I’ll probably be tarred and feathered for saying this, but here goes.
The "Vote Kyle, Reward Victory Junction" campaign was launched earlier this week in Charlotte, North Carolina. It is being called “a grassroots effort fueled by Coca-Cola and other Petty Enterprises sponsors to reward the man who has given so much of his time and effort to charity, with a spot in the Nextel All-Star Challenge.”
In simplest terms, Petty’s sponsors are encouraging fans to vote him into this month’s NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. In return, Coca-Cola and fellow Petty sponsors Wells Fargo, Schwan's and Tire Kingdom have pledged to donate a minimum of $250,000 to the Victory Junction Gang Camp for children with chronic medical conditions and serious illnesses. Petty will donate any purse money he wins in the race to Victory Junction, as well.
Michael Waltrip – along with Petty, a member of the “Coca-Cola Racing Family” -- was announced as Petty's "campaign manager" yesterday. “I want him in the All-Star Race,” Waltrip said. “He deserves it.”
Well, maybe. But not for the reasons you think.
I have issues with Coca-Cola’s "Vote Kyle, Reward Victory Junction" campaign. I feel it subverts the concept of the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge, and clouds what should be a simple process for selecting the drivers that take part. Should NASCAR’s All-Star Race be an opportunity for sponsors “to reward the man who has given so much of his time and effort to charity?” Or should it be about fans honoring NASCAR’s finest for their on-track accomplishments?
Quite clearly, in my opinion, it should be the latter.
While Coca-Cola’s interest in helping Victory Junction Gang Camp is laudable, make no mistake about the fact that there is also something in it for them. Petty will carry a special “MyCokeRewards” paint scheme on All-Star Weekend, and if he is voted into the All-Star Challenge, they will receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in free publicity and TV time. If Coke is really serious about doing something good for Victory Junction Gang Camp -- with no regard for their own corporate gain -- they can make a $250,000 donation right now, with no strings attached. Instead, they have chosen to twist the arms of NASCAR fans nationwide by saying, “Give us what we want, and we’ll help out the sick little children.”
I worry that we are missing the whole point of the All-Star Race. Will drivers and sponsors soon be forced to put together their own charity based, feel-good campaigns in an effort to pander their way to the top of the annual fan vote? Should NASCAR’s All-Star selection process be based upon how much money a driver donates to charity? Or should that selection hinge on how drivers perform on the race track?
The answer is pretty obvious.
In the immortal words of Richard Milhous Nixon, let me make one thing perfectly clear. I have nothing but admiration for Victory Junction Gang Camp, and the Petty family's superhuman efforts on its behalf. It is tremendous cause, and deserves your unqualified support. On a personal level, I like Kyle Petty very much. He is a gracious, selfless man who has done wonders for those less fortunate than himself. He's also a damned fine racer. Unfortunately, this whole "Vote Kyle, Reward Victory Junction" idea leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It’s half a step away from bribery, and it’s not what the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge is supposed to be about.
You can cast a vote for your favorite driver right now, at NASCAR.com. You can also make a contribution to Victory Junction Gang Camp by clicking on this link.
Just don’t confuse the two, okay?