Al Pearce gets around.
He's as good as anybody I've met in my years as a motorsports reporter at finding the most economically efficient -- and often adventursome -- way of getting from one place to the next.
He's also one of those guys who gets an idea in his head and can't get it out until he's done what he's set out to do. That marries nicely with his knack for travel when it comes to what he's been doing for the past few years.
Pearce is now a NASCAR correspondent for Autoweek. He wrote for the paper in Newport News, Va., and has been around the track for nearly 40 years now. Over all of those years he's developed a lot of friends and a lot of contacts.
He was one of the first guys to sign on when Kyle Petty started doing charity motorcycle rides across the country and he decided right from the get-go that Victory Junction Gang Camp was something he not only appreciated, but something he wanted to support. So he got the idea of having one helmet signed by race car drivers who have something in common.
He's done Daytona 500 winners and NASCAR Cup champions. He did Indianapolis 500 winners. Once he gets the signatures of everyone who's still around, he sells the helmet and gives the money to Victory Junction and to Petty's chairty ride. Tony Stewart, for instance, gave Pearce $10,000 for the Indy 500 winners' helmet.
Last year, Pearce decided to go global. His 2008 project was a helmet signed by every living driver who'd won a Formula 1 world driving championship.
He got Phil Hill in late 2007 before Hill passed away. There were 18 other names to get -- then 19 after Lewis Hamilton won his first title in 2008.
So Pearce went to eight countries. He made five trips to Europe. He went to Brazil. He took a ferry across the English Channel. He rode trains, buses and subways. He covered, a friend estimated, about 67,000 miles.
And he got every signature he needed, closing the deal by going to London late in the year to get Hamilton and then going down to Brazil to get Nelson Piquet.
I asked Al the other day if it wouldn't have been cheaper for him to forget about getting the signatures and just give all the money he spent trying to get them to the camp. That depends, he said, on how much he can get for the helmet. But he reckons that through his careful planning and economic travels -- "You'd be surprised at how many places you can find a McDonald's or a Burger King to eat at," he said -- he spent only around $5,000 to complete the project.
Pearce doesn't know yet how he'll sell the F1. He might give it to the camp and let them see what they can get, or he might put in an online auction himself. It seems to me that he could find a bunch of potential customers at the Rolex 24 at Daytona next month. If somebody comes up with an offer that feels like a home run, Pearce might just sell it on the spot.
All Pearce wants to do is get as much money as he can for the helmet, and he doesn't keep a dime.
How much is one single helmet with autographs of 20 world driving champions on it worth? Well, I don't have a clue. But you have to wonder if there's another item of any kind like it anywhere in the world. It's hard to do better than one-of-a-kind.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Al Pearce gets around.