NASCAR treats fans right
Zetsche had better get used to being recognized in public. In a new ad campaign, his face is plastered all over TV, billboards and a couple of Dodge Chargers being seen by millions of NASCAR fans. The smiling Zetsche is accompanied by a Web address: AskDrZ.com.
The first phase of the campaign tells customers about attributes of various Chrysler group vehicles and tells customers they won't find a better time to buy than right now under the July Employee Pricing Plus program. But the Zetsche ads will be around long after the summer blowout ends, if all goes well.
Zetsche comes to the Daytona International Speedway to watch his likeness circle the high-banked Daytona oval at 180 mph. He doesn't just sit in a comfortable corporate suite, either. He's right there in the pits, sitting up high with Kasey Kahne's crew.
Zetsche gets to listen to Kahne communicate with the crew on a yellow headset that NASCAR offers its fans. The headset, which also is available with a miniature TV screen, allows fans to monitor the progress of their heroes throughout a race both visually and by listening to the radio chatter between driver and crew. It's all part of NASCAR's hugely successful effort to put its fans right in the heart of the action.
Zetsche is clearly riveted by the spectacle. Even though Kahne finishes out of the running, Zetsche remains glued to his perch.
He's impressed in general with how NASCAR treats its fans, who are allowed to wander freely onto the track before the race and can get up close and personal with their heroes in the pits.
As a NASCAR agnostic, I'm really impressed, too. I can't believe that I'm allowed to stand in the pits throughout the race.
Formula One gods
The next morning finds Zetsche in another world -- the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the United States Grand Prix, the only Formula One race in the United States.
Zetsche has a big interest here, too. The McLaren-Mercedes team has a pair of cars entered.
Before the race, journalists attend a press conference designed to highlight DaimlerChrysler's involvement in these two vastly different forms of racing -- NASCAR and Formula One.
Zetsche sits on a stage with McLaren-Mercedes driver Juan Pablo Montoya, team boss Ron Dennis, Dodge NASCAR crew chief Ray Evernham and Dodge driver Jeremy Mayfield.
"The U.S. Grand Prix is the place to be," Zetsche says. "We make 45 percent of our net revenues here (in the United States). Formula One in the United States is something we have to develop even more."
His comments are indirectly aimed at Bernie Ecclestone, the commander of Formula One.
The week before the race, Ecclestone stirred up a storm in an interview. "Why do we need to worry so much about America?" Ecclestone said to The Times of London. "It does not matter to Formula One if there is no Grand Prix in the U.S. What do we get from America? Aggravation, that's about all."
Zetsche does not agree. He huddles with Ecclestone in the McLaren-Mercedes hospitality room in the pits. Speaking to journalists afterward, Zetsche says he delivered the following message: "This is the most important place to have a Formula One race."
The U.S. Grand Prix begins and ends quickly for the McLaren-Mercedes team. In the first turn, Montoya bumps teammate Kimi Raikonen, knocking both cars out of the race along with five other cars.
The big wreck drains the enthusiasm out of the posh revelers in the McLaren-Mercedes paddock suite. But I'm still fascinated by how fast the F1 drivers can go round the Brickyard, their engines wailing at about 18,000 rpm. It's another aspect of the weekend that exceeds my expectations.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not encouraging DaimlerChrysler to make an annual Fourth of July outing here. But years from now, I'll still remember how I spent Independence Day 2006.
You may e-mail Bradford Wernle at [email protected]