Indianapolis, IN - Santa arrived early at Monument Circle in Indianapolis today - but would you expect anything less when his reindeers have been replaced by a race car driven by Champ Car star and world record holder Mauricio Gugelmin?
Santa's sleigh was towed into downtown Indianapolis as part of the culmination of the second annual CART Cares '99 Holiday Food Drive that has again raised food and cash donations to aid the needy.
Gugelmin, who set a world record average speed of 240.942mph in qualifying for the inaugural Champ Car race at the California Speedway in 1997, was a little off the pace in his specially-designed PacWest Motorola "Lolasaki", but was quick enough to give Santa and his elves a little scare.
"There was a little bit of a push in the corners," said Gugelmin, who arrived from Miami this morning to be involved in the annual charity event.
"Santa may have put on a few pounds in the last year and that did not allow us to get out of the turns as quickly as I would have liked.
"Thankfully all the food arrive safely and Gleaners have been able to fill up the truck."
After a few laps of the circle the sleigh came to a stop and gifts of food and cash were presented to the Gleaners Food Bank of Indianapolis.
Gleaners, a partner of America's Second Harvest, assists 300 central Indiana agencies that provide food to those in need on the eve of the festive season.
The Monument Circle activity was followed by a charity auction and lunch at the Indianapolis Racing Club where some valuable pieces of Champ Car racing memorabilia were put under the hammer.
The final total for this year's drive is still being tallied, but the figures are expected to smash last year's mark of 750 gallons of food and $2000 in cash.
PacWest's Vice-President of Business Operations, Steve Fusek, said the CART Cares '99 Food Drive had again been a success thanks to the generous support of the Indianapolis racing community.
"While PacWest coordinates this annual event, thanks must go to the Indianapolis-based racing industry - especially the other CART teams," said Fusek.
"I think it is a special feeling for all of us when we see that Gleaners truck loaded with so much food at this time of the year."
Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana is a not-for-profit organization established in 1980 and its purpose is to collect and distribute food to nonprofit agencies which feed the hungry in the state of Indiana.
The charity auction had been organized for the first time and attracted many people from business and racing communities.
Just some of the items put up for auction included: * Bell Helmet signed by Mauricio Gugelmin and the PacWest Hollywood team * Target-Chip Ganassi Fire suit signed by reigning FedEx Series champion Juan Montoya & 1996 champion Jimmy Vasser * A rare PacWest Digital DNA crew shirt signed by Roberto Moreno * A Patrick Racing crew shirt signed by Adrian Fernandez * The engine cowling from Gil de Ferran's '99 Fontana car * The rear wing from Naoki Hattori's Walker Racing Reynard * An autographed front wing piece from Mark Blundell's Motorola Reynard
The President and CEO of Gleaners Food Bank Indiana, Pamela Altmeyer, said she was delighted that PacWest, CART and the entire racing community had again decided to support the needy with the annual "CART Cares" program.
"The racing community is a very generous one," said Altmeyer.
"It is great to see PacWest and CART helping those who are being left in the dust of this booming economy."
The 20-round 2000 FedEx Championship Series begins with the Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota at the Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 26.