Sunday, January 23, 2011


It’s not every day you get to have breakfast with Mario Andretti,
or have your dinner wine personally selected by Larry Foyt while dining at the famed St. Elmo’s Steak House in downtown Indianapolis, or visit the belly of a KC-135 Stratotanker with all your racing heroes.
  But as the “official cheerleader” for espnW’s and Track Chic’s female motorsport fans, it was a humbling privilege to participate in the celebrations launching the Indy 500 Centennial Tour as our favorite female driver, Sarah Fisher, joined other IndyCar legends to personally thank our troops defending our freedom.

Timed to coordinate with the annual gathering of IndyCar Series race team owners, drivers and sponsors attending the State of IndyCar 2011 media event, the winter’s snow blizzard chased us all the way from Atlanta to Indianapolis and back again. We left Atlanta a day early to hopefully beat the snow, and arrived in Indianapolis to, you guessed it, snow. 

Organizing this goodwill tour takes an army of folks to coordinate State Department visas, Defense Department security clearances, military base accommodations, travel logistics to transport 27 people, the Indy Racing Experience IndyCar Two-Seater, and the IMS film crew documenting the trip.  Right away, my husband and I were put to work sorting, folding and packing flight jackets, fleeces and t-shirts for the crew which included drivers, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Jr., Davey Hamilton, Larry Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, Martin Plowman and Sarah Fisher as well as IZOD IndyCar spokes model, Cameron Haven; Terry Angstadt, President of IndyCar’s Commercial Operations and the legendary sportscaster, Jack Arute. 

Also joining the group is James Taylor, director of Experience Marketing for Hewlett Packard; tour organizers from Morale Entertainment, and Mark "Dill" Driscoll, part owner of Panther Racing and chairman of the experiential marketing firm, Ignition, Inc.  A robust group for sure, all with vibrant personalities and each sharing both pride to be selected and humility for their mission.  They also shared a tremendous sense of humor as the winter storm went from bad to worse and delayed departure for their 10-day tour January 12th-22nd.

Here’s the shakedown: January 10th-13


was spent at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame with Dill Driscoll, the defending Indy 500 Champion, Dario Franchitti, Al Unser, Jr., Martin Plowman, Scott Dixon, Alex Tagliani, Alex Lloyd, Davey Hamilton, Sarah Fisher, Scott Goodyear and IndyCar Series CEO, Randy Bernard, as race fans and racing celebrities celebrated “A Night of Memories at the Museum”. 

Surrounded by racing celebrities, vintage race cars and memorabilia, the event was heaven on earth and an apt benefit for the IndyCar Ministry, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit Christian organization that serves the racing community.

A signature item up for bid was a beautiful commemorative bottle of wine celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Indy 500.  Dill and Dario launched a friendly bidding war for the wine. Dill eventually won the bid at $650 a bottle x 2 bottles = $1,300.  That’s the good news: a generous $1,300 donation was raised for a great cause.  The bad news is that $1,300 of wine was left in the trunk of the car overnight in the blizzard to nearly freeze! The drinkable value is now, probably somewhere in the $5.95 per bottle range!

THE NEXT DAY was the annual State Of IndyCar meeting and an opportunity to visit with old friends and make new ones.
  That evening, I was invited by radio host Don Kay to join Jack Arute (THE Jack Arute) and Dill Driscoll (THE Dill Driscoll) on Auto Sport Radio, the much-respected “Indy Institution” in sports news.  It was still snowing and we were stunned by the hearty group of race fans packing McGilvery’s restaurant for the weekly live broadcast.  The audience enjoyed a side-splitting exchange of stories, with each guest topping the other with fun memories of their years in the industry.  It was interesting that the audience was close to 50% male/50% female.  Sharing espnW’s vision to create a new world for female athletes and fans and Track Chic’s mission to celebrate motorsports’ forgotten 240 million female fans worldwide was enthusiastically received! 

Our audience enjoyed learning more about the Indy 500 Centennial Tour’s visit to our troops in Europe and the Middle East, which includes visits to Ramstein Air Base and the 435 Medical Group in Germany, airbases in Iraq, Turkey, Bahrain, two-seater IndyCar experiences at Bahrain F1 International Circuit, even an overnight stay on an active aircraft carrier at sea!  The tour will also thank our coalition troops in the UK Military, including possible visits with members of the Royal family, at an air base in England before returning stateside.  Personal requests are made, contact details exchanged and promises given to give their family members a hug if they should happen to see them on the tour.

THE BIG DAY HAS COME, Wednesday, January 12th and it begins with a military style briefing at 09:30.  Dos and don’ts are authoritatively reviewed by “The Men in Charge”, a.k.a. “Papa Bear” Michael Whalen, Thomas Lee and Nissen Davis of Morale Entertainment.

