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Clint Bowyer (15) spins out as Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88) passes by during the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 7.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
When Jimmie Johnson had a high-speed crash at Watkins Glen in a Busch Series race in 2000, about three-fourths of his car disappeared into the foam barriers.
There seemed to be no way Johnson could have avoided serious injury.
Seconds later, Johnson climbed from the car, stood on its roof and raised his arms to let fans know he was OK.
“For weeks after that, when I would call someone and ask them to interview Jimmie, they’d say, ‘Who?’” said Aimee Turner, who was handling publicity for Johnson, then a relatively unknown driver. “And I would say ‘The guy who stood on the car …’, and they would say, ‘Oh yeah, him.’ ”
Turner now is director of communications at Richmond International Raceway.
When Dennis Bickmeier was vice president for consumer sales and marketing at Michigan International Raceway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. broke his 143-race winless streak at the track.
For weeks after that, Michigan was mentioned whenever an Earnhardt story was written or discussed on television or radio. Bickmeier now is president at RIR.
Those experiences pale in comparison to what Bickmeier and Turner have encountered since NASCAR’s Sprint Cup race took place at RIR on Sept. 7.
“What happened has put a focus on this race we’ve never seen before,” Bickmeier said. “And I think it’s going to come up again and again.”
Richmond’s fall race is “The Last Race Before the Chase,” NASCAR’s 12-car, 10-race playoff for the Sprint Cup title.
When the Richmond event ends, the drivers who make the Chase express their joy, the haulers exit the track and Richmond rarely is mentioned again.
But this year, what happened in Richmond hasn’t stayed in Richmond.
“It’s the race that keeps on giving,” Bickmeier said, laughing.
In case you were on Mars operating NASA’s rover in the days following the Richmond race, here’s what you missed:
Michael Waltrip Racing’s manipulations at the end of the race in order to get Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase field led to unprecedented actions by NASCAR.
MWR was fined $300,000. Truex was removed from the Chase and Ryan Newman was added.
NAPA, one of MWR’s sponsors, decided it no longer wanted to be associated with the team and will pull the plug at the end of this season. NAPA’s sponsorship is/was worth an estimated $15 million per year.
And because something fishy might have taken place with Joey Logano and David Gilliland to make sure Logano made the Chase and Jeff Gordon didn’t, NASCAR made the unprecedented move of adding Gordon as the 13th driver in the Chase.
In story after story after story recounting any or all parts of what happened that night, Richmond always is mentioned.
Such publicity is priceless.
“The only time I cringe is when I read, ‘Richmond scandal’ which I’ve seen in some stories,” Bickmeier said. “Someone on the edge of the sport might wonder what that means.
“Or, they might start digging and find out what went on. That’s what makes it the gift that keeps on giving.”
Bickmeier and his staff had nothing to do with what took place on the track. Nor do they officiate the race.
All the RIR people did was provide the drivers with an excellent racing venue.
What happened at the Richmond race has the potential to benefit RIR, the city and Henrico County, where the track is located.
If a NASCAR fan, serious or casual, is going to attend only one or two races in 2014, Richmond has to be in the mix after what happened this year.
That might mean more tickets sold at RIR, more hotel rooms occupied and more restaurants frequented in Richmond and Henrico County on race weekend.
What makes this even better is RIR is a privately run track that does not ask taxpayers to finance its operation.
Eventually, all this hubbub will end.
Right after Richmond’s race in the fall of 2014 ends sounds about right.
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