BLAINE, Minn. (December 9, 1999) - Two of the hottest Champ Car drivers on the FedEx Championship Series backed off the throttle a bit Wednesday evening and spent a few hours preparing and eating dinner with an intimate gathering of CART race fans in this Minneapolis suburb.
Christian Fittipaldi of Newman/Haas Racing and Tony Kanaan of McDonald's Championship Racing, a pair of South Florida residents, braved the cold weather of the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" to prepare and serve "Dinner a la CART" for sweepstakes winners Jeff and Mary Sue Stothart and four of their friends at the Stotharts' home.
"This was a fun night for me," said Kanaan, the 1998 CART Rookie of the Year whose first career victory came at this year's U.S. 500 Presented by Toyota at Michigan Speedway. "It was great to go and visit with Jeff and Mary Sue, along with their friends in their home. As race-car drivers, we make a lot of appearances and my favorite ones are those that give back to CART fans. Plus, I got rave reviews on my world-famous Fettuccini Alfredo."
Over 20,000 individuals across the United States registered in hopes of having Fittipaldi and Kanaan as dinner hosts through a sweepstakes-driven program that appeared in Sunday newspapers throughout the country on April 18. The Stotharts were randomly selected from a larger-than-expected group of entrants.
"Mary Sue and I were thrilled when we found out we had won the 'Dinner a la CART' sweepstakes," said Stothart. "It was a great time. Both Tony and Christian [who are Brazilian natives] were very good sports to come all the way from warm, sunny Miami to be with us in cold Minnesota."
During the evening's festivities, the drivers were surprised by a special visit from Santa Claus, who was riding through the Stotharts' neighborhood on a fire engine, collecting canned goods for needy families. Fittipaldi, excited by the site, rushed out to the street and joined Santa atop the fire engine to donate his "Dinner a la CART" meal along with several canned goods.
"This was my first trip to Minnesota and I can honestly say it was fun," said Fittipaldi, who also captured his first career victory this season, his coming at Road America in Elkhart, Wisc. "I think our cooking was okay, and we left with several Minnesota gifts from the Stotharts, including a [Minnesota governor and former pro wrestler] Jesse Ventura doll. I was very happy that Jeff and Mary Sue had Chef Kanaan around - so the pressure was off of me."
Fittipaldi and Kanaan soon begin testing sessions, which will be conducted over the next three months. CART's FedEx Championship Series kicks off its 22nd season March 26 with the Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami at Miami-Homestead Speedway.