For the weekend of August 24th, I sponsored Cassie Gannis (Phoenix, Arizona) at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Bullring. This was my second endeavor to help the three (3) major charities get promotion of their websites and to hopefully raise more funds for the families of the Prescott 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots that were killed in the line of duty on June 30th. It’s a project that has grown over time.
My first sponsorship using this decal was with Brian Keselowski Motorsports on their Sprint Cup car for the New Hampshire race on July 14th. It started out as a small personal sponsorship through the marketing of Jennifer Calandrillo. They were putting people’s names on the car for $30. In talking with Jennifer, I asked about a logo. I was thinking of my personal logo, which is a simple Twitter name, that I already had on Jessica Bean’s Ignite Midget. She said that they had other packages and placements which she talked me through. With the Prescott tragedy still fresh, I happened to mention that it would be nice to have a logo/decal for them rather than my simple personal one. It would be a decal that would get some use out of it. I did some searching and came across information on the website of the 100 Club of Arizona. They had many different graphics throughout the website that brought attention to the charity. The 100 Club of Arizona does charity work continuously through the year for first responders. I was able to see that there was two (2) other sites that they talked about. One was the http://www.yarnellfallenfirefighters.com created by the United Arizona Professional Firefighters in conjunction Prescott Charities. The second was the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. The UAPFF site turned out to really be a direct donation site to the families.
I started working on a design using aspects I found on the 100 Club site. I came across the Granite Mountain Hotshot logo and thought that would be a good central theme to be included. I developed several different versions but settled on a decal that put the Granite Mountain Hotshot team as the center of attention. With the good work that the other donation sites did, I didn’t want to leave them out. So I included their website links. At this point there were no names on the decal. I struggled with this knowing that it’s representing the individual families. I contacted Ciaro Franklin from the 100 Club and Amanda DeShazo from the Wildland Firefighter Foundation with their thoughts on the project. The were very helpful and understanding. A representative from Prescott was more difficult. They were in the middle of a wildland fire that was still going on and preparing a memorial service. I finally got in contact with someone (not actually from Prescott) working as one of the Public Information Officers (PIO) in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). He made contact with someone there from Prescott and gave me the ok. So I decided to go ahead with the names and then added the ‘Prescott 19 Heroes’.
I notified Jennifer from Brian Keselowski Motorsports. The next day I got a pleasant surprise call from Jennifer. She said, “We’ve decided to put it on the hood”. The team very graciously took it on themselves to add it to the hood. They are an awesome group of people who support the military and first responders across the country. Added to this was the fact that they were having a special driver that weekend in Morgan Shepherd. He would be breaking the record for the oldest driver in a Sprint Cup race (71). This would help bring attention to the logo and the donation websites.
During this time I was in discussions with Cassie Gannis concerning the aspects of driving stock cars and all facets of the motorsports business. She was in the contest with Peak Auto with nine (9) other drivers. (it would change to 8 after one driver left with a sponsorship) Through this time I noticed how much Cassie did charity work and how well she presented herself as well as her sponsors. She mentioned that she would like to do something for the families also. So I thought, why not do the same decal on her car. She notified me of the upcoming Las Vegas race and we came to an agreement to become the ‘Prescott 19 Memorial Car’. I went through getting the permissions again from the organizations involved with very little trouble. I was amazed at how much her marketing partners at Phoenix Marketing jumped into action. They worked out tv and radio spots, raised awareness on social media and made contacts in Las Vegas. My emails and social media doubled in size.
I was able to add another decal on the car from Wildland Firefighter Foundation. They were intended for somewhere else that kinda fell through and Kathy Gannis who was handling the business side of things was nice enough to add these to the car. Burk Minor, the director at WFF, was great to work with and pleased to have a decal on the car. He and others there do a tremendous amount of work for injured and deceased wildland firefighters across the West.
