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Celebrities come out for NASCAR's Fontana race

by Dave Grayson
Friday, October 9, 2009


You see them on a daily basis on television. They're on the morning new programs, they're on the daytime talk shows and you can always find them sitting on the couches of the late night talk shows. They are actors sent there to plug a new film or a television project. They are musicians with a new CD album that's hitting the store shelves soon. They're non fiction writers who have somehow unlocked the secrets of self esteem and weight loss or they're celebrities with a new tell all book that is guaranteed to leave you speechless but inspired.

This type of television programming has always been the established format for a celebrity to hawk their latest projects in hopes that Americans will spend their recreational dollars on them. Many of these celebrities are making these cross country publicity junkets simply because their agents told them to do it and/or they have contracts with clauses that says they must do this dog and pony show.

In recent years a new, viable and powerful player in these publicity junkets has made a strong impression on entertainment agents. It's NASCAR racing. During the course of a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, celebrities visit NASCAR tracks to sing our "National Anthem", give drivers the command to start their engines, drop the ceremonial first green flag, drive the pace car to help start the race or just simply walk across a pre race introductions stage with big grins on their faces. It's an opportunity to be seen and, promote their latest projects, in front of tens or thousands of fans not to mention the millions watching on television and every entertainment agent worth his salt knows this.

It's apparent that some of these celebrities are seriously into racing and are happy to receive the VIP treatment at a NASCAR event. It's also apparent that many of them do not have a clue about the power of NASCAR and can be often overheard screaming on their cell phones "why did you send me here?" at agents and publicists while, at the same time, sending unpaid interns out to locate a cappuccino machine.

But these famous men and women, with their toothy smiles and perfectly tanned bodies, gives the fans someone to stare and wave at while we awaiting the introductions of the real stars of the show: the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers.

You're going to see plenty of these celebrities during this weekend when NASCAR returns to southern California and the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. That process will begin Saturday afternoon prior to the start of the Copart 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series event.

That's where you'll find Cassadee Pope, singer/composer from the rock band Hey Monday, on the staging leading us in the singing of our "National Anthem." The Florida based band released their debut album around this time last year and are reported to be in the studio working on a follow up CD. Earlier this year they were named the 2009 Best Pop Punk Rookie Band by MTV. In case you're wondering the answer is yes: that is very relevant in that particular world.

The Nationwide Series drivers will be receiving the command to start their engines from actor John C. Reilly acting in his capacity as Grand Marshall for the Copart 300. He'll be only too happy to tell you that his new film, "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant", will be released to theatres nationwide, (no pun intended), on October 23d.

Now here's an actor with somewhat of a NASCAR connection that the fans can relate to. Reilly had roles in the Tom Cruise film "Days Of Thunder" and the Will Ferrell film "Talladega Nights" The Legend Of Ricky Bobby." He was also seen in the award winning movies "Chicago", "The Gangs Of New York" and "The Hours."

Wow, look who we have as the official starter of Saturday's Copart 300. It's Kelly Osbourne. That's right the daughter of Ozzy Osbourne, rock n roll's Prince Of Darkness, is going to wave the green flag to launch the start of the race. She'll also be telling us about future aspirations from her current stint as a celebrity contestant on the wildly popular ABC television program "Dancing With The Stars."

This young lady came to national attention eight years ago when she was a star on her family's award winning reality television show "The Osbournes" aired by MTV which gave us a very personal look at the bizarre life style of a rock n roll family. My favorite all time scene from the show featured Kelly running into the kitchen to teach a totally confused Prince Of Darkness how to use a toaster.

Sunday is of course Pepsi 500 day at the Auto Club Speedway and the fans will get treated to a rendition of our "National Anthem" by multi platinum selling recording artist and actor Jesse McCartney. This young singer burst onto the music scene last year with the smash album "Departure" and the song "Leavin" which stayed at the top of the charts for over five weeks. His fans should be on the look out for a new CD release later this year.

McCartney did the voice for Theodore the chipmunk in last year's "Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Movie". He's wrapping up similar duties for "Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Squeakuel" which is expected to be in theatres around Christmas.

