were appointed CART Ambassador? How would I go about branding and selling the FedEx Championship Series? How would I prepare people for the excitement that is in store for them when they watch their first Champ Car race?
That aspect of the ambassador's job would entail properly identifying and clarifying CART's most unique elements. The following are ten marketable features that most Americans do not yet know - but should be told - about the sport of Champ Car racing.
Ambassador Donath's Talking Points:
1) This is the world's fastest circuit racing sport. Mauricio Gugelmin's 240+ mph is a benchmark average lap speed that may never be equaled. His feat was accomplished on an oval in the USA - not, however, at Indianapolis.
2) The series is diverse. A mixed bag of race types - short ovals, superspeedways, natural terrain road courses, street races and an airport runway event - are not duplicated by any major racing series.
3) Champ Car races are spread throughout the USA. There are racing venues in the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Pacific Northwest, Texas and California. It is fairly easy for Americans to attend exciting races near their homes.
4) CART now has a higher percentage of its events televised live on network TV - that's everybody-gets-it-antenna-on-the-roof TV - than NASCAR.
5) CART'S racecars are so high-tech that only Formula One is comparable. Turbocharging, however, sets CART apart from every other major racing series.
6) Televised CART races have been viewed by about a billion people in every corner of the world in each of the last three years.
7) CART's international personalities are as accessible as the stars in any sport. All paddocks are open to the public. CART Spring Training affords fans quality time with Champ Car pilots. Similar autograph/chat sessions are also scheduled during every regular season race weekend.
8) CART events include the races of other exciting open-wheel series. Atlantics, Indy Lights and Barber Dodge present the future stars of CART - and other international racing organizations - as they are being cultivated.
9) Many celebrities, beside CART's personable pilots, are active in the series. You never know when you'll bump into the likes of Paul Newman, David Letterman or Sylvester Stallone at a CART event.
10) CART's racecars run on methanol. This is a renewable resource fuel that was created right here in the USA.
A CART Ambassador would present Americans with a visual example that Champ Car racing fans are extremely passionate and knowledgeable about their sport. Pat Leahy knows that a single passionate individual has the potential to stimulate fan growth - even one fan at a time, when necessary. Mass marketing is great when it works, but good salespeople are every corporation's most valuable human assets.
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Ed Donath - Autobiography