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Alex Tagliani and his oatmeal cookies

Published May 25, 2012

Any time I run into a race car driver – young, old, rookie, veteran, whatever – who complains to me about not being able to get sponsorship or to do something that will keep his or her name in front of the public, I feel like pulling my hair out.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way, I always say.

And then I point to Alex Tagliani.

Tag is the greatest self-promoter in big-league racing today and everybody (including the veterans who are finding themselves on the outside looking in) should take a lesson from him.

You want an interview? He calls you back and when you start to talk with him he gives you the straight goods, no fooling around. Some of these other prima donas should stop wondering why he gets his name in the paper or on the air more than they do. It’s very simple: he always makes himself available.

When the Grand Prix is on in Montreal, he rents a storefront right downtown and stocks it with Alex Tagliani sunglasses, baseball caps and tee-shirts. He’s not a Grand Prix driver, but who cares? There are race fans in Montreal and the money they have in their pockets is burning a hole and he’s making his merchandise available.

I asked him once about this and this is what he said: “Norris, if I don’t do it myself, nobody is going to do it for me.”

Why am I writing this today? Because when he flew into town last Monday with Jean Alesi and Simon Pagenaud to talk about this weekend’s Indianapolis 500, he handed me a package: two oatmeal cookies wrapped in celophane.

“You trying to make me fat?” I asked

“Look at the wrapper,” he replied, which I did.

The label said: ‘Tag on the GO oatmeal cookies, a source of iron, vitamin A and vitamin D.’ There is a picture of him in his driving suit and of him in an Indy car.

“When do these go on sale?” I asked.

“Next Monday,” he said.

Once we got talking racing, he was mightily impressed with the 30,000-plus turnout for the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last Sunday.

“How cool is that?” he exclaimed.

He then went on to say how big a shot in the arm that would be for the national stock car racing series.

“They can say to potential sponsors that they get 30,000 at Mosport (sic) and 30,000 at Trois-Rivieres and 50,000 at Montreal. Those are big numbers. They make people take notice.”

Tagliani used a start in the NASCAR Canada series at Edmonton a number of years ago to revive what was then a flagging career. In front of the Champ Car owners of the day, he went out and dominated the stock car race and people took notice. He was back in the big time shortly thereafter.

We talked about that last Monday, about how you must take advantage of the opportunities presented.  “It was a good platform for me to show people that I had a lot left in me,” he said.

But when his Indy car career does come to an end, as it inevitably will, he’s already thinking of the future.

“Yes, I am very interested in the Canadian Tire series,” he said. “I started a team once and I would be very interested in getting it going again, particularly now that they’re getting big crowds for the races.”

First things first, however. There’s a race on Sunday called the Indianapolis 500 and he’s starting 11th. As I said to him, last year when he had the pole, he was No. 1. This year, he’s 1-1.

“We can win it,” he said. “No mistakes on the track, no mistakes in the pits. If we do that, we’ll win.”

And wouldn’t it be something if he did – and pulled out a package of Tag on the GO oatmeal cookies to eat with that bottle of milk they’ll hand him in Victory Lane?

I wouldn’t put it past him.

Speaking of Indy, 20-year-old David Ostella of Maple will be racing in the Indy Lights Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday afternoon. He qualified fifth for the race Thursday, his best starting position since he started racing in the series.

IndyCar has set a deadline of Friday for companies interested in developing a new aero package for the Dallara cars.

“We’ve had great interest from multiple companies,” said IndyCar’s vice-president of technology, Will Phillips, in a story on the Autosport website.

People should be careful when they make statements like that. The phrase “multiple companies” means more than two and you can bet that if IndyCar only approves kits from Chevrolet and Honda, reporters are going to ask for the names of the firms that applied but weren’t invited to the party.

And there’d better be some, or yet another IndyCar executive’s credibility will bite the dust.

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