With everything in place, I decided that this would be a good trip to see a good track and witness a team going through what it prepares for a race with a stock car. I left from Indianapolis. The Indianapolis International Airports was one of the finer airports that I’ve ever seen. It’s a fairly new airport having opened November 11, 2008. It’s previous buildings were good especially with the observation area. However, after 9/11 this was closed. It has all that you need and isn’t a crowded airport. I smoothly went through ticketing and the TSA check very smoothly. Southwest has a fairly no-nonsense setup for their seating. The Boeing 737-800 is a beautiful aircraft. The stewardesses were very pleasant and easy to talk to. The one mistake I made was to not get a window seat. I planned on doing this on the flight home. But those plans didn’t work out as there was a 3 hour delay due to fog in California where the planes originated. Still a pleasant flight.
Las Vegas McCarren Airport was the exact opposite of Indianapolis. Very crowded with slot machines and stores everywhere. I felt as though I had landed in the middle of a carnival that just arrived in town. I actually enjoyed it because I was able to see just about every type of person that exists. Single travelers, honeymooners, families, groups of women, businessmen, limo drivers, merchandise sellers. A smorgasbord of humanity.
photo courtesy of Cassie Gannis
I got a hold of the Gannis Family as they were arriving in Las Vegas from Phoenix. Unfortunately, an airport security bike cop didn’t like that a pickup truck & trailer was there even though they were in the pickup area. Not a real cop so it didn’t mean anything. Unfortunate that this poor cop wanna-be doesn’t understand that many real cops, like I worked with for many years, actually have some common sense and a service approach to dealing with matters. Until he does, he’ll write parking tickets the rest of his life.
Now past this little intrusion, it was great to meet the Gannis Family. They were very warm (not meaning cause of the 93 degree heat) and receptive. Probably a little apprehension as there is with any new meeting, but they were very easy to converse with and get to know. John Gannis, Cassie’s father, is a pilot. Unfortunately we never got a chance to talk about aviation. Seems we were always busy talking about racing. Kathy Gannis, Cassie’s mother, works the business side of the team and is the person I’ve talk with to set things up for Las Vegas. Whether it’s t-shirts, schedules, decals, or food for the team, Kathy was right on it. The fourth member of the group was Travis Van Strander, Cassie’s boyfriend, who works on the car. He has a good knowledge of race cars and worked extremely hard throughout the weekend on setups or any problem.
We took care of our hotel accommodations at Sam’s Town and proceeded to the track. But before getting there, the Gannis team treated me to some great BBQ at Memphis Championship Barbeque. We drove past Nellis Air Force Base Northeast to the speedway. John was nice enough to drive on into the main Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Great looking track. We then pulled into the ‘Bullring’ entrance, got our credentials for the weekend and grabbed a spot to park the trailer. This was an all concrete area very well marked. Going to many midget races in Indiana, I’m used to gravel, grass or dirt paddock areas. After rolling the car out of the trailer, we walked over to the tire barn for a fresh set of tires for the weekend. Back at the trailer it was pretty awesome seeing the hood decal for the first time. It took up the whole hood and with a white background, looked really good. John proceeded to add on some other decals also. Kathy surprised me with a decal of my own personal logo I have on Jessica Bean’s Ignite Midget. Also they added a smaller ‘Prescott 19’ decal on the ‘c’ post. Just below that is a decal I had sent down for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. They had some other personal decals they applied on the back of the car plus one of their mainstay sponsors, Mancavesite.org.
During the Friday night practice session, the team started managing the different setups and testing their effects. What Cassie noticed was that there were performance issues with the engine. Seemed to be fine in the corners but when she pressed on the gas to go on the straights it seemed to not have the performance that she is used to. This could be cause by many issues. The team did some minor changes but nothing seemed to change. It was late into the night now so it was decided to take the care in to a workshop and work on the engine. The team packed everything up and we went back to Sam’s Town where we were staying. John Gannis and I took the time to get a late snack and discuss different racing issues. Also go to know the Gannis family a bit more. It was about 2:30am and we were needed at the workshop by 8am.
