Friday, February 29, 2008

Cool, but not a totally ''Wheeee!' experience

LAS VEGAS - Jamie McMurray looked over his shoulder and said, "You know, with a bank as a sponsor you wouldn't get to do stuff like this."

It was hard to argue with the driver of the No. 26 Ford at that particular moment. We were flying in a helicopter over the Las Vegas Strip, heading out toward the mountains that ring this valley.

OK, let's get this out of the way first. It was my first helicopter ride. Ever. McMurray laughed at me the whole time, and that's OK. It was a fairly calm day and the ride wasn't bad at all.

But it's like the first few times you fly. You hear something whirring or feel a bump and, until you know that what you're hearing is "normal" you're like, "What's that?"

If I run over a raised seam or a lane marker in the highway driving a car, I know how to react to that. In a chopper, some little wiggle or wobble could be the beginning of a death plunge for all I know. So I wasn't exactly going "Wheeee!" the whole way.

Anyway, back to the story.

We met Thursday afternoon at Treasure Island. The occasion was the reveal of the winner in this year's Crown Royal "Your Name Here" contest to pick a fan for whom the May race at Richmond will be named.

Instead of pulling a piece of canvas off a board, Crown Royal went big - 10,000 square feet big.

The sponsor painted a mural of the race's logo on a dry lake bed a few miles outside of Las Vegas. Right in the middle of it was a tarp attached to the rear of a Roush Mustang. That tarp covered the name of the contest winner.

It was either going to be Dan Lowry of Waterford, Ohio., or Tim Weiland of De Pere, Wis. They were in one of the other two helicopters flying over the lake bed. I was in the other one, where McMurray was going to give the command for the Mustang to drive off and pull the tarp away.

The third chopper carried several people suffering from insanity. I knew this because they were hanging out of the side door filming the whole thing.

When everbody was in place, McMurray did his deal and the Mustang's driver hit the gas. Down below us several hundred feet, Mowry's name was printed inside the logo. So the Richmond race will be called the "Crown Royal Presents the Dan Mowry 400."

Mowry will be the guest of honor at "his" race in May, and he'll get to see and do things that few race fans would ever get to see or do.

But don't feel too bad for Weiland, either. Mowry won the "grand prize," but Weiland got the "first prize," - a Roush Mustang.

"My 13-year-old son already has given the car a name," he said. "He said we're calling it 'Sharon.' "

When we got back to the Treasure Island, our pilot made this big, sweeping right-to-left swing to line up for his landing. He maneuvered between the light poles on the top level of the parking deck and sat us down without so much as the slighest bump.

Yeah, I was impressed.


Anonymous said...

Maybe you'll get in a Cup car next and vroom around the track!