Keeping it Off The Wall

Fan-tasy racing leagues now forming
Ed Donath
May 25, 2000
There's a little bit of Walter Mitty in each of us.

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Other Articles by Ed

There's a little bit of Walter Mitty in each of us. In our secret lives we imagine - and truly believe - that we are different from the way the fates have actually fashioned us. As it was with the fictional character, Walter Mitty, peoples' secret selves do, on occasion spill over into their public personae. Vice President Gore, for example, has let it slip that he is a co-inventor of the Internet and the model for the protagonist of Love Story. Pretty racy fantasy life there, eh?

Me? I'm a retired Champ Car pilot and CART insider. Emmo, Danny, Rick, the Bobbys, Mario and I get together to reminisce about excruciatingly on-the-edge dices we've had and to brainstorm fixes for the current ailments of our beloved speed sport. Then I go write about them.

My real-life expertise is in the realm of marketing and sales so, naturally, I approach most FedEx Championship matters from that perspective. It irritates both the mundane and the Mitty sides of me that CART has done so little with fantasy provocation - especially given the extreme elements it has had to work with. This is even true in comparisons with less exciting racing series and sports organizations in general.

Most days, parts departments of Chevy dealerships sell more Earnhardt paraphernalia than brake pads. Of course, marketing-wise, it has aided NASCAR tremendously to have Billy Joe Weizenheimer empowered to acquire a black Monte Carlo of his own on which to affix "3" and "little-boy-peeing-on-Ford logo" decals.

But other sports marketers have been able to make people think and say things like: "We play New Orleans this weekend. If we don't stay focused the hapless Saints might catch us napping." Authentic team jackets and the like have certainly helped to fuel the fan-as-actual-player fantasy in major stick and ball sports.

CART 101, two-seater rides, simulator games and the interactive elements of cart.com all represent steps in the right direction. However, to some casual onlookers - perhaps to most - actual attendance of a Champ Car racing event constitutes a fantasy in and of itself. Thus far, fantasy stimulation hasn't exactly jumped out of the TV to seduce potential lifetime open-wheel racing devotees.

From an early age, there's a little bit of fantasy in all of us

It would be a shame if the likes of the forthcoming Stallone film or a spate of national tabloid stories about CART drivers and their glamour-babes is what it takes to popularize our sport. Certainly, we have never had a shortage of legitimate extreme speed thrills, interesting real personalities, glamour, globe-trotting and twisty plot lines from which to weave an alluring fantasy tapestry for anyone who might somehow be convinced to tune in and/or purchase a ticket.

For a couple of weeks there last summer I thought CART was beginning to get it when they brought Ricardo Montalban in to do a TV promo. Of course, the sloganeering for the former Mr. Roarke's voice-over needed a little reworking. Montalban's tag line should have been changed from "Feel the Speed" to "Feel the font-ah-see." 

Actually, I thought Emerson Fittipaldi's was a much more passionate delivery. I had Emmo read the line for me the other day when the two of us were bench racing at my house.

Comments can be sent to the author at contacts@autoracing1.com.

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