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Motorsport: NASCAR Canadian Tire Series

For Tagliani, the risks don’t end on the track Lethal allergy to all nuts gives Montreal race driver incentive to promote EpiPen

Published April 9, 2014

I like all racing drivers. I like them because their sport demands they put themselves on the line each and every time they “play” and the consequences of a mistake can be lethal.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have admiration for pro-football wide receivers, who have to try to catch the ball when they know a defensive safety has them lined up and is ready to drill them. Or a baseball player like the Yankees’ Derek Jeter, who literally flew head-first into the left-field stands in pursuit of a foul ball a couple of years ago and could have broken his neck doing it. I see those guys and I see in them the desire I see in auto racers.

But I must admit; there are one or two drivers I like more than others and one of them is Alex Tagliani of Montreal.

Why? Because he never stops working, whether it’s for himself in pursuit of money and sponsors to continue in the game, or on behalf of those sponsors after the contracts have been signed.

I asked him about it once.

“Alex,” I said, “I went to Montreal one year for the Grand Prix and there was a store on Ste. Catherine St. full of your stuff — Alex Tagliani sunglasses, baseball caps, golf shirts. You don’t even race in F1 but you were there. And right now, today, I can buy a snack pack of “Tag on the Go” oatmeal cookies at the corner store. What is that about?”

Tagliani, who goes mostly by the nickname Tag (I wonder if he’s ever pitched TAG-Heuer for an endorsement?), looked at me and said: “People shop. I make money. I have to look after myself, Norris. Nobody else is going to.”

Which is a wonderful lesson in life for every young Canadian racing driver who has dreams of going to Formula One, or IndyCar, or NASCAR: If you want it badly enough, you have to go get it yourself. Nobody else will do it for you.

Tagliani was in Toronto this week to make the rounds of TV stations and schools, both elementary and secondary, to promote his sponsor, Pfizer Canada, Inc., as well as the 2014 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series for late-model stock cars, which will kick off at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on the Victoria Day weekend in a mere six weeks.

Although Tag originally announced he was forming a new team, Tagliani Autosport, to run the entire NASCAR Canada 11-race schedule in the No. 18 EpiPen /Pfizer Canada Dodge, it’s turned out that he will miss that very first race because time trials for the May 25 Indianapolis 500, where he won the pole in 2011, are being held the same weekend and he has a ride in a car being entered by Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.

Another driver — not yet identified — will take his place in the NASCAR race on Victoria Day, he told me in a recent interview. If there are other conflicts, he’ll do the IndyCar race and the other driver will be in the stock car.

Meantime, he’s particularly passionate about his stock car sponsor, EpiPen/Pfizer, because he suffers from food allergies and has nearly died several times because of reactions. As a result, he doesn’t go anywhere without his EpiPen, a device that delivers a measured dose of adrenaline in cases of emergency.

And what does Tagliani have to fear ingesting?

Nuts.

Nuts of all kinds.

“When I was a kid, my parents took me for the tests and they found out that everything’s that’s nuts — walnuts, peanuts, almonds, all of the nuts — that I was allergic to that.”

Tag said it wasn’t that big a deal when he was young because his parents protected him. But ever since he became a professional athlete, travelling the world and eating out much of the time, he’s had to be extremely careful.

“Bronte (his wife) has saved me a couple of times,” he said, during a chat we had at the Canadian Motorsports Expo in February. “I can go around a race track at 400 km/h and it’s less risky for me than the buffet table.”

That’s a good line, but the scary thing about his allergies is that they’ve nearly killed him — not once, but twice. After the second incident — the first time was on a plane and there was a doctor on board — he’s never gone anywhere without his EpiPen, including his race car.

“I was at a restaurant and I ate a piece of cheesecake,” he said. “I was assured it was okay. But there was a small coating of almond paste and suddenly I got sick.

“I knew I was in big trouble because I’d left the EpiPen I had with me in my rental car. I got to it in time but the people I was with had to call an ambulance and they took me to the hospital. I don’t leave it anywhere anymore. It’s always with me.”

As well as Pfizer, he’s also partnered with Anaphylaxis Canada to spread the EpiPen message to students and others across the country, which makes the coast-to-coast national stock car series a wonderful marketing tool.

“I’m trying to get more people aware of the risks,” he said about his appearances with the race car this week on CP 24 and at Northern Secondary School, among other places.

“Did you know that there are 2-1/2 million Canadians who have a food allergy? And only a small number, under 50,000, carry an EpiPen? I’m like, ‘Are they crazy?’ If you have a reaction, you can’t breathe. They could die. Why risk that?”

Tag’s race car will be prepared this season by three-time Canadian Tire champion Scott Steckly’s 22 Racing team at his garage in Milverton, Ont. Steckly sees pros and cons to having Tagliani on his team.

“I’m really pleased Alex is racing with us this year because he’s a proven professional who will make our team even better,” he said.

“But this also means we’ll have to race harder for wins and the championship with Alex out there.”

Tagliani is no stranger to Canadian stock car racing. He saved his Indy car career by, ironically, winning a CASCAR stock car race in Edmonton during the Champ Car World Series days. That win served to remind owners in Champ Car that he was still capable of getting the job done.

Since then, he’s raced several times a year in the NASCAR Canada series and always seems to come away with at least a victory a season.


Norris McDonald is editor of Wheels. Email: wheels@thestar.ca

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