By: Bill King The 22nd edition of the NASCAR Nextel Media Tour organized by Lowe's Motor Speedway opened its third day in Charlotte, N.C., with a breakfast hosted by Richard Petty. Petty's veteran PR maven Chip Williams, whose long career has...
By: Bill King
The 22nd edition of the NASCAR Nextel Media Tour organized by Lowe's Motor Speedway opened its third day in Charlotte, N.C., with a breakfast hosted by Richard Petty.
Petty's veteran PR maven Chip Williams, whose long career has been defined by his acerbic wit, responded to an introductory smattering of applause with this: "I guess there must be some people in this room that I don't know."
After some house cleaning items by Media Tour officials including a heads-up on the security journalists would encounter at DEI later in the day's festivities, Williams cracked, "You notice we don't have any security. We're just glad you're here."
When Williams introduced The King as the eight-time winner of the Chex Cereal NMPA NASCAR Most Popular Driver, Petty deadpanned, "That's not what it was called."
Williams fired back, "That's what it's called now."
In a very insider exchange, Williams mentioned that AP motorsports editor Mike Harris and Reuters U.S. motorsports correspondent Lewis Franck - both Media Tour participants - had an audience with the Pope earlier this month as part of an entourage that Helio Castroneves had taken to Rome. Williams observed, "If two Jewish guys can meet the Pope in Vatican City, is this a cool world or what?"
To which Autoweek correspondent Al Pearce cracked, "Yeah, and the Pope picked up the lunch tab too." Journalists are noted for wrangling free meals.
One topic that has assumed a life of its own during this Media Tour has been the question of offering established racing teams a franchise, a very old and very dead subject. Asked about it, Petty dryly responded: "Several of us owners have been thinking about franchising. NASCAR's probably not."
The concept of "family" was hammered home at the Wood Brothers shop in Mooresville, N.C. Glen's sons Eddie and Len and sister Kim Wood Hall currently run the team. During the Media Tour stop, Eddie introduced his father and two uncles -- Glen, Leonard and Delano -- his mother and his aunt.
Wood Brothers driver Ricky Rudd's former shop is the team's home now, having moved their racing operations from Stuart, Va. Rudd looked out over the dozen rows of folding chairs in the main shop and sighed, "This is about like we had this place set up for the auction." Rudd's six-year run as a team owner ended in 2000 when he sold all his shop equipment and leased his shop to Robert Yates Racing.
Asked about how much money it took these days for an independent to run a Cup team, Eddie Wood said, "If you win the lottery, that'd be a good start."
On why the Wood Brothers had stuck with Ford for 55 years, Eddie observed, "The grass may look greener on the other side, but when you get over there, you might find it hard to chew."
William Clements, director of sponsorships and sports marketing for MasterFoods whose M&Ms product colorfully adorns the bodywork on Elliott Sadler's No. 38 Robert Yates Racing Ford, congratulated Sadler on a break-out season that produced the sponsor's first win in 14 years and put the team in the Chase for the Cup. Clements pointed out that the M&Ms livery had always been a fan favorite and was the second most popular paint scheme according to fans, who voted on NASCAR.com. "In our case, when you aren't running good, you might as well look good. This past year, we added running good to looking good."
Commenting on the new Robert Yates Racing engine program entering its second season as a cooperative effort with Roush Racing, Dale Jarrett said, "Elliott (Sadler) and I have to have keys just to get into the engine department." To which Sadler cracked, "I think mine's still in the mail."
Wednesday evening Roger Penske welcomed members of the Media Tour to his stunning new 340,000 sq.ft. race shop on the north side of Mooresville. Much of the space has been completed, but the team has yet to move from their present multi-building location five miles away. Penske purchased the former Matsushita manufacturing facility last summer and has been beavering away to get it ready for occupation by his three Nextel Cup teams. Commenting on the expance and functionality of the new facility, Penske cracked, "If we could take this building to Daytona, maybe we could win the 500."
He then said, "If it doesn't work as a race shop, we can always have concerts in here."