THANKS, TREVOR: Mark Armijo (left), Bayne, Chris van der Beeck, me. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)
It's about 9:30 a.m., Sunday, Feb. 27, and I'm standing on pit road at Phoenix International Raceway talking to Trevor Bayne.
Just one week earlier, he won the Daytona 500 in the famed No. 21 Wood Brothers Motorcraft Ford. One week later, less than four hours before the Subway Fresh Fit 500k, he has just taken The Phantom of the Opera (movie version) star Emmy Rossum (at PIR to sing the National Anthem -- and she did it well) for a ride around the one-mile oval. I had arranged for Arizona Republic columnist Paola Boivin to ride in the backseat.
Now, mission accomplished, Emmy is having her picture taken. Paola has gone off to write. Trevor's standing next to the Ford brought out for this purpose and we're reviewing the remarkable happenings of the last week. I tell him about my PR background and some somewhat similar adventures I've shared with drivers I've worked with, like the Andrettis, Nigel Mansell and Alex Zanardi. He's interested in hearing these tales from Big Time Auto Racing. I tell Trevor I don't think anyone could have handled it all better, especially any 20-year-old instant celebrity. He thanks me.
NASCAR print communications manager Denise Maloof is nearby, there to coordinate the media goings-on. She mentions there are about 10 minutes left before control of the track is lost for PR purposes. Trevor says to me, "Come on. Hop in. Let's go!"
I ask Denise and Trevor to please "hold" for a minute. I run up the stairs to the media center and yell to fellow Republic writer Mark Armijo, and our coordinating editor, Chris van der Beeck, "Come on! Come on!" They follow me as we rush down the stairs and back to the pits.
"Hop in, guys!," Bayne says with a smile. "Let's go!"
Having covered all the major so-called "stick-and-ball" sports, I am completely impressed that he's not only willing, but seemingly happy, to do this hours before he has to race. I know it wouldn't happen elsewhere, including by an active Indianapolis 500 winner.
Take the ride with us, as recorded by me on my BlackBerry (3:15) :
FAST LINES: I, of course, was fully engaged in the NASCAR-at-PIR events but friends passed on some positive comments about the NHRA's 60th anniversary opener at Pomona. As with us at PIR, NHRA was working around bad weather issues, but got in the race. I'll see the Full Throttle series first-hand the first weekend of April at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway . . . Last week was the official end for the AOL Fanhouse site, now folded into the Sporting News operation. Some talented people, including Holly Cain -- one of the country's best racing writers -- are looking for new opportunities . . . Embarrassing: The Indy reporter who, in noting Sam Schmidt had bought-into an IndyCar team, wrote that the wheelchair-bound Schmidt "walked into yet another good deal in his life" . . . I'd invite Regis Philbin to wave the green flag for the Indy 500 to ride the wave of public affection for the Notre Dame grad as he leaves his talk show later this year. Pace car driver? Well, IMS management will find a proper role at the 100th anniversary running for the first four-time winner, A.J. Foyt, won't they? . . . I get the gimmick factor of offering $5 mil to a non-regular who would win (bank it: it won't happen) the Las Vegas finale, but IndyCar crossed a bridge-too-far with this one: The starting lineup for the second half of the Texas doubleheader will be determined by blind draw. I guess Randy Bernard didn't want to copy Bernie Ecclestone's suggestion that Formula One tracks artifically be made wet during parts of races. This stuff is getting out-of-hand and makes NASCAR's infamous "debris" cautions look rule-book legitimate . . . Firestone going is a bigger loss for IndyCar than Chevrolet returning . . . Since Marty Reid doesn't understand the difference, would some responsible ESPN producer please wake up and tell Reid Brad Keselowski is not the "defending" Nationwide champion? Keselowski can't "defend" because he's not eligible for series points. Words mean things. Meanwhile, Jamie Little -- as usual trying to figure out which end is up -- said Robert Hight is Courtney Force's "husband." Reid did correct that one . . . Good luck to Michael Hargrave, who has opened his own Charlotte-area company, "Developing and executing winning brand strategies and business relationships." I worked with Mike when he managed Budweiser's sponsorship of Paul Tracy and I was the Newman/Haas PR director . . . If you haven't as yet, please try to grab a copy of last week's National Speed Sport News. I had six stories in the paper.
It's amazing what you learn when you ask the right questions, not just the superficial stuff we as fans get from too many of the TV microphone holders. Here are three things I learned at PIR because I gave some thought to what I wanted to ask:
1. Emmy Rossum has never seen the stage version of The Phantom of the Opera. She said there was little time between when she got the movie role as Christine and the start of production. No, at first, she didn't tell that to Andrew Lloyd Webber. And, in thinking about it, she made a very good point: Original stage actress Sarah Brightman became such a worldwide sensation playing that part, Rossum didn't want her own performance influenced by what Sarah had done. Makes sense to me . . .
2. Roger Penske doesn't expect to run a fourth car for anybody -- including Sam Hornish Jr. -- for the $5 million challenge to end the IndyCar season. I went to the Sunday morning drivers' meeting at PIR and asked him. Specifically, when I asked Roger if he'd run an extra car if one or more of his three full-time drivers had a shot at the championship that day, he said: "No. It's a conflict of interest." Indianapolis-area media cheerleaders, please take note . . .
3. Chevrolet is returning as an engine supplier to IndyCar next year, but won't play a direct role in Danica Patrick's new contract. NASCAR or IndyCar, it's up to her, according to Mark Kent, director of GM Racing. I know this because I asked him. "The driver agreements are strictly with the team," he said. "We don't get involved in that . . . It's really up to Danica to figure out what her career path is. I think it's going to be very difficult to try to do both, and I think she's seen that -- getting into one car and out of the other -- it's difficult. You need to focus on a specific series and hone your skills." Reporters who pretend that they understand the Business of Racing, please take note . . .
[ more next Monday . . . ]