The Sprint Cup teams will receive the command to start their engines from award winning actor Kelsey Grammer Sunday afternoon. That's right: the actor who portrayed Dr Frasier Crane for an astounding 20 years on both the hit shows "Cheers" and "Frasier" is the Pepsi 500 Grand Marshall.

It's likely that Grammer is not coming to Fontana to talk about Frasier Crane. But he will be happy to tell us all about "Hank" which is his new show on ABC's Wednesday night line up. Also look for the talented actor in the new movie "Fame."

During the parade laps prior to Sunday's Pepsi 500 the Sprint Cup drivers will be following the official NASCAR pace car: a 2010 Chevrolet Camaro. Behind the wheel of that car will be actor Christian Slater. A veteran of film, television and stage since 1985, Slater will be in Fontana to promote his new ABC television series "The Forgotten" which airs on Tuesday nights.

Presenting the green flag, to the Pepsi 500 starting field, will be Audrina Patridge one of the young stars of the MTV reality based television series "The Hills." The young actress also recently made her feature film debut in the movie "Sorority Row" and is reported to be in the planning stages for a new reality television show based on her personal and professional life.

To be quite honest, I've never actually seen "The Hills." I just assumed it was programming designed for the younger television viewers. However, in recent days, some teenage children of close friends told me "this girl is smoking hot" and I should be paying attention this Sunday. So be it.

Another interesting phenomenon in recent years is the composing of special music that is intentionally targeted towards NASCAR fans. Whether these songs are played on a speedway's public address system or clips from their music videos are used by the NASCAR broadcast networks, these songs seem to become instant hits.

That fact has not escaped the attention of the rock band Foreigner who will be at the Auto Club Speedway this Sunday to shoot a new music video for they term is a NASCAR inspired song entitled "Can't Slow Down." Foreigner wants you, the fans, to help out with the production of this music video. All you have to do is join them in front of the main stage at the speedway's Opportunity California Fan Zone Sunday morning, at 1015 am, and rock out to the music.

Foreigner fans will also be delighted to hear that the band, that sold over 70 million albums during the 70's and 80's, has released a deluxe box set that features a CD of brand new music, a CD of remixed classic hits and a concert DVD. You can find this collection exclusively at Wal-Mart stores.

(Hey, this celebrity promotion thing is actually pretty easy.)

All kidding aside. Over the years I've covered NASCAR weekends at the Auto Club Speedway there has been celebrity appearances that were really impressive. Certainly one of them was actor Kevin Costner who displayed his musical talents in concert with his band Modern West. I was so impressed that I bought a copy of the band's CD.

Then there was the afternoon when a press box filled with reporters all shut up at the exact same time so we could stare in awe struck wonder after famed Texas rockers ZZ Topp walked through the door. It was a phenomenon that may never happen again.

There was also the year that the Auto Club Speedway amazed us all with an appearance by Stevie Wonder who sang "I am here because I love you."

I also fondly remember rocking out with Sammy Hagar and George Thorogood in the rain completely oblivious to the fact that I was getting cold and wet.

"Six Pack Eddie" my long time good friend and racing associate, tells me that his favorite Auto Club Speedway celebrity appearance is The Miller Lite Girls. Anyone who has actually met Six Pack will understand.

The one celebrity whose fan reaction surprised me the most was the Energizer Bunny. I'm not talking about the little rabbit on the television commercials. I'm talking about the full sized adult in the giant bunny suit who was seen walking down pit road. The fans, mostly adult women, went crazy at the sight of that giant, hot pink, bunny and eagerly formed a line so they could hug him and have photos taken with him.

I assume that ex "American Idol" judge Paula Abdul was busy this weekend. Bummer.

But we should look at the bright side. At least we won't have award winning hip hop artist Kanye West, in the Auto Club Speedway's victory lane, telling the Pepsi 500 winner that "Beyonce deserves this award more than you do."

Enjoy the NASCAR weekend at the Auto Club Speedway racing fans. It's going to be a lot of fun.

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