ENERGIZER CAPS FIRST IRL SEASON HAVING ACHIEVED NOTABLE SUCCESSES ON AND OFF THE RACETRACK INDIANAPOLIS (Nov. 15, 1999) -- That famous Energizer Bunny has led quite an illustrious career over the years as it just keeps going and going. But ...
ENERGIZER CAPS FIRST IRL SEASON HAVING ACHIEVED NOTABLE SUCCESSES ON AND OFF THE RACETRACK
INDIANAPOLIS (Nov. 15, 1999) -- That famous Energizer Bunny has led quite an illustrious career over the years as it just keeps going and going.
But perhaps never has the venerable pink icon of the Energizer battery brand appeared more at home than on a high-banked speedway surrounded by the 200-mph competitors of the Pep Boys Indy Racing League, as it was for the first time in 1999.
With promising young driver Robby McGehee at the controls of the black #55 Energizer Motorsports Indy car, the Bunny quickly became a fixture in what has come to be known as the fastest, most competitive oval track racing series on earth.
"Without a doubt, wherever we go, people know we're there," said the 26-year-old McGehee, who started his season on a high note by racing to Rookie of the Year honors at the Indianapolis 500 in May and came within a whisker of capturing top rookie honors for the entire season, despite missing three of 10 events.
"That Bunny is an attention magnet, and we're just excited as can be that it decided to go racing with us," McGehee continued. "This was supposed to just be a developmental year, a chance to just stretch our legs. But we worked hard from the start, made the most of it both on and off the track, and laid a solid foundation for what we hope will be a rich racing future together."
Having missed the opening two events of the season at Orlando and Phoenix while the team was still being formed, McGehee wasted little time etching his name into racing history, driving to a fifth-place finish in the 83rd Indy 500, his first official IRL start. By season's end, McGehee and the Energizer Motorsports camp totaled four top-10 finishes in seven starts, even spent a modest 17 laps in the lead, and pocketed some $420,000 in winnings.
Just as importantly, McGehee and company brought the Energizer Bunny and battery brand to front and center on the high-profile world racing stage, and opened the door to brand new opportunities to sell batteries and enhance the brand in a whole new arena.
"So far, this program has been a win-win for all parties involved," said Fred Azbell, managing director of Energizer Motorsports, whose victories in the program's inaugural season include collaboration in the successful launch of the revolutionary new Internet battery retailer batteries.com, as well as the tremendous initial sales success of Energizer Motorsports apparel from New York to San Francisco.
"You can hardly beat being associated with an icon as recognizable as the Energizer Bunny," Azbell added. "It's right up there on the worldwide scale with McDonald's and Coca-Cola. That's a powerful addition to the IRL family. On the other side of the coin, Energizer becomes a part of a racing series that includes the most-watched single-day sports spectacle in the world -- the Indy 500. The possibilities as we move forward are endless."
Likewise, so are the possibilities for Energizer Motorsports on the racetrack as it looks ahead to its second year on the IRL circuit and beyond.
True to the consistency and resilience symbolized by the pink Energizer Bunny depicted prominently on both sides of their black #55 Dallara/Aurora/Firestone race car, McGehee and his teammates worked their way through the developmental hurdles typical of a first-year program with modest success.
Forever, the embodiment of that resilience will be the remarkable recovery of crew chief Steve Fried, who was critically injured in a pit road accident during the early stages of the Indy 500 but was back at the racetrack five races later, in Pikes Peak, Colo., in late August.
Among the developmental setbacks in the races following Indy was the wheel bearing trouble that ended a thrilling run for the lead two weeks later at Texas Motor Speedway, where McGehee drove from dead last to second place in the early going. A practice crash brought a premature end to the racing weekend at Pikes Peak in late June, and an ill-handling car at Atlanta in mid-July afforded McGehee no better than a 14th-place finish.
Then came a three-race streak that thrust McGehee into prime contention for season-long Rookie of the Year honors. Top-10 runs at the August events at Dover, Del. (ninth), and Pikes Peak (seventh), and in September at Las Vegas (sixth), showed the competitors in the IRL paddock that Energizer Motorsports would be a team to be reckoned with. The Dover run included 17 laps led, but a fuel miscalculation ended that bid for a potential victory.
Heading into the season finale at Texas in October, McGehee was in the driver's seat in the rookie standings with a one-point lead over Scott Harrington. But his three-race streak of top-10 finishes was ended when fuel pickup problems forced him to make several extra pit stops. His 12th-place finish to Harrington's sixth cost McGehee the rookie title.
"Hey, that's something we weren't counting on, anyway, and it's not going to take away from a successful first season," said McGehee, the St. Louis native and resident who not surprisingly has become something of a hero in his hometown. In fact, he was recently selected to the Century of St. Louis Sports Team, which includes the likes of Stan Musual, Lou Brock, Mark McGwire, Brett Hull, Ottis Anderson, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. "We got Rookie of the Year at Indy, and that's something I'll cherish forever. And the stage is set for good things to come starting at Walt Disney World (site of the 2000 season opener) in January."