Thoughts are exchanged and emotions shared.  In preparation for the tour, Martin Plowman spent Christmas Eve with wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center.  The impact was profound as “Plowey” emotionally tells the group of one soldier who, although he had lost both legs in an IED explosion, bravely tells Martin that “he volunteered to give his life, all he gave was his legs”.  All are moved, and recognize that saying Thank You is never enough. 

– depart for the private airfield hosting the monstrous Boeing KC-135 Refueling Stratotanker for departure. And yep, it’s still snowing!
  The wind is whipping and snow is swirling everywhere causing semi-whiteout conditions.  But then you see this grey monster planted on the tarmac … it’s enormous!

You can barely glimpse the IndyCar two-seater already loaded.  The brilliant colors of the car’s decals are the only colors visible against the bleak backdrop of military drab and winter storm bleak. It was a very stark interruption of laughter and joviality, and suddenly we felt as though we were sending them off to Siberia!

14:30 - media event, interviews, informal presentations, laughter, camaraderie, a final farewell by David Henninger, VP Marketing Services for Kangaroo Express, and a blessing shared before departure. 

We all brave the ice and snow to have a guided tour of the plane, this beast waiting for us on the tarmac. 
Holy cow – it’s huge!
But Holier Cow – it is BASIC!

Seats, the few available, are fundamentally heavy-duty slings.  Others will grab the few mesh hammock-like options lining the walls of the plane.  The cold, plywood-covered steel floor is also a seating option.  A critical memo, advising passengers to pack a sleeping bag, arrived too late for many.  Like a good Girl Scout, Sarah Fisher was prepared and brought extra sleeping bags from her race shop. She immediately became the most popular person on the plane!

It was conspicuously obvious that the IndyCar Two-Seater, stowed on the plane next to extra tires and supplies, was going to be First Class Seating.
  Mario Andretti and Sarah Fisher quickly claimed “dibbs” for the coveted perception of comfort.
There are no windows on this utilitarian airship, seats are facing backwards and heat is a matter of opinion.  Reality sets in as families, friends and media watched anxiously as the snow continued and weather conditions worsened. We celebrated final clearance from air-controllers in Indianapolis only to simultaneously learn that the destination airbase in New Jersey was now closed due to the blizzard blustering its way Northeast. 

Plan B – everybody off the plane, scrap the media tour scheduled for New York the next morning, and find hotel rooms nearby.  Instructions were given to re-convene the next morning for 09:30 departure directly to Ramstein Air Base in Germany.  So party we must and off to St. Elmo’s Steak House we go!

08:30, Thursday, January 13th – a “not so perky” crowd gathers in the hotel lobby for breakfast and the shuttle back to the airport.  It’s still freezing, and yes, flurries are still falling, but we are assured that the mission is a “Go”.

– SRA Jason Coffey gives safety instructions for the aircraft, including how to operate the oxygen canister and hooded face mask, the anticipated flight schedule, and what to expect during the 9+ hour flight.
  One critical final piece of advice is shared as the group gathers to board the plane.  “There are limited sanitary chemicals on board so please use the lavatories sparingly.” advises Coffey.  Mario Andretti laughingly requests “Worst-case, can you open a window?” Like obedient two-year olds, the line suddenly shifts to the airport’s lobby bathrooms for a final “pit stop” before departure. 

10:30 – Wheels up for the final farewell. No one can see us waving goodbye, nor can we see them waving back; there are no windows.  It was a solemn farewell for a serious mission of gratitude for the men and women defending our freedom.   Our team’s goal is to brighten one soldier’s day, to lighten their load and to let them understand that their noble efforts are valued and appreciated.  No doubt that many laughs will be shared and many tears shed during this goodwill tour as lives are touched and hearts warmed.

11:00New mission! 
Flights in and out of Atlanta are predictably delayed, so my husband and I begin a long, but quiet, drive back to Atlanta. The mission for which we have been chosen?
  Return Dill’s dirty laundry and the two (now empty!) wine bottles to his wife at the Atlanta offices of ignition, Inc!  We laughingly fulfill our assignment and return home to reality – and the mountain of snow waiting to be shoveled from our driveway!  

espnW and are teaming up with Sarah Fisher to share her personal journal with video and photo updates of this experience!  We will be sharing Sarah’s updates of the Indy 500 Centennial Tour as available from remote destinations, including an active aircraft carrier and military bases in Turkey, Bahrain and the United Kingdom.  Share with friends of families of military personnel everywhere as humble champions come together to thank America’s heroes. 
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