Dream or Nightmare?

INDIANAPOLIS — For the past few weeks, I’ve had this dream. It’s June, sometime around the Canadian and United States Grands Prix, and I’m at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s time to “Trade Paint” again, just like last June when Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Gordon swapped rides for a day.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. © GM

That exercise, coordinated by IMS, by BMW and Speed TV resulted in a fun-filled day for both Gordon and Montoya, although the former was, as usual, a bit more effusive in his praise of the swap than the latter. (It wasn’t too long ago that Montoya, please recall, didn’t give more than one word answers when asked about how his car was working. “Okay” was the normal response, with a slight shrug of his broad shoulders.)

Anyway, in June of 2003 Gordon finally had the opportunity to sample the overall velocity, tractability – and braking capabilities – of the prior year’s BMW-Williams FW24 Formula One projectile. Montoya wrestled the Chevy Monte Carlo NASCAR Cup car Gordon drives on a weekly basis. They utilized the Brickyard’s 2.605-mile Grand Prix course.

Both came out of the experiment with bright eyes and nothing but glee. The smiles were infectious for the gathered mass of journalists and friends of both drivers; there wasn’t a soul within the confines of 16th and Georgetown Roads who didn’t have a grinning face.

Ralf Schumacher © BMW Press

This year, there has been zero talk about a second Trading Paint session and that’s a true bummer. The success of last year’s experiment begs for another go-round and I’ve got just the scenario.

Some may think it’s not a wise idea to bring the same teams here again, but in the case of the F1 car, I beg to differ. This big swapola could be a marketers delight if the folks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway brought BMW-Williams back again in 2004.

Why? Well, the Williams team was the first to eschew any tobacco advertising, working with computer companies and, last year adding the patronage of Budweiser Beer. It sure seems ironic to have the Bud logo in blue on the Williams F1 machine, doesn’t it? At least the signage is bigger in its second season.

Can you see where this is leading? I propose a Trading Paint session with F1 pilot Ralf Schumacher and NASCAR NEXTEL Cup star Dale Earnhardt Jr. Ralf would drive Dale’s big red #8 Bud Chevy Monte Carlo and Dale could squirm into Ralf’s FW26 (or last year’s model, for the sake of similarity to last year’s program).

This season Ralf Schumacher has been behaving pretty much like a NASCAR driver anyway, using physical persuasion to gain spots on the track without any reprimand from race stewards. He’s likely to lose the ride with Williams after his contract ends due to a request for financial remuneration way beyond his value. And he likes to whine.

I can see Sir Frank Williams liking this scenario and thinking, “Let’s put that spoiled brat Ralf Schumacher in one of these 3800-pound machines and let him see how the other half lives. Might teach him a thing or two.” Can you hear him chuckling under his breath?

As for Dale Earnhardt Jr., my admiration for the Intimidator’s kid grows by the day. After watching him in a Daytona Prototype in the rain at the Rolex 24 at Daytona this past January, I’m sure he has the goods to go anywhere. And the fact that Junior wants more exposure to sports car racing leads me to believe that he’d likely enjoy an open wheel adventure even more.

I thought it was very grown-up of Junior to admit he threw his car into a spin at Bristol simply to gain a yellow and get it dialed in for the run to the checkers early in the season. He admitted it. Would Ralfie?

Call me a throwback if you want, but I liked the days when F1 drivers would climb through window netting to sample a stock car on a regular basis, when a stock car driver hung it out in a sprint car or midget. Those days seem to be long gone, with the exception of one or two guys who simply live to race. Ken Schrader comes to mind, as does John Andretti, Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon, to name the few.

I think Junior is one of those guys and Ralf certainly is not, which would make this exercise even more fun. Just as there are people following NASCAR who live to hate Jeff Gordon (see Talladega last weekend) there are Formula One aficionados who feel the same about Ralf Schumacher.

Would Dale Earnhardt Jr. consent to this kind of exercise? In my heart of hearts, I’m hoping he and his handlers would be in favor of this type of publicity. It would be great for the King of Beers, terrific for Indianapolis Motor Speedway and wonderful for Speed TV, who would likely jump at the chance to televise such a meeting a second time.

The media would be all over it, particularly if the event were scheduled while the F1 circus is still on the North American continent. In fact, the only people I can think of who wouldn’t be game are Schumacher and his manager Willi Weber. Neither appears to be a good sport anyway, so if Williams decreed that Ralf would have to do the gig, well that would be that.

If you agree that my dream has some merit and promotes good, clean fun, send your cards, letters and emails to Budweiser, to IMS and to BMW of North America. Race fans deserve to see who’s the better driver, even though we all know the outcome.

© 2004 Anne Proffit

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