The call came in 1998 from noted auto racing publicist Jan Shaffer informing me that the big time was headed my way. As a member of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway media department, the first NASCAR Winston Cup event to be held in Las Vegas was scheduled and I was in charge of making sure that NASCAR racing star and Penske Racing member Rusty Wallace had the opportunity to meet with the local media.
Considering my many years in Las Vegas, Shaffer understood that I knew virtually everyone in the Southern Nevada media especially with my many years in the journalism.
I immediately called Wallace's PR guy Tom Roberts and began setting the ground work. While I had never scheduled a media tour – and had never been responsible for anything of this magnitude before – I put aside any doubts in my mind and went to work.
When a media relations person puts together a media tour, he or she needs to (a) carefully juggle schedules and (b) make certain the track is properly represented. The latter is accomplished by making certain the tour is conducted while using a track vehicle which in this case was supposed to be a General Motors product.
The problem was that the individual in charge of the track vehicles was bound and determined not to provide me with a vehicle. That was not good since my primary vehicle was a 1993 Chevrolet Blazer that might have been better off designated for participation in a demolition derby – and taking someone of Rusty Wallace's stature around town on a media tour could be done, but the overall impression would have been disastrous.
I tried countless times to get the individual at the track to supply a vehicle. For obvious reasons, we had to present ourselves in a top notch fashion for such an event, and a vehicle with Las Vegas Motor Speedway on the side was crucial for this assignment.
But the individual in charge of vehicle distribution at LVMS wanted no part of my story either because (a) there was an effort to make things difficult and embarrassing and/or (b) the individual didn’t understand the purpose of presenting ourselves in a good light with an impressive vehicle.
The afternoon before the media tour, I was becoming frantic although the tour had been scheduled and Wallace was set to meet with every possible member of the media ranging from radio to television and newspaper. I think I had 10 stops planned in an eight-hour period.
While working in the infield media center, I ran into an old friend Steve Harney, who just happened to be the Public Information Officer for the Nevada Highway Patrol. We exchanged a few pleasantries when I disclosed that I was about 14 hours from a media event with Rusty Wallace – and had not yet figured out how I was going to transport the racing star and his publicist Tom Roberts.
Harney responded without hesitation that he had the answer to my concern. He would meet me in the morning with his Nevada Highway Patrol cruiser, we’d pick up Wallace, Roberts and NASCAR PR guy Jeff Motley and the tour would be conducted in what was nothing less than a full-fledged escort complete with VIP treatment.
In a matter of less than a minute, my blood pressure dropped and a frown on my face turned to a giant smile. The track individual who had apparently wanted to ruin my day could go find someone else to harass because Harney had just eliminated a huge nightmare.
Harney had become my hero. While I was sure that Wallace was such a classy person who would never say a word about my old car, Harney’s offer was music to my ears.
The next morning, we picked up Wallace, Roberts and Motley and went to work.
Harney loaded us into his NHP cruiser and immediately put Wallace in the front seat with a headset for phone calls. While Wallace had undoubtedly been on several media tours, I was certain this was to be his best.
Motley, Roberts and I all sat in the back seat as Harney followed my schedule from one media outlet to another. And when we were a few minutes late arriving at one particular appointment, Harney was granted due respect by other drivers considering that he was driving a car from the Nevada Highway Patrol.
Members of the media loved my call telling them we were en route in a Nevada Highway Patrol car. Nobody had ever pulled off such an escort and Wallace loved the attention.
At the CBS affiliate KLAS TV-8, Harney parked behind a huge construction truck. The only problem was that the construction worker returned to the truck and threw his vehicle in reverse without realizing that he would plow into the front end of Harney’s cruiser.
Wallace emerged from his interview, looked at the damage on the front of Harney’s car and immediately said "Oh, the hell with it. Just get some bondo."
However, it was probably the end of the day that produced the classic story that should have made the pit notes at LVMS. Harney dropped off Wallace at an executive airport where the NASCAR star sponsored by Miller Lite would meet friends who were scheduled to arrive for the race.
Harney pulled out on Las Vegas Boulevard and slowed to a stop at a red light just as some lead-footed dandy flew past him while running a red light at the same time.
"Harney, you’re not going to let that guy get away with that, are you?" I asked.
In an instant, Harney flipped on the red lights and siren and we were suddenly a part of a chase on Las Vegas Boulevard. The driver of the vehicle shuddered as Harney walked up to his car.
A good 20 minutes later, Harney returned to his cruiser.
"Well, did you write the guy a stiff ticket?" I asked.
"Naw," Harney responded.. "I felt sorry for the guy because when I walked up to his car, he wet his pants."
Wallace had missed the best part of the media tour and for more than a decade, I have wondered what he would have said when Harney returned only to inform us that the offender had been turned loose for wetting his pants.
All this because someone at LVMS decided that I didn’t deserve a track car to conduct a media tour.
And besides, I discovered a rather unique way to get out of a ticket.