Alex Tagliani, arguably among the top four or five best-known automobile racers in this country (Paul Tracy, Jacques Villeneuve, Lance Stroll, Scott Goodyear being the others), was on the phone the other day and speaking about as fast he drives, which is way more than a mile a minute.
Tagliani had called to talk about the NASCAR Pinty’s Series, which will kick off its 13-race 2018 season at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in two weeks at the annual Castrol presents the Victoria Day SpeedFest.
Headlined by the national stock-car series that will see drivers race this year in Nova Scotia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Honda Indy Toronto in Ontario and the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres in Quebec, the SpeedFest will also include first races in the Canadian Touring Car Championship presented by Pirelli, the Nissan Micra Cup, the IMSA Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama and multiple classes of the Pirelli World Challenge Series.
The first order of business for “Tag” was to talk about his new sponsor. Last weekend at the Salon de l’Auto Sport in Quebec City, it was announced that national home-improvement chain RONA will join EpiPen (Pfizer Canada), St-Hubert and Spectra Premium as the driver’s sponsors for the 2018 and ‘19 seasons.
To say that Tagliani was excited about this would be an understatement. And, in keeping with the “Tag” tradition of providing at least a half-dozen answers to every question, by the time he stopped to catch his breath he’d talked, in depth, about:
- how a sponsor has to be engaged in order to raise awareness of a product;
- how he wants to create a marketing program to keep Tagliani Autosport in the game after he’s gone;
- how he might do a race or two in another series but that the Pinty’s Series is his priority;
- how he wants to win the series championship and who will be his toughest competitors;
- how he misses racing at Indianapolis and how he still thinks he could have won the 100th anniversary race there in 2016.
Whew! And that’s not counting the passing references to how he’s working on getting Tracy (or “PT,” as he calls him) to come out of retirement and enter a race or two in the Pinty’s series and how, with the proper promotion, the Pinty’s Series could become the dominant motor sport in Canada, just as the Australian V8 Supercars are in that country.
But first, the RONA connection. Said Tagliani:
“It’s an honour to be part of the RONA family, a Canadian brand that has its origins in Québec. It is a natural fit to be associated with RONA because I have been involved in home renovations for a long time. It’s my favourite thing to do after motor racing.
“I would like to also thank EpiPen for believing in me for the past six years (Tagliani suffers from food allergies and has been near death at least twice, only to be saved by the EpiPen). It’s a partnership that I hold dear to my heart.”
When you add it all up — personal sponsorships, team support, race promotions and so-on — motor sport in North America is supported by billions of corporate dollars. But, as “Tag” says, sponsorship won’t work if a company just puts its name on a car or a race.
“You know me, I get excited about things,” he said. “You take the EpiPen. Yes, they are a wonderful sponsor for me but with their help and support, I’ve gone from one end of the country to the other, speaking at schools, pharmacies, hospitals about food allergies to raise awareness of food allergies and the most effective way to safely deal with food allergies.
“That’s what I mean about engagement. It’s more than a sign on a car; they have me out there representing them. And St-Hubert. We just made a bunch of hilarious videos about how fast they can deliver your dinner. They will be on their Facebook page. They gave me a moustache and a belly to disguise me and I’m the driver for the delivery and the looks on the people’s faces is very funny. We might only race for five months but this involvement is all-year long.”
Tagliani is in business with Scott Steckly of Milverton, Ont., whose 22 Racing Team prepares the driver’s race cars and takes them to the tracks. Steckly is a four-time Pinty’s national champion who retired to go into the race-preparation business.
“My aim, when I retire,” said Tagliani, “is to establish a marketing philosophy that will ensure that Tagliani Autosport will continue as a business enterprise, a business that will use racing to promote products and corporations.
“Many racing teams right now are headed by the driver, who also happens to be the owner, and when he or she retires or leaves to do something else, the business dies. When that happens, the business is really a failure because it will have accomplished nothing.
“Do you think if the president of St-Hubert or RONA leaves to do something else that the business closes down? Of course not. And that’s what I want to do in racing, to have a company that will live on. That will market and promote and have the financial resources necessary to put the best driver available in the car. And to have a succession plan. That’s my dream.”
In previous seasons, including just last year, Tagliani has done one-offs in other series or forms of racing that have conflicted with his stock car racing — but no more.
“I can’t miss a race this season,” he said, after noting that he’d had to find a replacement driver for a Pinty’s race a year ago when he was in China racing sports cars. “This (Pinty’s series) is my future and my top priority. Sure, on Labour Day weekend at Mosport (CTMP), I want to drive in the NASCAR Camping World Series pickup truck race but that’s because it’s on the same program as our series. If there is a Pinty’s race anywhere in 2018, I will be there.”
“Tag” said he expects to win the championship — if one or two things happen.
“We have done well on the road courses in recent years,” he said. “But in 2017, other than at Trois-Rivieres, where we won, we had some bad luck and really only did well on the ovals. So if we can combine our 2017 oval successes with a good performance on the road courses in 2018, then this could be our year.”
Asked who his competition would be for the title, Tagliani answered, “the usual suspects — D.J. (Kennington, who’s driven in most of this season’s NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series races, including last weekend’s Talladega 500 where he finished 20th), Andrew Ranger, Kevin Lacroix and don’t forget L.P. Dumoulin, who’s always tough.”
I asked “Tag” if he missed racing in the Indianapolis 500. Despite his long career — he raced on the “wrong side” during the Indy car “civil war” of the 1990s and early 2000s — he never got to run at Indianapolis till 2009.
“I never even saw the Speedway till the year I finally got to go and I always had three things on my Bucket List for that track — to win rookie-of-the-year, to win the pole for the Indy 500 and to win the race. I won the rookie award in ‘09 and in 2011 I won the pole. For a week there (between the day he won the pole and the race), I was the fastest man in the world!
“In the 2016 race, A.J. Foyt (legendary team owner and driver, now long-retired) gave me a great car. I could race with Rossi (Alexander Rossi, the eventual winner of that historic event) and Townsend Bell. I was in the pits — it was a scheduled stop — when Buddy Lazier lost a wheel and the yellow came out and I automatically went a lap down. I was crushed. I nearly cried in the cockpit. I battled and got my lap back and eventually finished 17th but my race was ruined because I could have done so much better. It was my last chance.
“So my Bucket List? I didn’t win the Indy 500 so I have changed that to the Pinty’s national stock car championship of Canada instead. I have Canadian sponsors and I race in Canada. I think it would be good to win that, don’t you?”
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