Joe Farre, who is a structural engineer, has a beautiful workshop in Las Vegas. The team got the car in and started working several ideas. During this time, Jake Koens was working on many other aspects of the car to get it ready for the night’s race. Wires were replaced and ultimately so was the distributor and cap. The carburetor was cleaned up just so to eliminate the possibility there. It took most of the day to do all of this. So much in fact that we didn’t go back to the hotel as planned but went straight to the track. As it was we were only able to do 1 practice session. Although it would have been nice to get more, one was enough as the performance of the car was greatly improved. While all of this work was going on in the garage, Cassie and her mom went into town for a radio interview.
While the crew kept going over last minute adjustments, Cassie and the rest of us got to meet and talk with representatives from the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, one of the charities I worked with to be shown on the car. Burk, Allison, Dina, and Patrick gave Cassie and I great looking plaques. We talked, took photos and ate some barbeque that Kathy had arranged for the night. I’m hoping they all enjoyed it as much as I did. I was a city firefighter for 34 years and dealt with structural firefighting as well as technical aspects of the job. These people represent those who have suffered working a different type of firefighting that is extremely difficult and demanding over several hours if not days.
Race time. With her qualifying being a bit slower than the others, the Prescott 19 Memorial car started in the 2nd half of the field. Jake was on the radio with Cassie as a spotter/troubleshooter. Cassie raced well and could position herself low or high but was probably the only one that could drive the high line. The #8 car had tried several times to pass her underneath but Cassie held her position along the white line. On turn 2, the #8 car tried to force his way through, clashed with Cassie and spun out bringing out a caution. It didn’t really affect Cassie much. As they came around for the green flag, Cassie stayed along the high side. The #8 went low and in turn 1 made an immediate right turn seeming to deliberately slam into Cassie in revenge for spinning him out earlier. But Cassie sensing this, slowed down and the #8 bounced off and went hard into the wall between turn 1 and 2. Cassie kept going on but soon felt something wrong with the car and pulled off. The #8 car had to be put on a flatbed truck as it was totaled. Cassie had received enough damage that her race night was over also.
We all gathered at the trailer and discussed the events of the night while Travis and Jake got the car in shape so it could be put back into the trailer. Even though we would’ve like to see the car finish the race and in a higher position, we were proud of Cassie’s driving. I was also proud of Cassie’s attitude. As much as I know she wanted to do good not only for herself and the team but for the sponsor she had on the hood, she took it like a professional athlete. She took it “as that’s racing”. At least externally. 🙂 Very difficult to do for an athlete of any sport. She knows that the best way to avoid an incident is to be out front.
Sunday, we met at the offices of Joe Farre. It was a chance to go over the weekend and debrief on what could’ve been done better and what can be done in the future. Joe, being associated with the fire service through FEMA as a structural analyst, knows too well about critiquing an ‘incident’ as do I. It was a great time to talk through all kinds of strategies from driving to marketing.
Soon though it was time to leave the desert landscape for the green flatland of the Midwest. To sit and watch the carnival at McCarren Airport. It was hot but everyone eventually adapts to their surroundings. I was thankful that during my visit the temperatures were down. I couldn’t have had a more pleasant stay mostly due to the kindness of the Gannis family of this intruder into their racing lives. I was pleased to meet Burk Minor and the people from Wildland Firefighter Foundation. While I was in the airport, they were on their way to Prescott, Arizona for a special concert to raise funds for the families of the Prescott 19 firefighters. I want to thank Joe and Jake for their help with the car and for sharing their knowledge of racing. All of them definitely made me want to return someday to the Southwest. As I tap my tennis shoes 3 times and leave the Land of Oz, I will miss the one I met first, Scarecrow, most of all, Cassie Gannis is a determined driver who, given the means, can drive at any level or series of racing. She is both charitable with her time as well as being open to ideas. Best of luck to her and the team.